THE DEEP JORDAN VALLEY

Flanking this broken plateau of Galilean, Samaritan and Judean hills on its eastern side, we find the fourth great strip in the make-up of Palestine, the incredible crater of the Jordan Valley.

Starting from the northern foothills that are the fading ends of Mount Hermon, THE JORDAN RIVER has a fall of over 1700 feet from Caesarea Philippi to the Sea of Galilee, where the surface is 682 feet below sea-level. From the south end of the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea, the river curves to and fro in its course of 200 miles (although only 65 miles in a straight line) and drops another 1000 feet. It is very clear how correct is the name of Jordan, which means "the descender." This valley is by far the deepest land trench on the face of the earth. Geologically it is connected across the Red Sea with the central African lakes. Fish are found in the Lake of Galilee and in the central African lakes that are found nowhere else in the world.

Hot volcanic springs flow in at different points, especially near Capernaum, where the remains of Roman aqueducts show that they were treasured for their healing powers, while farther down on the West shore of the lake other hot springs were incorporated by Herod the Great in the thermal baths of his Golden Palace, and these springs were used for healing in Jesus' day, as they still are.

We will now follow the geography of the valley from north to south, thinking of it in terms of the life of Jesus:

CAESAREA PHILIPPI was built at the point where the infant stream cascaded from the foot of a cliff under Mount Hermon. Here Jesus retired from the fierce hostility of Herod Antipas to the country that was under the milder rule of Philip the Tetrarch. The actual city was new in Jesus' time, having been built by Philip, who was reigning during Jesus' ministry. He called it " Philippi " after himself and " Caesarea " in honor of the Roman emperor. Up till then, under Greek influence, it was called Panias (the city of Pan). A Greek inscription carved in the face of the cliff was there in Jesus' time and still exists, declaring that " Pan and his nymphs haunt this place." The lively, sparkling stream, the overhanging trees, the towering cliff and the mountain background make it a scene of exquisite beauty and of majesty.

This gushing stream, together with others in these foothills, carries three-quarters of the water from the snows of Mount Hermon into the Jordan Valley. They form the baby river that flows at this stage in a wide valley and meanders through a shallow malarial marsh famous for its papyrus and Lake Huleh.

From Lake Huleh, which is 4 miles long, the infant Jordan surges swiftly down through a narrow gorge to open out at the mouth formed at the north end of the Sea of Galilee by the soil carried down by the river. On the eastern side of this mouth the flats are constantly covered by green grass. This accounts for the fact that two of the Gospel writers, describing the feeding of the multitude, mention the greenness of the grass, which indicates how unusual this was in Palestine.

THE SEA OR LAKE OF GALILEE is shaped like a pear, 8 miles wide (at the northern end) and just over 12 miles long. To visualize the Lake in Jesus' day' we need to reconstruct the cities and towns so busily employed around its shores, and the multitude of fishing boats sailing on the vividly blue waters, casting their nets to provide the famous Galilean salt fish that had become a delicacy of the Roman world. Of the Lake-side cities at that time the largest and newest, named TIBERIAS after the Emperor, was avoided by orthodox Jews, because part of it was built on an old cemetery.

CAPERNAUM at the north end of the Lake, the city which Jesus made the center of His ministry, was more important than Tiberias because one of the great arterial routes of traffic of the Roman world ran through it. The camel caravans coming down from Damascus and crossing the upper Jordan by the Bridge of the Daughters of Jacob (which still exists reconstructed) paid custom taxes at Capernaum before going on to Jerusalem or Egypt. Jesus called Matthew to be His disciple as he was " sitting at the receipt of custom " as a servant of the Roman government at Capernaum.

On the steep eastern shore toward the north end of the Lake are the GADARENE slopes where the swine ran down into the sea. The presence of swine (animals prohibited to the Jews as food) and the demoniac's statement that his name was " Legion " point to the fact that behind the hill was the great encampment of the Roman legions, signs of which can still be traced at the present day.

As the River Jordan runs rapidly down beyond the south end of the Sea of Galilee it receives from the east the turbulent RIVER YARMUK. This branch, that flows down from Transjordania, is almost as large as the Jordan itself at that point. The river is again met, 20 miles north of the Dead Sea, by the RIVER JABBOK, which also flows into it from the East from the hills of Gilead. As we head south toward the Dead Sea we reach Jericho.

THE CITY OF JERICHO stood in Jesus' time in the valley far up from the river to the West. The presence of that city and its frequent rebuilding after siege and earthquake was and is due to the beautiful Fountain of Elisha, as the perpetual spring is called. Jericho, before the birth of Jesus, had been largely rebuilt by Herod the Great, with a citadel, hippodrome and other buildings in the massive Hellenic-Roman style. Actually it had been possessed by Queen Cleopatra of Egypt during part of her lifetime. She died in the year 30 B.C. Herod died in Jericho soon after Jesus' birth, and during his last hours was so bothered by realizing the joy with which the news of his death would be received that he decreed the massacre of a large number of Jews to take place immediately on his death. The decree was never carried out.

The "pride of Jordan," spoken of in the Old Testament, refers to the tremendous flood of waters that comes down when the snows of Hermon are melting fast and rains are falling on the hills of Transjordania. At that time the river is swollen from its summer width of 75 or 100 feet until it reaches sometimes even 1mile in width.

The site of the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan is not at all certain. The traditional place is not very far from the Dead Sea, almost opposite Jericho; and there pilgrims go, although this is not the likely place.

The Jordan flows into THE DEAD SEA. This strange Lake is very unique. Its waters lie 1,292 feet below the surface of the ocean. The bottom of the sea is 1,278 feet lower still. Six to eight million tons of vapor rise into the hot air every day from the Dead Sea. For it has no outlet. It holds many chemicals in vast quantities in its belly. Chloride of magnesium makes it bitter. Chloride of calcium makes it feel oily. Great salt cliffs six hundred feet high on the south-West were the source of the salt of which Jesus speaks, used to preserve the Galilean fish and the housewife's stores of food. Above the eastern shore on a great mass of rock Herod built his castle of Machaerus, in which John the Baptist was imprisoned.

Next THE OTHER SIDE OF THE JORDAN

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