Jericho (Heb. יְרִיחוֹ) is said to be one of the oldest fortified cities in the ancient Near East. It is identified with Tell al-Sulṭā, near the ʿAyn al-Sulṭān spring (Spring of Elisha), about 1 mi. (1½ km.) N.W. of modern Jericho (Ar. Arīḥā) and 4½ mi. (7 km.) W. of the Jordan on the road leading to Jerusalem. The tel, covering an area of about 8½ acres (34 dunams) is 65 ft. (20 m.) high and 820 ft. (250 m.) below sea level. Its warm climate and abundant waters made Jericho an oasis attracting settlers from prehistoric times.
In 1868, Charles Warren excavated at the site but had a negative opinion of its archaeological potential. The first systematic examination of Jericho was conducted by E. Sellin and C. Watzinger in 1901–09. Extensive excavations were subsequently carried out by J. Garstang in 1930–36 and K. Kenyon in 1952–61. Jericho was first settled sometime during the eighth millennium B.C.E. and the material remains are of the Natufian culture. One structure has been identified as a possible cult place. The dwellings were probably huts or tents of semi-nomads. Two Neolithic sub-periods are distinguished at Jericho; their main difference is the absence of pottery in the first and its appearance in the second. The pre-pottery Neolithic period (seventh millennium) is characterized by irrigation farming and the development of major communal activities represented by the building of features said to be fortifications – though whether these actually served as fortifications has recently been contested by Bar-Yosef – and curvilinear houses built of plano-convex bricks (flat with curved tops). The "fortifications" of the town consist of a stone wall, 6½ ft. (2 m.) thick, to which a stone tower was attached, 30 ft. (9 m.) high and 28 ft. (8½ m.) in diameter with an inner staircase leading to the top of the wall. For this phase radiocarbon (14C) tests of organic material established a date of 6850±210 B.C.E., i.e., between 7060 and 6640 B.C.E.
Following the destruction of this town, a new one was built on its ruins and also enclosed by a stone wall erected on new foundations. Rectangular-shaped houses, of elongated mud-bricks, contained plastered floors colored red or yellow and burnished to a high polish. On several were found impressions of rush mats once spread on them. Several structures from this level may have served as public buildings or perhaps temples. Eleven building phases and 22 superimposed plastered floors were distinguished in this city. Throughout its long history, the settlers had no knowledge of the art of manufacturing pottery, but they possessed a highly developed standard of sculpture making. An outstanding example of their artistic skill is a flat head modeled from clay with shells inset for eyes in a unique style. Beneath the floor of one of the houses were discovered plastered human skulls with features molded into realistic human portraits. These skulls were probably connected with some cultic practice, perhaps ancestor worship. Finds such as flint sickle blades, querns, mortars and pestles, and various types of grain indicate that the occupants of this city were agriculturists. Radiocarcarbon (14C) tests from various levels gave dates of 6520±200 (6720–6320) and 5820±160 (5980 – 5660 B.C.E.).
In the fifth millennium, newcomers seem to have arrived at Jericho. No building remains date to this time but they brought with them a new culture – the art of manufacturing pottery. The vessels of this Neolithic period pottery are handmade and coarse, but some are finer and decorated with a red, well-burnished zigzag design. The latest pottery from this period, decorated with incised herringbone patterns, parallels the Yarmukian culture of northern Ereẓ Israel. Judging from the many changes in the fortifications and the appearance of the remains, the Early Bronze Age (third millennium) was one of great upheaval for Jericho, and it was the scene of frequent wars and earthquakes. The walls were destroyed, repaired and rebuilt 17 times during this time. The thick walls, of unbaked bricks, built almost exactly over the Neolithic ones, had a semicircular tower. Round structures, whose purpose is unknown, were found, as well as a large rectangular tower, rectangular-shaped houses and tombs. Jericho flourished in this period and was destroyed by nomadic tribes which penetrated into Canaan in the Middle Bronze Age I (2100–1900 B.C.E.). The city was not rebuilt and the remains from this time are mainly a great number of tombs with weapons and pottery. In the Middle Bronze Age II (19th–17th centuries B.C.E.) the city again became prosperous, and it was defended by an imposing system of fortifications consisting of a huge glacis of beaten earth on the slopes of the tell and supported at its foot by a massive stone retaining wall 20 ft. (6 m.) high. Many tombs were found outside the city with rich offerings in alabaster and bronze, scarabs and jewelry, as well as wooden objects and reed mats and baskets which are rarely preserved in Israel.
The city was probably destroyed by the Egyptians; from the period of the latter's rule of Canaan (15th–13th centuries) little remained at Jericho, but it is clear that the city was inhabited to a certain degree in the 13th century. This was the city that was said to have been encountered by the Israelites when they entered the Promised Land and whose conquest was essential for their advance into the interior of the country. Joshua sent two spies to investigate the city which the Bible describes as walled (Josh. 2:1). It was not captured in battle but by divine command: the Israelites were to encircle the city once a day for six days and seven times on the seventh day and then to the blare of trumpets, and at the sound of a great shout the wall of the city fell and it was burnt. The city and all that was in it were consecrated to the Lord and only Rahab, the harlot, who had hidden the messengers, and her household were saved (Josh. 6). However, in the excavations at Jericho, no fortification was found which could be attributed to the Canaanite city captured by Joshua (see the debate between Bienkowski and Wood for different opinions). To resolve this discrepancy, some scholars suggest that the mud-brick wall was washed away by rain and erosion during the long period that it stood in ruins. Others maintain that the Canaanite city did not possess its own wall but reused the wall of the earlier city, and still others consider the biblical tradition to be an etiological story invented to explain the destruction of the earlier city. At all events, the archaeological evidence does not help establish an exact date for the Israelite conquest of Jericho.
