UPPER JORDAN VALLEY
"A viper by the path" (Gen. 49:17)
The Upper Jordan Valley is approximately 14 miles long and varies in width
from 4 to 6 miles. Until the 1950s it contained marsh land and a small lake,
created by a dam of natural rock that impeded the flow of the Jordan River.
Today, after being drained, the valley is rich in agriculture and very important
to the economy of Israel. In ancient times, the Upper Jordan Valley was
Israel's northern frontier. It was also a major avenue of communication
between Damascus, only 50 miles away, and the region around the Sea of Galilee.
From the sea the roads branched south down the Jordan Valley to Jericho
or west through Lower Galilee to the coast of Palestine (Acco/Ptolemais).
Because of their strategic importance, the cities of the Upper Jordan Valley
were the first to be conquered by invading armies who dared not leave "Ijon,
Dan, [and] Abel-beth Maachah" to threaten their supply lines (see 1
Kgs. 15:20; 2 Kgs. 15:29; Gen. 49:17).
The sources of the Jordan River spring from the base of Mount Hermon. They
include the spring at Caesarea Philippi, where nearby Peter declared to
Jesus: "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God" (Matt.
16:16), and the river Dan, which springs from the ground at the ancient
site of Dan.
These two tributaries join with another stream to form the Jordan River.
East of the Upper Jordan Valley is the Golan region, which was an important
granary of the Roman Empire. It was also important because of the highways
that crossed it, connecting Damascus with Hazor and the Sea of Galilee,
as well as Damascus with Beth-shan and the Jezreel Valley. The region surrounding
Damascus was known as Aram in the Old Testament. It varied in size according
to the strength of the kings who ruled over it. Both in the Septuagent and
in many English translations of the Old Testament, Aram is rendered Syria.
Syria, however, was also a geographical term which sometimes referred to
all the lands of the eastern Mediterranean shore, or the Levant. This entire
area was regarded as one geographical unit over which Egypt, the kingdoms
of Mesopotamia, and finally Rome sought to impose their authority.
West of the Upper Jordan Valley are the mountains of Upper Galilee, called
the "land of Naphtali" in the Bible. Tyre was the main objective
of the roads through Upper Galilee, but the main port of Damascus was Acco.
The shortest routes to Acco crossed the Upper Jordan Valley before reaching
the valleys of Lower Galilee. The Upper Jordan Valley was strategically
important to ancient Israel as the meeting place of Phoenicia, Aram, and
Israel (see p. 18, Bible Study) .
Selected Views of the Upper Jordan Valley
comes into view as you leave the region around the Sea of Galilee and head
north. Mount Hermon rises approximately 9,230 feet above sea level. Its
majestic, often snow-capped peaks can be seen from many parts of Palestine.
During the hot summer months the farmers of Palestine must look longingly
toward Mount Hermon. The mountain looks down upon the Old Testament region
of Bashan to the south and east, the Upper Jordan Valley to the south, and
the "valley of Lebanon" (the Beq'a of modern Lebanon) to the west
(Josh. 11:17). The water that falls on Mount Hermon in the form of dew,
rain, and snow feeds the springs that form the head waters of the Jordan
River. The dew of Mount Hermon was a sign of blessing, even "life for
evermore" (Ps. 133:3). In biblical times, Mount Hermon was thickly
forested and was the home of lions and leopards (Song. 4:8).
of Bashan south of Mount Hermon was well-known for its rich pasture lands
that supported the "fatlings of Bashan" (Ezek. 39:18). Chorazin
is located 2 miles north of Capernaum. It was one of the cities reproached
by Jesus for its disbelief (Matt. 11:20-24). The excavation of Chorazin
uncovered a synagogue of the Galilean type, located in the center of town.
It was built of the local black basalt, common to the Galilee and Golan
regions, and measures, about 70 feet by 50 feet. The entrance to the synagogue
faces south towards Jerusalem. The Bible records that "[Jesus] went
about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the gospel
of the kingdom and healing every disease and every infirmity among the people"
Hazor was a large
Canaanite and Israelite city. The site consists of the mound and the lower
part of the city just north of the mound. Together they cover about 200
acres. Hazor is mentioned in the Execration Texts and in other early Egyptian
documents. The Execration Texts date to the 20th and 19th centuries B.C.
and provide the most important information about Palestine from that period.
