"Thus Went The Battle Of Jericho"
(a history)

by Jodey Bateman, 8 May 2002

Jericho is five miles west of the Jordan River. It is about twenty miles east of Jerusalem. While Jerusalem is on a ridge almost 2,000 feet above sea level, Jericho and the lower Jordan River are over 1,000 feet below sea level, the lowest-lying land on earth.

The word Jordan (in Hebrew and Arabic - Yardan) is related to the Hebrew word yarda - "he went downward" and to the Hebrew name Jared or Yared - "descendant, or that which descends".

Jericho is about six miles north of the large salt lake called the Dead Sea that the Jordan River flows into.

The people who live in Jericho call it Riha. In 1980 Jericho had about 12,000 people - compared to only about 100 people in 1870.

Less than half a mile northwest of Jericho is a large spring of water called Ein es-Sultan meaning "The Sultan's Spring" in Arabic. It is the largest spring in the lower Jordan Valley and unlike many springs in the area, the water always flows without failing. The water forms a pool which is used for irrigation. In Bible times, there were such large groves of date palms around the spring that Jericho was sometimes called "The City of Palm Trees". Other traditional crops besides dates were wheat fields and fig orchards.

One of the main reasons for the growth of Jericho since 1900 is the introduction of new crops - such as bananas, lemons and tomatoes, making the town a market gardening center.

On the west side of the pool formed by the spring of Ein es Sultan is a long, high mound called Tell es Sultan, meaning "The Sultan's Mound".

People moved to Tell es Sultan for the water from the nearby spring. They built towns of adobe brick, one on top of the other over the centuries. Most of the towns that they built were surrounded by stone walls to protect them from the tribes of shepherds who pastured their sheep in nearby grasslands.

In dry years when the sheep and goats were dying, the shepherd tribes would try to break through the wall surrounding Jericho to raid the little town. If they were successful, they might destroy the town, but it would not stay in ruins for long.

The spring was always there, making it possible to grow wheat and date palms. Soon a new town would be built by the descendants of the survivors of the raid, or by the shepherd tribes who made the raid or by a mixture of both peoples - or a completely new people might show up and build a new town. If any of the earlier people survived in the area, the new people would mingle with them.

The destruction and rebuilding on the same spot over centuries created a mound over 60 feet high. This is the location known as Jericho in the Old Testament.

Around 1900 a German named Ernst Sellin conducted excavations of ancient Jericho at Tell es Sultan. Then from 1930 to 1936, every summer an Englishman named John Garstang conducted excavations there. Further excavations were done at Jericho/Tell es Sultan from 1952 to 1967 by an Englishwoman named Kathleen Kenyon. They are considered some of the most thorough and scientific archaeological excavations ever done.

In all this time, not one scrap of written material has ever been found in Tell es Sultan. All speculation about the history of the place is based on things like changes in the amount and style of pottery or the changing floor plans of adobe houses.

At the ground level at Tell es Sultan was a culture called the Natufians (after another site called Wadi en-Natuf where their remains were first found.) The Natufians spread across a large area of the Middle East during a warm spell that lasted from around 11,000 BC to 10,000 BC - around the end of the ice age. At places like Jericho they left the charcoal of their campfires and the distinctive tools of stone and animal bone that they used. They hunted the wild sheep and wild goats who came to drink at the pool of the spring of Ein es Sultan.

The spring also caused the growth of large patches of wild wheat which the Natufians harvested and ground into flour. (In all the Natufian sites like Jericho there are grindstones where they ground their wild wheat.)

They camped at the same spot most of each year at the base level on which the mound of Tell es Sultan would grow someday. Some of the main indicators that they were an (almost) permanent fixed settlement are the skeletons of mice who made their own permanent fixed settlements to live on the Natufians' leftover grain.

There was a brief cold spell about 10,000 BC (it lasted for about 200 years) and the Natufians deserted the site of Jericho. Then the Neolithic period began.

The next people who came to Ein es Sultan are called PPNA (The initials stand for Pre-Pottery Neolitiic A). They made their settlement at the spring around 8,000 BC. As the name indicates, they had no pottery. (Though as a well-preserved site at Catal Huyuk, Turkey shows they had wooden vessels).

