The Jordan River is a river in Southwest Asia which flows into the Dead Sea. It is considered to be one of the world's most sacred rivers. It originates approximately 200 meters above sea level on the slopes of Mt. Hermon, Israel. It ends its course at the lowest spot in the world , the Dead Sea , at 420 meters below sea level. Along its course, the Jordan feeds two lakes: the Hula (now almost completely drained) and the Sea of Galilee
In its course from the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea, the Jordan travels a winding 230 kilometers, covering just 105 kilometers in a straight line.
The Jordan River has biblical importance and there are numerous references to this sacred river both in the Old Testament and the New Testament In fact, the Jordan River is mentioned about 175 times in the Old Testament and about 15 times in the New Testament. The word Jordan comes from the Hebrew word 'yardane' meaning descender which is appropriate for the river that courses from the heights of Mt Hermon to the depths of the Dead Sea
The first mention of the Jordan is In the story of the separation of Abraham and Lot. The Bible tells us of Lot's decision to settle in the Jordan Valley:
"And Lot lifted up his eyes and beheld all the plan of Jordan, that it was well watered everywhere."
In the period of the First Temple, the Jordan was crossed by Elijah and Elisha on dry ground (2 Kings 2:8) Elisha also healed Naaman by having him bathe in its waters.
The Jordan was spoken of as an important defensive weapon (Judges 3:28;7:24-25;12:5-6). David escaped across the Jordan during Absalom's rebellion (11 Sam.17:20-22)
The Jordan was crossed by Judas Maccabeus and his brother Jonathan Maccabeus during their war with the Nabataeans (1Maccabees 5:24). Later the Jordan was the scene of the battle between Jonathan and Bacchides in which the latter was defeated
In the New Testament There are numerous reference to the Jordan River. It states that in those days John the Baptist came preaching and saying "repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near"...and people confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.
"And so John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River"
For hundreds of years, the Jordan remained desolate. Pilgrims and adventurous travelers described the descent to the Jordan, baptism and sailing as one of the most exciting events of their journey in the Holy Land
In 1867 a local San Francisco newspaper funded a trip to the Mediterranean for Mark Twain. During his tour to Europe and the Middle East, he wrote a popular collection of travel letters which were compiled into a book called 'The Innocents Abroad in 1869. These were his impressions of the Jordan River:
"With the first suspicion of dawn every pilgrim took off his clothes and waded into the dark torrent, singing
'On Jordan's stormy banks I stand
and cast a wistful eye
To Canaan's fair and happy landWhere my possessions lie'
But they did not sing long. The water was so fearfully cold that they were obliged to stop singing and scamper out again"
The character of the region changed dramatically only in 1932, when the Naharayim hydraulic plant was built to utilize the water of the Jordan and the Yarmukh rivers to produce electricity. At that time, the Degania dam, located next to the Yardenit Baptismal Site, was constructed. In the 1960s, the water that would generally flow in the Jordan river was diverted through the national water carrier to the densely inhabited central region of Israel, and the Jordanians dammed the Yarmukh, the major tributary of the Jordan, diverting its water to the Ghour Channel, on the Jordanian side of the Jordan Rift Valley.
Today, except for the Yardenit site, there is no longer a natural flow of water along most of the Jordan River. At Yardenit the water flows from the Sea of Galilee into the Jordan and the quality of the water at the baptismal site is of the same high standard as the water in the Sea of Galilee. The management of Yardenit has taken the extra precaution of enabling the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Water to check the water quality constantly in order to ensure that all the Pilgrims experience a safe sense of purification and spiritual rebirth.