The name Jordan goes at least as far back as the 13th century B.C.E.,a when it appears among other Palestinian geographic names in an Egyptian text (Papyrus Anastasi). Some scholars suggest that the name derives from an Indo-European root, yar (year), and dan (river). Others argue for a Semitic root, yarod (to descend); or Arabic, warad (to come to the water to drink). A Talmudic interpretation offers ye’or and “Dan” (a river that descends from Dan).1 A Christian tradition, found on many Holy Land maps of the 17th and 18th centuries, shows two sources for the Jordan, the “Jor” and the “Dan” (the Jordan is now known to have three principal headwaters: the Snir, the Dan and the Banias).

Folk etymology provides a legend:

A long time ago the Snir, the Dan and the Banias wandered aimlessly, for there was no Jordan. These streams quarreled bitterly about their relativc importance. Finally they called upon the Almighty to judge.

First the Snir spoke: “My waters issue from the northern slopes of Mt. Hermon where the fragrant Cedars of Lebanon grow.”

The Dan said: “I gush forth all year from a spring at the base of Mt. Hermon.”

Then Banias: “My waters from melting snows tumble over a beautiful fall.”

The Almighty thought, “They quarrel about their importance, but they are all just freshets.” So the Almighty answered them: “Oh, my precious streams, you have called upon me to judge, but I love each of you dearly. If you will only come together, I will make you as famous as the Nile, as tile Tigris and Euphrates, as the Indus, the Chang Jiang (Yangtze), the Congo, the Amazon and the big Mississippi.”

Then it happened. The three streams clasped hands and formed the Jordan. And so the Jordan is now as famous as all these other great rivers.

And that is why the river is called the Jordan. Because the Almighty came down (in Hebrew, yrd) to judge (in Hebrew, l’dn).2