The Torah refers (e.g. Numbers 33) to a river called ירדן. Why is it called ירדן?

2 Answers 2


Name origin: Hebrew: ירדן (yardén, descender) < ירד (yarad, to descend)

via: Klein, Ernest, A Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary of the Hebrew Language for Readers of English, The University of Haifa, Carta, Jerusalem, p.264

While שיורד מדן ("which descends from Dan") is a rather neat derivation and mnemonic, the Dan part would seem to be unnecessary, since the nun ending seems morphological; also, we would be reusing the daled. Also, we would need to grapple with Biblical references to "haYarden hazeh" (said to Yaakov), where it was surely not called Dan at that point, to spark the derivation. In sum, a nice derash, but I would favor Klein's related etymology.

  • Re "it was surely not called Dan at that point": I assume that your "surely" implies uncertainty (as otherwise you'd leave it out. I just read something on this from a linguist, and now can't find it. Anyway...) but Shof'tim actually indicates when Dan was named, making it quite certain that it was not named that during Yaakov's time.
    – msh210
    Commented Jun 16, 2011 at 15:30
  • 1
    thanks. and that places it even after Moshe Rabbenu. to play devil's advocate, that is perhaps the city rather than the place, but surely before there was a son named Dan the land would not be called Dan. also, in order to argue against myself, i could point to vayirdof ad Dan, and the discussions of various commentators there; maybe both were stated prophetically, or else by Moshe after the fact; or maybe there was another place called Dan (Ibn Ezra, IIRC). Commented Jun 16, 2011 at 15:59
  • Some suggest that there was a place in the north called "Dedan", which solves chronological discrepancies.
    – Harel13
    Commented Jul 25, 2021 at 7:41

The book Mincha Belulah says, from the Gemara in Bechoros, that it's because יורד מדן, i.e. it flows down from the North part of Israel, that belongs to Dan.


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