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This is a spin-off of an older question done by me, was Bethany beyond the Jordan a place of significance?

John the Baptist preached at Bethany, outside of Jerusalem:

John 1:28

This all happened at Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, where John was baptizing.

Since Jerusalem was the capital of Israel, it should have been the most populated. Why did John the Baptist preached outside of Jerusalem, when he could have spread his message to more people in Jerusalem?

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  • There was no river to baptize in Jersualem?
    – Dottard
    Commented Mar 6 at 20:58

2 Answers 2

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  1. Symbolism of the Jordan River

The Jordan River has long been a symbol of biblical significance. It is the very river that Israel crossed to get to the promised land.

John's ministry near the Jordan symbolizes a new spiritual crossing into a renewed covenant with God.

  1. Prophetic Fulfillment

John fulfilled the prophecies of the Old Testament. Isaiah 40:3:

The voice of one crying in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord; Make straight in the desert A highway for our God.

The voice crying out in the wilderness was referred to as the voice of John the Baptist. John's preaching in the wilderness allowed him to fulfill this prophetic promise. He was able to establish himself as a voice preparing the path for the Lord.

  1. Ample Flowing Water

Now, although Jerusalem is close to the Kidron Valley where there may have been flowing water at times, it is unlikely that this is the type of baptism that John the Baptist would have performed. Instead, John's baptism would have been an immersion baptism, which is a type of baptism that involves being immersed in water as an act of purification. For this ample waters would be desired.

Jerusalem is not known for its water sources and there is only one major spring in the city, the biblical Gihon, which has been gurgling since before King David’s time. With a population of some 700,000, Jerusalem gets its water pumped up from the coastal aquifer. [1]

The Gihon Spring, the only source of water of the city, emerges in the Kidron Valley, east of the City of David. [2]

At the time of John the Baptist's baptism, Bethany was located along the Jordan River. The area around the Jordan River had plenty of flowing water, which would have been suitable for John's type of baptism.

Although there may have been water sources around Jerusalem at the time of John's baptism, they may not have been adequate or suitable for his type of baptism.

  1. Accessibility

Even though Jerusalem was a very large city, preaching out in the wilderness, close to the Jordan River, made John’s message available to people from various regions who wanted to hear it. His ministry attracted crowds from all over Jerusalem and Judea, showing the power of his message outside the city walls.

biblicalarchaeology says:

To celebrate the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Passover), the Feast of Weeks (Shavuot), and the Feast of Booths (Sukkot), many Jews traveled to the Jerusalem Temple during the first century C.E. This was sometimes a long journey. Even for those living in Galilee, it could take up to a week

enter image description here

This map shows pilgrimage routes from Galilee to Jerusalem. In the first century C.E., many Jews traveled to the Jerusalem Temple to celebrate the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Weeks, and the Feast of Booths.

  1. Independent from Religious Authorities

Also, preaching outside away from the religious leaders allowed John to operate independently of the religious authorities in Jerusalem, who may have been resistant to his message and sought to suppress his ministry. This independence allowed John to speak truthfully and boldly without fear of interference.

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The spiritual significance of the site was addressed in the earlier question mentioned in the OP. Here, I will address what I think is the primary consideration, which was practical. John's ministry was conducted on a main pilgrimage route that led to Jerusalem from the Hill Country, the Galilee and the Decapolis. The site also lay along the main route from parts further east and north, such as Syria, Anatolia and the Mesopotamia, where many Jews lived and visited the holy city.

enter image description here The map shows the route of Jesus' final journey Jerusalem. A similar route would have been taken by thousands of Jews on their way to the holy city from points north and east.

Pious Jews would need to cleanse themselves from ritual impurity before entering the Temple precinct, and Jerusalem's ritual baths would be overcrowded during pilgrimages. Thus, John the Baptist located himself at the perfect site for those attending the Temple to fulfill the requirement to wash in running water before making their sin offerings and other sacrifices as the Temple. At the same time, he could preach his message of repentance and the imminent coming of God's kingdom.

Conclusion: Although there may have a spiritual significance to the particular location (traditionally associated with Elijah's ascension, Joshua's crossing the Jordan and the important "high place" sanctuary at Gilgal), John's choice of Bethany Beyond Jordan was ideally located as a stopping place for ritual bathing, as pilgrims made their way to Jerusalem.

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