Jordan River

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This article is about the river in West Asia. For other rivers named Jordan River or River Jordan, see Jordan River (disambiguation).
Jordan River (Hebrew: נהר הירדן, Nehar haYarden
Arabic: نهر الأردن, Nahr al-Urdun
Jordan River Bushy.jpg
Jordan River
Name origin: Hebrew: ירדן (yardén, descender) < ירד (yarad, to descend)[1]
Country Israel, Jordan, The Palestinian territories
Regions West Asia, Eastern Mediterranean littoral
District Galilee
 - left Banias River, Dan River, Yarmouk River, Zarqa River
 - right Hasbani or Snir River (Lebanon and Israel), Iyon/Ayun Stream (Lebanon and Israel)
Landmarks Sea of Galilee, Dead Sea
 - location Anti-Lebanon Mountain Range at Mount Hermon, Golan Heights
 - elevation 2,814 m (9,232 ft)
Mouth Dead Sea
 - elevation -416 m (-1,365 ft)
Length 251 km (156 mi)
The Jordan River runs along the border between the Kingdom of Jordan, Israel and The Palestinian territories.

The Jordan River (in traditional English River Jordan) (Hebrew: נְהַר הַיַּרְדֵּןnehar hayarden; Arabic: نَهْر الْأُرْدُنّnahr al-urdun) is a 251-kilometre (156 mi)-long river in West Asia flowing to the Dead Sea. Israel and The Palestinian territories border the river to the west, while the Golan Heights and Jordan lie to its east. The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan takes its name from this river.

The river has a major significance in Judaism and Christianity and, to a more moderate degree, Islam, as the site where the Israelites crossed into the Promised Land and where Jesus of Nazareth was baptised by John the Baptist.[2]

Physical characteristics[edit]


The streams coming together to create the River Jordan in its upper basin are, west to east:

  • The Ayun (Hebrew: עיון Ayun, Arabic: دردره Dardara or براغيث Braghith - on old PEF maps (1871-77) as Wadi el-Kharrar in the Merj 'Ayun area) and Nahr Bareighit in its lower part, which flows from Lebanon.
  • The Hasbani (Arabic: الحاصباني Hasbani, Hebrew: either שניר Snir or Hatzbani), which flows from Mount Lebanon.
  • The Dan (Hebrew: דן Dan, Arabic: اللدان Leddan), whose source is also at the base of Mount Hermon.
  • The Banias (Arabic: بانياس Banias, Hebrew: either Banias or חרמון Hermon), arising from a spring at Banias at the foot of Mount Hermon.

South of the Sea of Galilee, it receives the waters of further tributaries, the main ones being:


River Jordan draining into the Dead Sea

The Jordan has, geographically speaking, an upper course (from its sources to the Sea of Galilee) and a lower one (beyond the Sea of Galilee and down to the Dead Sea). For reasons of traditional terminology, the upper course (or most of it) is commonly referred to as passing through the "Hula Valley", and not the "upper Jordan Valley"; the Sea of Galilee through which the river passes is a separate entity; and the term Jordan Valley is reserved for the lower course. In this sense, the (actually in its entirety "lower") Jordan Valley may be separated into upper, central and lower Jordan Valley.

Over its upper course, the river drops rapidly in a 75-kilometre (47 mi) run to the once large and swampy Lake Hula, which is slightly above sea level. Exiting the now much diminished lake, it goes through an even steeper drop over the 25 kilometres (16 mi) down to the Sea of Galilee, which it enters at its northern end. The Jordan deposits much of the silt it is carrying within the lake, which it leaves again near its southern tip. The last, ca. 120-kilometre (75 mi)-long section, follows what is commonly termed the "Jordan Valley", which has less gradient (the total drop is of about 210 metres) so that the river meanders before entering the Dead Sea, a terminal lake about 422 metres below sea level with no outlet. Two major tributaries enter from the east during this last section: the Yarmouk River and Zarqa River.

Its section north of the Sea of Galilee (Hebrew: כנרת Kinneret, Arabic: Bohayrat Tabaraya, meaning Lake of Tiberias) is within the boundaries of Israel, and forms the western boundary of the Golan Heights. South of the lake, it forms the border between the Kingdom of Jordan (to the east) and Israel and The Palestinian territories (to the west).

Human impact[edit]

Colored postcard of the Jordan River, by Karimeh Abbud, circa 1925

In 1964, Israel began operating a pumping station that diverts water from the Sea of Galilee to the National Water Carrier. Also in 1964, Jordan constructed a channel that diverted water from the Yarmouk River, another main tributary of the Jordan River to the East Ghor Canal. Syria has also built reservoirs that catch the Yarmouk's waters. Environmentalists blame Israel, Jordan and Syria for extensive damage to the Jordan River ecosystem.[3]

In modern times, the waters are 70% to 90% used for human purposes and the flow is greatly reduced. Because of this and the high evaporation rate of the Dead Sea, as well as industrial extraction of salts through evaporation ponds, the sea is shrinking. All the shallow waters of the southern end of the sea have been drained in modern times and are now salt flats.