They hunted gazelles and wild boar. These animals continued living around Jericho until around 1880 AD - and there were also leopards living in the area that late who, just like the humans, preyed upon the wild game.

But the PPNA culture also raised their own domesticated wheat. (The bones of domesticated sheep and goats and the grains of domesticated wheat can be distinguished from the wild varieties easily.)

The PPNA people built circular dome-shaped one-room huts of curved adobe bricks covered over with plastered mud. Similar circular huts are still built by peasants in northeastern Syria and southeastern Turkey. Sites of the PPNA culture are found all over Israel, Jordan, Syria, and northern Iraq and a similar early agricultural village of what was probably a closely related culture is found at Catal Huyuk in south-central Turkey.

But the Jericho PPNA ruins are the largest PPNA site known. At Jericho the PPNA village was surrounded by a wall 12 feet high and six feet thick. Inside the village was a watch tower about 30 feet high. (Most of the wall and watchtower are in ruins.)

Some archaeologists have said that the PPNA wall at Jericho was not to keep out raiders, but to block floods and mud slides. My own belief is that such a wall might have kept out both floods and raiders. A similar wall has been found at the PPNA site at Beidha, Jordan.

PPNA is the first agricultural society known. The spread of PPNA probably went along with the spread of a particular language across the Middle East, so PPNA culture was probably spread by one particular people who drove out or absorbed other peoples.

The language that was probably spread by PPNA is called Proto-Afro-Asiatic by linguistic scholars. It was not a written language so what it was like can only be reconstructed from written languages that are its descendants such as Hebrew, Arabic and Ancient Egyptian.

About the time the PPNA village at Jericho was built, domestic sheep and the cultivation of grain spread into Africa. Apparently, sheep and grain-growing were spread into Africa by PPNA people who spoke the Proto-Afro-Asiatic language.

In Africa there are three groups of Afro-Asiatic languages that are so different from the other Afro-Asiatic languages they they must have split off from the others as early as 8,000 BC - about the time Jericho was being built and domestic sheep and grain-growing were being introduced into Africa.

These language groups include the Oromo languages of Ethiopia, the Chadic languages of Chad, Niger and northern Nigeria, and the Berber languages of Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Mauritania and the northern Mali. (In many places where Berber languages were once spoken, Arabic is now spoken.) So we can say that most likely the first agricultural villagers at Jericho spoke a language that was the ancestor of Hebrew, Arabic, and ancient Egyptian.

Their circular huts often were in clusters. All the huts in a cluster would be connected by an adobe wall, probably to keep the sheep and goats from getting out of the inner yard. If these people followed the customs of similar agricultural villages in Africa, then the husband would have a hut and each of his wives would have her own hut where she lived with her children. The dead were buried under the floors of the huts. Often the skeletons of the dead don't have skulls. The reason for the absence of skulls shows up in PrePottery Neolithic B (PPNB). The culture that came after PPNA.

In PPNB, skulls of the dead were covered with clay and their features were molded in the clay where their faces would have been on the skulls. Apparently these clay-covered skulls were kept in the houses and they were asked for blessings and advice for the living. Sometimes PPNB people put small seashells that looked like closed eyes in the places on the skulls where the eyes would have been.

PPNB people lived in square adobe houses looking very much like the sort of square peasant houses that are still common in most of the Middle East - or among the Pueblo Indians of New Mexico and Arizona.

PPNB began sometime shortly after 7,500 BC. They lived there until sometime shortly before 7,000 BC. They left paintings on the walls showing that they did ceremonial dances wearing masks. They obtained seashells by trade and used them not only to make eyes in the skulls of their dead but also they carved seashells into circular disks, something like the heeshee shell disks of the Pueblo Indians to make into necklaces.

PPNB left Tell es Sultan shortly before 7,000 BC and the mound which had been building up for almost 1,000 years was deserted for 1,500 years.

Then a new group of settlers showed up who built pit houses into the mound, much, like the pit houses of early Indian's in New Mexico and Arizona. The pit-house dwellers of Jericho at 5,500 BC were the first culture there to make pottery - storage jars for grain.

