The Jordan River is an important biblical location. It supplies the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea with water, and houses biblical history from the time of Abraham to the time of Jesus.
The Upper Jordan is the portion of the river that runs from the north to the Sea of Galilee, and the Lower Jordan is the section that runs south from the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea. The major tributaries to the Upper Jordan are the Hasbani, Banias, and Dan rivers, and to the Lower Jordan are the Yarmouk and Zarqa rivers from the east. All in all, the Jordan river flows for 251 km. (156 mi.), from an elevation of 2,814 meters (9,232 ft.) down to -416 meters (-1,365 ft.)—the lowest place on earth.
Abraham and Lot
Genesis 13:10 describes the Jordan River Valley “like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt as you go to Zoar.” Lot chooses this area of land because of its beauty and fertility when he and Abraham separate after their entrance into Canaan.
Joshua and the Israelites
In Joshua 3:15-17, after the exodus from Egypt and wilderness wanderings, the Israelites enter into the Promised Land through the Jordan River. God miraculously stops the waters near the city of Adam when the priests—carrying the Ark of the Covenant—touch the river. This crossing point is just north of the Dead Sea, and Adam is roughly 30 miles (45 km.) north of that.
Elija and Elisha
In 2 Kings 2, Elijah takes his cloak and hits the surface of the Jordan River. The waters divide and Elijah and Elisha cross on dry ground. Then, Elijah is taken up in a chariot of fire, and Elisha returns by crossing the Jordan River in the same way. This is in the same area where the Israelites crossed into the Promised Land, near Jericho.
In 2 Kings 5, Naaman, the captain of the Aram army, is healed of his leprosy after washing in the Jordan River seven times, according to Elisha’s instruction.
John the Baptist and Jesus
John 1:28 mentions “Bethany beyond the Jordan, where John was baptizing.” The exact location of “Bethany beyond the Jordan” is debated and unknown. Tradition holds that it is not a location on the Jordan River but rather near Wadi Gharrar, a tributary, since the Jordan is too fast-flowing to baptize in.
A Byzantine church was built on the river bank commemorating Jesus’ baptism by John (Matthew 3:13-17). However, the exact location of Jesus’ baptism is unknown. Mark 1:5 suggests that it may have been closer to Judea and Jerusalem, since people came from there to be baptized.
The Jordan River Today
Today, the Jordan River is narrower than it used to be, due to its diminishing water supply. The surrounding countries pull from its tributaries, making the Jordan a small, winding stream. However, the Upper Jordan is a popular rafting destination for many Israeli youth groups and school trips. The Jordan River is also a popular baptism location; thousands of people from all around the world come to be baptized in the river where Jesus was baptized.