Jericho – Israel

Jericho is one of oldest cities on earth and is also one of lowest at 1050 feet below sea level. The town has formed up around an oasis and is actually called the ‘City of Palm Trees’ in Judges 1: 16; 3: 13. Its recent history has certainly been turbulent as it has been the scene of some bitter clashes between Palestinian guerillas and the Israeli Defense Force.

This photo was taken at a Palestinian checkpoint entering Jericho. Fighting destroyed the building in the background – the pockmarks on the walls are the results of gunfire and mortar damage. Jericho is a hot bed for terrorists.

Surrounding Jericho is the Judean Wilderness – wilderness in the States or Canada means something very different than it does in Judea:

Scriptural Significance

Jericho is an important place mentioned in the Old Testament:

  • It is first mentioned as Israel staged itself across the Jordan in the Plains of Moab  (Numbers 22: 1)
  • Rahab lived here and protected the spies sent by Joshua into the city (Joshua 2); they in turn, protected her (Joshua 6)
  • Jericho was miraculously captured by the Israelis as God caused its walls to collapse (Joshua 6)
  • This was the place where Achan’s sin took place (Joshua 7)
  • Its territory was assigned to Tribe of Benjamin (Josh. 18: 21)
  • David sent his ambassadors to the Ammonites here after they had been shamed by them (2 Samuel 10: 1 – 5)
  • Some of the group known as the ‘sons of the prophets’ were located here (2 Kings 2: 5)
  • Elijah was taken in a whirlwind near here (2 Kings 2: 1-11)
  • Elisha purifies poisoned water here (2 Kings 2: 18 – 22)
  • Zedekiah was captured by Chaldeans here (2 Kings 25: 4-7)
  • Some of the descendants of those from Jericho return from Babylon under Zerubbabel (Ezra 2: 34)
  • Men from Jericho assist in rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem under Nehemiah (Nehemiah 3: 2)

Jericho is of course most famous in Scripture for its conquest by the Children of Israel under Joshua’s command. Key to this was the miraculous collapse of the city’s walls.

This terrific illustration to the right was provided by Gene Fackler – note the line of scarlet thread in Rahab’s window.

Digging Deeper

Jericho has been a terrific source of controversy until very recently in the archeological world.  Unfortunately, Jericho is the poster child for how not to do an excavation.  In many ways the site has been damaged and has not been preserved well. Having said that, the site has also been closely scrutinized – providing researchers with a wealth of information.

To understand the controversy, it is important to know in what time frame the Bible would place certain events of history.  For those who hold a high view of Scripture, the Exodus from Egypt would have occurred @ 1446 BC.  The Conquest of Canaan (and of Jericho) would have occurred somewhere around 1406-5 BC or what is known as the period of the Late Bronze Age.

A British engineer did the first excavation of Jericho. His name was Charles Warren and the year was 1868. Later, two German archeologists, Ernst Sellin and Carl Watzinger from roughly 1907 – 1911, examined the site. Originally they determined that the Bible account of the conquest was confirmed. Sellin and Watzinger later recanted however and felt that perhaps there were chronological problems. 

This was followed up in the 1930s with work done by British archeologist, John Garstang. His work showed that indeed Jericho’s walls had fallen, just as the Bible said. Further, the wall collapse appeared to date to the Late Bronze Age (@1400 BC).  Further, the city was clearly destroyed by fire.

In the 1950s, Kathleen Kenyon used improved techniques and confirmed a good deal of Garstang’s work. The city clearly had been assaulted at a certain point. Further, the city was strongly fortified in accord with Scripture (Joshua 2: 5, 7, 15; 6: 5, 20). {The schematic to the right is an illustration of Jericho’s walls based on Kenyon’s work.} Also in agreement with Scripture was the fact that Jericho had been attacked just after the harvest (Joshua 2: 5, 7 and 5).  This was clear due to the abundance of grain found in the storage pots unearthed. This also served to verify that the siege of Jericho was short-lived. Had the siege lasted a long while, the food supply would have been depleted. This also confirmed the Biblical account that Jericho was not plundered (Joshua 6: 17 – 18), but was merely set ablaze (Joshua 6: 24).  Finally, Kenyon validated that the walls of the city had collapsed in such a way as to allow the invaders to literally just walk up them like ramps (Joshua 6: 20).

However, Kenyon dated the destruction of Jericho to the Middle Bronze Age (@ 1550 BC). This primarily centered on the lack of pottery from the Late Bronze Age.  She in fact argued that Jericho was uninhabited in the 1400s BC. This challenged the accuracy of Scripture which necessitate a 1400 BC or so conquest.

