Considered to be the world’s oldest continually inhabited city, built anywhere from 10000 BCE to 7000 BC, the biblical city of Jericho was the strongest fortress in all the land of Canaan. Located on a narrow plain on the western side of the lower Jordan River Valley, it appears to have had an advanced society with a sophisticated social and political system. Today, it appears to have an approximate population of 20,000 people and is believed to be the city that Joshua and the Israelites conquered with their trumpets (Joshua 6).
While Jericho doesn’t typically appear on most itineraries, despite many biblical references and history’s famous characters having visited, there are some really fascinating things to know about Jericho and the surrounding area. For anyone who visits, it is a cultural site replete with history, and no matter what, when you are traveling from Jerusalem to the Dead Sea, Ein Gedi, and Qumran, it is on the way.
Tell es-Sultan, otherwise known as ancient Jericho, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was a flourishing place for hunter-gatherers to settle because of the perennial spring that provided fertile land which was good for plant and animal life. The site proves the earliest examples of farming communities and urban development having existed in Jericho.
Biblical references mention the prophet Elisha and Jesus having visited Jericho. 2 Kings 2:18–22 cites a spring—recognized as Elisha’s Spring, because he purified the water by throwing salt into it. Luke 19:1–10 also mentions Jesus visiting Jericho. The centuries-old sycamore tree near the center of town reminds us of Zacchaeus, a man who climbed a sycamore tree because he wanted to see Jesus as He passed by.
Archaeological excavations reveal 23 layers of civilization with well-preserved structures, such as dwelling foundations and its fortification system complete with a tower, internal staircase, and the city’s surrounding wall, measuring more than six feet thick. Perhaps this is the wall Moses’ 12 “spies” – the word in the Bible translates as ‘scouts’ – witnessed when Joshua commands two of the 12 men to “Go see the land and Jericho” (Joshua 2:1).
Located nearby is the Mount of Temptation. This site is believed to be the place where Jesus was tempted by Satan, as recorded in Matthew 4:8. On top of the mount are ruins of the Hasmonean fortress mentioned in the First Book of Maccabees. Josephus also mentioned this same fortress as Dagon in his Antiquities of the Jews. On the top of the mountain is an ancient Greek Orthodox monastery.
Marc Antony, Cleopatra, and Herod coveted Jericho for its lavish oasis, a paradise, rich with flowers, spices, fruits, and rare plants that produced aromatic fragrances. For Cleopatra, she loved the fragrances of the exotic flora in the area. For Marc Antony, Jericho was the perfect gift to present to Cleopatra who wanted to produce perfume by extracting the oil from the area’s unusual plants. And for Herod, it was the perfect place to build palaces after he paid a hefty sum to Cleopatra who leased the land to him.
As the oldest inhabited city still existing on Earth, ancient Jericho has surely left its mark, leaving us with lots to learn, tidbits to share, and a rich culture that whispers our ancestors’ past.