Site Of Jesus’ Baptism Could Become Home To $300 Million Tourist Village

Two millennia ago, the people of Judea visited the Jordan River in droves as the voice of John the Baptist cried to them from the wilderness about the arrival of Jesus Christ. Today, that wilderness from which Jesus began his ministry could become the home of souvenir shops, botanical gardens, and boutique hotels.

King Abdullah II of Jordan recently heard a proposal to pour as much as $300 million into a “tourist city” adjacent to the site where Jesus was believed to have been baptized, according to a report from Reuters. The attraction could eventually quintuple the number of pilgrims who visit the location to one million per year.

Planners would attempt to maintain the idyllic location, which is 30 miles west of Amman, the capital of Jordan and the Islamic nation’s largest city. “We are talking about rustic stones and pebbles in architectural designs that preserve the place’s pristine nature and ensure that the sanctity and spirituality that existed 2,000 years ago are not trampled on by any development,” architect Kamel Mahadin told Reuters.

In recent years, various churches and organizations have raced to construct houses of worship near the site, where John the Baptist proclaimed Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, as recorded in the Gospel of John. According to the New Testament, the baptism of Jesus marked the beginning of his three-year earthly ministry.

The project would mark the first revenue-generating Christian holy site operated by the Jordanian government, which plans to solicit funding for the initiative from churches, donors, and private investors. “This is an attempt to usurp religious spirit,” Jordanian Baptist Evangelical researcher Philip Madanat told Reuters. “It is unprecedented to have such a Christian holy site used for this purpose in Jordan.”

The most popular religious pilgrimage destination in the Holy Land is the Western Wall in Jerusalem, the last remaining portion of the retaining wall surrounding the courtyard of the Temple Mount, according to a study from Travel and Leisure. The most frequented Christian location in the region is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which some believe commemorates the site of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Other sites visited by millions of Christian pilgrims include the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth and the Mount of Beatitudes in Galilee.

Tourism constitutes nearly 20% of the Jordanian economy, according to a report from the nation’s government. King Abdullah, who has reigned over the country since 1999, has been widely regarded as tolerant toward Christians.

Though Christians in Jordan face a relatively lower degree of persecution than believers in other Middle Eastern countries, the state “exerts pressure” by monitoring all Christian communities, especially unrecognized churches that publicly evangelize, according to a report from Open Doors. Converts from Islam face a high degree of pressure from their families; some have been beaten or killed for professing faith in Jesus.

Beyond preserving the dwindling Christian population in the Middle East, clerics in Jordan expressed hope that the tourist attraction will generate revenue for the nation’s struggling economy. “It will lead to prosperity when tourists who come and buy souvenirs and get services, help the local community and the country at large,” Father Ibrahim Dabbour, the general secretary of the Assembly of Christian leaders of Jordan, told Reuters.

One would be remiss, however, to forget Jesus’ words of rebuke to those who turned the Temple into a place to buy and sell animals for sacrifice: “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers.”

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