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The channel of the river varies in different places; being in some wider and more shallow, and in others narrower and deeper. At the ford near Beisân on the 12th of March, Irby and Mangles found the breadth to be one hundred and forty feet by measure ; the stream was swift and reached above the bellies of the horses. When Burckhardt passed here in July, it was about three feet deep.* On the return of the former travellers twelve days later, (March 25th,) they found the river at a lower ford extremely rapid, and were obliged to swim their horses. On the 29th of January in the same year, as Mr. Bankes crossed at or near the same lower ford, the stream is described as flowing rapidly over a bed of pebbles, but as easily fordable for the horses. I Near the convent of St. John, the stream at the annual visit of the pilgrims at Easter is sometimes said to be narrow and flowing six feet below the banks of its channel. At the Greek bathing place lower down, it is described in 1815 on the 3d of May, as rather more than fifty feet wide and five feet deep, running with a violent current; in some other parts it was very deep://
These are the most definite notices which I have been able to find respecting the Jordan and its channel; and I have collected them here, because they have a bearing on another question of some interest, viz. the annual rise and supposed regular overflow of the waters of the river. It is indeed generally assumed that the Jordan of old, somewhat like the Nile, regularly overflowed its banks in the spring, covering with its waters the whole of its lower valley, and perhaps sometimes large tracts of the broad Ghôr itself.** It seems however to be generally adınitted, that no such extensive inundation takes place at the present day; and all the testimony above adduced goes to establish the same fact. It is therefore supposed that some change must have taken place, either because the channel has been worn deeper than
* Trby and Mangles, p. 304. Burckhardt, p. 345.
** Reland's Palest. p. 273. Bachiene I. p. 140, seq. Raumer's Palaest. p. 61, ed. 2.
formerly, or because the waters have been diminished or diverted.* But although at present a smaller quantity of rain may fall in Palestine than anciently, in consequence of the destruction of the woods and forests, yet I apprehend that even the ancient rise of the river has been greatly exagge. rated. The sole accounts we have of the annual increase of its waters, are found in the earlier scriptural history of the Israelites; where, according to the English Version, the Jordan is said to "overflow all its banks” in the first month, or all the time of harvest.t But the original Hebrew expresses in these passages nothing more, than that the Jordan “ was full (or filled up to all its banks," meaning the banks of its channel; it ran with full banks, or was brimfull. The same sense is given by the Septuagint and Vulgate. I
Thus understood the Biblical account corresponds precisely to what we find to be the case at the present day. The Israelites crossed the Jordan four days before the passover (Easter) which they afterwards celebrated at Gilgal on the fourteenth day of the first month.ỹ Then, as now, the barvest occurred during April and early in May, the barley preceding the wheat-harvest by two or three weeks. Then, as now, there was an annual rise of the river, which caused it to flow at this season with full banks, and soinetimes to spread its waters even over the low banks of its channel so as to fill the tract covered with trees and vegetation along its sides.ll Further than this there is no evidence that its
* Maundrel, March 30th.
+ Josh. iii. 15. i Chron. xii. 15. The only other allusion to a rise of the Jordan in harvest, is in Eccles. xxiv. 26 or 36 ; where, however, an inundation is not necessarily implied.The phrase "swelling of Jordan,” English version, Jer. xii. 5, xlix. 19, 1. 44, should be rendered“ pride of Jordan,” as in Zech. xi. 3, where the original word is the same, referring to the verdure and thickets of its banks. The phrase has no allusion to a rise of its waters.
Heb. 9-ņiz-59-b9 [xbna] x37. Sept. århúgov xall'ől.no tin xonaida avtoũ. Vulg. “Jordanis autem ripas alvei sui tempore messis impleverat.” Luther also gives the same sense correctly : “Der Jordan aber war vollanallen seinen Ufern."
§ Josh. iv. 19; v. 10.
i Burckhardt says loosely, that the Jordan in winter (mean. ing generally the rainy season) “ inundates the plain in the
inundations have ever extended ; indeed the very fact of their having done so, would in this soil and climate necessarily have carried back the line of vegetation to a greater distance from the channel. Did the Jordan, like the Nile, spread out its waters over a wide region, they would no doubt everywhere produce the same lavish fertility.
Although therefore the Jordan probably never pours its flood beyond the limits of its green borders, yet it is natural to suppose that the amount of its rise must vary in different years, according to the variable quantity of rain which may annually fall. This consideration will account in a great measure for the various reports and estimates of travellers. It may also appear singular, that this annual rise should take place near the close of the rainy season, or even after it, rather than at an earlier period, when the rains are heaviest. This is sometimes referred to the late melting of the snows on Jebel csh-Sheikh or Hermon ;* but at this season these snows have usually long been melted, and only the mighty head of Hermon is decked with an icy crown. The fart however inay be easily explained, I apprehend, upon ordinary principles. · In the first place, the heavy rains of November and December find the earth in a parched and thirsty state; and among the loose limestone rocks and caverns of Palestine a far greater proportion of the water is under these circumstances absorbed, than is usual in occidental countries, where rains are frequent. Then too the course of the Jordan below the lake of Tiberias is comparatively short ; no living streams enter it from the mountains, except the Yarmûk and the Zărka from the east ; and the smaller torrents from the hills would naturally, at the most, produce but a sudden and temporary rise. Whether such an effect does actually take place, we are not informed; as no traveller has yet seen the Jordan during the months of November and December. Late in January and early in March, 1818, as we have seen, nothing of the kind was perceptible.
