Jordan River
20100923 mer morte13.JPG
Jordan River
JordanRiver en.svg
The Jordan River runs along the border between Jordan, the Palestinian West Bank, Israel and southwestern Syria.
Native name
CountryJordan, Israel, Syria, Palestine
RegionMiddle East, Eastern Mediterranean littoral
Physical characteristics
 • locationAnti-Lebanon Mountain Range at Mount Hermon, Golan Heights
 • elevation2,814 m (9,232 ft)
MouthDead Sea
 • elevation
−416 m (−1,365 ft)
Length251 km (156 mi)
 • locationDead Sea, Jordan Rift Valley
Basin features
 • leftBanias River, Dan River, Yarmouk River, Zarqa River
 • rightHasbani or Snir River, Iyyon Stream

The Jordan River or River Jordan (Arabic: نَهْر الْأُرْدُنّ, Nahr al-ʾUrdunn; Hebrew: נְהַר הַיַּרְדֵּן, Nəhar hayYardēn; Classical Syriac: ܢܗܪܐ ܕܝܘܪܕܢܢ Nahrāʾ Yurdnan), also known as Nahr Al-Sharieat (Arabic: نهر الشريعة), is a 251-kilometre-long (156 mi) river in the Middle East that flows roughly north to south through the Sea of Galilee (Hebrew: כנרת Kinneret, Arabic: Bohayrat Tabaraya, meaning Lake of Tiberias) and on to the Dead Sea. Jordan and the Golan Heights border the river to the east, while the West Bank and Israel lie to its west. Both Jordan and the West Bank take their names from the river.

The river holds major significance in Judaism and Christianity. According to the Bible, the Israelites crossed it into the Promised Land and Jesus of Nazareth was baptized by John the Baptist in it.[1]


The Jordan River has an upper course from its sources to the Sea of Galilee (via the Bethsaida Valley), and a lower course south of the Sea of Galilee down to the Dead Sea. In traditional terminology, the upper course (or most of it) is commonly referred to as passing through the "Hula Valley", as opposed to "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, fed by the Yarmouk and Zarqa Rivers.

Over its upper course (fed by the Hasbani River, Banias River, Dan River, and the Iyyon Stream), 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 at Degania Dam. At that point, the river is situated about 210 metres below sea level. The last 120-kilometre-long (75 mi) section follows what is commonly termed the "Jordan Valley", which has less gradient (the total drop is another 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 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 (to the west).


Aerial view, 1938
Aerial view, 1938

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

South of the Sea of Galilee, the Jordan River receives the waters of further tributaries, the main ones, both coming from the east (Jordan), are:

Smaller tributaries or "side wadis" / "side streams" in this segment are, north to south[7]


Several hypotheses for the origin of most of the river's names in modern languages (e.g., Jordan, Yarden, Urdunn), one is that it comes from Semitic 'Yard|on' 'flow down' <√ירד reflecting the river's declivity, possibly appearing also in other river names in the region such as Yarkon and Yarmouk, or it may be related to the Egyptian loanword 'yǝʾor' ('big river', the Nile).[9] According to this hypothesis, "Den" might be linked to the Akkadian word dannum for "powerful".[10] Cognates of the word are found in Aramaic, Hebrew, Mandaic, and other Semitic languages.[11] The first recorded use of the name appears as Yārdon in Anastasi I, an ancient Egyptian papyrus that probably dates to the time of Rameses II.[12] Early Arab chronicles referred to the river as Al-Urdunn.[13]

In Mandaic, the etymologically related term Yardena (Classical Mandaic: ࡉࡀࡓࡃࡍࡀ) can refer not only to the Jordan River, but also any other body of flowing water that can be used for Mandaean baptismal rituals (masbuta).[14]

After the Crusades, the Arabic name Nahr Al Sharieat (Arabic: نهر الشريعة), literally "the watering place" began to be used,[13] and was recorded by medieval geographers such as Abu'l-Fida and Al-Dimashqi.[13] The name was shown in various forms on most notable 19th century maps of the region, and was described by Edward Robinson in his Biblical Researches in Palestine.[15][16] Although historical sources do not appear to make this distinction, it is described in some modern sources as the name for the part of the river before it flows into Lake Tiberias.[17]


19th century

In the 19th century the River Jordan and the Dead Sea were explored by boat primarily by Christopher Costigan in 1835, Thomas Howard Molyneux in 1847, William Francis Lynch in 1848, and John MacGregor in 1869.[18] The full text of W. F. Lynch's 1849 book Narrative of the United States' Expedition to the River Jordan and the Dead Sea is available online.

