Qasr al-Yahud, Castle of the Jews or Al-Maghtas is believed to be the site where Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist in the Jordan River. Today Qasr al-Yahud is run by the Israeli National Park Authority and has been made accessible to tourists and those who want to be baptized in the same section of the Jordan River where John baptized Jesus. The baptism of Jesus severed as his spiritual birth and the site of this event is extremely important in the Christian faith. It is considered the third most important Christian site in the world after the site of the nativity in Bethlehem and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre marking the site of the crucifixion in Jerusalem.
The Baptism Site
The place where Jesus was baptized is in the Jordan River Valley at a very narrow point in the river on the opposite bank is al-Maghtas a baptismal site in Jordan. Qasr al-Yahud is on the west bank of the Jordan River about 10km east of Jericho. Christians believe that it was here that the Jews crossed the Jordan into the Promised Land and that it was here the Prophet Elijah ascended to heaven. Excavations in the area have uncovered ancient mosaics and the remains of several historic structures. The area around Qasr al-Yahud is considered “Monastery Land” as there are the remains of several 5th century monasteries and churches in the vicinity. The castle-like Greek Orthodox Monastery of Saint John the Baptist is visible from the baptismal site and gives its name “Qsar” or Castle to the site – Qasr al-Yahud or Castle of the Jews. In the 5th century Christians built these churches here to be in close proximity to the baptismal site.
Millions of shekels have been invested in developing and restoring the baptismal site and it was opened in 2011 having been closed since 1967. In 2000 Qasr al-Yehud was visited by Pope John Paul II. At the baptismal site visitors wishing to be baptized can enter the water by descending ancient marble steps into the Jordan. Over hundreds of years pilgrims to this site have carved small crosses on the marble steps. There are railings for support, eckingd and white robes are provided for those wishing to be baptized. There are prayer services held here; benches facing the water and a small chapel. The baptismal pool created in the river is in the shape of a crucifix and the river water flows in to the pool. There are facilities including showers, wheelchair access and a car park. The water is checked regularly for quality and safety.
It is possible to drive independently to Qasr al-Yahud which is located in Area B of the West Bank. In Area B the Palestinian Authority governs civil administration while Israel provides security. The Palestinians and Israelis work in complete cooperation to make the site accessible to all visitors. If you would feel more comfortable and secure then it is possible to take a guided tour to Qasr al-Yahud as part of a day tour which could include other sites in the area like the Dead Sea, Tel Jericho, Qumran, St. Georges Monastery or the Mount of Temptation. From Qasr al-Yahud there are views of nearby Monastery of St. George.
The Baptism of Christ
In Matthew 3:13-17 we read how Jesus came from the Galilee to the Jordan River to be baptized by John. John protested saying it should be the other way around and that he should be baptized by Jesus but Jesus insisted saying it should be so to fulfill all righteousness and John agreed. When Jesus rose from the water the heavens opened up to him and he saw the spirit of God coming down in the form of a dove and alighting upon him. A voice from heaven spoke saying “This is my son with whom I am well pleased.”
There is an annual celebration in January of the Epiphany at Qasr al-Yahud held by the Orthodox Christian Church. The Epiphany celebration is one of the most impressive and annual Christian events in Israel and is attended by thousands of believes. The Epiphany (Greek for appearance) celebrates the visit of the three wise men to Bethlehem where they acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah and it celebrates Jesus’ baptism. Easter is also celebrated here by Christian communities.
Alternative Baptismal Site
Yardenit is a baptism site in the Galilee along the Jordan River at the southern end of the river’s outlet from the Sea of Galilee. The site is managed by Kibbutz Kvutzat. Qsar al-Yahud is the traditional baptismal site of Jesus in the correct location according to the Bible and for many years it was the only candidate for Jesus baptismal spot visited by many pilgrims. However due to its location in the West Bank, unrest and military activity Qasr al-Yahud became difficult to visit. Many tourists were uncomfortable traveling to the West Bank alone. For that reason Yardenit was established in 1981, within Israeli territory proper and easily accessible with no threat of political or military interference. When the situation in the West Bank began to settle the Israeli and Palestinian authorities worked together to open the original, and authentic baptismal site at Qasr al-Yahud. In 2015 UNESCO named Al-Maghtas, the baptismal site on the east bank of the Jordan opposite Qasr al-Yehud a world heritage site.
Where: 10km north of the Dead Sea via route 90 (Jericho bypass) then turn east and follow the signs for about 2.4km.
When: Summer 8am-5pm daily and Fridays and holiday eves closing time is at 4pm. winter 8am-4pm daily and Friday and holiday eves closing at 3pm. A visit to Qasr al-Yahud lasts about an hour and is possible throughout the year.
Contact: 02 6504844