- JORDAN (Heb. הַ)יַּרְדֵּן), river flowing from the Anti-Lebanon mountains south through Lake Kinneret and emptying into the Dead Sea. The name Jordan is first attested in the 13th-century B.C.E. Papyrus Anastasi 1 (13:1). In the Septuagint the Hebrew form Yarden is transliterated Yordanes or Yordanos. Some scholars argue that the name is derived from an Indo-European root such as the Persian yar ("year") and dan ("river"), i.e., a river that flows the year round; others note similarly named rivers in Crete, Greece, and Asia Minor. The majority view, however, is that the name Jordan is connected with the Semitic root yarod ("to descend") or the Arabic warad ("to come to the water to drink"). The alternative Arabic name of the Jordan – Nahr al-Sharīʿa ("the water trough") – sometimes the jordan river and valley. The Jordan River and Valley. used with the addition al-kabīr ("the great") – has the same meaning. The talmudic interpretation (Bek. 55a) of the name Jordan as a combination of ye'or ("river"; actually an Egyptian word) and Dan, i.e., the "river that descends from Dan" was generally accepted in the Byzantine period and the Middle Ages but it is no longer regarded as valid. The Jordan has its source in three headstreams whose waters are drawn mainly from the precipitation on top of mount hermon and also from scores of springs. Near Sedeh Neḥemyah in the Ḥuleh Valley they unite into a single watercourse to form the river Jordan. The three streams are Naḥal Senir, issuing from the foot of the Hermon or its western side opposite the Lebanese village Ḥaṣbiyyā and hence called Nahr al-Ḥaṣbānī in Arabic; Naḥal Hermon emerging from the Paneas cave in the village of banias , and thus called Nahr al-Bāniyās in Arabic; and Naḥal Dan (Ar. al-Liddhān) rising at the foot of the ancient Tell Dan (Ar. Tell al-Qāḍī), near kibbutz Dan. The Senir is the longest of the sources. From its start until it empties into the dead sea , the Jordan covers a distance of c. 127 mi. (205 km.) and its meanderings between the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea increase its length to c. 186 mi. (300 km.). The Senir in its upper course is an intermittent stream (called Wadi al-Taym) which covers a distance of c. 15½ mi. (25 km.) before reaching the Hasbiyyā spring. During heavy rainstorms it receives much surface runoff. The Senir discharges an annual average of c. 152 million cu. m. of water into the Jordan of which about 37% is runoff; its seasonal and annual variations are considerable. Naḥal Hermon (Banias) provides c. 123 million cu. m. of which 12.5% is runoff and Naḥal Dan discharges c. 240 million cu. m., almost all from springs and with little fluctuation. The drainage area of the Jordan is 6,380 sq. mi. (16,335 sq. km.), 5,312 sq. mi. (13,600 sq. km.) south of Lake kinneret (the Sea of Galilee) – 4,531 sq. mi. (11,600 sq. km.) to the east, and 781 sq. mi. (2,000 sq. km.) to the west. The water network of the Jordan is asymmetrical; the watershed between the Jordan and the Mediterranean streams is close to the Jordan while the watershed of the desert streams east of it is farther away. Since the drainage of the Ḥuleh Valley, the water flows through two canals, one to the west c. 12 mi. (19.5 km.) long, and one to the east c. 10 mi. (16 km.) long, with a lateral canal connecting them. In the area of the drained Ḥuleh Lake the tributaries unite into a single stream and flow through the old riverbed which has been deepened to provide an exit for the waters of the lake and the marshes. In descending the 10 mi. (16 km.) between the drained area and Lake Kinneret, the Jordan falls from approximately 197 ft. (60 m.) above sea level to 695 ft. (212 m.) below it. The point of sea level is reached about 7.5 mi. (12 km.) north of Lake Kinneret. Before emptying in Lake Kinneret, the Jordan creates a small delta. Between its entrance and outlet from Lake Kinneret (c. 13 mi.; 21 km.), much of the water of the Jordan is carried off by evaporation but it is replenished from streams and springs, both above and below the water level. Some contain salts, especially chlorides, and the water is much more suitable for irrigation before reaching Lake Kinneret than after leaving it. For political reasons the pumps for the National Water Carrier had to be installed, in the 1960s prior to the Six-Day War, at Lake Kinneret and not in the Ḥuleh Valley. The amount of water flowing out of Lake Kinneret is now regulated, according to the requirements of irrigation, by sluice gates installed at Deganyah Alef. Before that, a maximum