Location and Setting
- "These things took place in Bethany beyond the Jordan, where John was
baptizing" (John 1:28; 10:40). Several sites have been proposed for the location of
Johns baptizing, referred to as "Bethany beyond the Jordan."
- The problem is that no known record or tradition indicates that a village by the name of
Bethany ever existed on the east side of the Jordan river.
- It is evident that the reference to this Bethany as being beyond (presumably meaning
"on the other, the far side of") the Jordan river is intended to distinguish it
from the well-known Bethany on the southeastern slope of the Mount of Olives. This
distinction is emphasized in comparing John 10:40 with other passages that locate Bethany
near Jerusalem. The former reference states that, "And He went away again beyond the
Jordan to the place where John was first baptizing. . ." This contrasts with
references to Bethany in John 11:1; 12:1; Matt 21:17. The location of this Bethany is
confirmed by John, who often visited this village, "Now Bethany was near Jerusalem,
about two miles off" (John 12:18).
- There is a strong tradition from the Byzantine period for locating the place of
Johns baptism some fifty yards from the east bank of the Jordan river, just north of
where it enters the Dead Sea. There is no archaeological evidence for this site, however.
- In favor of this site in the southern Jordan Valley, is the fact that immediately after
His baptism, Jesus went up into the wilderness to be tested by Satan (Luke 4:1-13). The
most obvious location of the wilderness would be the barren hills behind Jericho, the
"wilderness of Judea." This would place Johns baptism in the traditional
- If John baptized near the ford of the Jordan, just north of the Dead Sea, his ministry
of preaching the kingdom and calling for repentance would have been very public. Traffic
from the land east of the Jordan and from the Kings Highway moving to the west would
pass nearby. When these travelers later arrived at Jerusalem, they would spread the news
of the unusual events they had witnessed at the Jordan on their way. On the other hand,
people from Judea who would be drawn to hear John preach, would have to brave the
dangerous road down through the wilderness described in the incident of the Good
- Incidental support for this lower Jordan location comes from the conversion of Zaccheus
(Luke 19:1-10). His response to meeting Jesus was to report that he had demonstrated his
repentance in the exact terms that John had prescribed (compare Luke 3:11-14 to Luke
19:8). Zaccheus lived in Jericho, virtually within sight of a Bethany beyond the Jordan
just north of the Dead Sea. This suggests that John had been baptizing nearby and that
Zaccheus had heard him and responded to his message.
- An alternate location for Johns ministry has been proposed by Pixner and Riesner.
This view is based on the independent conclusion of several scholars that, in light of
variations of spelling in the first century, Bethany should be understood as Batanea. The
location then would have been in the region of the Yarmuk River, which drained the Lower
Golan (Bashan) area east of the Sea of Galilee. This, of course, would place Johns
baptism "beyond Jordan," as the text states.
- This location of Bethany in the north would support the sequence of days John mentions
(John 1:19- 2:12). A Batanea location would have placed Jesus closer to Bethsaida, the
home of Peter, Andrew and Philip who met Jesus where John was baptizing. Also, this
location would have been nearer to Capernaum, the home of John, who, with Andrew, met
privately with Jesus. After three days, we find them in Cana of Galilee, about thirty-five
miles from Batanea. (This latter time and distance reference is not determinative,
however. The three days could also have referred to travel from the lower Jordan area to
- An important line of evidence for this location rests on the four day time framework
involved in Jesus return from where John was baptizing to Bethany. Pixner and
Riesner point out that only if this location were in the north could we reconstruct the
travel sequence John records (John 10:40; 11:1-17). Since a Bethany opposite Jericho would
be only one days travel from the Bethany of Mary and Martha, Jesus arrival
there four days after Lazarus death would necessitate his having died and being
buried the same day as the messengers arrived, that is, the first day. Jesus then would
have waited two days before traveling up to Bethany on the fourth day. On the other hand,
a Bethany beyond Jordan in the north, would require a three to four day journey to reach
the Jerusalem area. Lazarus would not have died, then, until the moment Jesus announced to
His disciples that he had "fallen asleep" (John 11:11).
