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Bible Dictionaries

Holman Bible Dictionary


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(jee rih' koh) Place name meaning “moon.” Apparently the oldest city in the world and the first city Israel conquered under Joshua. Jericho is situated in the lower Jordan Valley, which, according to Genesis 13:10 , “was well watered everywhere like the garden of the Lord.” The Old Testament town lies beneath tell es-Sultan near one of Palestine's strongest springs. New Testament Jericho, founded by Herod the Great, was about one and one half miles southward in the magnificent wadi Qelt. The spring, ain es-Sultan, issues some 30,000 cubit feet of water daily which falls about 160 feet in the first mile of its course down many channels to the Jordan River six miles away, irrigating about 2,500 acres.

The combination of rich alluvial soil, the perennial spring, and constant sunshine made Jericho an attractive place for settlement. Only about 6.4 inches of rain fall there per year (mostly between November and February), and the average temperature for January Isaiah 59 F, while it Isaiah 88 F for August. Jericho is about 740 feet below sea level (accounting for its warm climate) but well above the Dead Sea eight miles southward which at 1,300 feet below sea level marks the earth's lowest point. Thus Jericho could be called “city of palms” (Deuteronomy 34:3; Judges 1:16; Judges 3:3; 2 Chronicles 28:15 ) and has plenty of palm trees today.

Jericho was an oasis situated in a hot plain, living in its own world with no major settlement in sight, and lying between the two focal points of Jerusalem and Amman in the mountains to the west and east. It is mentioned in the Bible usually in association with some movement from one side of the Jordan to another—the Israelite invasion, when Ehud takes tribute to the Moabite king, when David sends envoys to the king of Ammon, when Elijah and Elisha cross the Jordan, or when Zedekiah attempts to escape the Babylonians.

In New Testament times Jericho was famous for its balm (an aromatic gum known for its medicinal qualities). This along with its being the winter capital made it a wealthy city. When Jesus was hosted by Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10 ), it was probably in one of Jericho's finest houses. Its sycamore trees were quite valuable. Such a city could expect to have its share of beggars, as the Gospels tell us (Matthew 20:29-34; Mark 10:46-52; Luke 18:35-43 ).

The archaeology of Jericho is closely associated with the name of Kathleen Kenyon, an Oxford University scholar who excavated there between 1952-1959. The earliest recognizable building on the site dates apparently (based on radiocarbon dating) from about 9250 B.C., a time marking the change from the Paleolithic to the Mesolithic period in Palestine. By 8,000 B.C. a walled town (the world's earliest) of about ten acres had been built. About 6000 B.C. pottery appeared in Jericho. About 4000 B.C. a period of abandonment began, but by 3300 B.C. Jericho was coming into her own again into what Kenyon calls the “Proto-Urban” age. Jericho came to have solid defense ramparts and walls. From about 2200-2000 B.C. the mound of Jericho was a campsite rather than a town, when some 346 excavated tombs show its occupants to be from various tribal units. From about 1400 to possibly slightly after 1300 B.C. Jericho was a small settlement. The town at Joshua's time was small and may have used some of its earlier walls for its defenses. Thus more critical scholars underline the conflict between archaeological data and the biblical conquest narrative, while more conservative scholars have recently tried to redate the archaeological evidence or deny that tell es-Sultan is biblical Jericho without giving a satisfactory alternative. See Archaeology; Conquest; Joshua .

Karen Joines

Copyright Statement
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.

Bibliography Information
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Jericho'. Holman Bible Dictionary. 1991.

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