1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Jericho
JERICHO (יְרִחוֹ, יְרּיחוֹ, once יְרִיחֹה, a word of disputed meaning, whether “fragrant” or “moon [-god] city”), an important town in the Jordan valley some 5 m. N. of the Dead Sea. The references to it in the Pentateuch are confined to rough geographical indications of the latitude of the trans-Jordanic camp of the Israelites in Moab before their crossing of the river. This was the first Canaanite city to be attacked and reduced by the victorious Israelites. The story of its conquest is fully narrated in the first seven chapters of Joshua. There must be some little exaggeration in the statement that Jericho was totally destroyed; a hamlet large enough to be enumerated among the towns of Benjamin (Josh. xviii. 21) must have remained; but that it was small is shown by the fact that it was deemed a suitable place for David’s ambassadors to retire to after the indignities put upon them by Hanun (2 Sam. x. 5; 1 Chron. xix. 5). Its refortification was due to a Bethelite named Hiel, who endeavoured to avert the curse of Joshua by offering his sons as sacrifices at certain stages of the work (1 Kings xvi. 34). After this event it grew again into importance and became the site of a college of prophets (2 Kings ii. 4 sqq.) for whom Elisha “healed” its poisonous waters. The principal spring in the neighbourhood of Jericho still bears (among the foreign residents) the name of Elisha; the natives call it, Ain es-Sultan, or “Sultan’s spring.” To Jericho the victorious Israelite marauders magnanimously returned their Judahite captives at the bidding of the prophet Oded (2 Chron. xxviii. 15). Here was fought the last fight between the Babylonians and Zedekiah, wherein the kingdom of Judah came to an end (2 Kings xxv. 5; Jer. xxxix. 5, lii. 8). In the New Testament Jericho is connected with the well-known stories of Bar-Timaeus (Matt. xx. 29; Mark x. 46; Luke xviii. 35) and Zacchaeus (Luke xix. 1) and with the good Samaritan (Luke x. 30).
The extra-Biblical history of Jericho is as disastrous as are the records preserved in the Scriptures. Bacchides, the general of the Syrians, captured and fortified it (1. Macc. ix. 50), Aristobulus (Jos. Ant. XIV. i. 2) also took it, Pompey (ib. XIV. iv. 1) encamped here on his way to Jerusalem. Before Herod its inhabitants ran away (ib. XIV. xv. 3) as they did before Vespasian (Wars, IV. viii. 2). The reason of this lack of warlike quality was no doubt the enervating effect of the great heat of the depression in which the city lies, which has the same effect on the handful of degraded humanity that still occupies the ancient site.
Few places in Palestine are more fertile. It was the city of palm trees of the ancient record of the Israelite invasion preserved in part in Judg. i. 16; and Josephus speaks of its fruitfulness with enthusiasm (Wars IV. 8, 3). Even now with every possible hindrance in the way of cultivation it is an important centre of fruit-growing.
The modern er-Rīha is a poor squalid village of, it is estimated, about 300 inhabitants. It is not built exactly on the ancient site. Indeed, the site of Jericho has shifted several times. The mound of Tell es-Sultan, near “Elisha’s Fountain,” north of the modern village, no doubt covers the Canaanite town. There are two later sites, of Roman or Herodian date, one north, the other west, of this. It was probably the crusaders who established the modern site. An old tower attributed to them is to be seen in the village, and in the surrounding mountains are many remains of early monasticism. Aqueducts, ruined sugar-mills, and other remains of ancient industry abound in the neighbourhood. The whole district is the private property of the sultan of Turkey. In 1907–8 the Canaanite Jericho was excavated under the direction of Prof. Sellin of Vienna.
See “The German Excavations at Jericho,” Pal. Explor. Fund, Quart. Statem. (1910), pp. 54–68.