Qasr el-Yehud (Castle of the Jews) is a baptismal location on the Jordan River. The site is in the Palestinian Authority of the West Bank 15 kms from the northern end of the Dead Sea and southeast of Jericho. Qasr el-Yehud is believed to be the Biblical site where John baptized Jesus; this symbolized his spiritual birth. This stretch of the river is also where Joshua led the Israelites crossed the River Jordan into the Promised Land. The Prophet Elijah is said to have ascended to heaven from this location. The area covers both banks of the Jordan River – on the east bank in the Kingdom of Jordan and on the west bank at Qasr el-Yehud.
Visiting Qasr el-Yehud
Qasr el-Yehud was closed to visitors from 1967 to 1994 when the area was a no-man’s land. Following the peace agreement between Jordan and Israel the site was reopened in 2011 and restored. It is now accessible to visitors with the addition of hand-rails and steps leading down into the water. Several churches have been built near Qasr el-Yehud over the years beginning in the Byzantine-era but only ruins have survived. Two new outdoor chapels are now used by visiting Christians of all denominations. Special celebrations take place here on January 6th for the Feast of Epiphany by the Western Churches; January 19th for the Theophany by Eastern Orthodox Churches and during the Easter weekend.
Two Baptismal Sites of the Jordan River
You may have heard of an alternate baptismal site called Yardenit, located in northern Israel near the southern end of the Sea of Galilee. Yardenit is also on the Jordan River and was created as an alternative site for Christian pilgrims who wanted to be baptized in the Jordan but could not reach Qasr el-Yahud due to logistic and security obstacles. Qasr e-Yahud is closer to the geographical location described in the Bible as Jesus’ baptismal site but Yardenit is a good alternative when it is not possible to reach Qasr el-Yahud.