The Holy River Jordan in Southwest Asia

051 The Holy River Jordan

A non-navigable river in Western Asia. One of the major waterways in the region. It flows through Lake Hula (now dried up) and Lake Tiberias (Kinneret) and falls into the Dead Sea, which is 420 m below sea level. The river is 252 km long and its basin area is 18,000 sq. km. The Hebrew name Yarde;n comes from the word “yere;d” (“descends”, “falls”) and the name of the largest of the springs – Dan. In the area of the river there are many archaeological sites of different eras: the ruins of the ancient cities of Bethsaida, Capernaum, Korazim, Jericho, the crusader fortress of Belvoir, the national parks of Scythopolis and Qumran, in which in the XX century were found 900 parchment scrolls from 250 BC. – A.D. 70 (the Qumran manuscripts) etc. The center of the world pilgrimage and tourism.

The Jordan is one of the most famous rivers on earth. Important events for all mankind have taken place on its banks, miracles recorded in the Bible, in historical and literary monuments were recounted more than once.

The first mention of the Jordan River in Egyptian papyri dates back to the 13th century BC. In ancient times, the river often represented a kind of natural boundary, and later a tribal and interstate boundary. During the First Jewish War (66-71) the Jordan Valley was a bloody battlefield. Thus, in March 68 alone over 15,000 rebels died there at the hands of the Romans. (Josephus Flavius).

The Jordan, as the border of the Promised Land, is often mentioned in the Old Testament. According to tradition, many significant events for the Jewish people and humanity, including miraculous ones, occurred across the river from the city of Jericho. The first miracle took place when the Israelites under the command of Joshua (the successor of the prophet Moses) and the Ark of the Covenant, after forty years of wandering in the desert, crossed the Jordan on dry land whose waters parted before them. The prophets Elijah and Elisha also crossed the Jordan on dry land. Many people were healed of deadly diseases by washing in the Jordan.

In the pre-Christian era, the Jordan acquired the status of a sacred river. Christianity added much to it. In particular, the miracle associated with the annual celebration of the baptism in the Jordan of Jesus Christ. “And it came to pass in those days, that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized by John in the Jordan.” (Mark 1:9). The word “baptize” means “to immerse” (Greek: ;;;;;;; – “to immerse in water”). The prophet John the Baptist spoke of the Savior’s imminent coming and called upon the Jews to confess their sins, after which he immersed those who repented in the “streams of the Jordan. The people waited for the appearance of the Messiah. But when Jesus Christ came, no one but the Forerunner noticed it. As Jesus received baptism from the prophet, “the heavens were opened to him, and John saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove,” with outstretched wings, and shadowing Christ, and he heard the voice of his heavenly Father testifying of Christ, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. This was the first revelation of the triune Godhead (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) to the world. By his symbolic baptism in the Jordan and his coming suffering on the cross, Christ took upon himself the salvation of the human race from eternal death and his reconciliation with his heavenly Father. And the first gracious action took place as soon as Christ emerged from the waters of the Jordan: the waters were sanctified. The Holy Spirit entered the common water and made it holy.

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According to the interpretation of John Chrysostom, “The Jordan is the image of our mortal kind… What the Dead Sea is for living waters, hell is for dying ones… Therefore, concerning this Jordan, which flows from living springs and resolves into the Dead Sea, all the miracle work of God was done (in order) that living water should no longer flow to death”. That is, by performing the sacrament of Baptism in the Jordan, Christ symbolically saved people from flowing to death–turned them back.

Today, on the Feast of the Epiphany, during the rite of the Great Water Consecration, the Jerusalem Patriarch and one of the metropolitans from both banks of the river dip silver crosses on ropes into the calm waters of the Jordan three times. The surface of the river immediately begins to boil, a whirlpool appears, and for a while the current stops, turns back (this can be seen by the floating sticks, twigs, wreaths), and “the branches of the trees growing along the banks, sink so low that they touch the surface of the water”. Then the witnesses of this miracle, the joyful pilgrims, immerse themselves in the waters of the Jordan, trusting for the healing of soul and body.

This miracle – the turning of the river – a thousand years before Jesus Christ was baptized in the Jordan, was reported in Psalm 113 by the king of Israel and prophet David: “When Israel came out of Egypt … JORDAN RETURNED BACK … JORDAN, WHAT ARE YOU BURNED BACK?” (Russian translation. Emphasis added. – V.L.). According to tradition, the entry of Jesus Christ into the waters of the Jordan was accompanied by many signs. When Jesus received baptism from Saint John the Baptist and the Holy Spirit descended upon Him, the waters of the Jordan went backward. The Epiphany chant (Kontakion of John the Baptist, v. 6) also reports this: “JORDAN, fearing Your coming in the flesh, fearfully RETURNED back (by the flowing of its waters)…” (The Russian translation. Emphasis added. – V.L.).

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There are attempts to refute this phenomenon, to prove materialistically (sometimes with mathematical precision) the impossibility of flowing the river backwards, to call it an “illusion”, but in this statement there is definitely no miracle anymore. The Bishop of the Orthodox Church of Jerusalem, Archbishop Aristarchus of Constantine, calming the denialists, draws attention to the fact that “. the reversal of the river, which we can observe now, is not the same phenomenon that took place when Jesus Christ entered the waters of the Jordan, or when the Israelites entered the Promised Land. The current does not stop altogether, the river does not divide in two.”

