Jordan — Heb. Yarden, “the descender;” Arab. Nahr-esh-Sheriah, “the watering-place” the chief river of Palestine. It flows from north to south down a deep valley in the centre of the country. The name descender is significant of the fact that there is along its whole course a descent to its banks; or it may simply denote the rapidity with which it “descends” to the Dead Sea.
It originates in the snows of Hermon, which feed its perennial fountains. Two sources are generally spoken of. (1.) From the western base of a hill on which once stood the city of Dan, the northern border-city of Palestine, there gushes forth a considerable fountain called the Leddan, which is the largest fountain in Syria and the principal source of the Jordan. (2.) Beside the ruins of Banias, the ancient Caesarea Philippi and the yet more ancient Panium, is a lofty cliff of limestone, at the base of which is a fountain. This is the other source of the Jordan, and has always been regarded by the Jews as its true source. It rushes down to the plain in a foaming torrent, and joins the Leddan about 5 miles south of Dan (Tell-el-Kady). (3.) But besides these two historical fountains there is a third, called the Hasbany, which rises in the bottom of a valley at the western base of Hermon, 12 miles north of Tell-el-Kady. It joins the main stream about a mile below the junction of the Leddan and the Banias. The river thus formed is at this point about 45 feet wide, and flows in a channel from 12 to 20 feet below the plain. After this it flows, “with a swift current and a much-twisted course,” through a marshy plain for some 6 miles, when it falls into the Lake Huleh, “the waters of Merom” (q.v.).
During this part of its course the Jordan has descended about 1,100 feet. At Banias it is 1,080 feet above sea-level. Flowing from the southern extremity of Lake Huleh, here almost on a level with the sea, it flows for 2 miles “through a waste of islets and papyrus,” and then for 9 miles through a narrow gorge in a foaming torrent onward to the Sea of Galilee (q.v.).
“In the whole valley of the Jordan from the Lake Huleh to the Sea of Galilee there is not a single settled inhabitant. Along the whole eastern bank of the river and the lakes, from the base of Hermon to the ravine of Hieromax, a region of great fertility, 30 miles long by 7 or 8 wide, there are only some three inhabited villages. The western bank is almost as desolate. Ruins are numerous enough. Every mile or two is an old site of town or village, now well nigh hid beneath a dense jungle of thorns and thistles. The words of Scripture here recur to us with peculiar force: ‘I will make your cities waste, and bring your sanctuaries unto desolation … And I will bring the land into desolation: and your enemies which dwell therein shall be astonished at it … And your land shall be desolate, and your cities waste. Then shall the land enjoy her sabbaths, as long as it lieth desolate’ (Lev. 26:31–34).”, Dr. Porter’s Handbook.
From the Sea of Galilee, at the level of 682 feet below the Mediterranean, the river flows through a long, low plain called “the region of Jordan” (Matt. 3:5), and by the modern Arabs the Ghor, or “sunken plain.” This section is properly the Jordan of Scripture. Down through the midst of the “plain of Jordan” there winds a ravine varying in breadth from 200 yards to half a mile, and in depth from 40 to 150 feet. Through it the Jordan flows in a rapid, rugged, tortuous course down to the Dead Sea. The whole distance from the southern extremity of the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea is in a straight line about 65 miles, but following the windings of the river about 200 miles, during which it falls 618 feet. The total length of the Jordan from Banias is about 104 miles in a straight line, during which it falls 2,380 feet.
There are two considerable affluents which enter the river between the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea, both from the east. (1.) The Wady Mandhur, called the Yarmuk by the Rabbins and the Hieromax by the Greeks. It formed the boundary between Bashan and Gilead. It drains the plateau of the Hauran. (2.) The Jabbok or Wady Zerka, formerly the northern boundary of Ammon. It enters the Jordan about 20 miles north of Jericho.
The first historical notice of the Jordan is in the account of the separation of Abraham and Lot (Gen. 13:10). “Lot beheld the plain of Jordan as the garden of the Lord.” Jacob crossed and recrossed “this Jordan” (32:10). The Israelites passed over it as “on dry ground” (Josh. 3:17; Ps. 114:3). Twice afterwards its waters were miraculously divided at the same spot by Elijah and Elisha (2 Kings 2:8, 14).
The Jordan is mentioned in the Old Testament about one hundred and eighty times, and in the New Testament fifteen times. The chief events in gospel history connected with it are (1) John the Baptist’s ministry, when “there went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judaea, and were baptized of him in Jordan” (Matt. 3:6). (2.) Jesus also “was baptized of John in Jordan” (Mark 1:9).