BAR 31:01, Jan/Feb 2005
West Side Story
As Rami Khouri explains in the accompanying article, the location of Bethany beyond the Jordan has perplexed writers and pilgrims since almost the dawn of Christianity. Arguments were advanced for locating the place of Jesus baptism on the eastern shore of the Jordan, and just as many claims were made for locating it on the western shore.
Jerome Murphy-OConnor, author of the highly regarded guidebook The Holy Land, notes that the question may well be moot: In the past 2,000 years the Jordan has changed course repeatedly. People kept building monuments relative to the river, meaning that, as the river shifted back and forth, the location of monuments multiplied, creating, over time, a plethora of sites clustered in the same general vicinity but straddling the Jordan. Pilgrims who went to the site at any given moment could consequently find buildings on either side of the river, adding confusion to uncertainty.