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John Bunyan's 'The Pilgrim’s Progress' (published 1678) makes reference to "crossing the River" in order to get to the Celestial City. Chapter 20 mentions that only Enoch and Elijah did not have to cross the River. FAITH is needed to make the crossing from this life to the next.

In Chapter 34 Christiana crosses the River, along with many other pilgrims. All have been summoned to make the crossing.

My question is about the origins of the expression "crossing over Jordan" and whether this is commonly understood as an allegory of the believer passing over from this life to the next, or if it could mean something else.

I'm looking for source material/references to help me trace this expression and understand how various Christian traditions understand it. Is “crossing over Jordan” a metaphor or a figure of speech for the believer passing from physical death to heaven?

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  • While this question has Christian roots, it isn't really about Christianity. The reference as I undertsand it comes from Joshua 3:14-17. The Israelites were crossing from their old life into the promised land. Authors may use the symbolism of crossing the river Jordan for any number of allegorical reasons. Personally, I found the symbolism of freedom or rebirth more common than the symbolism of death. But that may only be due to the mix of books I've read.
    – JBH
    Apr 16, 2018 at 3:18
  • @JBH - whilst I appreciate your comments and your insights, this is a genuine request for research material that I can use to answer a question. It seems very difficult to get questions answered on this site. I sincerely hope my question will be allowed to stay up.
    – Lesley
    Apr 16, 2018 at 7:28
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    I understand your concern, but the site's focus is intentionally narrow. It is the study of Christianity (this Meta question will help). Perhaps said another way, this is a great place to ask what the various traditions believe. Therein might be the problem. Whose perspective are you looking for? There are many here. Although it would help if you edited your question to specify that you're looking for source materials.
    – JBH
    Apr 16, 2018 at 7:56
  • @JBH - thank you and I have now edited my question accordingly.
    – Lesley
    Apr 16, 2018 at 11:31
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    An interesting angle is which river John Bunyan had in mind? We can probably learn this from his biography, letters, or other writings. If he meant the Jordan river then, the origin is older than what you suggested in the answer. Sep 29, 2023 at 16:38

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The gospel song "I Am a Poor Wayfaring Stranger" (written in the 1800's) makes reference to crossing over Jordan to the beautiful fields beyond "where God's redeemed their vigils keep."

I'm just a poor wayfaring stranger traveling through this world of woe, but there's no sickness, toil nor danger in that fair land to which I go.

I'm going there to see my father, I'm going there no more to roam, I am just going over Jordan I am just going over home.

I know dark clouds will gather round me, I know my way is rough and steep, but beauteous fields lie just before me where God's redeemed their vigils keep.

I'm going home to see my mother, she said she'd meet me when I come, I'm only going over Jordan, I'm only going over home, I'm just a going over home.

That's the earliest reference I've found, although there may be others.

This hymnal uses the metaphor, but not the actual phrase "crossing over Jordan" (see top of page 147): Hymnary—The Psalms of David: II.LXVI. There is a Land of pure Delight

The hymn, published in 1766, is about Canaan and Heaven, and how the prospect of heaven makes death easy: “Could we but climb where Moses stood, and view the landscape o’er, not Jordan’s stream nor Death’s cold flood, should fright us from the shore.”

In the Bible the Israelites had to "cross over Jordan" to reach the Promised Land. For Christians, the "Promised Land" is eternal paradise in Heaven, and the barrier one must cross to reach it - the metaphorical "Jordan" - is death.

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