Middle East News
Jordan insists East Bank Jesus baptism site is authentic
By Abdul Jalil Mustafa Aug 11, 2011, 9:50 GMT
Al Maghtas, Jordan - Al Maghtas, located on the eastern bank of the River Jordan, has been blessed by two popes over the past decade as the site where Jesus was baptised by John the Baptist.
Equipped with this endorsement from Rome, as well as archaeological findings and biblical texts, the Jordanian government is moving to refute the latest Israeli claims that Jesus was in fact baptised on the western bank of the river.
'We are talking about a highly sacred place which has been established beyond doubt and is already recognized by the Christian world,' Diaa Madani, the director of the Baptism Site - or Al Maghtas - told the German Press Agency dpa.
'Religion should not be mixed with politics or geography, or be allowed to degenerate into secular competition,' he said.
On July 12, the Israeli government opened what its officials claim is the site of Jesus' baptism, located in the Palestinian territory of the West Bank, which is still controlled by Israeli troops.
The site, originally known as Judith Church, was recently renamed by the Israelis as the Baptism Church, in a move that drew angry reactions from both the government and leaders of the Jordanian churches.
Madani said that the Israeli claim carried 'political connotations' because it contradicted well-established facts endorsed by the late Pope John Paul II in 2000 and by Pope Benedict XVI in 2009 during their respective pilgrimages to the Holy Land.
He pointed out that Jordan developed the Baptism Site, 40 kilometres west of Amman, in 1997 after concluding a peace treaty with Israel in 1994 that ended almost 50 years of hostilities.
'Before that, it was impossible for Jordan to give prominence to this historical place because it was located in a closed military area,' Madani said.
Israel seized East Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank from Jordan during the 1967 Middle East war.
Jordan and Israel were technically at war until the signing of the peace pact, under which the Jewish state recognized Amman's right to look after both Christian and Islamic holy places in the Palestinian territories.
The Baptism Site in Jordan was recognized by the world's major traditional Christian churches as one of the three holiest Christian sites in the world, together with Jerusalem's Church of the Holy Sepulchre and Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity, Madani said.
These included the Anglicans, the Lutherans, the Russian Orthodox Church, Egypt's Copts, the Orthodox Church of Jerusalem and the evangelical Saddleback Church in California.
'Thirteen churches and monasteries, belonging to various Christian denominations, are currently being built on the 10-square kilometre Baptism Site,' Madani said.
'During his pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 2009, Pope Benedict XVI laid the foundation stones for two churches at the site, a Greek Catholic Church and a Roman Catholic Church,' he added.
He pointed out that the Baptism Site Commission maintained regular ties with the Vatican for arranging pilgrimage trips to the site through its travel arm, Opera Romana.
Leaders of churches in Jordan have upheld the authenticity of the Baptism Site on the eastern bank of the river, citing biblical texts and testimony by renowned Christian historians who have visited the area over centuries.
'We have grown accustomed to these Israeli provocations, whether in politics or tourism,' Father Rifaat Bader, official spokesman of the Catholic Church in Amman, told dpa.
'The Israeli move runs counter to well-established historical facts, biblical texts and writings by pilgrimage travellers, including the Spanish pilgrim Egeria,' he said.
'The Bible says that Jesus crossed the river to the other side, where he was baptised by John the Baptist,' he added. 'Besides, several churches have been unearthed in the area,' Bader said.
This viewpoint was shared by Father Nabil Haddad, President of the Jordan Interfaith Coexistence Research Centre, who regards the Baptism Site as 'the actual place where Jesus was baptised,' saying historical facts refuted Israeli allegations that claim otherwise.
'The Bible clearly says: These things were done in Bethabara beyond the Jordan, where John was baptising,' he said.
Bader said that the Vatican was 'not expected to provide a crucial opinion' on the issue.
But he recommended an active drive on the part of Jordan to establish stronger ties with various Christian organizations to explain the fallacy of the Israeli allegations and promote trips to the Baptism Site.
'We expect the Vatican to continue to encourage all Christian countries, particularly in Europe, to visit the Baptism Site as one of the most sacred places in the area,' he said.
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