The chief river of Palestine, running from north to south, and dividing the Holy Land into two parts, of which the larger and more important lay on the west. There are two small streams, each of which claims to be its source. One of these, near Banias, anciently Caesarea Philippi, issues from a large cave in a rocky mountain side, and flows several miles towards the south-west, where it is joined by the second and larger stream, which originates in a fountain at Tellel-Kady, three miles west of Banias. But besides these, there is a third and longer stream, which rises beyond the northern limit of Palestine, near Hasbeia on the west side of mount Hermon, flows twenty-four miles to the south, and unites with the other streams before they enter the "waters of Merom," now lake Huleh, the Jordan flows about nine miles south-ward to the sea of Tiberias, through which its clear and smooth course may be traced twelve miles to the lower end. Hence it pursues its sinuous way to the south, till its pure waters are lost in the bitter sea of Sodom.
Between these two seas, that of Tiberias and the Dead Sea, lies the great valley or plain of the Jordan, 2 Kings 25:4 2 Chronicles 4:17. It is called by the Arabs El-Ghor. Its average width is about five miles, but near Jericho it is twelve or fifteen miles. It is terminated on both sides, through its whole length, by hills, which rise abruptly on the western border 1,000 or 1,200 feet high, and more gradually on the east, but twice as high. This valley is excessively not, and except where watered by fountains or rivulets, is sandy and destitute of foliage. It is covered in many parts with innumerable cone-like mounds, and sometimes contains a lower and narrow terrace of similar character, perhaps an eighth of a mile wide. Through this valley the river takes its serpentine course in a channel from fifteen to fifty feet below the general level. Its immediate banks are thickly covered with trees and shrubs, such as the willow, tamarisk, and oleander; and often recede, and leave a larger space for vegetation. In the lower Jordan, the stream is bordered by numerous canebrakes. The thickets adjoining the river were formerly the retreat of wild beasts, which of course would be driven out by a freshet; hence the figure, "He shall come up like a lion from the swelling of Jordan," Jeremiah 49:19 50:44. The channel of the river may be deeper sunk than of old, but even now not only the intervales within the banks are overflowed in spring, but in many places the banks themselves, 1 Chronicles 12:15. Lieutenant Lynch of the United States navy, who traversed the Jordan in 1848, ascertained that, although the distance from the sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea is but sixty miles in a straight line, it is two hundred miles by the course of the river, which has innumerable curves. Its width varies at different points from seventy-five to two hundred feet, and its depth from three to twelve feet. Its volume of water differs exceedingly at different seasons and from year to year. The current is usually swift and strong; and there are numerous rapids and falls, of which no less than twenty-seven are specified by Lieutenant Lynch as dangerous even to his metallic boats. The sea of Tiberias lies 312 (according to Lynch, 653) feet below the level of the Mediterranean, and the Dead Sea 1,316 feet; hence the fall of the Jordan between the two seas Isaiah 1,000 feet. The waters of the Jordan are cool and soft, and like the Sea of Galilee, it abounds in fish. It is crossed by a stone bridge, below Lake Huleh, (see GESHUR, GESHURI, GESHURITES;) and the fragments of another, just south of the Sea of Tiberias, still remain. Several fords, available in ordinary season, are mentioned in Scripture, Judges 3:28 12:5 2 Samuel 17:22-24. Ferryboats were also used, 2 Samuel 19:17,18,39. See SEA 4.
It was during the annual "swelling of the Jordan" that Joshua and the Israelites crossed it, Joshua 3:15. Yet the swift and swollen current was arrested in its course, opposite to Jericho; and while the waters below the city rolled on to the4 sea, those above it were miraculously stayed, and left in the river bed a wide passage for the hosts of Israel. Twice afterwards the Jordan was miraculously crossed, by Elijah and Elisha, 2 Kings 5:14 6:6. Here, too, our Savior was baptized, Matthew 3:13; and this event is commemorated, in the middle of April of each year, by thousands of pilgrims of various sects of nominal Christians, who on a given day, and under the protection of a strong Turkish escort, visit the sacred river, drink and bathe in its waters, and after an hour or two return to Jerusalem.
The principal branches of the Jordan are the Yermak, anciently Hieroma, a large stream, and the Jabbok, both on the east. There are several small rivulets and many mountain brooks, which dry up more or less early in the summer. The phrase, "beyond Jordan," usually indicates the east side of the river, but before the conquest by Joshua it meant the west side.
At the present day, the Jordan is lost in the Dead sea; but many have supposed that in very ancient times, before the destruction of the cities in the vale of Sodom, the Jordan passed through the Dead Sea and the vale of Siddim, and continued its course southward to the Elanitic Gulf of the Red Sea. The southern end of the Dead Sea is found to be connected with the Elanitic gulf, or gulf of Akaba, by the great valley, called El-Arabah, forming a prolongation of El-Ghor, the valley of the Jordan. See map in EXODUS. The course of this valley is between south and south-southwest. Its length, from the Dead Sea to Akaba, is about one hundred miles in a direct line. From the extremity of the Dead Sea, a sandy plain extends southward between hills, and on a level with the sea, for the distance of eight or ten miles, where it is interrupted by a chalky cliff, from sixty to eighty feet high, which runs nearly across the valley, but leaves at its western end the opening of a valley nearly half a mile wide, which runs up for many miles to the south within the broad and desert valley El-Arabah, upon which it at length emerges, and the water of which it conveys to the Dead Sea. The cliff above referred to, probably the Akrabbim of the Bible, marks the termination of El-Ghor and the commencement of El-Arabah, which is thence prolonged without interruption to Akaba. It is skirted on each side by a chain of mountains; but the streams which descend from these, are in summer lost in their gravelly beds before they reach the valley below; so that this lower plain is in summer entirely without water, which alone can produce verdure in the Arabian deserts and render them habitable. There is not the slightest appearance of a road, or of any other work of human art, in any part of the valley. The opinion that the Jordan formerly traversed this great valley is rendered untenable by the fact that the Dead Sea lies nearly 1,300 feet lower than the Gulf of Akaba, and that most of the intervening region now pours its streams north into the Dead Sea. Of course the Jordan must also have stopped there of old, as it does now, unless, according to the somewhat startling theory of Lieutenant Lynch and others, the Dead sea-and with it, though less deeply, the whole valley to the north and south-sunk down from a higher level into its present deep chasm, perhaps long before that appalling catastrophe from which Lot found refuge in "the mountain," Genesis 19:17-28,30. See SEA 3.