Addressing a long-simmering debate about whether Jesus Christ was baptized on the eastern or western side of the Jordan River, UNESCO has made its final decision, and the winner is … Jordan, not the West Bank in Israel, the AP reports. Despite a lack of strong archaeological evidence, the UN organization deemed "Bethany Beyond the Jordan," also known as al-Maghtas (Arabic for "baptism") a World Heritage site after determining the site has "immense religious significance to the majority of denominations of Christian faith, who have accepted this site as the location," the experts wrote. What this could mean for Jordan is more tourist dollars, especially since the AP notes that the Israeli-run site, known as Qasr al-Yahud, currently receives hundreds of thousands more visitors every year than its Jordanian counterpart.
When Israel reopened Qasr al-Yahud in 2011 after a decade-long closure, critics accused Israel of revisionism, Ynet reports—especially since Pope John Paul II sanctified al-Maghtas as the site in 2000. In a bit of gloating, Jordanian paper Al Rai noted yesterday, "Since the site was discovered, Israel has not stopped trying to ... attribute it to the occupied side of the Jordan River. This despite the religious and historical documents that prove that the baptism ... [was] on the Jordanian side of the Jordan River." Some don't care either way which side of the river it was on. "It doesn't matter to me much," a visitor tells the AP. "The fact that Jesus has been here … [is] of utmost importance to me." Meanwhile, the head of a Mideast environmental group tells Ynet there's a bigger problem affecting everyone in the region: "Whether it's listed by UNESCO or not ... the quantity and quality of the Jordan River's water is so poor." (An issue with the Israeli site a few years ago: lots of nearby land mines.)