5 And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
The description of John’s ministry continues in the Gospel of Mark, painting a clear picture: people of Jerusalem and Judea overwhelmingly accepted John’s ministry, submitting to his call for repentance and his symbolic ceremonial washing in the water. As we already briefly mentioned, the ministry of John the Baptist had some similarity (though sharp polemic differences too) with nearby Essene Qumran community (see previous section).
Now from the ancient times to the modern ones. One of the most common and traditional places to bring modern Christian tourists while they are in Israel is the place where John the Baptist carried out his ministry. This traditional place of his water ceremonies is located at the bottom of the Sea of Galilee.
The geographical description of John’s ministry in Mark 1, however, rules out that traditional place as a possibility since travel from Jerusalem and Judea would take around 5-6 days. The place that fits this geography rather well is the place called “Bethany beyond the Jordan River” (John 1:28) that is located in the modern Jordanian territory. In Ancient Israel, it used to be the border area between the land allotment of Israelite tribes of Ruben and Gad (the territories of three Israelite tribes are now located in Jordan including the half-tribe of Manasseh).
Bethany (literally the house of the poor) beyond the Jordan River (John 1:28) is not the same place as the main Bethany (the house of the poor) in the village of Martha, Mary and Lazarus (John 11).
Assigning a town a second clarifying name was not at all uncommon, cities often had several names. For example, there were at least two Bethlehem, one in Galilee (Joshua 19:15) and one in Judea (Matt.2:1). Similarly, the Gospel of John indicated that Jesus celebrated the Passover of “the Jews/Judeans” (as opposed to other Passovers, namely those of the Samaritans or Qumranites), Mathew’s gospel clarifies for its readers that it was Bethlehem of Judea that was graced with the birth of yet another King of Israel, not only King David.
Our God, make things clear for us,
so that we can more clearly grasp the point of the sacred writings.