By John Martin in London

Naaman the Syrian army commander knew something that’s true to this day. When Elisha the man of God tells him to take a dip in the Jordan River to be cured of leprosy (2 Kings 5) he has a temper tantrum. Even then, apparently, Jordan water was not pleasant.

The Bible recounts his reaction. He thunders: “‘Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Couldn’t I wash in them and be cleansed?’ So he turned and went off in a rage.”

Present-day Christians who go to the Jordan for baptism, or to renew baptismal vows, are cautioned: “Don’t swallow it or let it get up your nose.” We don’t know for sure what Jordan water was like in Naaman’s day, but today it is seriously polluted by sewage and industrial waste.

Notwithstanding, when Princess Charlotte was baptised Sunday by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, it was with water from the Jordan. The same happened two years ago when Charlotte’s big brother, George, was baptised.

The Jordan, crossed by ancient Israel to enter the promised land, is shallow, muddy and narrow. The traditional site where Jesus was baptised close to the Dead Sea attracts half a million visitors a year to be immersed in it.

Jordan water has become something of an industry. Lots of visitors decant it into containers and return home with it for use in baptisms, usually adding a dash of bottled Jordan water to local tap water. The British Royals were tight-lipped about the source of their Jordan water, but a Jordanian official is reported to have told the BBC that it was supplied by his country’s royal family.

Jordan has a national baptism commission and supervises sites where Christian pilgrims take the plunge. One of its projects is bottling river water for souvenirs as well as Christian baptisms. Water obtained from this source is cleaned, sterilised, and given an official label. There is a similar trade in Israel and in the Palestinian territories.

Twin packs of Jordan water and oil from the Mount of Olives do a steady trade. You can buy blessed Jordan Water on eBay. If you are pious and extravagant you can buy a water-filled crucifix for around $50.

Image: “A church at the Baptism Site of Jesus Christ, Jordan River, Jordan,” by Freedom’s Falcon, via Wikimedia Commons

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