(the descender), the one river of Palestine, has a course of little more than 200 miles, from the roots of Anti-Lebanon to the head of the Dead Sea. (136 miles in a straight line: Schaff.) It is the river of the "great plain" of Palestine--the "descender," if not "the river of God" in the book of Psalms, at least that of his chosen people throughout their history. There were fords over against Jericho, to which point the men of Jericho pursued the spies. (Joshua 2:7) comp. Judg 3:28 Higher up where the fords or passages of Bethbarah, where Gideon lay in wait for the Midianites, (Judges 7:24) and where the men of Gilead slew the Ephraimites. ch. (Judges 12:6) These fords undoubtedly witnessed the first recorded passage of the Jordan in the Old Testament. (Genesis 32:10) Jordan was next crossed, over against Jericho, by Joshua. (Joshua 4:12,13) From their vicinity to Jerusalem the lower fords were much used. David, it is probable, passed over them in one instance to fight the Syrians. (2 Samuel 10:17; 17:22) Thus there were two customary places at which the Jordan was fordable; and it must have been at one of these, if not at both, that baptism was afterward administered by St. John and by the disciples of our Lord. Where our Lord was baptized is not stated expressly, but it was probably at the upper ford. These fords were rendered so much more precious in those days from two circumstances. First, it does not appear that there were then any bridges thrown over or boats regularly established on the Jordan; and secondly, because "Jordan overflowed all his banks all the time of harvest." (Joshua 3:15) The channel or bed of the river became brimful, so that the level of the water and of the banks was then the same, and you can find more about that here on st-takla.org on other commentaries and dictionary entries. (Dr. Selah Merrill, in his book "Galilee in the Time of Christ" (1881), says, "Near Tarichaea, just below the point where the Jordan leaves the lake (of Galilee), there was (in Christ's time) a splendid bridge across the river, supported by ten piers."--ED.) The last feature which remains to be noticed in the scriptural account of the Jordan is its frequent mention as a boundary: "over Jordan," "this" and "the other side," or "beyond Jordan," were expressions as familiar to the Israelites as "across the water," "this" and "the other side of the Channel" are to English ears. In one sense indeed, that is, in so far as it was the eastern boundary of the land of Canaan, it was the eastern boundary of the promised land. (Numbers 34:12) The Jordan rises from several sources near Panium (Banias), and passes through the lakes of Merom (Huleh) and Gennesaret. The two principal features in its course are its descent and its windings. From its fountain heads to the Dead Sea it rushes down one continuous inclined plane, only broken by a series of rapids or precipitous falls. Between the Lake of Gennesaret and the Dead Sea there are 27 rapids. The depression of the Lake of Gennesaret below the level of the Mediterranean is 653 feet, and that of the Dead Sea 1316 feet. (The whole descent from its source to the Dead Sea is 3000 feet. Its width varies form 45 to 180 feet, and it is from 3 to 12 feet deep. -Schaff.) Its sinuosity is not so remarkable in the upper part of its course. The only tributaries to the Jordan below Gennesaret are the Yarmuk (Hieromax) and the Zerka (Jabbok). Not a single city ever crowned the banks of the Jordan. Still Bethshan and Jericho to the west, Gerasa, Pella and Gadara to the east of it were important cities, and caused a good deal of traffic between the two opposite banks. The physical features of the Ghor, through which the Jordan flows, are treated of under Palestina And Palestine.
The chacteristics already described are hardly peculiar to Palestine, but there is one feature, as yet only alluded to, in which she stands alone. This feature is the Jordan--the one river of the country. The river is elsewhere described; but it and the valley through which it rushes down its extraordinary descent must be here briefly characterized. This valley begins with the river at its remotest springs of Hasbeiya, on the northwest side of Hermon, and accompanies it to the lower end of the Dead Sea, a length of about 1,50 miles. During the whole of this distance its course is straight and its direction nearly due north and south. The springs of Hasbeiya are 1700 feet above the level of the Mediterranean and the northern end of the Dead Sea is 1317 feet below it, so that between these two points the valley falls with more or less regularity through a height of more than 3000 feet. But though the river disappears at this point, the valley still continues its descent below the waters of the Dead Sea till it reaches a further depth of 1308 feet. So that the bottom of this extraordinary crevasse is actually more than 2600 feet below the surface of the ocean. In width the valley varies. In its upper and shallower portion, as between Banias and the lake of Merom (Huleh), it is about five miles across, and you can find more about that here on st-takla.org on other commentaries and dictionary entries. Between the lake of Merom and the Sea or Galilee it contracts, and becomes more of an ordinary ravine or glen. It is in its third and lower portion that the valley assumes its more definite and regular character. During the greater part of this portion it is about seven miles wide from the one wall to the other. The eastern mountains preserve their straight line of direction, and their massive horizontal wall-like aspect, during almost the whole distance. The western mountains are more irregular in height, their slopes less vertical. North of Jericho they recede in a kind of wide amphitheatre, and the valley becomes twelve miles broad--a breadth which it thenceforward retains to the southern extremity of the Dead Sea. Buried as it is between such lofty ranges, and shielded from every breeze, the climate of the Jordan valley is extremely hot and relaxing. Its enervating influence is shown by the inhabitants of Jericho. All the irrigation necessary for the cultivation which formerly existed is obtained front the torrents of the western mountains. For all purposes to which a river ordinarily applied the Jordan is useless. The Dead Sea, which is the final receptacle of the Jordan, is described elsewhere. [Sea, The Salt, THE SALT.)
Main reference: Smith's Bible Dictionary (1860s)
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