of 915.2 million cu. m. was recorded for the year 1929 and a minimum of 466 million cu. m. the previous year. A monthly maximum of 227 million cu. m. was once registered for March and a minimum of 29 million cu. m. for August. The yarmuk , the Jordan's largest tributary, empties into it 5 mi. (8.5 km.) south of Lake Kinneret. It carries an average of c. 450 million cu. m. a year, mostly runoff water. Its annual maximum was 893 million cu. m. in 1929 and its minimum, 268.5 million cu. m. the previous year. Exploiting the floodwaters of the Yarmuk is possible only by diverting the river to Lake Kinneret or by constructing a high dam of 558 ft. (170 m.) or more in its gorge. The Jordan discharges c. 875 million cu. m. into the Dead Sea a year; its yearly fluctuations are great and are caused mainly by the Yarmuk: in 1933, 287 million cu. m. and in 1935, 1,313 million cu. m. On its way to the Dead Sea the Jordan loses a great quantity of water through evaporation – up to 1,900 m. a year near the Dead Sea – and through seepage. Only some 18% of the rainfall in its drainage area reaches the Dead Sea through the Jordan's channel. Between Lake Kinneret and the Dead Sea the Jordan constitutes a geologically recent river. In the Upper Pliocene period, Lake Kinneret possessed an outlet to the Mediterranean when the Jordan together with the Yarmuk apparently flowed to the Harod Valley and the Kishon River. In the Middle Pleistocene, Lake Kinneret and the Dead Sea formed a single saline lake which deposited thick strata of Lisan marl. At the end of the Middle Pleistocene the two lakes separated and a channel was created through which the water flowed from the upper to the lower lake. As the two lakes shrank in size, the channel became longer and deeper. The bed of the ancient lake is the kikkar of the Jordan on both sides, called Ghawr in Arabic. Within the kikkar (central part of the Jordan Valley) is a broad plain 1–2 mi. (2–3 km.) wide through which runs the narrow channel of the Jordan. Only when the river floods do its waters inundate the broad plain, called ge'on ha-Yarden (Ar. al-Zawr). Because of the great heat and humidity in the ge'on ha-Yarden a dense vegetation covers both banks of the river. The Jordan weaves its course through the soft marl strata which are 164 ft. (50 m.) thick in the northern part of the kikkar and up to 492 ft. (150 m.) thick in the south. Because of the great quantity of eroded material which the Jordan carries and deposits in its channel, forming sandbars, and because the high steep banks of the plain occasionally collapse, fall into its bed, and dam it, the path of the Jordan leaves its channel. Sometimes in its meanderings it cuts through a serpentine loop shortening the course and many oxbows thus remain which are clearly seen in air-photos. In flood times the water also reaches these abandoned channels. South of the jabbok 's outlet into the Jordan (25 mi. (38 km.) north of the Dead Sea) are the remains of a bridge above an abandoned channel. The outlet of the Jordan into the Dead Sea is a delta of 5.8 sq. mi. (15 sq. km.). The river splits into two arms, a western one and a shorter eastern one, c. 4,100 ft. (1,250 m.) apart. From the coarse sediment the western arm forms a shoal strip c. 5,900 ft. (1,800 m.) long. West of this strip extends a lagoon, 11,480 ft. (3,500 m.) long and c. 1,640 ft. (500 m.) wide, a tongue c. 330–660 ft. (100–200 m.) wide separates the lagoon from the open waters of the Dead Sea which in the winter of 1954 dropped to a low of c. 1,300 ft. (398 m.) below the level of the Mediterranean. At present the Jordan falls c. 3,018 ft. (920 m.) from the springs of the Senir to the Dead Sea. The delta below the surface of the Dead Sea is small even when compared with several small streams in the Judean Desert because of the sharp declivity of its bottom. The light muddy waters of the Jordan spread like a fan with a radius of several miles over the heavy waters of the Dead Sea. The influence of the Jordan on the upper level of the Dead Sea is evident for c. 31 mi. (50 km.) to the south. The Jordan is not navigable; only with great difficulty can small flat boats sail between Lake Kinneret and the Dead Sea and they must be towed over the sandbars. -History In the Bible the Jordan is associated in particular with jericho and is frequently mentioned with that city in whose vicinity the Israelites crossed the Jordan (Num. 22:1, et al.). Other biblical terms connected specifically with the Jordan are the kikkar (usually translated "plain of the Jordan," Gen. 