The ‘Pilgrim of Bordeaux’, in AD 333 the first known Christian pilgrim in the Holy Land, wrote of seeing ‘the place where our Lord was baptized by John, and above the far bank at the same place is the hillock from which Elijah was taken up to heaven’.
The prophet Elijah hid from King Ahab in Wadi Cherith, where ravens brought him food twice daily, ‘and he drank from the Wadi’ (I Ki. 17:5-6). Wadi Kharar in the Jordan Valley, with its spring, has been tentatively identified with Wadi Cherith, and a small hill nearby has for centuries been called Tell Mar Elias (the mound of Saint Elijah), commemorating his ascent to heaven in a whirlwind, with ‘a chariot of fire and horses of fire’ (2 Ki. 2:11).
St John’s Gospel refers to ‘Bethany beyond Jordan, where John was baptizing’ (John 1:28), and to Jesus going ‘across the Jordan to the place where John had been baptizing’ (John 10:40). This has recently been identified with a site just east of the Jordan and a few kilo- metres north of the Dead Sea. It lies near the western end of Wadi Kharar, near the river; the spring there could have supplied both Elijah and John the Baptist.
In the late 5th century a church was built here beside the old course of the Jordan. But the recurrent flooding of the river meant that it had to be rebuilt several times - at least three other churches have been discovered, built in the 6th and 7th centuries.