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Fausset's Bible Dictionary


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From yarad "to descend," Arab. "the watering place." Always with the Hebrew article "the Jordan," except Job 40:23; Psalms 42:6. 200 miles long from its source at Antilebanon to the head of the Dead Sea. It is not navigable, nor has it ever had a large town on its banks. The cities Bethshan and Jericho on the W., and Gerasa, Pella, and Gadara to the E. of Jordan, produced intercourse between the two sides of the river. Yet it is remarkable as the river of the great plain (ha Arabah, now el Ghor) of the Holy Land, flowing through the whole from N. to S. Lot from the hills on the N.W. of Sodom seeing the plain well watered by it, as Egypt is by the Nile (Lot's allusion to Egypt is apposite, Abram having just left it: Genesis 12:10-20), chose that district as his home, in spite of the notorious wickedness of the people (Genesis 13:10). Its sources are three. The northernmost near Hasbeya between Hermon and Lebanon; the stream is called Hasbany.

The second is best known, near Banias, i.e. Caesarea Philippi (the scene of Peter's confession, Matthew 16:16); a large pool beneath a high cliff, fed by gushing streamlets, rising at the mouth of a deep cave; thence the Jordan flows, a considerable stream. The third is at Dan, or Tel el Kady (Daphne); from the N.W. corner of a green eminence a spring bursts forth into a clear wide pool, which sends a broad stream into the valley. The three streams unite at Tel Dafneh, and flow sluggishly through marsh land into lake Merom (Huleh). Capt. Newbold adds a fourth, wady el Kid on the S.E. of the slope, flowing from the springs Esh Shar. Indeed Anti-Lebanon abounds in gushing streams, which all make their way into the swamp between Bahias and Huleh and become part of the Jordan. The traditional site of Jacob's crossing Jordan (Jisr Benat Yacobe) at his first leaving Beersheba for Padan Aram is a mile and a half from Merom, and six from the sea of Galilee; in those six its descent with roaring cataracts over the basaltic rocks is 1,050 ft.

This, the part known to Naaman in his invasions, is the least attractive part of its course, and unfavorably contrasted with Abana and Pharpar of his native land (2 Kings 5:12). From the sea of Galilee it winds 200 miles in the 60 miles of actual distance to the Dead Sea. Its tortuous course is the secret of the great depression (the Dead Sea being 663 ft. below the lake of Galilee) in this distance. On Jacob's return from Padan Aram he crossed near where the Jabbok (Zerka) enters the Jordan (Genesis 32:10; Genesis 32:22). The next crossing recorded is that of Joshua over against Jericho, the river being then flooded, in harvest time in April, in consequence of the rainy season and the melting of the snow of Hermon (Joshua 3:15-16; Joshua 4:12-13; Joshua 5:10-12). The men of Jericho had pursued the spies to the fords there (Joshua 2:7), the same as those "toward Moab" where the Moabites were slain (Judges 3:28).

Higher up were the fords Bethbarah or Bethabara (house of passage), where Gideon intercepted the fleeing Midianites (Judges 7:24) and the Gileadites slew the Ephraimites (Judges 12:6), probably the place also of Jacob's crossing. Near was "the clay ground between Succoth and Zarthan" used for Solomon's foundry (1 Kings 7:46). Three banks may be noted in the Ghor or Jordan valley, the upper or first slope (the abrupt edge of a wide table land reaching to the Hauran mountains on the E. and the high hills on the W. side), the lower or middle terrace embracing the strip of land with vegetation, and the true banks of the river bed, with a jungle of agnus castus , tamarisks, and willows and reed and cane at the edge, the stream being ordinarily 30 yards wide. At the flood the river cannot be forded, being 10 or 12 ft. deep E. of Jericho; but in summer it can, the water being low. To cross it in the flood by swimming was an extraordinary feat, performed by the Gadites who joined David (1 Chronicles 12:15); this was impossible for Israel under Joshua with wives and children.

The Lord of the whole earth made the descending waters stand in a heap very far from their place of crossing, namely, by the town of Adam, that is beside Zarthan or Zaretan, the moment that the feet of the priests bearing the ark dipped in the water. The priests then stood in the midst of the dry river bed until all Israel crossed over. Joshua erected a monument of 12 large stones in the river bed where the priests had stood, near the E. bank of the river. This would remain at least for a time as a memorial to the existing generation, besides the monument erected at Gilgal (Joshua 4:3; Joshua 4:6-7; Joshua 4:9; Joshua 4:20). By this lower ford David passed to fight Syria (2 Samuel 10:17), and afterwards in his flight from Absalom to Mahanaim E. of Jordan. There Judah escorted him, and he crossed in a ferry boat (2 Samuel 17:22; 2 Samuel 19:15; 2 Samuel 19:18). Here Elijah and Elisha divided the waters with the prophet's mantle (2 Kings 2:4; 2 Kings 2:8; 2 Kings 2:14).

