One of the oldest and best known cities in the Bible is Jericho. Best known for the battle there, in which, God miraculously brought down its strong walls to give His people Israel their first victory in their conquest of the “Promised Land.” However, there is much more interesting information relating to Jericho outside of the story in Joshua 6 that most do not know. In this paper we will discuss the topics of what life might have been like in this ancient town.
For most, if not all, cities the most interesting feature of the town is the people and the history. While there is plenty of information on the history of Jericho, there is very little information about its people. There are a few simple things that are known about the people though, that are imperative to understanding the history.
To begin, we know that the religion of the people of Jericho was focused on the worship of the moon. (Baker 91) In fact, to the Canaanites, Jericho meant “The Moon” (jericho-city.org). The practice of worshipping the moon was not a rare one, and although certain practices may differ among certain groups we know from the life of Abraham what the worship of the moon at Ur looked like.
Howard Vos helps our study of the worship of the moon by his description of it, he tells us that the moon god’s name was “Nanna” he continues to say that,
“Nanna’s special functions were to light up the night, to measure time
(Sumer observed a lunar calendar), and to provide fertility. Nanna was expected to give general prosperity: fish in rivers, plants on land, long life in the palace, abundance of cattle and dairy products to cow herders, as well as human fertility.
In line with the phases of the moon, festivals were celebrated on the first, seventh and fifteenth days of the month […] On the day the moon was invisible and thought to be dead, special offerings were made[…] The people believed that on the day Nanna went to the underworld to judge and make administrative decisions. That done, the god reappeared in the night skies as the new moon. (Vos 10)
While these particular practices and beliefs come from Abraham’s days in Ur, it is reasonable to believe that the observances and beliefs in Jericho mirrored those of Ur.
As for the day-to-day work, the people of Jericho were probably farmers or shepherds, however, more likely most of them were farmers since “Jericho was famous for such subtropical fruits as dates and figs” (Baker 92). The “fig trees produce two crops a year, in June and August–September. [They] ate the first fresh and dried the second for use as food during the winter or on trips. They also used them in Making wine” (Vos 134). The famous dates from Jericho were also used in drinks, as “Borowski believes that the honey of Palestine was a product of the date palm tree. The juice extracted from the trunk could also be served as a drink, either fresh or fermented” (Vos 135). Clearly the production of figs and dates was an important aspect of the commerce and life of the average ancient people of Jericho; for during the day they would work hard on producing the fruits, and at night or during times of leisure they could enjoy the tasty fruits of the land in food or drink.
The people of Jericho also had an advantage over their neighbors. That advantage was a relatively safe and secure life behind the walls of the city. We’ll talk more about the walls later, but for now we know that life in Jericho must have been less stressful because of the mighty and impressive walls. Surely the people of Jericho, and even the people near Jericho, were free to live their lives in comfort and happiness because of the protection of those walls. Not only were the people protected behind the walls of the city, but they were an intimidating force to their opponents; for as we see in Numbers 13:28 the spies who went into the promised said, “Nevertheless, the people who live in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified and very large;” (NASB). Even though the people of Jericho lived in a completely secure city and even though the spies of Israel described them as strong people when the time came for Joshua and Israel to take the land the people of Jericho were terrified. Rahab describes their state of mind by saying “When we heard it, [the defeat of Sihon and Og] our hearts melted and no courage remained in any man any longer because of you;” (Joshua 2:11 NASB). This shows me that the only real threat to Jericho was Israel.
An old road marker shows the way to the city of Jericho and proudly boasts that Jericho is “The World’s Oldest City” this boast however is not entirely false, for as Henry Halley describes “It [Jericho] bills itself today, with some justification, as the ‘World’s Oldest City.’ The oldest town on the site dates back to the 8th millennium B.C.” (HALLEY’S 191).Whether or not Jericho is in fact the oldest city; we certainly know that Jericho has been around for a long time.
While we know that Jericho is an old city we also know that at the time of Joshua, Jericho was a large city, relatively speaking by today’s terms of a large city. Even though we are not sure of the population of the city, we do know it had to have been large based on the overall size of the city itself; for “the wall of Jericho enclosed about ten acres” (Halley 192). That would leave plenty of room for people to settle in given the fact that some people actually lived in the walls. While this seems impressive Howard Vos shows us that, “Though Jericho seems important in the Old Testament narrative, it was not large like Babylon or Nineveh” (Vos 121).
It is to the walls that we now concentrate our study. For probably the best known feature of Jericho were its strong and impressive walls. It was those walls that God chose to tear down in the first battle for the Promised Land. God picked those intimidating symbols of human strength to show His children that He reigns over every obstacle and power we may face. It is the same God who tears down the walls or allusions of power who says to us that “No weapon that is formed against you will prosper;” (Isaiah 54:17 NASB). While it is true that God miraculously brought down the walls of Jericho, it is important not to forget how amazing those walls must have been. Jericho was built on a mound and had a double wall; one to surround the mound, and one to surround to city. Howard Vos explains it best,
“A stone wall surrounded the mound on which Jericho was built. This held in place a flat rampart, above which (higher up the slope) stood a second (mudbrick) wall that constituted Jericho’s city wall proper. So there were two concentric walls. When the walls fell, the mudbrick wall collapsed and slid down the slope, creating a pile of rubble over which the attackers could climb” (122).