A new people came who built houses of stone and adobe. The pithouse people (unusual for Jericho or the Middle East) lived peacefully in the same village with the house builders. Gradually everyone in the community came to live in houses. The site was deserted again in 4,000 BC approximately.

Then about 3,500 BC a new village was built on top of the mound which by this time was over 20 feet high. These new villagers built a wall around their village. There was at least one tower in their wall. This is when Neolithic - the late Stone Age ended.

The pottery of these new villagers shows that they were in touch with the new cultures of what is now Iraq where the world's first cities were being built (some of these cities by 3,000 BC would have as many as 20,000 people.)

In Iraq and Egypt tools and weapons starting around 3,500 BC were made out of bronze, a mixture of copper and tin. From pottery styles it is obvious that the people of the new walled village at Jericho were in touch with the first centers of civilization in Iraq and Egypt, so even at Jericho this period is known as Early Bronze.

At the beginning of Early Bronze, the houses in Jericho were built in a jumble and trash filled the spaces between them. In the later Early Bronze layers, Jericho was laid out neatly in a grid pattern and the garbage was tossed over the town wall, while the streets were kept clean.

During Early Bronze most of the trees in the area were cut down for construction or firewood. This caused a decay in the environment, which meant less production of crops and less trade with the outside world.

Sometime around the end of Early Bronze - 2,300 to 2,200 BC - there was conflict. Piles of firewood were burned by invaders around the walls of Jericho. The heat cracked the walls open and the invaders poured into Jericho and destroyed it. About this same time Ai, the largest town in the area was destroyed.

On the ridges that run northward from Jerusalem to Nablus to Jenin about 100 towns and villages were abandoned around this time. People stopped growing grain along the ridges. Only a few shepherds and their flocks were left.

At Jericho there are shepherds' camps on the mound from the time after the end of Early Bronze. Then around 2,000 BC, the descendants of these shepherds, together with a new people whose pottery shows them to have come from the north, build a town with stone walls six to nine feet think set on ridges of packed earth. The main street, about six and a half feet wide, was built in stair steps to the top of the mound and there was a small ditch alongside the street to catch rain water and keep the area from flooding.

During MIddle Bronze there were about 200 settlements in the highland ridges - including Jerusalem and Hebron and Nablus (called Shechem in the Bible). Many of the places that would later be important in the Bible were important towns in Middle Bronze. The Middle Bronze people were Canaanites.

In early Middle Bronze, large numbers of people from this general Israel/Palestine area settled in the Nile River Delta of northern Egypt. For a century - from 1750 BC to 1650 BC, they had a dynasty of kings who ruled northern Egypt. The Egyptians called them the Hyksos - the Shepherd Kings.

The period of the Hyksos kings and settlement of people from Israel/Palestine in the Nile Delta may have some connection with the story in the Bible about Joseph and his brothers in Egypt, where Joseph's family settles in Egypt to escape famine.

Finally the native kings of southern Egypt overthrew the Hyksos kings around 1650 BC. The Hyksos had brought the first horses and war chariots into Egypt. But the Egyptians learned how to handle horses and chariots themselves and drove the Hyksos rulers out.

Around the end of Middle Bronze the Egyptian kings began to expand their own control northward into Israel/Palestine. At the end of MIddle Bronze, invaders burned down Jericho and left a layer of ashes three feet thick. Late Bronze had begun.

In the highland ridges from Jerusalem northward, out of 200 towns and villages all but about 25 were deserted.

Jerusalem was still inhabited in Late Bronze but apparently had no more than about 500 people. It was much smaller than MIddle Bronze Jerusalem. Very little is left of Late Bronze Jerusalem because much of the stone it was built of was taken by later rulers to build the great temple and the city walls.

Late Bronze Jericho was a small village without walls. Most of the settlements in the highlands north of Jerusalem and Jericho did not have walls. Few of these settlements had more than 300 people.

The most powerful late Bronze settlement was Hazor at the northern end of the Jordan River valley near what is now the border of Syria. Hazor had thick walls and a large palace.

Egypt dominated the area in the Late Bronze and the largest settlements were the towns along the coast like Gaza and Ashkelon and the fortress cities in the wide valleys of the far northern area called Galilee - places like Hazor and Megiddo.

