Here that of Borchard is not unuseful: "Know, that from the rise of Jordan under Libanus, unto the desert of Pharan, almost a hundred miles, Jordan itself, on both shores, hath spacious and pleasant fields, which are compassed behind with very high mountains." The truth of which, if his eyes had not experienced it, he might have learned from Josephus, who speaks thus:
"Over Jericho hangs a mountain stretched forth northward, even to the country of Scythopolis; and southward to the country of Sodom, and the utmost borders of the Asphaltites. It is craggy, and not habitable by reason of barrenness. Against it runs out a mountain near Jordan, beginning at Julias, and the north country, and stretched out southward unto Gomorrah, where it bounds the rock of Arabia. The middle between these two mountainous regions is called The great plain, extended from the town Ginnabri into the Asphaltites: in length twelve hundred furlongs, in breadth one hundred and twenty. And it is cut in the middle by Jordan." The plain of Jordan before the overthrow of Sodom, &c. Genesis 19 is 'the country about it,' in the Seventy.
Those words teach what is "the region about Jordan": and the word, 'all,' added by the evangelist, may persuade us that the further side may also be taken in, especially if it be considered how small a distance the river made. The space was so little, that, as the Gemarists relate, "a fire kindled on one side reached over to the other." And they suppose, water on this side might be spirted to the other, in that caution: "Let no man take the waters of purification and the ashes of purification, and carry them beyond Jordan; nor let him stand on this side, and spirt to the other."
However, the river was not so broad, but that two, standing on each bank, might look upon one another, cast something over from the one side to the other, yea, and talk together. And then think, whether the inhabitants of the further side resorted not to the Baptist, being so near him, and, as it were, within sight of him.
The masters dispute, whether Jordan be to be esteemed as 'the bounds of the land of Israel,' or as 'the land itself'; and the occasion of that dispute ariseth from another question, namely this: The flock of one man is separated and divided into two parts, and those two parts feed in distant places: it is asked, Whether tithe is to be taken as of one flock, or two? Hence the discussion of the point glides to Jordan; one part of the flock is on this side Jordan, the other on the other. If Jordan be to be esteemed for 'the bounds of the land,' then one part is within the land, the other without. But if it be to be reputed for 'the land itself,' then the business is otherwise. Among other things in this dispute,
"Saith Rabbah Bar Bar Channah, R. Jochanan saith Jordan is not, but inwards from Jericho, and beneath it." You would think me more skilful than a diver, to fetch this secret from the bottom. 'Jordan is not Jordan above Jericho,' is a paradox that vexes the Glossers themselves, much more therefore may it me. One understands the thing according to the bare letter; for "he that voweth (saith he) that he will not drink of Jordan, may drink above Jericho." Another understands it of Jericho, as being a bounds, yea, as the bounds named below Jericho only; Joshua 18:20. We make no tarrying upon the business. But if Jordan had such a limitation, that Jordan was not above Jericho, 'The region about Jordan,' is to be understood in the same limitation, namely, that it is only below Jericho. See the Seventy on Genesis 13:10,12.
The masters, sifting this business, out of one scruple move another; for they speak these words; "Jordan floweth out of the cave of Paneas, goes along by the Sibbechean sea, by the sea of Tiberias, by the sea of Sodom, and passeth on, and glides into the Great sea; but Jordan is not but inwards from Jericho, and below it." Let any shew me where Jordan flows out of the sea of Sodom into the Mediterranean. The river Shihor, carrying blackness in its name, may be taken for it, if it be any other; but neither does this appear concerning it.
While you see multitudes gathered together to John, and gladly baptized in Jordan, without fear, without danger, alas, how much was Jordan changed from that Jordan in that story of Saligniac! "Jordan (saith he), in which place Christ was baptized, is famous for a ruinous building. Here, therefore, all we pilgrims went into the holy river, and washed our bodies and our souls; those from filth, and these from sin; a matter of very great joy and health, had not an unhappy accident disturbed our joys. For a certain physician, a Frenchman, of our company, an honest man, going something further into the river, was caught with a crocodile (whether one should call it a dragon or a beast, it is uncertain), and swallowed him up, not without the common grief of our brethren."
The wilderness also, where our Saviour underwent his forty days' temptation, was on the same bank of Jordan where the baptism of John was; St. Luke witnessing it, that Jesus, being now baptized, "returned from Jordan," namely, from the same tract whereby he came thither.