So amazing were the walls of Jericho that they even supported homes, especially the home of Rahab, for as we see in Joshua 2:15 the means of escape for the Israelite spies was through the window of Rahab’s house on the wall. These homes were probably built in the second wall on the mound.
Another part of the history of the ancient city of Jericho is the fact that it lived on even after being totally destroyed by Joshua. Thus showing that what could possibly be the oldest city in the world cannot die. After the thrilling defeat and destruction of Jericho as recorded in Joshua 6, Joshua places a curse on any man who tries to rebuild the city. Surely that would have sealed the fate of the city, for who would defy God by rebuilding Jericho? However, in the days of the wicked King Ahab of Israel the Bible records in 1st Kings 16:34, that Hiel the Bethelite built Jericho. As a result of the wickedness and idolatry of King Ahab’s reign the people lost focus of God, which is what led to this construction. True to His word however, God inflicted the punishment of Joshua’s curse on Hiel’s sons, nevertheless Jericho was given a new birth. Jericho would never lose that new birth either, the city survived well past the Old Testament and into the New Testament; for it was at or near Jericho that Jesus encountered Zacchaeus in Luke 19:1-10. Also in the New Testament city of Jericho, just south of the original Jericho,
“A large civic center attributed to Herod Archelaus was one of the more spectacular discoveries. It is known that Jericho served as the winter capital of Judah during the days of the Herods, and the ruins discovered there are architecturally similar to the civic buildings of Rome itself” (Baker 280).
The city of Jericho continues to thrive to this day. Today the state of Palestine has control of it, yet “The area within the municipality limits is about 45 square kilometers, and the population of the city of Jericho is 17,000. If we include the population of the surrounding villages and refugee camps the number goes up to 25,000 inhabitants” (jericho-city.org). Jericho also continues to grow and export their famous fruits and tourism is also a big part of daily life in modern Jericho.
The area of Jericho
The city of Jericho is located on the plain on Jericho. The plain of Jericho is immediately north of the Dead Sea, and is fourteen miles wide; this is where the Jordan Valley is at it widest. It also an excellent grazing land. Jericho the city is 825 feet below sea level; located seventeen miles northeast of Jerusalem and five miles west of the Jordan River, and eight miles northwest of the point where the Jordan enters the Dead Sea (Baker 24,32,92).
The purpose of Jericho
The purpose of Jericho as it relates to the Bible is quite simple. As we have already discussed God used Jericho to show that He is more powerful than human strength, because in an instant God destroyed the only strength the people of Jericho had, which was their walls; and in an incredible way God gave his children the victory in their first battle to take the Promised Land. Saving only Rahab and her family God gave the whole city, people, animals, and possessions to the Israelites, who in return gave it all back to God as an offering.
God has also used Jericho to demonstrate His love even for a “sinner.” In Luke 19:1-10 we read the story of Jesus and Zacchaeus; this story known by most Christians, happened in the town of Jericho. It was here in Jericho that we see the great love Jesus has for even the worst people in action. Even more we see the power His love has to change lives forever in Zacchaeus’ response to pay back all of his debts.
Another possible lesion we can learn from Jericho comes from Hosea; he says in 2:15 “Then I [God] will give her [Israel] her vineyards from there, and the Valley of Achor as a door of Hope. And she will sing there as in the days of her youth, as in the day she came up from the land of Egypt” (NASB) Robert Chisholm comments on this verse by saying,
“Once the relationship was revived, the Lord would restore the nation’s agricultural prosperity (symbolized by the ‘vineyards’) and lead her back into the land. As in the time of the Israelite conquest, the gateway to the land was the Valley of Achor. On that earlier occasion this valley was a place of “trouble” (the meaning of the name Achor), for it was there that Israel executed Achan, who sinned against the Lord by stealing some of the riches of Jericho. Israel piled rocks over Achan’s corpse and named the place the Valley of Achor, a name it permanently retained (Josh. 7:26) as a reminder of how sin jeopardized Israel’s future . However, all of this would change in the future. The valley of “trouble” would be transformed into a “door of hope,” for restored Israel would respond favorably to the Lord’s overtures of love” (344).
Perhaps that is a lesson from Jericho we can all relate to, the lesson of how God turns the trouble our sins cause us into a door of hope. Hopefully we will learn at least one lesson from Jericho because there are so many more to learn than what are talked about in this paper.
Chisholm Jr., Robert B. Handbook on the Prophets. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2002.
Halley, Henry. Halley’s Bible Handbook. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000.
Jericho Municipality. “Introduction” 15 July 2004
Pfeiffer, Charles F. Baker’s Bible Atlas. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2003.
Vos, Howard F. New Illustrated Bible manners and Customs. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1999.
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