- Against this view is the fact that representatives of the Pharisees and others from
Jerusalem came to investigate Johns baptizing, apparently in great numbers. Although
it would have been possible for them to find John in Batanea in the north, a location
closer to Jerusalem seems more likely. In addition, Batanea was situated in the largely
Gentile Decapolis region of Transjordan, a less likely place for John to announce
"the kingdom is at hand," and call Jews to repentance in preparation for it.
- John was also said to have been baptizing at Aenon near Salim (John 3:23), a site
probably located about eight miles south of Beth-shan near the west bank of the Jordan
River. This would suggest that John probably baptized in several locations, on each side
of the river. Since Salim lies about half way between the traditional lower Jordan
location of his ministry and Batanea, it is possible that as he moved up the Jordan
Valley, he eventually came to the northern location proposed by Pixner and Riesner. The
absence of specific site identification in the text usually means that a place was so well
known that the reader would require no further indication of its location. This apparently
is the case with the designation, "Bethany beyond the Jordan," the sole purpose
of the name being to distinguish it from the Bethany near Jerusalem. The location of this
site, probably only one of several of Johns ministry, remains an open question
although each of the two locations discussed have some support.
Historical and Biblical Significance
- The importance of Bethany beyond the Jordan lies in its being the place where John the
Baptist ministered. His role was unique in several ways and of great historical
importance. John was the last of the series of prophets who had been predicting
Messiahs coming. He alone could say, "the kingdom is at hand," meaning,
the king had arrived in person and therefore the establishment of His kingdom was
imminent. He was the forerunner of Messiah, specifically predicated by Malachi (3:1;
4:5,6; Luke 7:27). He was also the "voice crying in the wilderness" prophesied
by Isaiah (Isaiah 40:3; Matt 3:3; Mark 1:2,3).
- Johns message was unique. He not only called on his people to repent, as other
prophets had done, but he commanded them to be baptized. Observant Jews of Jesus day
washed, or "baptized" themselves in the many mikvoth (small stone
structures that held water, situated near a synagogue or at the south wall of the temple).
Johns baptism was different, however. It was administered by a second person (John
or, later, by some of Jesus disciples). This was the kind of ritual that was
required of Gentiles who converted to Judaism, a procedure that demonstrated their total
change of identity. In the case of Johns baptism of Jews, it meant that they had
renounced their dependence on their Jewish birth as qualifying them to enter the kingdom,
that they had come as sinners (like Gentiles!), on the basis of Gods grace.
- The land on the east side of the Jordan river, just north of the Dead Sea, was a silent
witness to historical events. If John preached and baptized there, he would have been
doing so in the same place where God swept Elijah up to heaven in a whirlwind hundreds of
years earlier (2 Kgs 2:5-11). This may have accounted, in part, for his being asked,
"Are you Elijah?" (John 1:21,25). This question may also have been related to
Malachis prophecy of Elijahs coming (Malachi 4:5,6), a prediction also given
by Gabriel to Zacharias when he announced Johns birth (Luke 1:17). Fourteen hundred
years before, this site was known as the Plains of Moab. Here, Israel gathered to cross
the Jordan into Canaan, and here Moses delivered his message recorded in the book of
- Bimson, John J., ed. Baker Encyclopedia of Bible Places. Leicester: Inter-Varsity
- Pixner, Bargil. With Jesus through Galilee According to the Fifth Gospel. Rosh
Pina: Corazin Publishing, 1992.
- Riesner, R. "Bethany beyond the Jordan (John 1:28)" Tyndale Bulletin.
(Vol. 38, 1987): 26-33.
- Rousseau, John J. and Rami Arav. Jesus and His World: An Archaeological and Cultural
Dictionary. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1995.