Monday, November 19, 2012

The Rift Valley – Middle East

The hills of northern Galilee, with Mount Hermon in the background.

The Dead Sea: the barren landscape of the western shore. Salt deposits are clearly visible.

In the vicinity of Dan are the springs which form the sources of the River Jordan, fed by water from the snow-capped Mount Hermon to the north-east. From these springs, the waters flow into the Huleh basin where, in biblical times, there was a lake whose Greek name was Lake Semechonitis. From Huleh, 223 ft (68 m) above sea level, the Jordan drops rapidly to the Sea (or Lake) of Galilee (or Chinnereth), which is already 695 ft (212 m) below sea level. The name `Jordan' is probably connected with a root which means `go down', so the name is very appropriate. The descent continues south of the Sea of Galilee, as the river continues to drop towards the Dead (or Salt) Sea whose surface is nearly 1,300 feet (400 m) below sea level, and whose deepest point is another 1,300 ft lower still. Between the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea, the Jordan flows though a valley known as the Ghor, in which it has formed a lower flood plain, the Zor, an area of thick vegetation and probably that which is described in Jeremiah 12: 5 as the `jungle [NRSV thickets] of the Jordan'. A feature of this stretch of the river is its meandering. The distance `as the crow flies' between the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea is about 65 miles (105 km); but the river flows nearly 200 miles (about 320 km) to cover the distance. The most noteworthy feature of the Dead Sea is the extremely high level of saltiness of its water, some six times the salt content of the oceans, so high that no marine life can survive in it. This is due almost entirely to evaporation, since the Jordan does not wash down appreciably more chemicals than other rivers. South of the Dead Sea, the Rift Valley continues some 100 miles (160 km) until it reaches the Gulf of Aqaba. This region is known as the Arabah, although sometimes that designation is used with reference to the whole of the Rift Valley south of the Sea of Galilee.

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