By Frank van Steenbergen
On Mount Eliyah a little east of the Jordan River there is a well atop the mountain. This little inauspicious hill is a holy place.
At the little hill the prophet Elijah was taken to heaven, disappearing in a whirlwind. Old and persecuted he had crossed the nearby Jordan River together with the younger prophet Elisa. As he had rolled up his cloak, the water was divided to the left and the right, creating a passage. While ascending to the heaven from the hills Eliyah’s cloak fell, taken up by Elisa who continued his work. The prediction was that Eliyah’s return would be the harbinger of the arrival of the Messiah, the savior.
Situated in the wilderness, the little hill is surrounding by a marshy valley with reeds and prosopis. It is at this hill that John the Baptist chose to live nine-hundred years later in the spirit and with the strength of Eliyah, as the archangel Gabriel had predicted prior to his birth. The wilderness fed him with honey and locusts. At a short distance – at a place called Bethany beyond the Jordan – John baptized many followers, removing their guilt and misdeeds, freeing them to lead a redeemed and just life.
Following a tradition of 3000 years, immersing in water to spiritually clean impurities and sins had been a common ritual throughout the Middle East, practiced by several people, both Jewish and others. As water flows and time passes on, sins will be forgiven.
Jesus Christ came to Bethany to be baptized by John the Baptist. While some asked whether John was the savior that came after Eliyah, John announced Jesus as the long awaited one. When John baptized Jesus, the Holy Spirit descended in the guise of a pigeon. From then on, all changed – if one was baptized one would not be just redeemed, but one would be born a new person in the image of God and the following of Jesus Christ
A church was built around the cave where Saint John the Baptist lived to accommodate the many pilgrims visiting the holy place. Close by on top of the mountain a circular well was made from which water was lifted 40 meters to a Baptist fond. Here devotees were immersed in water to be reborn in Christ as a new persons in an endless repeat of the miracle of belief.
The hill, the wilderness and the Bethany baptizing place fed from the spring originating in the wilderness and supplied by the dew captured in it are still there. All places are real, we can be there: the hill, the wilderness, Bethany. Their reality testifies to the reality of the message of Jesus, the life spring, the well of constant renewal.