The Jordan River (نهر الأردن nahr al-urdun, Hebrew: נהר הירדן nehar hayarden) is a river in Southwest Asia which flows into the Dead Sea. Historically and religiously, it is considered to be one of the world's most sacred rivers. It is 251 kilometers (156 miles) long.
Its section north of the Sea of Galilee (Hebrew: כינרת kinneret, Arabic: Bohayrat Tabaraya, meaning Lake of Tiberias) is within the boundaries of Israel, and forms the western boundary of the Golan Heights. South of the lake, it forms the border between the Kingdom of Jordan (to the east) and Israel and the West Bank (to the west).
In 1964, Israel began operating a dam that diverts water from the Sea of Galilee, a major Jordan River water provider, to the National Water Carrier. Also in 1964, Jordan constructed a channel that diverted water from the Yarmouk River, another main tributary of the Jordan River. Syria has also built reservoirs that catch the Yarmouk's waters. Environmentalists blame Israel, Jordan and Syria for extensive damage to the Jordan River ecosystem.
In modern times, the waters are 70% to 90% used for human purposes and the flow is much reduced. Because of this and the high evaporation rate of the Dead Sea, the sea is shrinking. All the shallow waters of the southern end of the sea have been drained in modern times and are now salt flats.
In September 2006, a problem arose with contamination: just downstream, raw sewage began flowing into the water. Small sections of the Jordan's upper portion, near the Sea of Galilee, have been kept pristine for baptisms. Most polluted is the 60-mile downstream stretch - a meandering stream from the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea. Environmentalists say the practice has almost destroyed the river's ecosystem. Rescuing the river could take decades, according to environmentalists. In 2007, friends of the Earth Middle East named the Jordan River as one of the world's 100 most endangered ecological sites, due in part to lack of cooperation between Israel and the neighboring Arab states.
Opposite Jericho, it was called "the Jordan of Jericho" (). The Jordan has a number of fords, and one of them is famous as the place where many Ephraimites were slain by Jephthah (Judges ). It seems that these are the same fords mentioned as being near Beth-barah, where Gideon lay in wait for the Midianites (). In the plain of the Jordan, between Succoth and Zarthan, is the clay ground where Solomon had his brass-foundries (1 Kings ).
In biblical history, the Jordan appears as the scene of several miracles, the first taking place when the Jordan, near Jericho, was crossed by the Israelites under Joshua (). Later the two tribes and the half tribe that settled east of the Jordan built a large altar on its banks as "a witness" between them and the other tribes (, et seq.). The Jordan was crossed by Elijah and Elisha on dry ground (). Elisha performed two other miracles at the Jordan: he healed Naaman by having him bathe in its waters, and he made the axe head of one of the "children of the prophets" float, by throwing a piece of wood into the water ().
The Jordan was crossed by Judas Maccabeus and his brother Jonathan Maccabaeus during their war with the Nabatæans (1 Maccabees ). A little later the Jordan was the scene of the battle between Jonathan and Bacchides, in which the latter was defeated ().
The New Testament speaks several times about Jesus crossing the Jordan during his ministry and of believers crossing the Jordan to come hear him preach and to be healed of their diseases (). When his enemies sought to capture him, Jesus took refuge at Jordan in the place John had first baptized ().
Because the Israelites made a difficult and hazardous journey from slavery in Egypt to freedom in The Promised Land, the Jordan can refer to freedom. The actual crossing is the final step of the journey, which is then complete. The Jordan also can signify death itself, with the crossing from life into Paradise or Heaven.