Like Middle Bronze the people of Late Bronze were called Canaanites, with such smaller groups as Hiutites, Jebusties, Amorites, HIttites, Perizzites and Girgashites. But Jericho of this time is not worth talking about. When King Thutmuse III suppressed in 1450 BC a rebellion by 119 Canaanite cities, he did not list Jericho among them. It was only an unwalled village.

Around 1360 BC, Abdi-Heba, the king of the large village of Jerusalem and the smaller villages around it wrote to the King of Egypt" "The Habiru have plundered all the lands of the king. If there are archers this year, the lands of the king, my lord, will remain. But if there are no archers, the lands of the king, my lord, are lost."

In other words, the king of Egypt must send troops to protect Jerusalem and the surrounding villages from the Habiru or they will take control. The "Habiru" is most likely the same word as "Hebrew". In Middle and Late Bronze, Habiru or Hebrew meant shepherds who lived in the high pasture country and were not under the control of any ruler until they came down in the winters to graze their flocks in the valleys, when they had to get permission from the small local kingdoms.

But if the local kingdoms were weak and the summers had been so dry that the Habiru/Hebrews and their flocks of sheep were going hungry, then they might raid the towns and villages of the small local rulers. So King Abdi-Heba of Jerusalem was asking for troops from his overlord, the King of Egypt, to protect the villages subject to him from the Habiru/Hebrews.

But Akhen-Aton, the King of Egypt, sent no troops. He was obsessed with spreading his new religion of one universal god called Aton. He closed the temples and smashed the images and on inscriptions he had the plural ending chipped away from the word "gods".

Akhen-Aton spent all his time building a beautiful new capital city with no idols. IN the archives of his city, the clay tablets with requests for protection by local rulers such as Abdi-Heba of Jerusalem piled up in vain.

Finally at the death of Akhen-Aton (which may have been a murder) his successor, the child king Tut-Ankh-Aton was brought back to the old capital city. His name was changed to Tut-Ankh-Amon. In his name the worship of the old gods was brought back.

Tut-Ankh-Amon died young. After a period of would-be kings, a new royal family of generals came to the throne of Egypt. The most powerful of these was Rameses II who ruled from about 1281 to 1220 BC. While in Rameses' time there were some settlements of a people called HIttites in the hill country around Jerusalem, there was a major Hittite Empire in what is now called Turkey that threatened Egyptian control of the areas now called Syria, Israel/Palestine and Jordan.

Rameses II met the Hittites in battle at a place called Kadesh in northern Syria. Both armies numbered at least 20,000 - huge armies for that time. Rameses personally led six dangerous chariot charges against the Hittites.

Neither side won the battle - both were exhausted. Large Egyptian armies had passed through what is now Israel/Palestine to fight at Kadesh in 1268 BC. Eighteen years later, Rameses could not stop the largest of the Canaanite fortress cities, Hazor, from being destroyed in 1230 BC.

According to the book of Joshua in the Bible, Hazor was destroyed and its king Jabin (or Iabin) was killed in an attack by a male Hebrew war leader named Joshua. According to the next book, the book of Judges, the attack on Hazor was several generations later and was led by a female Hebrew leader named Deborah.

Both bible accounts give the name of the king of Hazor as Jabin. This corresponds to the name "Ibni King of Hazor" on a clay tablet from that time, one of the few pieces of written material from Hazor - or anywhere else in Israel/Palestine. Three hundred years earlier in the Middle Bronze Age Hazor had a king named Ibni-Addu so Iabin/Jabin or Ibni may have been a name favored by the royal family.

Both of the Bible accounts of the destruction of Hazor say it was one of the last Canaanite cities to be destroyed by the Hebrews. The archaeological evidence indicated that Hazor was one of the first Canaanite cities to be destroyed around the end of the Late Bronze and the beginning of the Early Iron Age. (Not long afterward, 1207 BC, King Merneptah of Egypt fought against "Israel").

A number of Canaanite cities were destroyed between 1250 BC and 1150 BC, but the Hebrews seem to have destroyed only part of them. Many of them were destroyed by Greek-speaking raiders called Philistines who settled in many of the coastal cities, notably the city of Gaza.

