TRANSJORDAN (trăns-jôr'dăn). A country included today in the country of Jordan, which is bordered on the west by Israel, on the north by Syria, on the east by Iraq, and on the south by Egypt and Saudi Arabia. In the OT there is no one name given to this area, though the expressions, “this side of the Jordan” and “the other side of the Jordan,” appear frequently, their usage depending on the actual or idealized situation of the speaker. Various sections of Transjordan are called by national or ethnic names. The region is essentially a plateau, and ranges from about 2,000 to 3,000 feet (625 to 938 m.) in elevation. Opposite the northern end of the Dead Sea, Mount Nebo, from whose heights Moses viewed the Land of Promise (Deut.34.1-Deut.34.3), rises to 2,664 feet (833 m.).
Adjoining Edom on the north was Moab; at an earlier period Moab extended farther north, but at the time of the Exodus the Arnon River (Wadi el-Mojib) formed the boundary between Moab and the Amorites (Num.21.13, Num.21.26). It was to Moab that Elimelech and Naomi went during the famine in Judah (Ruth.1.1). It was also a place of refuge to which David took his parents while he was dodging Saul (1Sam.22.3-1Sam.22.4). The importance of Moab as a grazing land is indicated by 2Kgs.3.4; the Moabite view is given by the Moabite Stone, which was found at Dibon in a.d. 1868.
TRANS-JORDAN trănz jôr’ dən (בְּעֵ֣בֶר הַיַּרְדֵּ֔ן, tr. variously; the area usually designated as beyond the Jordan). This expression is commonly taken as referring to territory on the E side of the River Jordan.
Cut through by numerous gorges, some with constant water flow, the soil produces abundant crops of grain even without irrigation. Palestine is rugged tableland, 2,000 to 3,000 ft. in elevation, with heights of around 5,000 ft.
All E Pal. has been comprehended under the name Gilead (Deut 34:1; Josh 22:9). In the Gr. period the covering term for all was Coele-Syria (Jos. Antiq. I. xi. 5; XIII. xiii. 2f.). Generally, Trans-jordan can be reckoned from Dan in the far N, to Egypt and Saudi Arabia on the S and SE. On the E, the rather indefinite boundary extends to Iraq and Saudi Arabia. The Trans-jordan of OT times embraced Edom (S of the Dead Sea), Moab, Ammon, Gilead, and Bashan.
Pre-Mosaic references to this territory occur (Gen 13:10ff.; 14:12ff.; 32:10). The “King’s Highway” had been discovered—the route of the eastern kings, whose use Edom refused to Israel (Num 20:17). Ancient mining operations are mentioned in Deuteronomy 8:9. The Ezion-geber copper mines of Solomon, and the general discoveries of Prof. Nelson Glueck, are of interest.
North of Edom lay Moab, with Mt. Nebo (near the upper end of the Dead Sea), where Moses was granted sight of Canaan promised to Israel. This is the primary setting of the Book of Ruth. Here also David took refuge to escape Saul (1 Sam 22:3f.). In this same territory, Jehoram of Israel, aided by Judah’s King Jehoshaphat, sought to subdue the rebellious king Mesha of Moabite Stone fame (2 Kings 3). (See Moabite Stone.)
Next, between Arnon and Yarmuk, comes Gilead proper, and the kingdom of Sihon (Num 21:21ff.; Deut 12:2), who denied Israel passage. This also is the territory allotted to Reuben and Gad (Deut 3; Josh 13). To this district, David a second time fled for sanctuary, escaping his insurrectionist son Absalom (2 Sam 17).
To the E of Gilead and N of the Arnon was Ammon. The northernmost territory was Bashan, of uncertain boundary, remembered for its fat cattle (Amos 4:1), and its King Og of iron bedstead fame (Num 21:33ff.; Deut 3:1-11; Josh 12:4f.). Here was Manasseh’s (half-tribe) allotment (Deut 3:13; Josh 13), roughly from Jabbok through Bashan.
In NT times, Perea referred to a territory E of Jordan, which afforded in part a bypath for strict Jews going from Galilee in the N to Judea in the S, to avoid contamination by Samaria in between (cf. John 4). To the N lay the Hel. Decapolis, a trade federation of ten cities, formed in the 1st cent., nine being on the E of Jordan, and one (Bethshan) on the W. The grouping secured protection from marauders. Antagonism existed between the Decapolis and both Nabateans and Jews, the latter of whom, later in the Maccabean insurgence of the 2nd cent. b.c., secured dominance over a large part of Trans-jordan, from Gadara in the N to Machaerus in the S, strongly fortified to resist the Nabateans. Rome, in a.d. 106, made the Nabatean country a part of the province of Arabia.
G. A. Smith, Historical Geography of the Holy Land (1896), 48, 534, 539, 553ff.; Hommel, Ancient Hebrew Tradition (1897), 258; J. Bright, History of Israel (1959).