At the upper fords Naaman washed off his leprosy. Here too the Syrians fled, when panic struck by the Lord (2 Kings 7:15). John the Baptist "first" baptized at the lower ford near Jericho, where all Jerusalem and Judea resorted, being near; where too our Lord took refuge from Jerusalem, and where many converts joined Him, and from from whence He went to Bethany to raise Lazarus (John 10:39-40; John 11:1). John's next baptisms were (John 1:29-34) at Bethabara (or "Bethany") the upper ford, within reach of the N.; there out of Galilee the Lord Jesus and Andrew repaired after the baptisms in the S. (Luke 3:21), and were baptized. (See BETHABARA.) His third place of baptism was near Aenon and Salim, still further to the N., where the water was still deep though it was summer, after the Passover (John 2:13-23), for there was no ford there (John 3:23); he had to go there, the water being too shallow at the ordinary fords. John moved gradually northwards toward Herod's province where ultimately he was beheaded; Jesus coming from the N. southwards met John half way.

The overflow of Jordan dislodged the lion from its lair on the wooded banks (Jeremiah 49:19); in Jeremiah 12:5 some translated "the pride of Jordan," (compare 2 Kings 6:2,) "if in the champaign country alone thou art secure, how wilt thou do when thou fallest into the wooded haunts of wild beasts?" (Proverbs 24:10.) Between Merom and lake Tiberias the banks are so thickly wooded as often to shut out the view of the water. Four fifths of Israel, nine tribes and a half, dwelt W., and one fifth, two and a half, dwelt E. of Jordan. The great altar built by the latter was the witness of the oneness of the two sections (Joshua 22:10-29). Of the six cities of refuge three were E., three W. of Jordan, at equal distances. Jordan enters Gennesareth two miles below the ancient city Julias or Bethsaida of Gaulonitis on the E. bank. It is 70 ft. wide at its mouth, a sluggish turbid stream. The lake of Tiberias is 653 ft. below the Mediterranean level.

The Dead Sea is 1,316 ft. below the Mediterranean, the springs of Hasbeiya are 1,700 above the Mediterranean, so that the valley falls more than 3,000 ft. in reaching the N. end of the Dead Sea. The bottom descends 1,308 ft. lower, in all 2,600 below the Mediterranean. The Jordan, well called "the Descender," descends 11 ft. every mile. Its sinuosity is less in its upper course. Besides the Jabbok it receives the Hieromax (Yarmuk) below Gennesareth. From Jerusalem to Jordan is only a distance of 20 miles; in that distance the descent is 3,500 ft., one of the greatest chasms in the earth; Jerusalem is 2,581 ft. above the Mediterranean. Bitumen wells are not far from the Hasbeya in the N. Hot springs abound about Tiberias; and other tokens of volcanic action, tufa, etc., occur near the Yarmuk's mouth and elsewhere. Only on the E. border of lake Huleh the land is now well cultivated, and yields largely wheat, maize, rice, etc. Horses, cattle, and sheep, and black buffaloes (the "bulls of Bashan") pasture around. W. of Gennesareth are seen grain, palms, vines, figs, melons, and pomegranates.

Cultivation is rare along the lower Jordan, but pink oleanders, arbutus, rose hollyhocks, the purple thistle, marigold, and anemone abound. Tracks of tigers and wild boars, flocks of wild ducks, cranes, and pigeons have been seen by various explorers. Conder considers the tells in the Jordan valley and the Esdraelon plain as artificial, and probably the site of the stronghold of ancient towns; the slopes are steep; good water is always near; they are often where no natural elevation afforded a site for a fortress. There are no bridges earlier than the Roman. The Saracens added or restored some. The Roman bridge of 10 arches, Jisr Semakh, was on the route from Tiberias to Gadara. In coincidence with Scripture, the American survey sets down three fords: that at Tarichaea, the second at the Jabbok's confluence with' Jordan, and that at Jericho. The Jordan seldom now overflows its banks; but Lieutenant Lynch noticed sedge and driftwood high up in the overhanging trees on the banks, showing it still at times overflows the plain.

Anciently, when forests abounded more than now, Mount Hermon had more snow and rain falling on it, and Jordan was therefore flooded to overflow. It is plain from Joshua 3:15; Joshua 4:18 compare with Isaiah 8:7, that Jordan was not merely full to the brim, but overflowed its banks. The flood never reaches beyond the lower line of the Ghor, which is covered with vegetation. The plain of the Jordan between the sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea is generally eight miles broad, but at the N. end of the Dead Sea the hills recede so that the width is 12 miles, of which the W. part is named "the plains of Jericho." The upper terrace immediately under the hills is covered with vegetation; under that is the Arabah or desert plain, barren in its southern part except where springs fertilize it, but fertile in its northern part and cultivated by irrigation.

Grove remarks of the Jordan: "so rapid that its course is one continued cataract, so crooked that in its whole lower and main course it has hardly a half mile straight, so broken with rapids that no boat can swim any distance continuously, so deep below the adjacent country that it is invisible and can only be with difficulty approached; refusing all communication with the ocean, and ending in a lake where navigation is impossible useless for irrigation, it is in fact what its Arabic name signifies, nothing but a 'great watering place,' Sheriat el Khebir." Geologists find that the Jordan valley was caused by a sudden violent depression after the late cretaceous period, having a chain of lakes at three levels. The level is gradually lowering, and the area of the lakes diminishing by denudation and evaporation.

Map of Location

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Bibliography Information
Fausset, Andrew R. Entry for 'Jordan'. Fausset's Bible Dictionary. 1949.

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