Jericho lies on the lowest place on earth down in the Jordan Valley, about 6.2 miles from the Dead Sea and 16.7 miles from Jerusalem. The town is located 250m below sea level. While Jericho is on hot scorching desert sands, it has a very good supply of freshwater from local springs. The Hebrew word for Jericho means “fragrant,” and today is called the “City of Palms.” Jericho is not on our normal holy land Israel tour itineraries, but there are full day tours that are highly recommended as Israel tour extensions and Israel tours upon your arrival.
North of the modern town of Jericho one can see a large mound of the ancient city of Jericho called Tel es–Sultan, a UNESCO World Heritage site. This mountain hill contains the ruins of what archaeological experts claim is the oldest city in the world. The city was a Canaanite City mentioned in the Old Testament Scriptures. By the time of Jesus this was probably already a deserted ruin, with a spread-out-town close by that Herod the Great had built with aqueducts irrigating crop fields and to provide water to one of his Palaces.
The history of Jericho in the bible begins with Moses looking west across the Jordan from Mount Nebo, “the plain of the valley of Jericho, the city of palm trees,” (Deuteronomy 34:3). It was Joshua who led the Israelites into the “promised land” and made plans to conquer Jericho first. Archaeologists have discovered ancient city walls surrounding the city. These walls as high as nine meters high were built with rooms within the walls, and are mentioned in the scriptures (Joshua chapter 2), when the faithful women Rahab living in a house on the wall, sheltered and helped the spies sent out by Joshua by hiding them and lowering them from windows to escape.
In the scriptures we learn how the city was conquered and destroyed in a very unusual manner. The Israelite army marched around the city walls for six days carrying the ark of the Lord. On the 7th day they circled seven times and the priest blew with their trumpets and the people shouting made the walls collapse. Joshua took the city and saved only Rahab, ‘her father’s household, and all her belongings.’ (Joshua 6.1-25) Rahab appears in the genealogy of Christ and is mentioned in the scriptures as a woman of faith. While some scholars believe in the scriptures happening exactly as it’s written others argue the exact conquest of Jericho by Joshua.
Believers feel that the hand of God had a direct impact on Jericho. Having destroyed it Joshua made a prophecy: “Cursed before the Lord is the man who undertakes to rebuild this city, Jericho: At the cost of his firstborn son will he lay its foundations; at the cost of his youngest will he set up its gates” (Joshua 6:26.NIV). This prophecy was fulfilled a few centuries later when King Ahab reigned and Hiel of Bethel set about reconstructing the city walls and lost his two sons as Joshua had predicted (1 Kings 16:34 NIV).
Later during the time of Judges, Jericho and much of Israel was overtake by the King Eglon of Moab. The area was subject to Moabites rule for 18 years, and not until Ehud they Israelites were released from oppression (Judges 3:12-24). After the scriptures tell of Elijah and Elisha, where traveling to Jericho he heals the waters (2 Kings 2:18-22), and even today the ancient mound is called “the spring of Elisha.”
It is well established Jericho was inhabited after the Jewish capture in Babylon, approximately 445 BC, due to records of Ezra that 345 children of Jericho returned home (Ezra 2:34). Nahemiah provides more proof by telling us that its descendants helped to reconstruct the walls of Jerusalem (Hehemiah 3:2). In the New Testament we also read about Jesus visiting Jericho on more then one instance, and also get a description as to the size of the population of the city with the fact that Jesus was followed by many people. Among them were blind beggars including Bartimaeus, who pleaded for Jesus to have mercy, which when they declared their faith he gave them their sight (Matthew 20.29-34; Mark 10.46-52).
On your travel to the Holy Land, you can read about the encounter of Jesus with Zacchaeus in Jericho. Zacchaeus was the chief tax collector, a man of wealth and hated by the local people. As Jesus traveled through Jericho, he was determined to see Jesus but because he was a short man, he climbed a tree to get a sight of Jesus. However it was Jesus who sought out Zacchaeus, seeing in him a readiness to change his life. The scriptures tell how Jesus, despite being criticized, stayed in Jericho at this man’s house, and brought salvation to him. (Luke 19:1-10).
Jesus familiarity to the road leading to Jericho through the Wadi Qelt, is mentioned in the parable of the Good Samaritan. Christ’s use of the story of the Priest and the Levite who ignore the injured man on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho. This parable describes the general attitude during this era and place. Jericho was a holy day resort for those living in Jerusalem. With traveling just a relatively short distance, some four hour walk, a man could travel from a cold climate of Jerusalem, to the warm and sunny Jericho 250m below sea level. This is why King Herod built his summer palace in Jericho. The Priests and the Levites also used Jericho as their resting-place. The Jewish Talmud comments that there were as many priests in Jericho as there were in Jerusalem, and Jesus used this fact to illustrate his parable (Luke 10:25-37).
The last writing of Jericho in the Bible is in the letter to the Hebrews, where the author tells us how the faith of the Israelites in the power of God brought the walls of ancient Jericho crashing down (Hebrews 11.30). It was not long after, that the city was destroyed by the Romans to put down the Jewish revolt in AD 70. You can marvel and stand today on the ruins of the city during your Christian trip to Israel, and witness history and archeology with your own eyes.