By Martin Palmer
I remember the first time that, to quote the old spiritual, I “crossed over to the other side of Jordan”. I was going into Israel from the Kingdom of Jordan, via the Allenby bridge border crossing built by British soldiers in 1917 and never replaced.
I crossed the river Jordan in just a single stride. I should have expected it. I had spent the previous two days meeting with Jordanian environmentalists and they had been telling me about their country’s massive water problems. Not just those of the river that shared its name, but also the Dead Sea. But the shrunken state of the Jordan still shocked me, though news of the terrible pollution it suffers no longer does.
I have never had a desire to be baptised in the river Jordan. Tap water in a font many years ago was fine by me. But for many people this ancient river is deeply sacred. And not just for Christians.
There are two sites that vie for the title of place of Jesus’s baptism. In the West Bank, Qasar al-Yahud, near Jericho, stakes its claim. On the Jordanian side, there is Wadi Kharrar, which evidence from a 5th century mosaic map seems to suggest may be the actual site. The place is sacred not just to Christians but also to Jews and Muslims. It is also known as the Pools of Elijah after a major event in that prophet’s life as recounted in the Bible, and revered by Muslims for whom Jesus and Elijah are both prophets. Link here for the full story which was originally commissioned by The Guardian website.