During the 1990’s, an American archeologist by the name of Bryant Woods excavated at Jericho. Additionally, he analyzed both Garstang’s and Kenyon’s work. His findings were critical. It was now clear, a good deal of the pottery found dated to the Late Bronze Age. This validates that Jericho fell @ 1400 BC. 

Even more importantly, radiocarbon dating of Jericho’s burn layer dated is destruction to 1400BC. This confirms that Jericho was destroyed at just the time and in just the way the Bible had said. (Note the arrows are pointing to the burn layer – this layer is found throughout Tel Jericho.)

What’s the Point?

Skeptics, based on Kenyon’s work, site Jericho as evidence that the Bible is inaccurate. However, once the archeological evidence was correctly interpreted – just the opposite was shown to be true. Archeological evidence from Jericho shows that the Bible is a reliable source of history, accurate in every detail.

Scriptural Significance

Jericho is an important place also mentioned in the New Testament:

  • The Lord restored sight to the blind here (Matt 20:29-30; Mark 10:46; Luke 18:35)
  • It is mentioned in connection with the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30)
  • Zacchaeus entertained the Lord in his home (Luke 19: 1 – 8)

Two miles south of Tel Jericho or Old Testament Jericho, a second set of ruins has been located. Scholars believe this to be the ruins of New Testament Jericho. 

There are the remains of a number of fine buildings here dating between the 2nd Century BC and the 1st Century AD. One of these includes a large pavilion built on top of an artificial mound. At the foot was a large pool. Also, steps lead from the pavilion to a wadi – i.e., a creek bed. These are formed as a result of run-off waters coming from winter rains over Jerusalem and the Judean Mountains. 

This wadi impacts a good deal of the features associated with New Testament Jericho. Herod the Great built his winter Palace here straddling the wadi:

  • On the wadi’s northern bank was one wing of Herod’s Palace
  • On the wadi’s southern bank was another wing of Herod’s Palace
  • A bridge crossed the creek and connected the two wings
  • On the western side of Herod’s Palace was a sunken garden backed by an elaborate façade
  • On the eastern side was another large pool
  • Other features included a reception hall, open courtyards, and a bath complex 

It is believed that Herod the Great had his wife’s brother murdered in the Palace’s pool (Herod was married to Mariamne; her brother was Aristobulus). Murdering family members was not a one-time act for Herod; he would eventually kill two of his sons and Mariamne herself.

Nearby, is another palace dating back to the Hasmoneans and yet another swimming pool.

Did You Know?

In the Gospels, there are three accounts give concerning Jesus’ healing the blind at Jericho:

  • In Matthew 20: 29 – 34, Jesus is said to have healed two blind men as He was leaving Jericho  
  • In Mark 10: 46 – 52, Jesus is said to have healed blind Bartimaeus as He was leaving Jericho
  • In Luke 18: 35 – 43, Jesus is said to have healed a blind man as He was approaching Jericho

Bible critics at one time pointed to these passages as evidence that Scripture contained a contradiction. 

The argument didn’t center so much on how many were healed – it was clear that Mark and Luke were focusing in on Bartimaeus, due to the conversation he had with the Lord. Besides, if the Lord healed two (as mentioned by Matthew), then He certainly healed one. No contradiction there!

The argument did center however, on when the Lord healed these blind men.  Skeptics claimed a contradiction because Matthew and Mark say the healing occurred as Jesus left Jericho, while Luke states that it took place as He entered Jericho.

Historical Significance

Well, here is where the importance of knowing historical background becomes so important! As we have already seen, there are two cities of Jericho during the 1st Century. Matthew and Mark are Jews who essentially are writing to Jewish audiences (albeit, Mark is writing to Jews primarily in the assembly at Rome). To the Jew of the 1st Century, “the Jericho” would have been Old Testament Jericho. Luke however, is primarily writing to Gentiles. A non-Jew of that time would have seen the newer city (i.e., New Testament Jericho) as “the Jericho”. It’s clear therefore, that the Lord performed this healing as He left Old Testament Jericho and was on His way to New Testament Jericho!

New Testament Jericho and Old Testament Jericho are separated by about two miles. 

What’s the Point?

It is important to know your historical background when interpreting Scripture – archeology is an invaluable tool for doing this.  The Bible is God’s Word (2 Timothy 3: 16) and as such, it is perfect and contains no mistakes (Psalm 119: 140).

Old Testament Jericho can be seen about two miles away in the distance (note where the blue arrow is pointing), whereas New Testament Jericho is in the foreground (note the red arrow).