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Encyclopedia of The Bible – Jericho

JERICHO jĕr’ ə kō (appears as יְרֵחֹ֑ו in the Pentateuch, 2 Kings 25:5 and in Ezra, Neh, 1 and 2 Chron; in the rest of the OT it appears as יְרִיחֹֽו. In the LXX the term is the indeclinable, ̓Ιεριχώ, G2637. In the NT the name is ̓Ιερειχώ. The original meaning of the name is open to question. W. F. Albright connects the name with the early W Sem. moon-god Yarih).

OT Jericho is today represented by a much eroded ovoid-shaped mound identified as Tell es-Sultan on the NW outskirts of the modern town. This tell is about ten m. NW of the mouth of the Dead Sea and about seventeen m. ENE of Jerusalem. Because the occupation of the site lasted many centuries, there has been built up a mound which rises some fifty ft. above bedrock. A modern road cuts into the E side of the Tell. Across the road from the Tell is the spring of Ain es-Sultan which explains the attraction of the site from the earliest times. It is this copious spring which waters the modern oasis.

Tell es-Sultan is about 400 yards long from N to S and covers about ten acres. NT or Herodian Jericho is located one m. W of the modern city in the ruins on both banks of the Wadi Qelt. This site is known as Tulu Abu el-Alayiq. The hills of Judea rise abruptly W of the two sites.

1. Ancient Jericho. The history of Jericho goes back far beyond the time of Joshua. A Neolithic community settled by the perennial spring around the eighth millennium b.c. The inhabitants had not yet begun to manufacture pottery. It is possible that these food-gathering hunters may have constructed a shrine at the site. Early in the seventh millenium b.c. a town was built with a revetment wall, at least one tower, round houses and many of the attributes of civilization except that of a written language. This first urban phase of Jericho gave way to a later Neolithic phase which marked the beginning of pottery. The inhabitants were prob. semi-nomadic and did not build houses. They seem to have camped on the ruins in flimsy huts. In every way these occupants represent a retrogression from the life of the first occupants except that they began to make pottery.

In the Early Bronze Age, about 3000 b.c., Jericho again was occupied by a people who built up a settlement with defense walls and towers around the edge of the mound. These inhabitants did not establish an occupation which had a long history. In fact, from 3000 b.c. there was much building and rebuilding because of a variety of catastrophes which hit the community. Earthquake and fire ended some occupations and required from the new settlers major rebuilding activity. Sometimes existing foundations were used. On occasion a new foundation was constructed on the smoothed-over debris of the earlier occupations or the trench for the foundation was dug out of earlier occupation levels. Some of the building or repair work was required because wind and rain erosion had weakened or collapsed the existing wall or structure. In early archeological excavations these Early Bronze Age walls were dated to the time of Joshua. Frequent reference to this error still appears in lit. on Jericho.

Because of Jericho’s location, it was a point at which nomadic tribes entered the land W of the Jordan. Joshua’s instruction to the spies to “Go, view the land, especially Jericho” (Josh 2:1) was ancient practice. The site was W of the main ford on the lower Jordan River. From Jericho ascend several main valleys going up to the central ridge of the country. At Jericho the occupants controlled also a vital fresh water supply. In addition, the citizens could and did become greatly involved in commerce as well as in agriculture. The proximity to the Dead Sea made the citizens dealers in salt, bitumen and sulphur. These settlers also continued to display their nomadic training and frequently moved on W toward the Mediterranean mingling and merging with the people already there.

The Early Bronze Age occupation of Jericho was destroyed by nomadic invaders about 2300 b.c. These invaders have been identified by Miss Kenyon as Amorites. Jericho was not the only city destroyed in the Amorite invasion of Palestine and Syria. Excavations of Jericho tombs provide much of the information which gives an understanding of the wave of nomadic newcomers. In turn, a new inundation of immigrants hit Jericho and the Jordan area in the Middle Bronze Age, about 1900 b.c. These invaders were the Canaanites. Their culture has been found extending the full length of the Palestinian-Syrian coast in the second millennium b.c. Again the city of Jericho illuminates the statement in Numbers 13:29 “...the Amorites dwell in the hill country; and the Canaanites dwell by the sea, and along the Jordan.” The excavated artifacts at Jericho show that the Middle Bronze Age culture introduced about 1900 b.c. lasted until at least 1200 b.c. The rule of the foreigner such as the Hyksos did not change the pattern greatly. The Hyksos did introduce the sloping bank defensive wall in place of the independent free-standing wall but they had very little additional cultural impact. The tombs of Jericho make it possible to reconstruct town life in the time of the patriarchs. Excellent pottery, wooden three and four-legged tables, stools and beds, basketry, trinket-boxes of bone inlay, metal daggers, circlets, platters of fruit and joints of meat have all been preserved due to the presance of methane gas in some of the tombs. This material made available to the dead was the equipment used by the living.