But a more important and perhaps the chief cause of the
bottom of the narrow valley." But this whole lower plain, where he saw it, was “ covered with high trees and a luxuri. ant verdure.” Travels, etc. pp. 344, 345,
* Bachiene I. p. 141.
phenomenon, lies (I apprehend) in the general conformation of the region through which the Jordan flows. The rains which descend upon Anti-Lebanon and the mountains around the upper part of the Jordan, and which might be expected to produce sudden and violent inundations, are received into the basins of the Hûleh and the lake of Tiberias, and there spread out over a broad surface; so that all violence is destroyed, and the stream that issues from them can only flow with a regulated current, varying in depth according to the elevation of the lower lake. These lakes indeed may be compared to great regulators, which control the violence of the Jordan, and prevent its inundations. The principle is precisely the same, (though on a far inferior scale,) as that which prevents the sudden rise and overflow of the magnificent streams connecting the great lakes of North America. As now the lake of Tiberias reaches its highest level at the close of the rainy season, the Jordan naturally flows with its fullest current for some time aster that period; and as the rise of the lake naturally varies (like that of the Dead Sea) in different years, so also the fulness of the Jordan.
All these circumstances,-the low bed of the river, the absence of inundation and of tributary streams,-combine to leave the greater portion of the Ghôr a solitary desert. Such it is described in antiquity, and such we find it at the present day. Josephus speaks of the Jordan as flowing “through a desert ;" and of this plain as in summer scorched by heat, insalubrious, and watered by no stream except the Jordan.* The portion of it which we had thus far crossed has already been described ; and we afterwards had opportunity to overlook it for a great distance towards the north, where it retained the same character. Near the ford five or six miles above Jericho, the plain is described as “generally unfertile, the soil being in many places incrusted with salt, and having small heaps of a white powder, like sulphur, scattered at short intervals over its surface;" here too the bottom of the lower valley is generally barren.t In the
Josep. B. J. iii. 107.—In a similar sense Jerome, Comm. in Zech. xi. 3, “Sic Jordani fluvio ... fremitum junxit leonum propter ardorem sitis, et ob deserti viciniam et latitudinem vastae solitudinis et arundineta et carecto.”
† Buckingham l. c. pp. 313, 314.
northern part of the Ghôr, according to Burckhardt, “ the great number of rivulets which descend from the mountains on both sides, and form numerous pools of stagnant water, produce in many places a pleasing verdure, and a luxuriant growth of wild herbage and grass; but the greater part of the ground is a parched desert, of which a few spots only are cultivated by the Bedâwîn."* So too in the southern part, where similar rivulets or fountains exist, as around Jericho, there is an exuberant fertility ; but these seldom reach the Jordan, and have no effect upon the middle of the Ghôr. Nor are the mountains upon each side less rugged and desolate than they have been described along the Dead Sea. The western cliffs overhang the valley at an elevation of 1000 or 1200 feet; while the eastern mountains are indeed at first less lofty and precipitous, but rise further back into ranges from 2000 to 2500 feet in height.
Such is the Jordan and its valley ; that venerated stream, celebrated on almost every page of the Old Testament as the border of the Promised Land, whose floods were miraculously “driven back” to afford a passage for the Israelites. In the New Testament, it is still more remarkable for the baptism of our Saviour, when the heavens were opened, and the Spirit of God descended upon him, “and lo, a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son !"+ We now stood upon its shores, and had bathed in its waters, and felt ourselves surrounded by hallowed associations. The exact places of these and other events connected with this part of the Jordan, it is in vain to seek after; nor is this necessary in order to awaken and fully to enjoy all the emotions, which the region around is adapted to inspire.
As to the passage of the Israelites, the pilgrims of course, regard it as having occurred near the places where they bathe or not far below. Mistaken piety seems early to have fixed upon the spot, and erected a church, and set up the twelve stones near to the supposed site of Gilgal, five miles from the Jordan. This is described by Arculfus at the close of the seventh, and by St. Willibald in the eighth century; and the twelve stones are still mentioned by Rudolph de Suchem in the fourteenth. In later times, Irby and • Travels, etc. p. 344.
+ Matt. iii. 13, seq; † Adamnanus ex. Arculfo II. 14, 15. St. Willibaldi Hodoep. 18. Rud. de Such. in Reyseb. des h. Landes, p. 849.