13:10, et al.) which refers to the cultivable middle section of the three terraces composing the Jordan Valley. (It was this part of the valley whose fertility attracted Lot recalling "the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt.") The upper lands of the Jordan Valley are called gelilot ha-Yarden (the "region about the Jordan"; Josh. 22:10). The lowest terrace, bordering on the river itself and densely wooded, is called ge'on ha-Yarden ("thickets of the Jordan"; Jer. 49:19); there the "sons of the prophets" went to cut wood (II Kings 6:4); it was the haunt of dangerous beasts, even lions (Jer. 49:19, et al.) and is cited as the opposite of lands where man is safe. In biblical times the Jordan was crossed by means of its fords; Jacob passed over it with a staff on his way from Beth-El to Haran (Gen. 32:10(11) and in returning recrossed it into Canaan near Succoth. The most famous passage of the Jordan was that of the Israelites opposite Jericho, as related in Joshua 3. As it was very difficult to ford the river at that place and in that season the sudden cessation of the Jordan's flow was regarded as miraculous. Such occasions, however, have actually been recorded several times in history: in 1267 the Jordan ceased flowing for eight hours; in 1546, for two whole days; and in 1927 for 21½ hours. In all three cases the cessation was the result of earthquakes which caused the high banks to collapse blocking the river bed and stopping its flow. The crossing of the Jordan is recorded as one of the great miracles of the Lord (Ps. 114:3ff.) and was remembered as such in later times. The river thus acquired a sacred character; its waters were expected to heal Naaman (II Kings 5:10–14). Other miraculous crossings were made by Elijah before he was taken up to heaven near the Jordan and by Elisha, both accomplished with Elijah's mantle. As a serious obstacle to movement the Jordan played an important part in Israel's military history. The occupation of the fords was generally intended to complete the discomfiture of a retreating army or to prevent an attack. Thus the fords were taken by Ehud after the assassination of Eglon king of Moab (Judg. 3:28) and by Gideon to deny passage to the Midianites and the Ephraimites (ibid. 7:24; 12:5–6). The Jordan was crossed mostly on foot or on animals but David and his army may have used a ferryboat (II Sam. 19:19). In prebiblical times the Jordan was not only a military obstacle but also a political boundary. With the decline of settlement east of the river in the Middle Bronze Age, the limits of the Egyptian province of Canaan – as recorded in the biblical description of the boundaries of the Promised Land (Num. 34) – extended along the Jordan from the Sea of Chinnereth to the Dead Sea (ibid. 34:12). After the establishment of the kingdoms east of the Jordan, the river formed the boundary of the kingdoms of Sihon the Amorite and of Og king of Bashan. Their territories were allotted to the tribes of Reuben, Gad, half of the tribe of Manasseh. Thus from an interstate boundary, the Jordan became a tribal one. Its function as the eastern border of Canaan, however, was well remembered and it was the eastern tribes who were anxious not to lose contact with their western brethren (Josh. 22). Throughout Israelite history its people held lands on both sides of the river, although its main territory was west of it. In later times it was usually the weaker party which retired east of the Jordan – as did Abner with Ish-Bosheth the son of Saul after the defeat at Mount Gilboa (II Sam. 2:8) and David after the initial success of Absalom's rebellion (ibid., 17:22). In post-biblical times the Jordan formed the eastern boundary of the Persian and Hellenistic province of Judea, although the land of the Tobiads east of the Jordan was also Jewish territory. The Hasmoneans freely crossed the river to fight on both banks; Jonathan made one such passage against the army of Bacchides who tried to use the Jordan as a tactical barrier (I Macc. 9:43). Alexander Yannai retired beyond the Jordan from the army of Ptolemy, king of Cyprus, but throughout the Hasmonean period, its kingdom extended on both sides of the river. Even under Roman domination the Jewish district of the Perea ("the land beyond" (the Jordan) remained part of Judea. In the Hellenistic and Herodian periods the digging of irrigation channels in the Jordan Valley led to its economic development and it became one of the most fertile areas of Ereẓ Israel. In March 68 C.E. during the Jewish War, the Jews retreating from Bethennabris