Page images


365 what deepened its channel, especially near the Dead Sea, where its very rapid current would naturally have that effect. And thus the extent of the overflow may now be less than in ancient times. It must be remembered, also, that, in accordance with Oriental idiom and the modus loquandi of Moses, Joshua, and other historical writers, such general formulas as the one under consideration were not intended to be interpreted with mathematical exactness, and should not be pressed to their utmost possible meaning. What Joshua doubtless meant to record was the fact that when a way was miraculously opened for Israel to pass over to Canaan the river Jordan was full to overflowing. And it is certainly remarkable that after thirty centuries we can stand on the banks of this river near to the spot where the event occurred, and verify the substantial accuracy

of the statement. There are some interesting sites to examine on our way back to 'Ain es Sultân, and the first of these is 'Ain Hajla—Beth-hoglah. It would take us too far down the river to visit Kůsr el Yehûdcastle of the Jews—as the ruins of the convent of St. John the Baptist are now called by the Arabs. It must have existed before the time of Justinian; for Procopius, a contemporary of that emperor, ascribes to him the construction of the large cistern, now visible in an almost perfect condition, at the convent. It is thirty feet deep, and supported on rows of piers. It was supplied with water from 'Ain es Sultân by an aqueduct which appears to have been an open canal with banks of earth on each side, and brought in a straight line from that fountain to the convent, a distance of nearly eight miles. The convent was destroyed in the twelfth century, but was rebuilt soon after; and the ruins now seen may date from that period. “The most remarkable point about the building is the use of an apparently artificial stone, containing flints and fragments of harder stone. The chapel is subterranean ; the outer stones are drafted; fragments of tesselated pavement remain, and some inscriptions or graphitæ, carved on the walls. This famous establishment, with the small chapel on the banks of the Jordan belonging to it, are mentioned by almost every traveller of mediæval times; and the 'fair church of St. John the Baptist' was still standing when visited by Sir John Maundeville in 1322, but ruined before the year 1697."

[ocr errors]

There were about half a dozen other convents in this region, most of them undoubtedly ancient. Indeed, from the early part of the fourth century this plain became a favorite resort of pilgrims from all parts of the Christian world.

Do you think that the custom of bathing in the Jordan at the place where the baptism of the Saviour was supposed to have been performed commenced at that early date?

Probably it did, though I am not acquainted with the history of the origin of such a custom. It may have been introduced gradually, but once established, it would soon become extremely popular.

The two traditionary sites that of the Latins near Kŭsr el Yehûd, and that of the Greeks a little farther down the river-are believed to mark the exact locality where our Lord was baptized ; but it is probable that neither the one nor the other is at the identical spot. This general subject, however, deserves a careful examination, as does every incident in the life of Christ, and every place connected with the sojourn of the Saviour amongst men.

The baptism is mentioned by the three evangelists, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, and, by implication, by John also. From a careful consideration of the several passages, in their connection with the place of baptism, it seems more natural to seek for the locality farther north than any of the present sites. “Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized of John in Jordan,” a journey of three days, at least, if the baptism occurred at either of the traditionary sites. It is quite possible, though scarcely probable, that Jesus made this long journey. The notice in Matthew, Mark, and Luke implies that immediately after the baptism and the temptation in the wilderness Jesus returned direct to Galilee. Considering the fact that Jesus was residing in Galilee, and reappears there after the baptism, I should look for the site of it as far up the Jordan valley as the ford of Dâmieh, since the most frequented road from Galilee to the river would lead him to that place, by the vale and brook that descends from the neighborhood of Sâlim. It could be reached in about a day and a half from Nazareth. “John was baptizing in Enon near to Sâlim," we are told, which is supposed to be somewhere east of Nâblus, and also at “Bethabara beyond Jor

1 Matt. iii. 13-17; Mark i. 9-13; Luke iji. 21, 22; John i. 29–34.





dan," apparently a ford across the river, also in that neighborhood.' These topographical indications, taken together, seem to suggest that the site of Christ's baptism was much nearer to Galilee than are the bathing-places of the pilgrims south-east of Jericho.

This theory leaves out one important incident connected with the baptism. All three evangelists associate the temptation with the baptism; and Mark, who is often the most accurate in details, says that "immediately [after the baptism] the spirit driveth him into the wilderness." Those forty days of temptation must have intervened between the baptism and the reappearance of Jesus in Galilee.

But that throws no special light upon the place of the baptism. If it occurred near the Dâmich ford, Jesus might have gone up at once into a mountain wilderness between there and Nazareth, quite as rugged and desolate as that of Quarantana, which tradition has selected as the scene of the temptation.

I see it stated by critics that Bethany, not Bethabara, was he true name of the place where John was baptizing.

In all the ancient Greek manuscripts of the New Testament the name is written Bethany; but Origen, who resided at Cæsarea Palestinæ, and therefore was well acquainted with the topography of this region, knowing that Bethany was near Jerusalem, a full day's journey from any point on the Jordan, changed the name to Bethabara. This word signifies house of passage, probably the name of a place at a ford over the river. Origen may have known that there was a ford bearing that name, and concluded that it was the place intended; or the name may have originally been written Bethabara, and this being a new and strange word not occurring in the Bible, some copyist in carly times changed it, either designedly or by mistake, for the familiar name of Bethany; and as those copyists were foreigners, and therefore unacquainted with the topography of this region, the mistake, once introduced, was readily extended, and became general, until Origen felt the necessity of correcting it, and the translators of our own Bible have done the same. A similar mistake, I suppose, crept into ancient manuscripts in regard to the place where the herd of swine were drowned in the John iii. 23 ; i. 28.

? Mark i. 12.


« PreviousContinue »