A small section of the northernmost portion of the Lower Jordan, the first ca. 3-kilometre (1.9 mi) below the Sea of Galilee, has been kept pristine for baptism and local tourism. Most polluted is the 100-kilometre downstream stretch - a meandering stream from above the confluence with the Yarmouk to the Dead Sea. Environmentalists say the practice of letting sewage and brackish water flow into the river has almost destroyed its ecosystem. Rescuing the Jordan could take decades, according to environmentalists.[3] In 2007, Friends of the Earth Middle East (FoEME) named the Jordan River as one of the world's 100 most endangered ecological sites, due in part to lack of cooperation between Israel and neighboring Arab states.[4] The same environmentalist organization had said in a report that the Jordan River could dry up by 2011 unless the decay is stopped.[5] The flow rate of the Jordan River once was 1.3 billion cubic metres per year; as of 2010, just 20 to 30 million cubic metres per year flow into the Dead Sea.[5] For comparison, the total amount of desalinated water produced by Israel by 2012 was estimated to be about 500 million cubic metres per year.

Roads, border crossings, bridges[edit]

Route 90, part of which is named after Rehavam Zeevi, connects the northern and southern tips of Israel and parallels the Jordan River on the western side.

There are two border crossings between Israel, The Palestinian territories, and Jordan which cross the river over bridges. The northern one, Jordan River Crossing or Sheikh Hussein Bridge is near Beit She'an]; the southern one, Allenby Bridge (also King Hussein Bridge), is near Jericho.

From the bridges crossing the river within Israel, the most famous one is the Bnot Ya'akov Bridge (Hebrew: Gesher Bnot Ya'akov, "Daughters of Jacob Bridge").

Other historically important bridges:

  • Arik Bridge at the northern end of the Sea of Galilee; allows access to the central Golan Heights, was crucial in the 1967 and 1973 wars
  • Al-Sinnabra at the spot where the river used to exit the Sea of Galilee in the past; few remains excavated by archaeologists
  • Jisr el-Majami' north of Beit She'an/Beisan; closed
  • Damiya or Adam Bridge halfway between Jericho and Beit She'an; closed

Another closed bridge is the King Abdullah Bridge south of the Allenby Bridge.

Importance as a water source[edit]

The waters of the Jordan River are an important water resource for Israel and, to a much lesser extent, for Jordan. The National Water Carrier, completed in 1964, delivers water from the Sea of Galilee to the Israeli coastal plain. Jordan receives water from Israel since the 1994 Israeli-Jordanian peace treaty through a pipeline from the Sea of Galilee.

Conflict about the waters of the Jordan River was a contributing factor to the Six-Day War when, starting in 1965, Syria attempted to divert some of its headwaters in collaboration with Lebanon and Jordan.[6] The diversion works would have reduced the water availability for Israel's carrier by about 35%, and Israel's overall water supply by about 11%.[7] In April 1967 Israel conducted air raids into Syria to halt this work, and two months later the Six Day War followed. The use of Jordan River's water was cited as a cause of the war by Ariel Sharon, who said,

People generally regard June 5, 1967, as the day the Six Day War began. That is the official date, but in reality it started two and a half years earlier on the day Israel decided to act against the diversion of the Jordan River.[6]

Biblical importance[edit]

"The Children of Israel Crossing the Jordan" by Gustave Doré

Hebrew Bible[edit]

In the Hebrew Bible the Jordan is referred to as the source of fertility of a large plain ("Kikkar ha-Yarden"), said to be watered like "the garden of the LORD" (Genesis 13:10). There is no regular description of the Jordan in the Bible; only scattered and indefinite references to it are given. Jacob crossed it and its tributary, the Jabbok (the modern Al-Zarqa), on his way back from Haran (Genesis 32:11, 32:23-24). It is noted as the line of demarcation between the "two tribes and the half tribe" settled to the east (Numbers 34:15) and the "nine tribes and the half tribe of Manasseh" that, led by Joshua, settled to the west (Joshua 13:7, passim).

Opposite Jericho, it was called "the Jordan of Jericho" (Numbers 34:15; 35:1). The Jordan has a number of fords, and one of them is famous as the place where many Ephraimites were slain by Jephthah (Judges 12:5-6). It seems that these are the same fords mentioned as being near Beth-barah, where Gideon lay in wait for the Midianites (Judges 7:24). In the plain of the Jordan, between Succoth and Zarthan, is the clay ground where Solomon had his brass-foundries (1 Kings 7:46).

