Those of us who have been to this ancient site can’t help but find this jarring and a little disorienting — Disney World meets Bethany.
Jordan has launched a $100 million master plan aimed at attracting 1 million Christian pilgrims to celebrations of the second millennium of the baptism of Jesus in 2030.
The ambitious plan was unveiled by a not-for-profit foundation created by the Jordanian government to develop the “Bethany beyond the Jordan” area, on the east bank of the Jordan River, long venerated as the place of Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist. Archaeological discoveries of an ancient monastery at Al-Maghtas, Jordan, became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2015.
Samir Murad, chair of the new foundation, told Religion News Service that his group plans to provide Christians access to visit and worship at the site while respecting its integrity.
“We wanted to provide pilgrims a chance to be able to spend quality time at the location of the baptism while respecting its spirituality and the UNESCO World Heritage Site conditions,” said Murad.
Murad’s team rejected proposals for five-star hotels and fine dining and chose instead down-to-earth accommodations. “We decided on a biblical village theme that attempts to re-create a 2,000-year-old experience,” said Murad.
He said the theme will include “glamping”-style lodging — a version of camping typified by well-appointed tents with comfortable beds.”We will supply Arab-style tents and all sanitary services that will provide an authentic feeling,” said Murad. “This allows us to be in concert with the theme yet at the same time provide housing at reasonable costs for pilgrims who want to spend spiritual time at this sacred location.”
Visitors will have a choice of different eateries serving local organic food, “centered on the wilderness and plants mentioned in the Bible,” Murad explained.
Electricity and Wi-Fi lines will be placed underground so as not to clutter the above-ground experience.
Here’s what it looked like when I visited in 2015:
And reliving one’s baptism looked, well…like this:
I hope they can preserve the character and integrity of this unique — and uniquely significant — site. Being there remains one of the most moving and inspiring experiences of my life.