The Book of Joshua lists 17 Canaanite cities that Joshua was supposed to have destroyed. Of these cities, 11 have been identified. Three of them were destroyed in the general time frame for Joshua - 1230 BC to 1130 BC so these three would have been destroyed in or shortly after the time of Joshua - they include Hazor.

Three more of the 11 cities were destroyed before Joshua's time. He is supposed to have destroyed Ai - but Ai was the largest town in the area in the Early Bronze age. It was destroyed around the end of the Early Bronze - 2200 BC - and never rebuilt.

Ai had been a large town for its day. It was ten times as large as nearby Bethel, which was a major town in the Middle Bronze. The word Ai means "Ruin" in Hebrew. Probably the town's original name had long been forgotten by the end of Late Bronze and beginning of Early Iron. The Book of Joshua says that Joshua left Ai "a heap of ruins to this day." The current Arabic name for Ai is Khirbet et-Tell, which could be translated "a heap of ruins." Apparently the ruins of Ai were large and conspicuous for hundreds of years after its destruction and whoever the early conqueror of Ai was, he could have become identified with a later conqueror.

Another place Joshua was supposed to have destroyed was Arad. Yet Arad was also destroyed around the end of the Early Bronze Age. It was not rebuilt until sometime in the late Iron Age - between 900 and 600 BC.

The third and most famous was Jericho. Jericho was destroyed at the end of Early Bronze shortly before 2200 BC. It was rebuilt and destroyed again around 1550 BC at the end of the Middle Bronze Age. In the Late Bronze Age, Jericho was only a village without walls. Once again, the story of Jericho - and the walls falling flat - may have been a tradition from an earlier conquest applied to a later time.

Joshua is said to have come from the tribe of Ephraim of the people of Israel, the most powerful of the Iron Age Hebrew peoples. In the Book of Chronicles in the Bible, Joshua's name is given as Hoshea - the same as a later king of Israel. It is also the same as the name of the prophet Hosea - who was from Joshua's tribe of Ephraim. (According to the Bible, the people of Ephraim could not pronounce the "sh" sound in their dialect. Instead of "Shibboleth" they said "Sibboleth". Thus the name Hoshea, which was probably Joshua's original name, would have been pronounced Hosea, like the prophet's name in the dialect of Ephraim. And in Hebrew the name Israelis spelled as if it should be pronounced Ishrael. Yet it is pronounced without the "sh" sound, probably reflecting the dialect of the tribe of Ephraim where the name Israel may have originated.

In the Late Iron Age, starting about 900 BC there were two separate Kingdoms - Israel, centering in the territory of the Tribe of Ephraim and to the south of it there was Judah (from which the word "Jew" comes) which centered on Jerusalem. Israel was originally a more prosperous area than Judah and had a larger population than Judah. In the same way during the MIddle Bronze Age, the area that was later known as Israel had a larger population and was more prosperous than the area that was later known as Judah - much of Judah was semi-desert.

During Late Iron - starting about 900 BC - Jericho was part of the northern kingdom of Israel. Around 850 BC a man named Hiel rebuilt the walls of Jericho again - which had been in ruins for 700 years. There was supposed to be an ancient curse by Joshua that whoever rebuilt Jericho could do so only at the cost of his oldest and youngest sons - literally that he would "lay the foundation on them". Apparently Hiel sacrificed his sons and buried their bodies under the stones of the walls of Jericho. This use of a human sacrifice to strengthen the foundation of a new building was common in ancient times.

Shortly after Hiel rebuilt the walls of Jerico, according to the Second Book of Kings in the Bible, the people who moved to Jericho found the water in the pool from the spring of Ein es Sultan was so bitter it was impossible to drink.

(Water in Ein es Sultan becoming too brackish to drink from some change in the chemistry of the soil, or sudden declines in the supply of water from Ein es Sultan - these two factors may have caused Jericho to be peroidically deserted as much as invasions from the outside.)

According to the second Book of Kings, the prophet Elisha cut down a small tree and dipped it in the pool of Ein es Sultan. The leaves of the tree are said to have "healed" the waters of the pool and made them drinkable again - so people could live in Jerricho.

