What is the Jordan?
(the descender), the great river of Palestine, as the Nile is of Egypt. Name. -- "Jordan" (the Hebrew Yarden) signifies, from its derivation, "the descender." It is always joined with the article in the 0.T., with two exceptions, Ps 42:6; Job 40:23. The Arabs call it esh-Sheriah, or "the watering-place." A tradition as old as St. Jerome, a.d. 400, says that the Jordan derived its name from two rivers, the Jor, rising at Banias, and the Dan, rising at Tell el-Kadi. But this tradition seems to be erroneous; for according to Gen 13:10, the river was known to Abraham as the Jordan long before the children of Dan gave their name to Leshem, Josh 19:47, or Laish. Jud 18:29. Sources. -- The Jordan rises among the mountains of Anti-Lebanon, and has four sources: (1). The Hambany, which issues from the large fountain 'Ain Furar, near Hasbeya, at an altitude of 1700 feet above the sea. This pool, which the natives say is 1000 feet deep, Macgregor found to have a depth of 11 feet. (2) The Banias, which rises near the ruins of Banias (Caesarea-Philippi), at the base of Mount Hermon, 1140 feet above the sea-level. (3) The Seddan, rising in a large fountain on the west side of the Tell el-Kadi ("hill of the judge," the site of the city of Dan). In the midst of a thicket of oleander bushes is a large pool, 50 or 60 yards wide, with the water bubbling out of the ground in a full-grown stream. This, which Josephus calls the Little Jordan, is the most copious source. (4) The Esh-Shar, a minor tributary, only one or two yards broad. Besides the [image -4, 32, 285, 460, 19382] above four sources, there are numerous small streams from the springs of Lebanon, which find their way into the swamp above Lake Huleh, and contribute to swell the Jordan. Course of the Stream. -- At a point about 4 miles below Tell el-Kadi the Hanbany unites with the other two principal sources. At this point the Jordan is 45 feet wide, and flows in a channel from 12 to 30 feet below the level of the plain. After emerging from a broad morass the waters expand into Lake el-Huleh, 4 1/4 miles long, 2 3/4 miles wide, having descended 1434 feet. See Merom, The Waters of. Issuing from the lake in a sluggish current, the descent soon makes it a rapid torrent, which in a course of 9 miles descends 897 feet to the Sea of Galilee, 682 1/2 feet below the Mediterranean. See Galilee, Sea of. The popular notion that the waters of the river do not seem to mingle with those of the lake, "but pass through in a united stream, is a "fable." From the Sea of Tiberias to the Dead Sea there is one deep depression, the hills from the east and west nearly meeting in many places. This depression is filled up to a certain level with an alluvial deposit, forming a vast plain called the Jordan Valley, or Ghor (the hollow). This is the " upper plain." It varies in width from 1 to 12 miles. The river has cut out for itself a plain lower than the preceding by some 50 to 100 feet, and from a quarter of a mile to a mile wide. This is the "lower plain," through which the river, some 60 yards wide, winds its way. During the spring floods this lower plain is inundated. Although the distance in a straight line between Tiberias and the Dead Sea is only 66 miles, the actual distance the stream flows, on account of its many windings, is 200 miles, and the fall 667 feet. Twenty-seven threatening rapids were counted by Lieut. Lynch, besides many others of minor importance. The whole distance from the sources of the river to its mouth is not more than 136 miles in a straight line. The whole descent is 2999 feet to the Dead Sea, which, according to the latest determination of the British Survey, is 1292 feet below the sea-level, although Lynch had reported it at 1317 feet. See Salt Sea. The width of the stream varies from 45 to 180 feet, and its depth from 3 to 12 feet. Tributaries. -- Between the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea two considerable rivers enter the Jordan from the east. (1) Wady Mandhur (the Jarmuk or Yarmuk of the Rabbins, and the Hieromax of Pliny). This stream formerly divided Bashan and Gilead. (2) Wady Zerka, the Jabbok, which enters the Jordan 20 miles north of Jericho and was formerly the northern boundary of Amnion. Between the above two Dr. Selah Merrill found "no less than eleven living streams, more than half of which can be called large ones." Between the Jabbok and the Wady Nimrin there are no streams and the region is barren, but below the Wady Nimrin several living streams were noted. Hot springs of considerable size have been found in as many as ten different localities in the Jordan Valley. The temperature of those at El-Hama, near the Yarmuk, is from 100 to 115 degrees. Bridges and Fords. -- There are the remains of several bridges crossing the river, which date back to Roman times. One of these, a few hundred yards above Damieh (the "Adam" of Josh 3:16), marks the crossing-place of the great road from central Palestine to the East. Dr. Merrill says there is reason to believe that this bridge existed in Christ's time, and it is on the road by which the Saviour went from Galilee to Jerusalem. Below Lake Hileh is a bridge