20th century

Coloured postcard of the Jordan River, by Karimeh Abbud, circa 1925
Coloured 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, a 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.[19]

In modern times, the waters are 70% to 90% used for human purposes[citation needed] 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 Dead Sea is rapidly shrinking.[citation needed]

Main environmental issues

Reduction of water flow

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.[20]


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.[19] In 2007, 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.[21]

Roads, border crossings, bridges

Rafting on Jordan River, Northern Galilee
Rafting on Jordan River, Northern Galilee


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

Border crossings (open bridges)

There are two border crossings between Israel 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.

Bridges (historical; modern - open and closed)

North to south:

Importance as a water source

River Jordan draining into the Dead Sea
River Jordan draining into the Dead Sea

Until the first decade of the 21st century, the waters of the Jordan River had been the largest water resource for Israel; lately, desalinated sea water from the Mediterranean has taken over this role. Israel's National Water Carrier, completed in 1964, has delivered water from the Sea of Galilee to the Israeli coastal plain for over four decades, until prolonged drought led to abandoning this solution in favour of desalination.

Jordan receives 50,000,000 cubic metres (1.8×109 cu ft) of water from the river, a quantity which is regulated by the 1994 peace treaty with Israel.[22] In the past, one of the main water resources in Jordan was the Jordan River, with a flow of 1.3 billion m3 per year (BCM/yr). However, after Israel built the National Water Carrier in 1953 and diverted water from Lake Tiberias to Israel's coastal plains and southern desert, the flow of the Lower Jordan River dropped significantly. The 50 MCM/yr that Israel provides from Lake Tiberias as part of the 1994 peace treaty was meant to compensate for this loss. A 2010 study found that the Lower Jordan River has been reduced to 2% of its historic flow.[23] Water quality has also deteriorated sharply, with high levels of salinity and pollution from agricultural fertilizer and untreated wastewater upstream in Israel and the West Bank.[24]

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.[25] 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%.[26]

Religious significance

Hebrew Bible

Crossing the Jordan, from Die Bibel in Bildern
Crossing the Jordan, from Die Bibel in Bildern

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 2 Kings 6:1–4 the Jordan valley is portrayed as a woodland region. Biblical commentator Albert Barnes suggested that "trees were rare in most parts of Palestine, but plentiful in the Jordan Valley".[27]

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). The prophet and wonder-worker Elisha performed two miracles at the Jordan: he healed Naaman's leprosy by having him bathe in its waters (2 Kings 5:14), and he made an axe head lost by one of the "children of the prophets" float, by throwing a piece of wood into the water (2 Kings 6:6).

Yom HaAliyah (Aliyah Day, Hebrew: יום העלייה) is an Israeli national holiday celebrated annually on the tenth of the Hebrew month of Nisan to commemorate the Israelites crossing the Jordan River into the Land of Israel while carrying the Ark of the Covenant as recorded in the Hebrew Bible's Book of Joshua.

New Testament

Christian women on pilgrimage to Al-Maghtas (1913)
Christian women on pilgrimage to Al-Maghtas (1913)

The New Testament states that John the Baptist baptised unto repentance[28] in the Jordan (Matthew 3:56; Mark1:5; Luke 3:3; John1:28). These acts of Baptism are also reported as having taken place at Bethabara (John 1:28).

Al-Maghtas ruins on the Jordanian side of the Jordan River are the putative location for the Baptism of Jesus and the ministry of John the Baptist
Al-Maghtas ruins on the Jordanian side of the Jordan River are the putative location for the Baptism of Jesus and the ministry of John the Baptist

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 the river in the place John had first baptised (John 10:39–40).