About 1550 b.c. Jericho was violently destroyed. This was prob. the work of Egypt’s eighteenth dynasty as it expelled the Hyksos from the area. One of the benefits of a violent destruction is the preservation of archeological evidence under collapsed walls. Fire also hardens walls and preserves organic material in carbon form which then can be analyzed. Middle Bronze Age Jericho has been so preserved. The cobbled streets have been uncovered. The one-room shops opening out to the street have been preserved. A two-story house with living quarters on the first floor and a grain milling complex and storage facility was found. In both the tombs and the houses, the evidence supports the fact that the people of Jericho were not wealthy. This town was not a wealthy trade center, but rather a typical urban complex similar to many towns of that period.

After the 1550 b.c. destruction of Jericho, the only Late Bronze Age occupation verified by archeological evidence dates mainly between 1400 and 1350 b.c. There was a definite abandonment of the town between 1550 b.c. and 1400 b.c. Wash-layers cover the burned town and the burned material was gradually spread down the slope of the mound. Much of the material from the Middle Bronze Age city did not survive at all, but was scattered and destroyed by the power of the wind and the rains. The material that is preserved under the wash layers provides a distinct contrast with the Late Bronze Age material from the 1400 to 1350 b.c. occupation. Tomb material also supports this period of occupation.

2. OT Jericho. From the 13th cent. b.c., the frequently accepted date of the Israelite conquest of Pal., virtually nothing is known about Jericho from either Garstang’s reports of his six seasons of archeological work on the site, or from Kenyon’s seven seasons. Unfortunately, when the highest site on the mound was excavated by the Austro-German archeologists in 1907-1909 there was a greater interest in architecture than in ceramic materials. The plans of those excavations show no house walls from the Late Bronze period, 1300-1200 b.c. Pere Vincent, noted French scholar, however, reported in his writings that sufficient pottery sherds were recovered from the period to demonstrate conclusively that there was a city on the site at that time.

The excavations carried out by John Garstang at Jericho from 1930 to 1936 bear upon the 13th cent. b.c. in the clearing of five tombs. These burial spots were constructed originally in the Middle Bronze Age but were reused for burial in the 13th cent. Nothing survived on the Tell from the city defenses of the period. There is no wall structure left for study which would relate to that which figures prominently in the OT record in the conquest of Pal. by Joshua and the Israelites. Archeology can offer little evidence of the conquest of Jericho in the 13th cent. because that period of the city’s history has been eroded by the winter’s storms and modern surface structures which have cut into the level.

The OT narrative of Joshua 3-8 tells of the fall of Jericho. The Israelites crossed the Jordan River without a problem because the water ceased to flow. Earth slides and the shutting off of the water of the Jordan for an extended period of time have been reported periodically. In 1267 such an event was recorded. In 1906 and again in 1927 the phenomenon was observed and reported.

Older students of the conquest assumed that the capture of Jericho was the most important factor in the conquest. Actually it was the crossing of the Jordan River at high flood which was of the greatest significance. All the evidence that can be gathered to date seems to imply that the Jericho of Joshua’s conquest was only a small city guarding the crossing of the Jordan.

The key city in Joshua’s conquest of Pal. is Hazor which was the largest city in all of Pal. and a major city in the Near E. Comparing the size of Hazor and Jericho, Jericho would be simply a small oasis town. Hazor, internationally known, grew to a great size because it was located strategically as an international trade center. The key emphasis on the conquest of Jericho in Scripture is that it was the first fruits of the conquest and completely dedicated to Yahweh.

The Book of Judges demonstrates the chaotic nature of the Early Iron Age in Pal. This is reflected in the fact that there are no substantial remains of the period at Jericho. While ’Ain es-Sultan is an ideal source of irrigation, the volume of the water demands a strong stable government for its efficient use. Jericho flourished when irrigation systems were developed and maintained.

A curse was placed on Jericho by Joshua (Josh 6:26). The oasis was occupied by Eglon, king of Moab (Judg 3:14), for a short time. Some representatives of David spent time at Jericho after being mistreated by Hanun of Ammon (2 Sam 10:4; 2 Chron 20:22, 23).

In the time of Ahab, the 9th cent., Hiel of Bethel attempted to build a city at Jericho. The archeological evidence for this occupation is meager. The loss of Hiel’s eldest and youngest sons is interpreted as a fulfillment of a curse placed on the site by Joshua (1 Kings 16:34). This was the Jericho of Elijah and Elisha (2 Kings 2:4, 5, 18-22). It was the locale of a school of the prophets. The purifying of the spring by Elisha is described as an act which had permanent results.

