The Jungle of the Jordan

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The term "jungle" may not be the first word that you think of when contemplating the banks of the Jordan river. And yet it's a fine descriptor.

Consider this image taken near Al Maghtas, Jordan. Through that green tangle runs a river (and in antiquity, snakes, lions, crocodiles, and possibly hippopotamuses!).

Now consider the words of the prophet Jeremiah:

"If you flop like a watermelon on shalom ground, how do you expect to navigate the Jordan jungle?" (Jer 12:5).

In this text, the Jordan jungle is the opposite of a shalom place.

Elsewhere Jeremiah describes the terror of an ambush that is like "a lion pouncing out of the Jordan jungle" (49:19; 50:44).

Finally (wait for it!), consider Zechariah 11:3. Here, great devastation is described using multiple metaphors. Fir trees howl because the cedars are burned by fire. Oaks wail because the thick forest has come down. Shepherds yoller because the grassy mantle is destroyed. And finally, the young lions roar because "the Jordan jungle is ruined."

Some English translations of these biblical passages render the original Hebrew as the "pride" or the "swelling" of the Jordan (the verbal root suggests something that "rises").* A better way to go is to suggest that the rising thing is not floodwaters, but greenery. This is underlined by the Arabic term for the riverbank of the Jordan: it is a zor or "thicket."


*The LXX follows this impulse rendering the phrase as "the snorting of the Jordan." Ha! Would I kid you?


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Dr. Mark Ziese, Dean of the School of Bible and Theology at Johnson University, manages the website Bible Land Explorer and teaches regularly in the Biblical heartland. You are invited to join Mark and Vicki for a Mediterranean Cruise aboard the Celebrity Reflection in October, 2018. Onboard lectures will focus on Paul's fourth missionary journey. See the link here for details.