Jesus’ Baptism Site Is a Minefield to Navigate. Literally.

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According to Christian Today, For 50 years, John has baptized Jesus in private.

But last week on the western bank of the Jordan River, landmines were cleared to allow visitors a first look at a faded fresco of the baptism in a crumbling Ethiopian Orthodox monastery.

Trudging through mud while avoiding well-marked areas warning of live charges remaining from the Six-Day War, intrepid pilgrims once again received iconic witness of the beloved Son.

“Israel placed the mines between 1967 and 1971 because there was a war,” Marcel Aviv, head of the Israel National Mine Action Authority, a branch of the Defense Ministry, told the Times of Israel, standing a few hundred yards from Jordan.

“But now it’s empty because it’s a border of peace.”

Israel partially reopened the Qasr al-Yahud baptismal site in 2011. But visitors could only trek a narrow path from the Greek Orthodox St. John the Baptist Monastery to the Jordan River.

Their number has steadily grown, with the Epiphany holiday—observed on January 18—a particularly popular draw.

Last year, more than 590,000 visitors came, according to Israeli newspaper Haaretz. So far in 2018, more than 800,000. Once the landmines are fully cleared, Aviv believes the number will triple.

De-mining began in earnest in March, though the initial agreement between the churches, the Israeli government, and the Palestinian Authority was signed in May 2016.

A team of 22 Georgian minesweepers has so far removed 1,500 of an estimated 6,500 targets, rendering safe 50 out of 250 acres of land.

Now accessible along the one-mile stretch of historic churches are properties belonging to the Greek, Franciscan, and Ethiopian Orthodox. Clearance still awaits for the Russian, Syrian, Romanian, and Coptic facilities.

The oldest is a Byzantine church which was destroyed by an earthquake in 1024 A.D. and rebuilt in the 12th century. Consistently a pilgrimage site, the other churches were built from the 1930s onward.

These ancient monasteries may or may not appeal to Protestants, who make up half of the yearly 2.6 million religious tourists in Israel. (CT previously reported on how your vacation can help the Christians of the Middle East, but that Arab Christians are disproportionately infrequent pilgrims.)

There is a competing baptism site on the Jordanian side of the river.

“For what it’s worth, a mosaic map of the sixth century in the floor of an Orthodox church near Mt. Nebo indicates that John the Baptist baptized on both sides of the Jordan,” said Imad Shehadeh, president of the Jordan Evangelical Theological Seminary. “They tried to be politically correct even back then.” Read more at Christian Today

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