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Bridges over Biblical Waters , Israel

Israel’s bridges span not only rivers and streams, but thousands of years of history as well.

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Bridges over Biblical water

"Cross over with me and stay with me in Jerusalem, and I will provide for you." (2 Sam 19:33)

 

Throughout history, the bridges of the Holy Land strengthened economic, cultural, and religious ties, and their state of repair and adornments told of the power of its rulers. The fact that most of Israel’s historic bridges stand at various points on its borders adds a significant modern dimension to their stories. From north to south, here are some of the most interesting ones.

 

A Patriarch and His Daughters

 

The Bible mentions that Jacob’s daughters (Gen. 46:7) went with him to Egypt, but what do they have to do with the Daughters of Jacob Bridge over the Jordan River in northern Israel’s Hula Valley?

 

One legend says that Jacob’s daughters crossed this bridge with their father, presumably among “all he had” when he returned from Paddan Aram in Mesopotamia (Gen. 31:21). In that same verse, we find Jacob “crossing the river” and heading for “the hill country of Gilead.” It’s the right neighborhood, but only barely - this bridge connects the Galilee with the Golan, not Gilead.

 

So who could these daughters be? Some say they were a medieval order of nuns in the Galilee town of Safed. The nuns, known as the Daughters of James (which in Hebrew is Ya’akov, or Jacob), were allowed by the Turks to charge a toll on the bridge. We probably will never know the answer to the name riddle. The Galilee is replete with biblical place names, and we can only conclude that the overactive scriptural imagination of pilgrims and other travelers is behind the bridge’s moniker.

 

 


 



 


The Gospel Meets Modern History

 

Southeast of the Sea of Galilee, the Yarmukh River runs through a valley that separates the mountains of Gilead to the south from the Golan to the north, and today marks the border between Jordan and Israel. Around each bend in the hairpin road through the valley, which leads from the Sea of Galilee to the Golan Heights, are beautiful views of the Yarmukh and its bridge.

 

The bridge has lain in ruins ever since the Night of the Bridges, as modern Israeli history calls it. On the night of June 17, 1946, the Haganah (the Jewish underground army) destroyed several bridges leading into British Mandate Palestine in protest against British policies limiting the number of Jewish immigrants.

 

On the far side of the river, the Jordanian town of Um Qays can be clearly seen. In antiquity, this town was known as Gader, making this area “the region of the Gadarenes” (Matt. 8:28), where Jesus cast out demons and sent them into a herd of pigs.

The Forgotten Bridge

 

Almost lost in recent urban expansion, this bridge, with its distinctive bas-relief of two lions, is located near the northern exit of the town of Lydda (Lod) near Ben-Gurion Airport. An inscription in Arabic between the lions mentions Baybars, the Mameluke sultan who built the bridge in 1273. Similar carvings are found on either side of the Lions’ Gate in Jerusalem, giving the gate its name.

 

Lydda was not always as far off the pilgrims’ track as it is today. Countless Christian pilgrims in medieval times must have crossed the Baybars Bridge as they made their way to the town to commemorate the healing of Aeneas by Peter (Acts 9:32-35). Lydda later gained fame as the birthplace of St. George, patron saint of England.

Two Rivers - Three Bridges

 

The Yarmukh flows westward and joins the Jordan in the northern Jordan Valley at a place called Naharayyim, an apt Hebrew name that means “two rivers.” Naharayyim is located at the junction of two valleys, the Jezreel and the Jordan, making it one of the most important historical crossings of the land of the Bible, with remains of bridges dating from Roman, Turkish, and modern times.

 

In the Roman and Byzantine periods, the Naharayyim crossing was a main thoroughfare for travelers between Beit She’an (Scythopolis), Pella, and other cities in the Hellenistic league known from the New Testament as the Decapolis. In medieval times, wheat from Gilead and the Golan crossed this bridge in caravans bound for the port of Acre.

 

In 1927, Kibbutz Gesher (“Bridge”) was founded nearby, and in 1932, an engineer from Haifa, Pinhas Rutenberg, built a hydroelectric plant that harnessed the water power of the two rivers. It lit up the area until 1948, when it had to shut down in the heat of the fighting with the Jordanians. The site of the hydroelectric plant now houses an interesting visitors’ center.

 

Over the Jordan to Jericho


The Allenby Bridge, east of Jericho, is familiar to travelers who combine their trip to Israel with one to the eastern Bible lands in Jordan. It is named after General Edmund Allenby, who led the British Commonwealth forces to victory over the Turks in World War I.

 

For pilgrims, crossing this bridge over the Jordan River means traveling in the footsteps of the Israelites as they crossed into the Promised Land (Josh 3:16) and of Jesus and John the Baptist, who may have crossed the river here on their travels across the Jordan  (Mark 10:1,  Luke 3:3, John 1:28).

 

The Adam Bridge, north of Jericho, is not open to the general public, but it, too, has biblical antecedents: it is here, the Bible tells us, that the “waters piled up” and the Jordan stopped flowing (Josh 3:16) so that the Children of Israel could cross on dry land.

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