There is a little archeological evidence indicating that there was an occupation of Jer icho in the 7th cent. b.c. which would warrant the designation of a town. This town came to an end at the time of the Babylonian capture of Zedekiah, the last king of Judah, in the Plains of Jericho (2 Kings 25:5; 2 Chron 28:15; Jer 39:5; 52:8). From that time Tell es-Sultan was not occupied as far as archeological evidence is concerned. Both Ezra and Nehemiah refer to a Pers. period occupation at Jericho (Ezra 2:34; Neh 7:36). The population is numbered at 345. These people are credited with aiding the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem (Neh 3:2). When the Arabs, Crusaders and Turks moved into Pal. they utilized the waters of Ain es-Sultan but they built the town of Jericho about 2 m. SE of the ancient Tell. The present city of Jericho has expanded to the place where it surrounds the old mound.

3. NT Jericho. Herod the Great and his successors built a winter capital S of OT Jericho on both banks of the Wadi Qelt. The ruins of this site are known today as Tulul Abu el-Alayiq. Usually the winter climate at this site is warm and pleasant compared to the frequent damp and chilly winter days and nights in Jerusalem. The site for Herodian Jericho was determined by the constant ample supply of water in the Wadi Qelt at a point where the stream opens out onto the plain of the Jordan River. A small fortress had been erected on the site as a control point over a road from the Jordan Valley to Jerusalem. In the Maccabean Period Bacchides fortified Jericho (1 Macc 9:50). Simon, one of the Maccabees was killed by his son-in-law Ptolemy at Jericho (16:14-16). In 63 b.c. Pompey captured two forts at Jericho, Threx and Taurus. These are prob. the Maccabean fortresses built on the N and S banks of the Qelt.

Herod the Great apparently carried out a two-phased building program at Jericho. In the first phase, the construction was of cutstone similar to that used in other cities. In the second phase, a peculiar use of small uniform rectangular stones set in mortar characterized the construction. This opus reticulatum architectural feature noted by the archeologists in many walls is peculiar to Jericho in the whole of the Middle E. This feature has been discovered on the Tiber in the time of Augustus. It has also been uncovered at Pompeii. Apparently Herod was attracted to this unique form of construction on a visit to Rome.

Herodian Jericho was oriented toward the Qelt. This stream provided water for elaborate reflecting pools lined by fifty statuary niches which were in a sunken garden. At each end of the garden were several buildings. At the E end a grand stairway 150 ft. long rose to a prominent building looking down upon the garden and the stream. In the account of Josephus, reference is made to the burning of the palace and some other buildings at Jericho at the time of the death of Herod the Great. His son Archelaus restored the town.

Zacchaeus, as tax collector at Jericho (Luke 19:1-10), had a lucrative position. Jericho was the winter capital of the kingdom. In addition, rich balsam groves were nearby and the tax on the product was considerable. When Jesus of Nazareth was entertained by the tax collector in Jericho, it would likely be in a home in keeping with Herod’s grand building program. The finest villas in Pompeii would be similar. One of the Hel. forts had sycamore timbers in it indicating that this wood was common in the area. The gospel accounts make reference to the presence of blind beggars in the vicinity of Jericho (Matt 20:29-34; Mark 10:46-52; Luke 18:35-43). Wherever wealth exists in the Middle E, a multiplicity of beggars can be noted.

NT Jericho was captured by Vespasian’s troops. There is no archeological evidence of a destruction of the city. From Jericho Vespasian sent his army seven m. S to Khirbet Qumran and destroyed that sectarian site on the W shore of the Dead Sea. The fact that the Qumran sect abandoned the site while Herod was at Jericho raises unanswered questions about the relationship between Jericho and Qumran during that time. Upon Herod’s death Qumran was reoccupied by the followers of the Teacher of Righteousness.

After Titus destroyed Jerusalem in a.d. 70 sending the Tenth Legion from Jericho for the final assault, Jericho declined. There was a brief revival at the time of Bar-Cochba’s defiance of Rome in a.d. 132-135. The Bordeaux pilgrim reported the location of Jericho in a.d. 333 to be where Herod built. A Byzantine Jericho was built a m. or more E of Herodian Jericho. The present city is built on the Byzantine site.

Bibliography J. L. Kelso, Excavations at New Testament Jericho, AASOR, Vol. 29-30 (1955); K. Kenyon, Digging Up Jericho (1957); Excavations at Jericho (1960), V. 1, 2.