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U.N. backs Jordan’s claim on site where Jesus was baptized

imrsThe file picture dated 24 May 2014 shows Pope Francis praying in front of the Jordan river in Bethany Beyond the Jordan, west of Amman, Jordan.  (EPA/ANDREW MEDICHINI / AP POOL)

If the historical Jesus was indeed baptized in the waters of the River Jordan, he probably wasn’t too fussed about any nearby borders.

But for the modern-day governments of Israel and Jordan, the exact spot of the site where Jesus was said to be baptized by John the Baptist is a source of both national pride and, more importantly, tourism revenue from tens of thousands of pilgrims each year.

So UNESCO’s move last week to confer World Heritage status upon a site on the Jordanian side of the river — and not its rival across the river’s muddy waters — is a significant one.

According to the Associated Press, the U.N.’s cultural agency decided that the site of Bethany beyond the Jordan, also known as al-Maghtas in Arabic, “is believed to be” where Jesus was baptized. It did not nod in the direction of the opposite bank where Israeli authorities encourage tourists to visit the parallel site of Qasr al-Yahud near the city of Jericho.

Last year, Pope Francis seemed to also side with Jordanian claims when he paid a visit to al-Maghtas. He was the third pontiff to do so since 2000.

There is no archaeological evidence of Jesus ever having been baptized in these waters, but there’s a long tradition — dating back at least to Byzantine times — of mass baptisms taking place near the site.


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