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The Jordan River

The Jordan River valley area is one of the most world-famous Bible Places. The Jordan River is mentioned frequently in The Bible, about 175 times in the Old Testament (see Old Testament Fact File) and about 15 times in the New Testament (New Testament Fact File).

Jordan River Jordan is derived from the Hebrew word pronounced yar-dane, meaning descender. The New Testament Greek word for the Jordan is pronounced ee-or-dan-ace. "Descender" is an appropriate name for the river as it runs its course from the heights of its sources near Mount Hermon to the depths of the Dead Sea.

The Jordan River exists in 3 sections, beginning in the north:

  • From its multiple river sources (the Bareighit, the Hasbany from Mount Hermon, the Leddan, the Banias) to Lake Huleh.

  • Lake Huleh to the Sea Of Galilee in Galilee, about 10 miles / 16 kilometers.

  • From the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea, in a straight line about 65 miles / 105 kilometers.

From its beginning in the north to its terminus at the Dead Sea, the elevation of the river drops tremendously - from the heights of Mount Hermon to the depths of the Dead Sea - a drop of about 2,380 feet. Due to its winding course, the river itself actually measures nearly 200 miles / 325 kilometers, over twice its direct distance.

The Jordan River played a significant role in numerous events of Bible History -

  • The first mention of the Jordan is when Abraham and Lot parted company: "And Lot lifted up his eyes, and saw that the Jordan valley was well watered everywhere like the garden of The Lord, like the land of Egypt, in the direction of Zoar; this was before The Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah [see The Destruction Of Sodom]. So Lot chose for himself all the Jordan valley, and Lot journeyed east; thus they separated from each other." (Genesis 13:10-11 RSV)

  • Jacob was renamed Israel at the ford of the Jabbok River, a tributary of the Jordan: "The same night he arose and took his two wives [see Leah and Rachel], his two maids, and his eleven children [The Tribes Of Israel], and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had. And Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched the hollow of his thigh; and Jacob's thigh was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, "Let me go, for the day is breaking." But Jacob said, "I will not let you go, unless you bless me." And he said to him, "What is your name?" And he said, "Jacob." Then he said, "Your name shall no more be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed." (Genesis 32:22-28 RSV)

  • At the end of their Wilderness Journey, after Joshua succeeded Moses as the leader of the people, the Israelites entered the Promised Land by crossing the Jordan River that, like the Red Sea (see Where Did They Cross The Sea? and Is This How The Red Sea Parted?), was miraculously divided for them (Joshua 3:15-17).

  • The prophets Elijah and Elisha were active on both sides of the Jordan (see The World Of Elijah And Elisha)

  • The Jordan River was the area where John The Baptist conducted much of his ministry. Jesus Christ was baptized by John in the Jordan River.

  • In earlier times, the Israelites possessed the territory of both sides of the Jordan (see Tribal Lands and Solomon's Kingdom). Today the Jordan River forms much of the international boundary between Israel and the Kingdom of Jordan.

The Jordan's role in "Bible times" is far from over - much more is going to happen along its very geologically-active course. See Earthquake!

Fact Finder: What is the name of the first place that the Israelites camped after crossing the Jordan into the Promised Land?
Joshua 4:19

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