Jordan Valley




THE extent of this country is not great. That which was given to God's people is one thing, and that which they occupied is another. The stretch of land actually occupied by them, generally called Palestine, is some 180 miles in length by 65 or 70 in breadth. There is a striking resemblance between the general outline of Palestine proper and that of the State of New Hampshire, the Connecticut River answering to the Mediterranean. Nor is the difference in extent very great, the length of New Hampshire from north to south being 176 miles, and its average breadth 45 miles.

The surface of Palestine is usually very rocky. We have for the general outlines, two mountainous and two depressed regions, all running north and south. The most striking feature of the country, upon the knowledge of which the proper understanding of its general structure depends, is the deep valley of the Jordan, which divides it into two unequal parts; the western, which is the land of Canaan proper, and the eastern, which includes Gilead and Bashan. 

This valley is an immense rift, extending all the way from Antioch on the north to the Gulf of Akabah on the south, through more than eight degrees of latitude.

In the lowest part of this valley, shut in on either side by precipitous, frowning cliffs, lies the Dead Sea, more than 1300 feet below the level of the Mediterranean, and having also itself a depth of 1300 feet or more. Into the northern extremity of the Dead Sea rushes the Jordan through a tortuous and rapidly descending channel, to lose itself in the briny waters of the sea of death.

The valley of the Jordan has on its west side a broad and mountainous belt, extending all the way from Lebanon to the southern desert, except where it is interrupted by the plain of Esdraelon. North of this plain the hill country extends to the border of the Mediterranean, leaving only a narrow strip of level land on the seashore. There are some beautiful and fertile plains interspersed among the ridges.

South of the plain of Esdraelon the mountainous belt now under consideration sinks down abruptly on the east to the valley of the Jordan; but on the west it gradually descends into a range of lower hills, which lie between it and the great plain along the Mediterranean. It is highest in the vicinity of Hebron; and its breadth, inclusive of the line of hills on the west, is stated by Robinson to be not less then twenty-five geographical miles. The breadth of the upper part of this mountainous belt is, by the same authority, some fifteen or twenty miles.

The general direction of the belt is from north to south, while the coast of the Mediterranean trends to the southwest. Thus there is left between the sea and the hill-country a triangular plain, interrupted, in its northern part by the range of Carmel. The southern part of this plain, as far north as Lydda and Joppa, was called by the Hebrews Shepelah, that is, low country. North of Lydda and Joppa is the plain of Sharon of the Scriptures, so celebrated for its beauty and fertility, and extending to the ancient Caesarea. The length of Sharon and Shepelah taken together is not less than seventy miles. In the vicinity of Gaza the breadth of this plain is about twenty miles. 

Opposite to Joppa it is not more than half that distance. North of the promontory of Carmel is the plain of Akka, or Acre.

We now come to the plain of Esdraelon before referred to, and in the Old Testament sometimes called the plain of Megiddo. This majestic plain is triangular in form. The length of its eastern side is not far from fifteen miles. The south-western side, which is skirted by the hill country of Samaria, is eighteen or twenty miles in length. The length of the northern side, which extends, in the general direction, from northwest to southeast, is about twelve miles. 

This large triangle is nearly level. Thomson describes it as rolling up in long swells, like gigantic waves, and as being of unsurpassed fertility; but owing to the wretched government of the region and the consequent insecurity of life and property, it is mostly neglected and overgrown with rank weeds.

Beyond the valley of the Jordan on the east, is a high tableland, broken by deep ravines. 

Viewed from the west, this high plateau, sloping down precipitately to the Jordan and Dead Sea, presents the aspect of an immense rocky wall of nearly uniform elevation. It rises from 2000 to 3000 feet above the level of the Mediterranean, to which is added, in the lower part, 1300 feet for the depression of the Dead Sea below the same level. This, as already stated, is the region of Gilead and Bashan.

Another striking feature of Palestine is its intersection everywhere by numerous ravines having a general direction of east and west. Some of these have the character of broad and fertile valleys, but most of them are gorges, sometimes of great depth with precipitous sides.

A few only of these gorges are watered by perennial streams, the rest being torrent-beds through which the waters rush with violence in the rainy season, while they are dry the rest of the year. Indeed, the rivers of Palestine are chiefly winter torrents, the beds of which are dry in summer. Even the Kishon, "that ancient river," which drains the east side of Carmel, is said to be a dry bed during most of its course, except in the wet season, when it rises to a great height. With the exception of the Leotes, which drains the valley between the Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon ranges, and passes through the northern part of Palestine proper, on its way to the Mediterranean, the Jordan may be said to be the only permanent river of Palestine. Many articles might be written in regard to this wonderful river, and then leave much unsaid. 


Jordan River