Scholars have concluded that the site called Al-Maghtas on the east side has long been considered the location for the Baptism of Jesus and a place of pilgrimage. This has led to choosing Al-Maghtas as a UNESCO World Heritage site, which took place in 2015.[29]

Derived cultural significance


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

Among many other references, the Jordan River is given this meaning in the text of Old Man River: "Let me go 'way from the Mississippi / Let me go 'way from the white man boss / Show me that stream called the River Jordan / That's the old stream that I long to cross".

Christening of royals

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 Wales, Simeon of Bulgaria[30] and James Ogilvy.[31] Earlier, On 15 May 1717, the Empress Maria Theresa was baptised in Vienna by the Papal Nuntius Giorgio Spinola, representing Pope Clement XI, with baptismal water containing a few drops from the River Jordan.

Christian poetry and music

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

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).

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 songs "Michael Row the Boat Ashore", "Deep River", and "Roll, Jordan, Roll".[citation needed] 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.[citation needed] Jordan River is also the subject of roots reggae artist Burning Spear's song of the same title.[32] Belarusian band Spasenie dedicated its whole album “Crossing the Jordan” to the topic.[33]

See also



  1. ^ "An Interfaith Look at the Jordan River". Archived from the original on 18 April 2017. Retrieved 16 January 2017.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Mark Zeitoun, Karim Eid-Sabbagh, Muna Dajani, Michael Talhami (2012). "Hydro-political Baseline of the Upper Jordan River". Beirut: Association of the Friends of Ibrahim Abd el Al (AFIAL) with the UEA Water Security Research Centre. pp. 19–23, chapter Sources of the Jordan (2.1). Retrieved 18 April 2020.((cite web)): CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  3. ^ Essays in Political Geography. Routledge. 2016. p. 260. ISBN 9781317605287. Archived from the original on 2020-01-02. Retrieved 2019-01-17.
  4. ^ a b c Rimmer, Alon; Salingar (2006). Krzysztofowicz, R. (ed.). "Modelling precipitation-streamflow processes in karst basin: The case of the Jordan River sources, Israel" (PDF). Journal of Hydrology. Elsevier. 331 (3–4): 527–528. Bibcode:2006JHyd..331..524R. doi:10.1016/j.jhydrol.2006.06.003. Retrieved 20 July 2011. Rainfall and snowmelt of Mt. Hermon recharge the main tributaries of the UCJR: (1) Dan (252 x 106 m3 annually); (2) Snir also known as Hatzbani (118 x 106 m3); and (3) Hermon also known as Banias (106 x 106 m3) (Table 2 and Fig. 2).[dead link]
  5. ^ a b Jordan River, Carta Jerusalem, accessed 82020
  6. ^ Zeitoun, Mark et al. (2012), p.36
  7. ^ a b c The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)] of the United Nations, Jordan Basin, based on 2009 "Water Report 34", accessed 18 April 2020
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q Gafny, S. et al. (2010), Map of the Lower Jordan River, retrieved 14 April 2020
  9. ^ Rahkonen, Pauli Ensio Juhani (11 October 2016). ""Canaanites" or "Amorites"? A Study on Semitic toponyms of the second millenium BC in the Land of Canaan". Studia Orientalia Electronica. 4: 108–130. ISSN 2323-5209. Archived from the original on 25 July 2018. Retrieved 25 July 2018.
  10. ^ Gelb, I. J. (1973). Glossary of Old Akkadian. University of Chicago Press.
  11. ^ Mills, Watson E.; Bullard, Roger Aubrey (1990). Mercer Dictionary of the Bible. Mercer University Press. pp. 466–467, 928. ISBN 9780865543737. Archived from the original on 18 October 2017. Retrieved 15 June 2018.
