Jordan River, Site of Jesus' Baptism, Too Polluted for Tourists

Jul 22, 2010· 1 MIN READ
Salvatore Cardoni holds a political science degree from the George Washington University. He's written about all things environment since 2007.

One of the holiest sites in Christendom could soon be closed because of pollution in the Jordan River.

The Israeli site, known as Qasar al-Yahud, is the location where Christians believe Jesus was baptized by John more than 2,000 years ago.

“Tourists are still able to baptize themselves, but authorities are examining the makeup of the water,” a spokeswoman from the Israeli Ministry of Tourism told The Media Line.

A Christian pilgrim stands in the Jordan River during a ceremony for Easter at Qasar el-Yahud. (Photo: Darren Whiteside)

Though the site is situated on the border between Israel and Jordan in a closed military zone, a joint effort between authorities from both countries previously opened it to tourists—100,000 of them a year, in fact—mostly pilgrims who wish to experience a baptism in the same waters their savior did two millennia ago.

Drought and irrigation are to blame for the pollution, reports The Jerusalem Post.

"Sadly, the lower Jordan River has long suffered from severe mismanagement with the diversion of 98 percent of its fresh water by Israel, Syria and Jordan and the discharge of untreated sewage, agricultural run-off, saline water and fish pond effluent in its place," reads a statement from Friends of Earth Middle East, an environmental group.

According to Media Line:

Neglected for decades, the name of the site is Arabic for “Castle of the Jews,” which is also the name of the 5th century monastery. But since 2007, Israel has tried to bring Christian tourists ‘down by the riverside’ and has invested about $2 million to develop the site in order to allow wheelchair accessibility, shade, baptismal decks and other facilities. Entry is free. There is a similar site close-by on the Jordanian side, but the west bank side is considered holier since that’s the side Jesus likely used.