In biblical history, the Jordan appears as the scene of several miracles, the first taking place when the Jordan, near Jericho, was crossed by the Israelites under Joshua (Joshua 3:15-17). Later the two tribes and the half tribe that settled east of the Jordan built a large altar on its banks as "a witness" between them and the other tribes (Joshua 22:10, 22:26, et seq.). The Jordan was crossed by Elijah and Elisha on dry ground (2 Kings 2:8, 2:14). God thrived through Elisha performing two other miracles at the Jordan: God healed Naaman by having him bathe in its waters, and he made the axe head of one of the "children of the prophets" float, by throwing a piece of wood into the water (2 Kings 5:14; 6:6).

New Testament[edit]

The excavated remains of Bethabara, in modern-day Jordan, where John the Baptist is believed to have conducted his ministry and where Jesus Christ is believed to have been baptized.

The New Testament states that John the Baptist baptised unto repentance[8] in the Jordan (Matthew 3:5-6; Mark1:5; Luke 3:3; John1:28). These acts of Baptism are also reported as having taken place at Bethabara (John 1:28).

Jesus came to be baptised by him there (Matthew 3:13; Mark 1:9; Luke 3:21, 4:1). The Jordan is also where John the Baptist bore record of Jesus as the Son of God and Lamb of God (John 1:29-36).

The prophecy of Isaiah regarding the Messiah which names the Jordan (Isaiah 9:1-2) is also reported in Matthew 4:15.

The New Testament speaks several times about Jesus crossing the Jordan during his ministry (Matthew 19:1; Mark 10:1), and of believers crossing the Jordan to come hear him preach and to be healed of their diseases (Matthew 4:25; Mark 3:7-8). When his enemies sought to capture him, Jesus took refuge at Jordan in the place John had first baptised (John 10:39-40).

Symbolic importance[edit]

The Jordan is a frequent symbol in folk, gospel, and spiritual music, and in poetic and literary works.

Because the Israelites made a difficult and hazardous journey from slavery in Egypt to freedom in The Promised Land, the Jordan can refer to freedom. The actual crossing is the final step of the journey, which is then complete.

Because of the baptism of Jesus, water from the Jordan is employed for the christening of heirs and princes in several Christian royal houses, such as the cases of Prince George of Cambridge, Simeon of Bulgaria[9] or James Ogilvy.[10]

The baptism of Jesus is referred to in a hymn by the reformer Martin Luther, "Christ unser Herr zum Jordan kam" (1541), base for a cantata by Johann Sebastian Bach, Christ unser Herr zum Jordan kam, BWV 7 (1724).

In popular culture[edit]

The Jordan River, due primarily to its rich spiritual importance, has provided inspiration for countless songs, hymns, and stories, including the traditional African-American spiritual/folk song "Michael Row the Boat Ashore". It is mentioned in the songs "Eve of Destruction", "Will You Be There", and "The Wayfaring Stranger" and in "Ol' Man River" from the musical Show Boat. "The Far Side Banks Of Jordan" by Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash on June's Grammy Award-winning studio album, Press On, mentions the Jordan River as well as The Promised Land. Jordan River is also the subject of roots reggae artist Burning Spear's song of the same title.[11]


See also[edit]

Associated with Old and New Testament events


  1. ^ Klein, Ernest, A Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary of the Hebrew Language for Readers of English, The University of Haifa, Carta, Jerusalem, p.264
  2. ^
  3. ^ a b Plushnick-Masti, Ramil (10 September 2006). "Raw Sewage Taints Sacred Jordan River". The Washington Post. Retrieved 10 October 2010. 
  4. ^ "Endangered Jordan", Dateline World Jewry, World Jewish Congress, September, 2007
  5. ^ a b Jordan River could die by 2011
  6. ^ a b Mehr, Farhang, The politics of water, in, Antonino Zichichi, Richard C. Ragaini, eds., International Seminar on Nuclear War and Planetary Emergencies, 30th session, Erice, Italy, 18–26 August 2003, Ettore Majorana International Centre for Scientific Culture, World Scientific Publishing Co. Pie. Ltd., 2004, p.258, 259
  7. ^ "Appendix C: Historical review of the political riparian issues in the development of the Jordan River and basin management". Murakami. 1995. 
  8. ^ Cf. Acts 19:4
  9. ^ Kate Connolly, "Once upon a time in Bulgaria", The Guardian, 20 June 2001.
  10. ^ "Baptized". Time (magazine). May 22, 1964. Retrieved 2008-03-11. water from the River Jordan was sent for the occasion; 
  11. ^

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 33°11′12″N 35°37′09″E / 33.18667°N 35.61917°E / 33.18667; 35.61917