Note: This post replaces one from June 22 which was taken down when I learned that I had incorrectly equated two obscure places that should not have been. You will need to read this entire post to get the correct story.
Though the Bible does not specify a place, scholars and religious leaders like to point out possible places where significant events transpired. Such has been true of the place where Philip baptized the government official from Ethiopia (Acts 8:26-39).
One reader asked if this really matters. Those of us who believe in the accuracy of the Bible look for the land and the Book to agree. I think in this instance we have several possible places where the baptism could have taken place.
Ain el-Haniyeh (see here) in the Rephaim Valley is not the only place suggested as the location of the baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch. In fact, Baedeker’s Palestine and Syria, 4th ed., 1906, says,
The tradition that Ain el-Haniyeh was the spring in which Philip baptized the Eunuch of Ethiopia (Acts viii. 36) dates from 1483, before which the scene of that event was placed near Hebron.
The place near Hebron is known as ’Ain ed-Dirweh. My only visit there was in 1979, but it has been associated with Philip’s work since the early Christian centuries. After visiting Bethlehem, The Bordeaux Pilgrim (A.D. 333) went to “Bethasora” (footnote: Bethzur, Beit Sur) where, he says,
There is the fountain in which Philip baptized the eunuch
… we reach the spring of ‘Ain ed-Dirweh, above which are a Mohammedan house and a praying-place. In the time of Eusebius [of Caesarea; c. 265 – c. 339] the spring in which Philip baptized the eunuch was pointed out here (comp. p. 93), and it is so marked on the mosaic map of Madeba. The traces of an ancient Christian church were formerly visible.
The Madaba Map (also spelled Madeba or Medeba), dated between about A.D. 560 and 565, provides a glimpse into the understanding of the Christians of that time about the location of certain biblical events.
Here I cite the information from the Franciscan Cyberspot’s The Madaba Mosaic Map web site. The map shows “a conventional church” and a “disk circled in black with a yellow centre. It is the basin related to the inscription.”
The inscription, above the letters OYDA (ouda, in Iouda = Judah), is translated as follows:
The (church) of Saint Philip, where they say that the eunuch Candaces was baptized.
Go to the Discussion page here and read the comments by various scholars who have examined the matter. I note that some (e.g. Avi-Yonah) suggest that the makers of the map are expressing doubt about the place of the event in the 6th century A.D. by writing “where they say.”To the left of the church building you will see the Greek for the word BETHSURA. This site is often identified with the Beth-zur of Joshua 15:58. Eusebius referred to it as Bethsoro. The Survey of Western Palestine has Bt. Sur. These two places, Bethsura and ’Ain edh-Dhirweh, are essentially the same.
The famous Matson Photograph Collection includes at least two photos of Ein el-Dirweh. The first one was made between 1934 and 1939.
In the next photo we see those who have brought containers to get water for their homes. Notice on the top step where containers are placed there are two water skins being used to collect water. These photos can be enlarged by clicking on them, and even larger images are available on the web site. Go to https://www.loc.gov/ and search for Philips fountain.
And finally, here is a photo I made in 1979. At the time there was very little water in the pool, but it seemed to be a good place for boys to stop on their way home. The site was so unimpressive to me that I never returned.
We still do not know the answer to the question, “Where did Philip baptize the Ethiopian Eunuch?,” but this is an older tradition than the site at Ain el-Haniyeh.
Rasmussen, in his Zondervan Atlas of the Bible, says,
The site of this event is difficult to locate precisely, but since the Ethiopian was riding in a chariot it seems that he must have been traveling on a developed road. It may be that he was traveling on the road that led from Bethlehem to the Valley of Elah, the route that David had taken when he carried supplies to his brothers (1 Sam 17) and the one that the Romans eventually paved and marked with milestones. This road led south from the Valley of Elah through the low rolling hills of the Shephelah to Betogabris and continued from there west to Gaza. (p. 217)
On a modern Israeli road from Bethlehem to the Valley of Elah this would be highway 375.
Notley cites Eusebius, but thinks it is unlikely that Philip continued as far south as Beth-zur. He says,
Southwest of Bethlehem the ancient route divides. The watershed route continues to Beth-zur and Hebron, while a western spur follows the Hushah ridge and descends into the Elah Valley (Wadi es-Samt). The Romans paved this descent and evidence of these efforts can still be seen in steps cut into the Judean hills. (Rainey and Notley. The Sacred Bridge: Carta’s Atlas of the Biblical World, p. 371).
The photo here shows the steps along the road cut into the rock near the Elah Valley. Just a personal thought. I think one might prefer to get out of a chariot and walk down the steps instead of remaining in the chariot.
Notley thinks the baptism may have taken place at one of the numerous springs in the Elah Valley before Philip and the Ethiopian separated to take different routes, Philip to Azotus and the Ethiopian to Gaza and beyond.
And there are other suggestions, but I will leave those for your own study.
A note about spelling. One difficulty in searching for information about some of these ancient places is the various spellings we find. Even in this article I have used ’Ayn ed-Dirweh and Ein el-Dirweh. The Franciscan website uses ’Ayn al-Dhirwah and ’Ain Dhirwe. Hachetts’s The Middle East uses Ain Dirweh. Vilnay uses Ein Dirwa. The Survey of Western Palestine uses ’Ain edh Dhirweh. And on and on it goes.
Sources. There are helpful ways you can access the old, detailed maps included in the Survey of Western Palestine. (1) Buy your own digitized set from Life in the Holy Land. (2) Use the information collected on Ancient Locations here.
Thanks to Tom Powers for many helpful hints in the production of this post. Some of his work may be accessed at his View From Jerusalem website. I keep a link to it at the site listed below under Blogs.
At the BiblicalStudies.info Scholarly page, under Map of Bible Lands, I keep a list of various maps that are helpful.