From the dates of the kings whose reigns Elisha is associated with, the healing of the springs would have taken place not long before 800 BC.

Then in 721 BC, the northern Kingdom of Israel was conquered by the Assyrian Empire. Thousands of refugees fled from Israel to the southern Kingdom of Judah. Also Judah took over some of the former territory of Israel, including Jerricho.

King Hezekiah of Judah and his great-grandson King Josiah were both strongly under the influence of prophets who wanted to abolish the worship of all gods but one god named Yahweh. According to the prophets Israel had been punished by Yahweh for worshipping other gods and the Assyrians had been allowed to conquer them for their idolatry.

The kings and prophets of Judah tried to unite their people with the refugees from Israel and the people of the territories of Israel which they had recently occupied after the Assyrian conquest - places like Jericho. They came up with a national history that would incorporate the closely related peoples of Israel and Judah as the one people of Israel.

Hoshea or Hosea, the great hero of Israel was given a new name Joshua - in Hebrew Yeho-shua, meaning "Yahweh has saved." He was said to be responsible for the destruction of the Early Bronze city of Arad in the territory of Judah, which had only recently been rebuilt. Joshua was said to have made a speech urging his people to give up all the gods that they had worshipped except for the one god.

After King Josiah died, there was an attempt to restore the worship of idols. Shortly after that, in 586 BC, the Babylonian Empire conquered Judah. The Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem and also Jericho - no other city was ever built on the mound of Tell es-Sultan after the Late Iron Age.

The people of Judah were ruled over by the Babylonians, the Persians and then the Seleucids - the descendants of Alexander the Great's general Seleucus. Judah did not regain its independence again until 167 BC. Shortly after that a winter palace was built at Jericho for the new Jewish rulers, the Maccabeans. Since Jericho was at a much lower altitude than Jerusalem, it was much warmer in the winter. The new winter palace was about two miles south of the mound of Tell es-Sultan where Jericho had stood for all those thousands of years. It was about half a mile west of Riha, the present-day city of Jericho.

The palace was near a deep arroyo now called the Wadi Kelt (wadi means arroyo or part-time stream in Arabic). While the Wadi Kelt was dry in summer, in winter it flowed with water from the rainy season in the highlands above Jericho. The water was channeled to make swimming pools for the palace.

In one of these pools Herod had his brother-in-law Aristobolus, the last heir to the Maccabean throne, drowned so that Herod could claim the throne for himself.

Near the palace Herod built a fortress which he named Cypros for his mother. Over 300 years after Herod's time the fortress of Cypros became a Christian Monastery. There was also a large amphitheater made of adobe for the staging of chariot races. A town grew up around the winter palace. This is the Jericho that Jesus visited during Roman rule.

This Jericho was destroyed by the Romans when they crushed the Jewish uprising of 70 AD, but the ruins of the winter palace and the chariot racing stadium could be seen as late as 330 AD when the first Christian pilgrims visited the area. The present day town of Riha, the most current form of Jericho and another village north and east of Jericho called Al Awja grew up to sell food and shelter to Christian pilgrims who came to see the Jordan River where Jesus had been baptized. At Al Awja, six miles northeast of Jericho, there was a chapel which exhibited twelve stones for pilgrims. These stones were said to have stood in a circle called Gilgal - which means "Going Around" in Hebrew. Joshua was said to have put these stones up in a circle as a sacred shrine and young men were said to have been circumcised there. Archaeologists have found the ruins of the chapel, but the twelve stories it contained are gone.

After the Muslim conquest around 650 AD, few Christian pilgrims came to Jericho until the crusaders conquered Jerusalem in 1099 AD. After that pilgrims continued to come as late as 1480. Then there was a period of war between the Christian Kings of Europe and the Turks. Pilgrims began coming again after 1800. They had to pay for guides to protect them from bandits. (The guides usually belonged to the same desert tribe as the bandits.) The road from Jerusalem to Jericho had long been notorious for bandits. Jesus tells of the good Samaritan taking care of a Jew who had "fallen among thieves" - meaning how people can "be neighbors" to those who were their traditional enemies.

to Jodey   /   to Moongate