Ein Kerem PDF Print E-mail
Written by Stephen Langfur
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Ein Kerem
Church ofthe Baptist
Visitation Church
Ein Kerem is the traditional birthplace of John the Baptist. From Luke 1:39, we know that his parents, Elizabeth and Zacharias, were living in the hill country, in a city of Judah, but the town is not named. The Byzantines, it would seem, recognized this village as the place: a pilgrim named Theodosius (530 AD) gives the distance between Jerusalem and Elizabeth's house as five miles, which fits. The village lies west of the line joining Jerusalem's Old City and Bethlehem, roughly midway between them, where the Sorek Valley begins its course toward the Mediterranean.

When the pilgrim Theodosius visited in 530, there was a fairly new church here. Beneath the western porch of the present Church of St. John the Baptist (left, center), one can make out the apse of a chapel, two rock-cut tombs and part of a mosaic. This contains the inscription (in Greek): "Hail, martyrs of God!" We do not know who the martyrs were. The chapel, as well as another one adjoining it on its south side, ended eight meters west of the present porch.

Such is the evidence for a Byzantine tradition. Josephus writes in some detail about John. (That is why Christians preserved Josephus' works, which we probably would not have otherwise). Yet he does not name his birthplace.

While John was in Elizabeth's womb, the pregnant Mary visited her. We also find, therefore (to the southwest, on a hill) a Church of the Visitation. Both churches were already functioning in Ein Kerem before the Crusaders arrived. This is attested by a Russian Abbot named Daniel in 1106.