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Tell es-Sultan, Jericho

Jericho (See also wiki article Valley_of_Jehoshaphat.)

JERICHO - A city situated in the Jordan Valley about 5 miles from the north end of the Dead Sea. It is chiefly famous in the Bible as the first city conquered by the Israelites after their passage of the Jordan (Jos.1-7). During the period covered by the OT, it does not thereafter appear as an important town, but is mentioned on a number of occasions during the periods of the United and Divided Kingdoms. The final defeat of Zedekiah, the last king of Judah, by the Babylonians took place at Jericho (2K.25.5, Jer.39.5, 52.8). Josephus records events here in the Maccabaean and early Roman periods. In the Gospels, Jericho figures in the stories of Bartimaeus (Mt.20.29, Mk.10.46, Lk.18.35), Zacchaeus (Lk.19.1), and the Good Samaritan (Lk.10.30).

Three major archaeological expeditions have investigated Tell es-Sultan, usually accepted as the site of OT Jericho, which lies at the source of 'Ain es-Sultan or Elisha's spring. The most recent excavations, sponsored by the British School of Archaeology in Jerusalem, have shown that the settlement is the oldest yet found in Palestine, and indeed anywhere in the Near East. The first evidence is provided by a structure which is probably a sanctuary established near the stream by Mesolithic hunters, c 7800 BC. The descendants of these hunters settled down beside the stream, living at first in a small settlement, in flimsy huts. Eventually they started to build solid houses, still round in plan like the huts, and these houses spread over an area of nearly ten acres. A population of this size indicates that an efficient agriculture had been evolved, and probably a system of irrigation. By about 7000 BC the settlement was defended by a massive stone wall, attached to which was at least one great stone tower. After a period of occupation which produced a large number of house levels one on top of another, this settlement, which can be claimed to be the earliest known town in the world, was destroyed, and the site was occupied by newcomers with a different equipment, still not including pottery. Their houses also were different and were of a more advanced rectilinear plan, with characteristically plastered floors. About 5800 BC this settlement also was surrounded by a wall.

The second Neolithic town was in turn destroyed, and the site was occupied by newcomers who brought the use of pottery with them but who had none of the attributes of town dwellers. A second wave of similarly backward people can be equated with a stage which represents the first beginnings of village life so far traced in the East or the Near East, c 4500 BC.

It was not until the beginning of the Early Bronze Age, c 2900 BC, that Jericho again became a town. Numerous rebuilds of the town walls during this period indicate the dangers to Jericho from its position on the route into the fertile Mediterranean countries for invading nomads from the semi-desert to the east, c 2300 BC. Nomads finally overcame the civilization of the Palestinian Early Bronze Age, destroying Jericho and many other towns. These nomads can with great probability be identified with the Amorites, and evidence of their tribal character was found at Jericho. A fresh civilizing wave entered the country c 1900 BC, coming from the Phoenician coastal area, and representing the Canaanites as found by the Patriarchs. The Jericho of this time was defended by a great bank, revetted at the foot with stone, the slope faced with plaster, and crowned by a wall. Small portions of the town with close-built houses flanking cobbled streets have been found, and also remarkable examples of the wooden furniture with which the houses were equipped.

About 1580 BC the town was destroyed, probably by the Egyptians, and there was a period of abandonment until c 1400 BC. Of the succeeding town, which must be that of the period of the entry of the Israelites into Palestine, almost nothing has survived the erosion by weather to which this ancient mound has been subjected. The identification of town walls as those of the period of Joshua by the 1930-1936 expedition has been shown to be erroneous. What little evidence there is points to a date in the second half of the 14th cent. for the destruction of the town of this period.

Archaeology confirms the Biblical evidence of the abandonment of the site after this period. It does not however confirm a reoccupation by Hiel the Bethelite as early as the time of Omri (1Kg.16.34). There is a considerable Iron Age occupation, but probably not earlier than the 7th cent., and ending at the time of the Second Exile.

From this time. Tell es-Sultan ceases to represent the site of the town of Jericho. Little evidence has been found concerning the settlement in the Hellenistic or Maccabaean period, but it may have been on the site of the Herodian town, which was centred on the waters of the Wadi Qelt and not those of 'Ain es-Sultan. There parts of a grandiose building, with a great terrace-facade in Roman style opus reticiilatum, have been excavated, which may be Herod's palace. Traces of Roman occupation are spread over a wide area of the valley round about.

Arab remains often succeed the traces of Roman and Byzantine buildings in the area, and the Arab ruler Hisham (AD 724-743) built a magnificent palace about a mile N. of Tell es-Sultan. But during the Arab and Turkish rule, cultivation and irrigation decayed, until at the beginning of this century the site was only represented by the miserable village of er-Riha. Since 1948, however, great progress has been made, and er-Riha is now a thriving municipality, and the centre of a growing area of cultivation. [Article: Dictionary of the Bible, J.Hastings, 2nd Ed., T&T.Clark, 1963 - R.A.S.M. - K.M.K.]