According to Christian tradition, since the IV century, the place of the Baptism of the Lord is the northern tip of the Jordan River, located 8 km from Jericho, near the Greek Orthodox monastery of John the Prophet, the Forerunner and Baptist. The place is called Qasar Al Yahud. Especially for pilgrims near the source of the Jordan from Lake Kinneret, the Yardenite complex was built in 1981. According to recent research (1996) it was determined that the place of the baptism of the Savior is in Jordan, in the Bethany Valley (Jordan), in the village of Wadi al-Harar.

The Jordan is also extremely interesting as a natural body of water. The river flows through the deepest Jordan Valley in the world. Several times it changed its course. Passing (the word “permeating” is appropriate here) the Lake Tiberias, the Jordan does not mix its fresh water with the brackish waters of the lake. In ancient times there were hippos in the river, which do not like salty or even slightly brackish water.

The Jordan is clean and clear at the source and muddy (because of the muddy bottom) in the lower reaches, very twisted and unstable in its characteristics. The width of the river varies from 5 to 45 m, and the depth varies from 1 to 2 m. Fishing, rafting in kayaks, passing gorges, overcoming rapids are caught in it. There is information that in the mid-19th century, there were even waterfalls on the river. Much of the water is used by Israel, Syria, and Jordan for economic purposes.

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The Holy River Jordan in Southwest Asia

All We Know About the Jordan River

This small river, only 252 kilometers long, is one of the major waterways of the Middle East. It forms a natural boundary between Jewish and Arab territories. Many mythological and biblical stories are related to it. In particular, it is believed that the Jews led by Joshua after the death of Moses entered the land of Israel right through its parted waters. For Christians, this waterway is sacred for another reason. Jesus Christ was baptized in its waters. The name of this river is Jordan.

Its source is in the Golan Heights on the slopes of Mount Hermon. From there flow three small rivers: the Banias, the Dana and the Snira. The point at which they merge into a common stream is considered the beginning of the Jordan. From here, the river heads toward Lake Kinneret, and after penetrating it, it moves on through the Jordan Valley, ending its course at the Dead Sea. Interestingly, this area was once filled with seawater, but over time the sea receded and a tectonic rift formed here, stretching from Syria to Africa. Some of the sea water dried up and some went into two large bodies of water, now represented by the Kineret and the Dead Sea.

Gradually the Jordan washed almost all the salt water out of the Kinneret, making the lake practically fresh, and only the numerous mineral springs now replenish the salt of its waters. All the salt reserves flowed into the lower lake, the Dead Sea, so named for its exceptional salinity. The percentage of salt in its water is so high that no discernible living creature can live in it. Now the Kinneret-Jordan-Dead Sea complex is a series of record-breaking sites. The Kinneret is the lowest (relative to sea level) freshwater lake, the Jordan is the lowest terrestrial river. And the Dead Sea is the saltiest body of water with the lowest shoreline (- 420 meters).

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Jewish life is inextricably linked to this amazing river. They first came to its shores after 40 years of wandering, leaving Egypt. At this point, the legendary leader of the Jews Moses had already passed away, and they began to be led by a new man – Joshua. The Bible tells us how it was he who caused the waters of the river to part and transferred his subjects to the other side of the Jordan. This ended the Jewish wandering in the wilderness, after which the people began to build their state.

The second man who was able to repeat the feat of Joshua was the prophet Elijah (Hebrew transcription: Eiliyahu). The moment he and his disciple Elisha needed to cross to the other side of the Jordan, he struck the waters of the river with his rolled-up cloak. They immediately parted and the righteous were able to cross to the other side. This incident is believed to have happened near Jericho.

But the Jews are only a small fraction of the people who regard the Jordan as a sacred river. This status of the waterway is also accepted by all Christians around the world, because according to the New Testament in its waters Jesus Christ was baptized. Many theologians have tried to find the place of baptism of the Son of God, but no one has yet been able to unequivocally establish the specific point of the holy rite. Most likely it seems to have taken place in the area of Bethany Valley, which is now under Jordanian control.

However, the point is not the specific place of baptism, but the sacred act itself. The river itself has now become a symbol of the Christian faith. For this, Jordan is revered as a holy place. It is believed that its waters have amazing healing powers. Pilgrims come to Israel from many countries to perform the procedure of ablution, and often do it more than once. And the amazing thing is that each time, performing this ritual in the Jordanian waters, one gets a completely new experience.

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Many Christians strive to the Jordan, in order to perform the rite of baptism in it. Many thousands of people come each year to fulfill this cherished dream, including those who have already been baptized. After the ceremony, people try to collect holy water in a bottle and take it away with them. It is believed that it helps cure ailments, even for people who are on their deathbed.

But Jordan is interesting not only for the rituals. The original geological structure of its banks allows the development of other types of tourism. In particular, water trips of varying difficulty level. Families with children can choose an easy route, rafting on the river for a short distance.

For more experienced water tourists are offered rafting in kayaks, where they can not only feel the effect of the sacred waters of the river, but also in passing to enjoy the wonderful scenery, which can be seen only while on a swimming machine.

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