Hazor is also mentioned in the Mari archives, where it appears as a major
trade center for merchant caravans traveling to and from Babylon. In the
Bible, Hazor is mentioned in connection with the Israelite conquest of northern
Canaan and in the story of Deborah and Barak (Josh. 11: 10-13; Judg. 4:2).
Hazor was also a fortified city of King Solomon (1 Kgs.9: 15) . One of the
important discoveries at Hazor was its water supply system, which dates
to the period of Ahab, king of Israel, or the 9th century B.C.
Ancient Caesarea Philippi was located near one of the main sources of the
Jordan River at the foot of Mount Hermon. The original name was Panias,
after the Greek god Pan (the modern name Banias is an Arabic corruption
of Panias). In 20 B.C., the city was granted to Herod the Great by the Roman
Emperor, Caesar Augustus. Herod built a magnificent temple to Augustus near
the grotto of Pan. He also changed the name of the city to Caesarea in honor
of Augustus (see Luke 1: 1) . Herod's son, Philip, enlarged the city and
changed the name to Caesarea Philippi. "Now when Jesus came into the
district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, Who do men say that
the Son of man is?" Peter answered for the disciples, declaring, "You
are the Christ, the Son of the living God" (Matt. 16: 13-20).
Bible Study - Upper Jordan Valley
The expansionist policies of Tiglath-pileser III, King of Assyria, between
734 and 732 B.C., led to the downfall of the Northern Kingdom of Israel.
He conquered Gilead, the Upper Jordan Valley, and Galilee (see 2 Kgs. 15:29).
Not content with taking tribute, the Assyrians absorbed conquered areas
by making them provinces of the Assyrian Empire. This meant the deportation
of the upper strata of the population to other areas in the empire. The
story of Tiglath-pileser is significant because it points out the strategic
importance of the Upper Jordan Valley, which the Assyrians had to conquer
before moving against Samaria, the capital of the Northern Kingdom. (See
Aharoni, pp. 368-386.)
-- Deut. 3:7-9. Before the Israelite conquest of Canaan, Israel
conquered the Amorite territory of Transjordan to Mount Hermon.
-- Deut. 4:47-48; Josh.11:1-3; 12:1-5; 13:5. Mount Hermon was then northern
limit of the territory of Israel.
-- Josh. 11:1-15. Joshua defeated Jabin, king of Hazor, who came with many
kings: "And they came out, with all their troops, a great host, in
number like the sand that is upon the seashore, with very many horses and
-- Josh.19:47;Judg.18:27-31.The Danites moved into the Upper Jordan Valley
and captured Laish, an ancient city less than 3 miles west of Caesarea Philippi.
The name was later changed to Dan "after the name of Dan their ancestor."
-- 1 Kgs. 9: 15. Solomon rebuilt the strategically important cities of Hazor,
Megiddo, and Gezer. He also fortified the walls of Jerusalem.
-- 2 Kgs. 15:29. Tiglath-pileser III captured the main cities of both the
Upper Jordan Valley and Upper Galilee in 732 B.C. The list of cities includes
Ijon, Abel-beth Maachah, Janoah, Kedesh, Hazor, and "all the land of
-- Ps. 133:3. The dew that fell on Mount Hermon was considered a symbol
of the Lord's blessings.
-- Matt. 11:21-22; Luke 10: 13-14. Jesus pronounced a curse upon Chorazin.
-- Matt. 17: 1 -9; Mark 9:2-9; Luke 9:28-36. Mount Hermon is considered
one of the traditional sites for the transfiguration of Jesus, which took
place on a "high mountain apart."
-- Matt. 16: 13-20; Mark 8:27-9: 10; Luke 9: 18-36. Peter confessed that
Jesus is "the Christ, the Son of the living God."