Beneath The Surface An Editorial Comment -- By: Gary A. Byers

Journal: Bible and Spade (Second Run)
Volume: BSPADE 14:2 (Spring 2001)
Article: Beneath The Surface An Editorial Comment
Author: Gary A. Byers

Beneath The Surface
An Editorial Comment

My Visit with John the Baptist

Gary A. Byers

In the summer of 2000, Dr. Bryant Wood and I led a team to Jordan. Most of our time was spent taking video footage and doing research in the region of Sodom and Gomorrah. While there, we also stopped at the newly opened and widely advertised archaeological site Tell el-Kharrar, billed as New Testament’s “Bethany beyond Jordan” (Jn 1:28). It was the place where John was baptizing, possibly even where Jesus was baptized. While Jesus’ baptism was said to be in the Jordan River (Jn 1:28), the site of Bethany was mentioned as beyond the Jordan (Jn 1:28; 10:40).

Bethany (Hebrew “house of the poor”) in most Greek texts of John 1:28, is a Hebrew name translated into Greek. It should not be confused with the Bethany near Jerusalem (Jn 11:1–14. modern el-’Aziriyeh). Historically, “Bethany beyond Jordan” had not been identified and many scholars believed it was a textual error or symbolic name (Brown 1966:44).

Depicted on the mosaic Madaba Map (6th century AD) east of the Jordan River and just north of the Dead Sea is a site called “Ainon where now is Sapsaphas.” Ainon (from the Hebrew word for spring) and Sapsaphas (from Hebrew tzaphtzaphah, “willow”—Ez 17:5) together describe a place of water and vegetation. The map’s symbol for “Ainon where now is Saphsaphas” is an enclosed spring and something shaped like a conch shell. Neither the site’s church or monastery, known historically, are represented. Ainon on the Madaba map is now being connected with the newly opened Jordanian excavation and pilgrimage site at Tell el-Kharrar.

While this connection between the map site and the new tourist stop had been made earlier (Donner 1992:38), the Jordanian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities is connecting both with New Testament “Bethany beyond Jordan.” Opened just in time for Jordan’s 2000 celebration of Christianity, Tell el-Kharrar is not directly on the Jordan River. A very low natural hill in the midst of numerous fresh water springs, it is located on Wadi Kharrar which drains into the Jordan less than half a mile away. The mound at Tell el-Kharrar has long been known as Elijah’s Hill (Arabic—Tell Mar Elias), from where local tradition says Elijah the prophet ascended to heaven in the whirlwind (

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