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

Mount Hermon 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).

The region 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" (Matt. 4:23).

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 chariots."

-- 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 Naphtali." I

-- 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."

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