called "Bridge of Jacob's Daughter," probably built in the fifteenth century. There are four principal fords over the river: the lower one, opposite Jericho, near the famous bathing-place of the pilgrims; another, eastward of Sakut; and two others, nearer the Sea of Galilee. At low water there are many other points at which the river might be easily forded, and the British Survey discovered evidences of various fords. During the floods the Arabs are frequently obliged to swim their horses across the river. Climate and Vegetation. -- The great depression of the Jordan Valley gives to it a semi-tropical character. "In its natural products it stands unique, a tropical oasis sunk in the temperate zone." Under the intense heat vegetation advances with wonderful rapidity, Source of the Jordan. (After plans by Major Wilson, R.E.) The figures denote the heights in feet above the sea-level. but is as quickly scorched wherever the water-supply is not abundant. In the marshes of Huleh are acres of papyrus, the reeds sometimes reaching 16 feet in height. This reed is now wholly extinct in Egypt, according to Tristram (Natural History, p. 11), and to find it again one must travel either to India or to Abyssinia. Farther south along the river's course are the jujube (a tropical tree), date-palm, oleander, tamarisk, "zukkum," or false balm of Gilead, osher, henna, etc. Even in the depth of winter the thermometer ranges from 60 to 80 degrees. Scripture History. -- The first mention Course of the Jordan from Sea of Galilee to Dead Sea. (After plans by Major Wilson, R.E.) of the Jordan is in " Gen 13:10, where Lot beheld the plain of the Jordan as the garden of the Lord; "Jacob crossed and recrossed it, Gen 32:10; the Israelites passed over it in entering the Promised Land, Josh 3, Josh 4; Ps 114:3. The phenomenon of the river overflowing its banks at the time of harvest is still witnessed. The snows from Lebanon melt in the spring-time and swell the current of the Jordan at the time of the harvest, which, in the hot climate of the Jordan Valley, comes in April. Prof. Porter of Belfast, at a visit in the middle of April, found it impossible to cross the river at the usual ford near Jericho, and was compelled to go a day's journey up the banks to Damieh. Among those who crossed over the Jordan were Gideon, "faint yet pursuing" after Zebah and Zalmunna, Jud 8:4-5; the Ammonites, invading Judah, Jud 10:9; Abner, in flight, 2 Sam 2:29; David, in flight, 2 Sam 17:22, and returning to his capital, 2 Sam 19:15-18 (mention is here made of a ferryboat, probably only a raft, the only time in Scripture); David, to war with the Syrians; Absalom, in pursuit of his father, 2 Sam 17:24; Elijah and Elisha, parting the waters with the mantle. 2 Kgs 2:6-14. As two and a half tribes of Israel dwelt east of the river, the amount of crossing and recrossing must have been considerable, and the best fords were well known. Comp. Josh 2:7; Jud 3:28; Num 7:24; Jud 12:5-6. The river was known to Job, Job 40:23, and Jeremiah speaks of "the swelling of Jordan." Jer 12:6; Jer 49:19; Jer 60:44. Noteworthy miracles, in addition to those already mentioned, were the curing of Naaman, 2 Kgs 6:14, and the making the iron to swim. 2 Kgs 6:6. The Jordan is mentioned about 180 times in the O.T. In the N.T. it is mentioned 16 times. The chief events noted in connection with it in the N.T. are John's baptism of the multitudes. Matt 3:6, and especially his baptism of Jesus. Mark 1:9. In commemoration of this latter event it is the custom for Christian pilgrims in great numbers to bathe in the Jordan not far from Jericho at Easter. The cities mentioned in Scripture in connection with the Jordan are few. The chief ones near it were Jericho and Gilgal, Succoth and Bethshan. Traces of several towns have been noted on the east side, in the valley between the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea. The Jordan has been several times navigated in a boat in modern times -- by Costigan, 1835; by Molyneaux, 1847; by Lieut. Lynch, 1848; by J. Macgregor (Rob Roy), 1869. "The sight of the Jordan," says Schaff, " is rather disappointing. It bears no comparison in majesty and beauty to the great rivers of Europe and America. Naaman thought the clear rivers of his native Damascus far superior, yet the Abana and Pharpar could not wash away his leprosy. Its chief importance is historic. In this respect the Jordan surpasses the Hudson and the Mississippi, the Rhine and the Danube, and even the Nile. It marks the termination of the wanderings of the children of Israel from the banks of the Nile, and the beginning of their history as an independent nation in their own home. It blends the memories of the old and new Covenants as the culmination of John's testimony and the inauguration of Christ's kingdom." -- Through Bible Lands, p. 299. "Surely," says Macgregor, "the Jordan is by far the most wonderful stream on the face of the earth, and the memories of its history will not be forgotten in heaven." -- Rob Roy on the Jordan, p. 406. It is a sacred stream alike to Jew, Ishmaelite, Christian, and Mohammedan, and in this surpasses in interest any other river in the world.