National Geographic : 1944 Dec
The Geography of the Jordan BY NELSON GLUECK rE ERE is no river in the world which | is more important than the Jordan, not -1 even excepting the Nile or the Eu phrates, for the history of the settlement of man in cities along its shores or for the trac ing of the pilgrim's progress along its banks. Moses viewed its trough, impassable for him from Mount Nebo. Elijah and Elisha were at home in its valley, Jesus was baptized in its waters, and three of the companions of Mohammed-Sheikh Maad, Sherhabil, and Abu Obeida-are buried along its length. Human history in the Jordan Valley and in the rest of Palestine begins almost a hun dred thousand years ago, when prehistoric Palestine man, Paleoanthropus palestinensis, lived there as a hunter, usually in caves, and employed tools and weapons of flint and basalt and bone (page 728). His skeletal remains .were discovered in 1931-32 at Wadi el Mughara, near Mount Car mel, on the Mediterranean coast of Palestine. Tusks of elephants he hunted have been found there, in Bethlehem, and along the banks of the Jordan River (map, page 722). It was not till about 10,000 B.c. that his very great-grandchildren began to plant and reap crops, raise animals, build houses, weave cloth, and dabble in art. These discoveries mark the real beginning of the story of civilization in Palestine in general, and along the Jordan River in partic ular. Its history has been seething ever since.* The Jordan is a weirdly strange stream. It twists and tears ever more swiftly downward in an almost incredibly sinuous manner from the sweet waters of the Sea of Galilee to the bitter waters of the Sea of Salt (Dead Sea). Squirming frantically, burrowing madly, seeking wildly to escape its fate, the Jordan follows a course from its crystal-clear begin nings to its literally dark and bitter end which is a helpless race to a hopeless goal. Like Lot's wife, it looks backward, but only inevitably to perish in the perdition of Bahret Lut, the Sea of Lot, as the Dead Sea is called by the Arabs (page 735). As Viewed by "the Man in the Moon" If a man from the moon were to look at the Jordan Valley, he would behold at first an apparently lunar landscape. It would ap pear to him as part of a big crack in the crust of the earth extending all the way from north ern Syria south to the Red Sea. He would see malevolent masses of gray chalky marl, fantastically cut hillocks, sands glittering with fool's gold, treacherously soft, salty wastes, sandstone formations riotous with color, reddish-brown ranges of hematite rock, black igneous mountains streaked with green. His glance would take in the leaden gray green of the Dead Sea and the dark brown of the Jordan, relieved by the sparkling azure blue of the Sea of Galilee (page 727). He would perceive perhaps that the floor of the great rift he was looking at rested on burning or cooling foundations. They cause boiling-hot springs to emerge along its surface. Earthquakes have destroyed cities in the Jordan Valley as large as Jericho, and have caused landslides which dammed up the waters of the Jordan. Without them neither the Jordan nor the Nile nor their valleys would have come into being, because both rivers probably were born of the same geological spasm. Several mighty upheavals blocked the far ther thrust northward of the eastern arm of the Red Sea (the Gulf of 'Aqaba), which might otherwise have reached as far as Turkey. One upthrust fashioned the wall that helped imprison the waters of the nascent Jordan in a devilishly deep hole, the top of which is 1,286 feet below sea level and the bottom of which is once again as deep. There, compounded with salts and other chemicals drawn from the bowels of the earth, they were to form the witch's brew now known as the Dead Sea (page 742). The fairest part of the great geological fault to which the Jordan Valley belongs is north of it-the Valley of the Lebanon. Hemmed in by the cypress- and cedar adorned Lebanon mountains on the west side, and by the Anti-Lebanon range on the east, El Beqa' (the Valley), as it is known to the Arabs, was once called Hollow Syria. Its fat fields and strong streams have helped fill it with cities and settlements from earliest antiquity on; and their glittering crown was the city of Baalbek. Early peoples worshiped the god of fertility there. Baal was the name of their god. The Greeks, however, had another word for it. They identified him with their sun-god, Helios.t In his honor, Baalbek was renamed * See "Bible Lands and the Cradle of Western Civilization," 10-color supplement map issued with the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, December, 1938. t See "The Greek Way," by Edith Hamilton, "Greece-the Birthplace of Science and Free Speech," by Richard Stillwell, and "'The Glory That Was Greece,' " 32 paintings by H. M . Herget, in the NA TIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, March, 1944.