across the Jordan fords were surprised by a sudden rise of the river's level; they were partly drowned and partly destroyed by the enemy (Jos., Wars, 4:432–436). Jewish villages continued to exist on both banks of the lower Jordan up to the Byzantine period. In the Talmud the Jordan is mentioned as one of the four rivers of the Holy Land (TJ, Kil. 9:5, 32d; BB 74b) and the word is regarded as derived from Yored Dan (Bek. 55a). According to the same source, the Jordan issues from a cave at Paneas, traverses the seas of Samkho (Ḥuleh), Tiberias, and Sodom (Dead Sea), and falls into the Mediterranean (\!). It is called the Jordan only from Bet Yeraḥ and below (the standard version has "Bet Jericho"). In Roman and Byzantine times the Jordan did not form a boundary; the provinces of Palaestina prima and secunda both overlapped it. The first three attempts to bridge the river were apparently made then: one at the Ford of Jacob's Daughters (Gesher Benot Ya'akov) and two below the Sea of Galilee at Sinnabra-Bet Yeraḥ and Gesher Naharayim (Jisr al-Mujāmiʿ). Two ferries are marked on the Jordan on the Madaba Map, one at Aenon below Beth-Shean, and the other near Archelais (Khirbat ʿAwja al-Taḥtā). The waters of the Jordan became sacred in Christian eyes because on its banks John the Baptist performed baptisms and there too Jesus was baptized. The exact location of his baptism is in doubt: the usual assumption, based on Matthew 3 and Mark 1:5ff., is near Jericho, but another tradition, based on John 3:23, places it at Aenon near Salim in the vicinity of Beth-Shean. After the Arab conquest the Jordan continued to separate the province of Filasṭīn (formerly Palaestina prima) from Palaestina secunda, now called al-Urdunn ("the Jordan") after the river itself. In Crusader times a series of bridges were built or repaired across the river which then did not form a boundary; one at the Ford of Jacob's Daughters (end of the 13th century); one known as the Bridge of Sinnabra (12th century), one at Naharayim (before 1300) and one at Dāmiya, built by Baybars in 1266/67. During the construction of the last, the waters of the Jordan stopped flowing on December 7/8 because of a landslide. During the Mamluk and Turkish periods the Jordan Valley was first included in the mamlaka ("province") of Damascus, and later in the sanjak of Nablus. It was only in 1921 with the setting up of the Emirate of Transjordan that most of the Jordan again became a political frontier, remaining so through the Mandate period up to 1948. In the War of Independence the Arab Legion of Transjordan occupied the mountains of Nablus and Hebron west of the river. Syrian attempts to cross the Jordan at Deganiyah were foiled; the Syrian bridgehead at Mishmar ha-Yarden was evacuated after the armistice in 1949. From 1948 to 1967 the upper course of the Jordan was inside the territory of Israel and the lower course in the Kingdom of Jordan. In 1953 Israel started work south of the Ḥuleh Lake, in the demilitarized zone at the Syrian border, on its project to channel part of the Jordan waters to the Negev. This project evolved into an international issue debated at the UN Security Council. In 1955 Israel accepted the so-called Johnston plan, initiated by the United States government, for the utilization of the Jordan and Yarmuk waters by dividing them among Israel, Syria, Lebanon, and the Kingdom of Jordan, but the Arab League rejected the plan. Israel then decided to implement its part of the Johnston plan by diverting water from Lake Kinneret to the Negev through the construction of the National Water Carrier. In 1964 the Arab States tried to frustrate Israel's plans by diverting the headwaters of the River Jordan into Arab territories, but in 1965 Israel took military action against Syrian preliminary works at the head-waters, and Israel's water carrier to the Negev was completed without further interference. After the Six-Day War of 1967 the Jordan from Gesher southward to the Dead Sea formed the ceasefire line between Israel and Jordan; communications between the two banks were kept open by the Israel Defense Forces. The Senir (Ḥaṣbiyyā) source of the Jordan was in Lebanese territory and the Hermon (Bāniyās) and Dan sources were held by Israel. -BIBLIOGRAPHY: N. Glueck, The River Jordan (1946); Abel, Geog, 1 (1933), 161ff.; J. Braslawsky, Le-Ḥeker Arẓenu (1954), 231–3; EM, S.V.; Neubauer, Geog, 29–31; Schattner, in: Scripta Hierosolymitana, 11 (1962); idem, in: bies, 28 (1964), 3ff. (Abraham J. Brawer and Michael Avi-Yonah)
Encyclopedia Judaica. 1971.