National Geographic : 1940 Dec
Canoeing Down the River Jordan Voyagers in Rubber Boats Find the Bible Stream Little Tamed Today as It Plunges to the Dead Sea Over the Earth's Lowest River Bed BY JOHN D. WHITING D OWN adeep rift in the earth's crust rolls the River Jordan of our hymns, most sacred stream in all Christendom and also one of the strangest and most for bidding. Throughout most of its often-tumultuous course this river in which Jesus was baptized flows hundreds of feet below ocean level on its way to the Dead Sea, lowest spot on earth.* Though its hurrying waters now generate .power, the Jordan today is far from tamed. Boats are barred by rocks and rapids, and men shun its hot unhealthful shores, even as they did in Old Testament times when this val ley wilderness was a rough boundary line be tween the desolate abodes of the nomads and the Promised Land of town and farm. From faraway England the Reverend R. J. E. Boggis, Vicar of St. John's, Torquay, wrote that he long had desired to make a trip down Jordan and was seeking companions. He had written not only to world-renowned travel agencies but also to the Orthodox Lord Arch bishop of Jordan, and the answer from all was "Impossible!" Still, he was undismayed. I volunteered to make the trip myself and to find a suitable crew for two double canoes. The capacity of the holds of the decked canoes was calculated to a fine point, and compact forms of food were selected to fit the space available. We carried, for emergency, canned foods and hard Swedish rye bread which was delicious when crisped in a Jordan sun. Dry dates in small tins were among the mainstays. The oldest clothes we had, rolled tightly in two heavy wool blankets, were encased in watertight duffel bags. A Swedish miniature primus stove and a few simple utensils com pleted our necessities. Malaria and Vipers Feared Our native doctor suggested we "eat" qui nine generously to escape malaria. Upon our return to Jerusalem after twelve nights of ex posure-sleeping in marshes, on sand, or clay banks-we all had our blood tested and not a trace of malaria was found. Snakes, not generally dangerous in Pales tine, are exceptionally venomous in the Ghor, as the valley of the lower Jordan and the Dead Sea is known, and the viper is much feared. To our camp in Jericho, years ago, a shep herd came limping, his bloody foot minus a great toe. Walking barefoot through the dry grass, he had felt something strike him. Be lieving it a poisonous snake, he set his foot on a rock, his dagger blade at the joint, and with blows from a stone severed the supposedly poisoned member (Matt. 5:30). Was it not in "all the country about Jor dan" that John, of the camel-hair raiment, said to the multitude that came forth to be bap tized of him, "O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come"? (Luke 3:3, 7). Snake serum and hypodermic syringes went into our compact medical kit. Armed with Only a "Shibboleth" We carried no weapons, and the few simple folk we saw were generous, helpful, and friendly. Once you can salute a Bedouin in his own vocabulary, can grasp his hand as an equal, look him squarely in the eye as a friend, and converse in his own peculiar dialect, you have nothing to fear.t During an early Hebrew intertribal war "the Gileadites took the passages of Jordan," and, stopping the escaping defeated Ephraim ites, tested their identity by asking them to repeat the word "Shibboleth"-for the Ephraimite "could not frame to pronounce it right" (Judges 12:1-6). I had pictured the Reverend Mr. Boggis as a man in the prime of life, a canoeist of experience, and an efficient swimmer. My son, Spafford, then 22, with some knowledge of medicine, and my nephew, John Vester, 21, volunteered as crew. All three of us knew how to handle a boat. When finally my correspondent presented himself, I must admit to a shock. Here was a man of smallish stature, lightly built and frail looking, of at least threescore summers and ten. The huge life preserver he carried was an admission that he could not swim (p. 808). * See "Change Comes to Bible Lands," by Frederick Simpich, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, December, 1938, with map supplement of "Bible Lands and the Cradle of Western Civilization." t See "Bedouin Life in Bible Lands," by Mr. Whiting, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, January, 1937.