  12. ^ Aḥituv, Shmuel (1984). Canaanite toponyms in ancient Egyptian documents. Magnes Press. p. 123. ISBN 9789652235657. Archived from the original on 18 October 2017. Retrieved 15 June 2018.
  13. ^ a b c Le Strange, Guy (1890). Palestine Under the Moslems: A Description of Syria and the Holy Land from A. D. 650 To 1500. Alexander P. Watt for the Committee of the Palestine Exploration Fund. p. 52. Archived from the original on 2010-10-05. Retrieved 15 June 2018.
  14. ^ Buckley, Jorunn Jacobsen (2002). The Mandaeans: ancient texts and modern people. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-515385-5. OCLC 65198443.
  15. ^ Robinson, p.257
  16. ^ Palmer, 1881, p. 167 (= SWP map 9): Esh Sheriah: The watering-place. This is the modern title of Jordan. The root means also to ´flow straight on or through: Palmer, 1881, p. 350 (= SWP map 18): Esh Sheriah: The watering-place. The Jordan. In literary Arabic it is called Urdunna.
  17. ^ The Development of the Jordan River. Arab Information Center. 1961. p. 2. The River is composed of two important sections, the al-Sharea and the Jordan. The al-Sharea River, which is the name of the Jordan before it enters Lake Tiberias, descends from a height of 230 feet above sea level to Tiberias
  18. ^ "History of the Dead Sea - Discover the Dead Sea with Us!". 1 July 2016. Archived from the original on 20 June 2016. Retrieved 16 January 2017.
  19. ^ a b Plushnick-Masti, Ramil (10 September 2006). "Raw Sewage Taints Sacred Jordan River". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on 11 November 2012. Retrieved 10 October 2010.
  20. ^ "Jordan River could die by 2011: report". Archived from the original on 26 September 2011. Retrieved 16 January 2017.
  21. ^ "Endangered Jordan", Dateline World Jewry, World Jewish Congress, September, 2007
  22. ^ Susskind, Lawrence; Shafiqul Islam (2012). "Water Diplomacy: Creating Value and Building Trust in Transboundary Water Negotiations". Science & Diplomacy. 1 (3). Archived from the original on 2015-11-29. Retrieved 2015-11-27.
  23. ^ Gafny, Sarig; Talozi, Samer; Al Sheikh, Banan; Ya’ari, Elizabeth (May 2010). "Towards a Living Jordan River: An Environmental Flows Report on the Rehabilitation of the Lower Jordan River" (PDF). EcoPeace / Friends of the Earth Middle East (FoEME). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2018-12-20. Retrieved 2018-12-20.
  24. ^ "Surface and Groundwater of Jordan". Fanack Water. Fanack Water of the Middle East and North Africa. Archived from the original on 2018-03-11. Retrieved 2018-03-11.
  25. ^ 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
  26. ^ "Appendix C: Historical review of the political riparian issues in the development of the Jordan River and basin management". Murakami. 1995. Archived from the original on 2010-12-02. Retrieved 2011-03-09.
  27. ^ Barnes' Notes Archived 2018-01-06 at the Wayback Machine on 2 Kings 6, accessed 26 December 2017
  28. ^ Cf. Acts 19:4
  29. ^ UNESCO World Heritage Centre. "Baptism Site "Bethany Beyond the Jordan" (Al-Maghtas)". Archived from the original on 19 January 2017. Retrieved 16 January 2017.
  30. ^ Kate Connolly, "Once upon a time in Bulgaria" Archived 2015-07-23 at the Wayback Machine, The Guardian, 20 June 2001.
  31. ^ "Baptized". Time. May 22, 1964. Archived from the original on September 2, 2009. Retrieved 2008-03-11. water from the River Jordan was sent for the occasion;
  32. ^ "Jah Lyrics: Burning Spear - Jordan River Lyrics". Archived from the original on 19 March 2015. Retrieved 16 January 2017.
  33. ^ Зробок, Ольга (2005-05-26). "Интервью с солистом группы "Spasenie" Игорем Мухой накануне концерта 1 июня в клубе "Реактор"" [Interview with the lead singer of Spasenie Igor Mukha on the eve of the concert at the club “Reactor” on June 1] (in Russian). TUT.BY. Archived from the original on 2019-08-30. Retrieved 2019-08-30.

Works cited

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