The main river of the Promised Land, forming a natural border between most of E and W Palestine. (Jos 22:25) Anciently the Jordan proper began its course upon its exit from the Hula Basin, a swamp area and lake now drained. The area N of the Hula Basin is characterized by numerous watercourses, the sources of the Jordan. The three principal streams that form the Jordan, from E to W, are the Nahr Banyas (Nahal Hermon), the Nahr el-Leddan (Nahal Dan), and the Nahr Hasbani (Nahal Senir). The Yarmuk and the Jabbok are the Jordan’s main tributaries from the E. Today most of the Jordan is a very muddy stream.
Upon emerging from the Hula Basin, the Jordan flows somewhat peacefully for about 3 km (2 mi) but then rushes through basalt gorges on its way to the Sea of Galilee. From the southern end of the Sea of Galilee, the Jordan snakes its way to the Dead Sea for some 320 km (200 mi), although the airline distance is only about 105 km (65 mi).—PICTURE, Vol. 1, p. 334.
Within a distance of some 16 km (10 mi) between the Hula Basin and the Sea of Galilee, the Jordan falls some 270 m (890 ft). As it continues its course from the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea, the Jordan forms 27 cascading rapids and drops about 180 m (590 ft) more.
Below the Sea of Galilee, the Jordan flows through a valley measuring some 6 to 13 km (3.5 to 8 mi) across. But at Jericho this valley has a width of about 22 km (14 mi). It is through the valley’s lower level (the Zor), with a width of about 0.5 to 3 km (0.3 to 2 mi), that the Jordan turns and twists through dense thickets of thorns and thistles, vines and bushes, oleanders, tamarisks, willows, and poplars. Anciently, lions roamed in “the proud thickets along the Jordan.” (Jer 49:19; 50:44; Zec 11:3) Wolves and jackals can still be found there. The summers are extremely hot and humid in this jungle, with temperatures climbing well above 38° C. (100° F.). And in the spring, as the snow melts on Mount Hermon, the Jordan floods the Zor.
The upper level of the valley (the Ghor) lies as much as 46 m (150 ft) above the Jordan’s jungle and is separated from it by bare and eroded grayish marl hills. The portion of the Ghor extending some 40 km (25 mi) S of the Sea of Galilee contains cultivated land and pastures. Aside from this, most of the Ghor is uncultivated. However, in the time of Abraham and Lot, before the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, apparently much more of it was productive, especially in the vicinity of the Dead Sea.—Ge 13:10, 11.
The Jordan’s shallow waters and its numerous rapids and whirlpools render it unnavigable. Reportedly, there are at least 60 places where it is possible to wade across the river when not at flood stage. In ancient times control of the river’s fords was militarily advantageous, as they were the main means for crossing the Jordan.—Jg 3:28; 12:5, 6.
Usually the portion of the Jordan below the Sea of Galilee averages from 1 to 3 m (3 to 10 ft) in depth and is approximately 27 to 30 m (90 to 100 ft) wide. But in the spring the Jordan overflows its banks and is then much wider and deeper. (Jos 3:15) At flood stage it would not have been safe for the Israelite nation of men, women, and children to cross the Jordan, especially not near Jericho. The current there is so swift that in more recent times bathers have actually been swept away. However, Jehovah miraculously dammed up the Jordan, making it possible for the Israelites to cross on dry land. (Jos 3:14-17) Centuries later a like miracle occurred once for Elijah while in the company of Elisha, and once for Elisha alone.—2Ki 2:7, 8, 13, 14.
The Jordan also figured in the miraculous healing of Naaman. Helped to the right viewpoint by his servants, Naaman, who regarded the rivers of Damascus as better than all the waters of Israel, obediently bathed seven times in the Jordan. After the seventh time he was completely healed of his leprous condition.—2Ki 5:10-14.
In the first century C.E., John the Baptizer immersed many repentant Jews in the waters of the Jordan. He also had the privilege of baptizing Jesus, the perfect Son of God, there.—Mt 3:1, 5, 6, 13-17; see DISTRICT OF THE JORDAN.