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Jordan River

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Jordan River (Hebrew: נהר הירדן, Nehar haYarden
Arabic: نهر الأردن, Nahr al-Urdun
Jordan River Bushy.jpg
Name origin: Hebrew: ירדן (yardén, descender) < ירד (yarad, to descend)
Country Israel, Jordan
Regions West Asia, Eastern Mediterranean littoral
District Galilee
 - left Banias River, Dan River, Yarmouk River, Zarqa River
 - right Hisbani River (Lebanon), Iyon River
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 and Israel and the Occupied West Bank.

The Jordan River (American English) or River Jordan ( British English) (Hebrew: נהר הירדן Nehar haYarden, Arabic: نهر الأردنNahr al-Urdun) is a 251-kilometre (156 mi)-long river in West Asia flowing to the Dead Sea. Currently, the river serves as the eastern border of the State of Israel and the Israeli-occupied West Bank and the western border of Jordan. In Christian tradition, Jesus was baptised in the River Jordan by John the Baptist. The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan takes its name from this river.

Physical characteristics


  • The Hasbani (Arabic: الحاصباني Hasbani, Hebrew: שניר Snir), which flows from Mount Lebanon.
  • The Banias (Arabic: بانياس Banias, Hebrew: חרמון Hermon), arising from a spring at Banias at the foot of Mount Hermon.
  • The Dan (Hebrew: דן Dan, Arabic: اللدان Leddan), whose source is also at the base of Mount Hermon.
  • The Iyon (Hebrew: עיון Iyon, Arabic: دردره Dardara or براغيث Braghith), which flows from Lebanon.


The river drops rapidly in a 75 kilometre run to swampy Lake Hula, which is slightly above sea level. Exiting the lake, it drops much more in the 25 kilometres down to the Sea of Galilee. The last section has less gradient, and the river meanders before entering the Dead Sea, about 422 metres below sea level, which has no outlet. Two major tributaries enter from the east during this last section: the Yarmouk River and Jabbok River.

Its section north of the Sea of Galilee (Hebrew: כינרת 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 West Bank (to the west).

Human impact

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

In 1964, Israel began operating a dam that diverts water from the Sea of Galilee, a major Jordan River water provider, 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. 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.

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, 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.

Small sections of the Jordan's upper portion, near the Sea of Galilee, have been kept pristine for baptisms. Most polluted is the 60-mile downstream stretch - a meandering stream from the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea. Environmentalists say the practice has almost destroyed the river's ecosystem. Rescuing the river could take decades, according to environmentalists. 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. The same environmentalist organization said in a report that the Jordan River could dry up by 2011 unless the decay is stopped. 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. For comparison, the total amount of desalinated water produced by Israel by 2012 will be about 500 million cubic metres per year.


The waters of the Jordan River are an important resource to the dry lands in the area and are a source of conflict among Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Israel and the Palestinians which began with 1951 Syrian border clashes. Mediation by the Eisenhower administration failed because Arab states would not agree to diverting 33% of water to Israel while only 23% originated there. For Israel the Jordan, including the Yarmouk, supplies 40% of its fresh water, of which 70% is used in agriculture, while 80% of the water derived from renewable resources of the mountain aquifers in the region are also used by Israel. The National Water Carrier Project was begun in 1956 and completed in 1964; it combined all previous water projects and delivered water to the dry Mitzpe Ramon in the south. Soon after, Syria and Jordan decided to exploit and divert the Jordan water at the source. The diversion works would have reduced the installed capacity of Israel's carrier by about 35%, and Israel's overall water supply by about 11%. 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 as a vital regional resource was the cause of the war confirmed by Ariel Sharon who has 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.


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.

Biblical importance

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

Hebrew Bible

In the Hebrew Bible the Jordan is referred to as the source of fertility to a large plain ("Kikkar ha-Yarden"), and it is said to be like "the garden of God" ( 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), to reach 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).

The Jordan was crossed by Judas Maccabeus and his brother Jonathan Maccabaeus during their war with the Nabataeans ( 1 Maccabees 5:24). A little later the Jordan was the scene of the battle between Jonathan and Bacchides, in which the latter was defeated ( 1 Maccabees 9:42-49).

New Testament

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

The New Testament states that John the Baptist baptised unto repentance in the Jordan ( Matthew 3:5- 6; Mark 1:5; Luke 3:3; John 1:28). This is recounted 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 prophesy of Isaiah regarding the Messiah which names the Jordan ( Isaiah 9:1-2) is recounted 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

The Jordan is a frequent symbol in folk, gospel, and spiritual music, or in poetic or 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 Simeon of Bulgaria or James Ogilvy.

In popular culture

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.

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