Palestine Calling
by
W. M. Christie

Chapter X

The Delta of the Jordan


There is no delta where the Jordan flows into the Dead Sea. There we have a single, steady-flowing stream. But where it enters the Sea of Galilee there is a definite delta, formed by the entrance of the Jordan and several smaller streams through a tract of alluvial soil. With the distribution of the land at this corner of the lake, several Bible questions are closely associated. The presence of the Jordan above the lake is never once mentioned in Scripture. It is simply taken for granted. At the same time the distinction between the two sides of the sea is clearly recognised, and there can be no doubt of the dividing line when "the other side" is mentioned. It meant the line of the Jordan through the lake; and, although it is merely imagination, the mind of the Jew can be understood when he declares that the Jordan stream passes through the Sea of Galilee without the mingling of their waters (Ber. Rabb. sec. iv).

The first question concerning the north end of the lake is the site of Bethsaida Julias. This has long been associated with the ruins at et-Tell, which are now universally recognised as representing the southern capital of Herod Philip (Luke 3:1). But this Bethsaida is situated a mile from the shore on a most unsuitable site for a "fisher-town." In the past that has been a puzzle for explorers, and a probable port was sought for on the present sea shore, preferably at el-Mesadiyeh, a name that seems to be derived from the same root as Bethsaida.

But in considering sites we have to think of the land configuration, not only now, but as it was in Gospel days, and when evidences are weighed in the case of Bible difficulties, they generally disappear. Now we have here a veritable delta. We have examined it carefully, and discussed its formation with Dr. Reed, the Professor of Geology at Cambridge, and besides our opinion is confirmed by the independent experience and verdict of Professor Dalman. Examining the rich alluvial soil several hundred yards northward from the sea shore, we found quantities of recent sea shells. Clearly we have alluvium deposited at no distant date. We then had the river sounded, and it was discovered that, every 200 yards or so, the depth was less than the human stature, while between these soundings there was deeper water. The process of formation was now clear. The Jordan and neighbouring streams flowed into a great bay. They met the sea water, and at the point of meeting deposits of mud, sand, and pebbles were made, and formed a bar. On the sides where there was no strong current fresh deposits soon filled up the vacancies. The current further on, in like manner, created a fresh bar. The sea rises and falls during the year with a maximum variation of sometimes 12 to 15 feet. Thus bars were formed at the distances we have indicated, and the great bay that existed in Gospel days was filled up as we now see it. Bethsaida was at that time on the slope of a gentle hill, and the sea washed the foot of that hill. The name was very suitable for the place, as the best spawning grounds were in that very bay, and its sea margin to-day enjoys the same reputation.

It was in connection with this Bethsaida (for we recognise two) that the feeding of the 5000 took place. And concerning the gathering of the people before that incident, we have light from the conditions described. We are told that when the people saw Jesus and His disciples departing in a boat (Mark 6:33) "they ran afoot thither out of all cities and outwent them." This means that they came from, say, Dalmanutha, Bethsaida of Galilee, Capernaum, etc., whence they could very easily see the boat during its whole course, and running along the northern shore of the lake, got to the east side, girding their garments, as I have done, by passing over one of these sunken bars or fords then in the process of formation. They outwent the boat, so there must have been a gentle wind from the east, or perhaps a dead calm. Conditions were different in the night that followed.

The movements in connection with the return seem to those unacquainted with the district somewhat confused, but local conditions explain all. The disciples went into the boat, leaving Jesus on the eastern shore. The people remained, too, except perhaps those who had gone early and recrossed the fords. The storm the disciples had to combat blew down Wady Hamam, and the backwash into the Bethsaida Bay would render the bars unfordable. The boats that came from Tiberias might have started in a dead calm in-shore there, while the storm raged to the north of Magdala, but when once started, they would reach the destination in about two hours. The whole narrative is perfect. Christ is not with the disciples, and He could not have crossed the fords after the time they had last seen Him. There was no boat by which He could have gone, and they themselves took the first available, those that came from Tiberias. Hence the question of surprise when they found Him at Capernaum: "How camest Thou thither?" Have we not in that very question something of an undesigned testimony to something beyond human knowledge or experience having taken place?

But some time ago we came across an attempt to explain this crossing by the Lord Jesus on naturalistic lines. A recent writer, quoted in The Interpreter, October, 1923, page 11, ventures an explanation of how Christ walked on the waters. This was done "by traversing a submerged sandbank stretching from shore to shore." The writer tells how he himself did the same, and that "at one point, when he was certainly over a mile from the margin of the lake, he found that the water was at no place higher than his knees."

It seems almost a pity to spoil this beautiful theory, but it must be done. The mile in question could not have been more than 250 yards. Our writer struck upon a bank that has been formed in my own memory, and in connection with which I was called upon to give testimony on matters of a right of way along the north end of the lake. In the early nineties the furthest out "bank" was at the mouth of the Jordan, and there one could cross by wading out into the sea in a semi-circle of thirty to forty yards diameter, while any attempt to cross in a straight line landed one in deep water. Besides none of the banks represents the course of the boat, along which only deep water is found, and further, when Christ came to His disciples they were not far from the land whither they went (John 6:21), and that was Capernaum, along the shore of which there is only deep water. All naturalistic explanations are ruled out. We can only reverently bow before and accept the evidences, "Thy Word is Truth."

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