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Bible Dictionaries

Holman Bible Dictionary

Jordan River

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(jawr' duhn) Place name meaning, “the descender.” River forming geographical division separating eastern and western tribes of Israel. It is the longest and most important river of Palestine. It rises from the foot of Mount Hermon and flows into the Dead Sea. The Jordan Valley proper is a strip approximately 70 miles long between the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea. The valley is divided by various rivers and wadis (small streams) into a number of geographically distinguishable sections. Due to the twists and turns of its course, the full length of the river is more than two hundred miles. Its headwaters lie more than a thousand feet above sea level, and its mouth nearly thirteen hundred feet below sea level. Through its descending course the river passes through a variety of climatic zones, as well as different types of terrain.

Four sources come together to form the Jordan River: Banias, el-Leddan, Hasbani, and Bareighit rivers. They all arise at the foothills of Mount Hermon. The Jordan then flows south through what can be described as three stages: (1) From the sources to Lake Huleh. The Jordan flows almost seven miles before it enters Lake Huleh. Within this distance, the river makes its way through areas of marsh consisting of reeds, bulrushes, and papyrus—the chief writing material for centuries. In this area, lions were seen in biblical times (Jeremiah 49:19 ). (2) Between Lake Huleh and the Sea of Galilee. On leaving Lake Huleh, the Jordan flows for about ten miles to the Sea of Galilee. In this short stretch, it descends to 696 feet below sea level. The river has carved a deep and winding course for itself through the center of the valley. Much of its course is characterized by rocky gorges. (3) From the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea. After leaving the Sea of Galilee the river passes through an especially fertile region. The length of this stretch is around sixty-five miles, but the river curves and twists for three times this distance. The breadth of the valley is from three to fourteen miles. The river drops 590 feet during this stretch.

Several major tributaries (e.g. Yarmuk, Jabbok), flow into the Jordan emptying almost as great an amount of water as the Jordan itself. The deltas of these streams are always fertile areas which widen the extent of land that can be cultivated in the valley. Many cities of antiquity were built close to the point of juncture of the tributaries and the main river.

The Jordan River and Jordan Valley played an important role in a number of memorable events from both the Old Testament and the New Testament. The first mention of the Jordan in the Bible occurs in the story of Abram and Lot. Lot, upon his separation from Abram, chose for himself “all the plain of Jordan” (Genesis 13:11 ). Jacob wrestled with his adversary at the ford of the Jabbok (Genesis 32:22-26 ). Under the leadership of Joshua, Israel crossed the Jordan “on dry ground” (Joshua 3:15-17 ). During the period of the judges and the early monarchy, the possession of the fords of the Jordan more than once meant the difference between defeat and victory. The Jordan was a strong line of defense, not to be easily forded. The Jordan River is also featured in the miracles of Elijah and Elisha.

The essential story of the Gospels begins at the Jordan River. It was there that John the Baptist came preaching the coming kingdom of heaven. The most important New Testament event relating to the Jordan is the baptism of Jesus, which was performed by John the Baptizer (Mark 1:9 ). The first part of Jesus' ministry was centered in and around the Sea of Galilee. The second part of His ministry followed as he pursued His course down the east side of the Jordan Valley. There He performed new miracles, and spoke to the multitudes in parables, especially those of the collection in Luke 12-18 . See Luke 12-18; Luke 12-18; Luke 12-18 .

Philip Lee

Copyright Statement
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.

Bibliography Information
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Jordan River'. Holman Bible Dictionary. 1991.

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