“Beyond the Jordan”
There are several chapters in this book that derived from a Sunday School class I taught on the Gospel of Mark. I tried to dig in and bring out as much history, culture and customs as I could find to make the class interesting without boring them to tears.
“And he [Jesus] left there and went to the region of Judea and beyond the Jordan, and crowds gathered to him again. And again, as was his custom, he taught them.” Mark 10:1 (ESV)
Where was this region of Judea located and what did the phrase “beyond the Jordan” mean?
The prefix trans- is Latin and means “across” or beyond. This phrase, “Transjordan”, refers to the land on the other side of the Jordan River. But the other side of what? The equivalent term for the west side is the Cisjordan. The Jordan runs north and south, so the west side was ‘this side’ and the region East of the Jordan river was ‘that side’.
Stand at the Jordan river at sunup and the land where the sun rises is ‘beyond the Jordan’. This is probably because the land west of the Jordan contained more civilization, culture, shipping, coastlines, agriculture, etc. Not that the East side didn’t have some of these features, but the majority of growth was from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River, which run parallel to each other.
Nine of the cities of the Decapolis were located in the Trans-Jordan. Some of those cities were ruled by Rome and threw their allegiance to the empire during the wars of 66-70 a.d. Each governor agreed to expose and surrender Jewish citizens to be killed. They also formed armies that operated under the authority of the Roman Emperor during this time. This tells us that the land “beyond the Jordan” was not nearly as Jewish as the western side. The book of Numbers (Ch. 32) tells how the tribes of Reuben and Gad came to Moses to ask if they could settle in the Transjordan. Moses did not like the idea, but gave them permission. Some historians have called the Jordan a barrier to the Promised land.
To live in the Transjordan was to either be a natural buffer or first line of defense against attacks from the Medes, Persians, Assyrians and Babylonians. The two tribes, Reuben and Gad, separated themselves yet still fought alongside their tribal brothers against any enemies.