The Bible contains many references to Jericho in the Israelite period (12th–6th centuries). The city was included in the territory of Benjamin (Josh. 18:21) and, after Joshua's conquest of the city and his curse against anyone rebuilding it (Josh. 6:26), it apparently remained uninhabited as no remains from the 12th century were found. The Bible records the capture of "the city of palm-trees" by Eglon, king of Moab (Judg. 3:13). Evidence was found of a small settlement dating to the end of the period of the Judges and the beginning of the monarchy. A large public building of four rooms which was probably a royal storehouse is attributed to the tenth century B.C.E., i.e., the time of David. On their return from the Ammonite king, David's messengers remained at Jericho until their beards grew again (II Sam. 10:5). The city was rebuilt by Hiel, the Bethelite, in the days of Ahab, and for this act he was revenged by the fulfillment of Joshua's curse (I Kings 16:34). Some building remains from this time were found. The prophets Elijah and Elisha lived there (II Kings 2:4, 18–22) and the Judahite prisoners captured by the Israelites in the time of Pekah were returned to the "city of palm-trees" (II Chron. 28:15).
The city expanded considerably at the end of the Israelite period (seventh, sixth centuries) but it remained unfortified and unimportant up to its destruction by the Babylonians in 587 B.C.E. The city was resettled by 345 Babylonian exiles (Neh. 7:36) and they participated in rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem (3:2). A small settlement existed there in the post-Exilic period. Jar handles inscribed "Yehud," the Aramaic name of the province of Judea under Persian rule, indicate that Jericho was included in the Judean state. On one handle, after the name "Yehud" appears "Urio"; he was apparently the official in charge of the fiscal affairs of the state. Gabinius made it the seat of one of his councils (synhedria) when he reorganized Judea into five districts. Archaeological remains of the Hellenistic and Roman town of Jericho have not yet been identified, but Hasmonean and Herodian palaces have been uncovered further west at Tulū'l Abu al- ʿ Alāyiq where Wadi al-Qilt enters the Jordan Valley. Remains of imposing structures constructed by Herod were found during excavations conducted at the site by E. Netzer between 1973 and 1983. Jericho possessed vast groves of dates and persimmons. Jericho itself was destroyed during the Jewish War (66–70 C.E.) and military installations were again built there at the time of Hadrian. Jericho continued to be occupied at the time of the Bordeaux pilgrim (333 C.E.). In the Byzantine period Jericho moved about 1 m. (1½ km.) east to its present location. Near the city were remains of a seventh-century basilical-shaped synagogue. It was oriented toward Jerusalem and had a mosaic pavement decorated with a menorah, the inscription "peace on Israel," and a memorial inscription in Aramaic.
Jericho is mentioned in the Onomasticon of Eusebius (fourth century) and was depicted as a flourishing city on the Madaba Map (sixth century) where the well, which supplied the ancient city with water, is shown as a church and called the "Spring of Elisha" (τὸ τ[οῦ] άγι[οῦ] ʾ Ελισαίου). This according to tradition was the site of the story of Elisha in the Bible (II Kings 2:19–22) who was called upon to deal with the purification of the contaminated spring by casting a vessel with salt into the waters. According to Josephus, Elisha "went out to this spring and cast into the stream an earthen ware full of salt, and then, raising his righteous right hand to heaven and pouring propitious libations upon the ground, he besought the earth to mollify the stream and to open sweeter channels…" (Wars, 4:460–65). The spring is known today as Ayn al-Sulṭān. It seems that by the seventh century Jericho was again in ruins but Jewish refugees from the tribe of Banu *Nadir fled there from before Muhammad. A new synagogue arose on the site of the Byzantine one and the Masoretes mention a "Jericho Codex" existing there. With the Islamic conquest, a palace was built in 724 C.E. at Khirbat Mafjar nearby ("Hisham's Palace"). Excavations in 1935 by R.W. Hamilton brought to light beautiful mosaics and carvings there. By 891 Jericho was the district capital of the Ghauer (cleft of the lower Jordan; Ya ʿ kūbī, 113) and by the early Middle Ages was important for the production of indigo and sugar cane (Yākūt, 3:823, 913). It was captured by the Crusaders in 1099 and used by Raymond IV, count of Toulouse, as an encampment when his rival Godfrey de Bouillon gained Jerusalem. Queen Melisande endowed the whole of Jericho and its surrounding lands to her newly established convent of St. Lazarus (at Bethany) in 1147 and fortified Jericho with a tower. It was recaptured by Saladin without a struggle in 1187. The present Jericho is on the site of the Crusader town. Close by is the site of ancient *Dok, on the summit of which is the Byzantine Monastery of the Temptation (Qarantal) where Jesus was said to have fasted for forty days and nights (cf. Math. 4:1–5; hence its medieval name, Mons Quarantana). The Knights Templar built a fortress on the summit, called Castellum Dok, and the monastery was granted the tithes of Jericho city and the rights of the sugar mills in 1136. At the foot of the hill are the remains of three Crusader sugar mills (one nearly intact) which were referred to as early as 1116. They were driven by water systems originally built by Herod and repaired by the Crusaders. Nearby a Crusader building for boiling the sugar is in a good state of preservation. The town itself was practically uninhabited from then until the 19th century.
E. Sellin and C. Watzinger, Jericho (1913); J. Garstang, The Story of Jericho (1948); Kelso and Baramki, in: AASOR, 19–30 (1955); Pritchard, ibid., 32–33 (1958); H.H. Rowley, From Joseph to Joshua (1958); K.M. Kenyon et al., Jericho, 2 vols. (1960–65); Aharoni, Land, index; EM, 3 (1965), 839–60; Press, Ereẓ (1952), 459–62; EḥA, 1 (1970), 243, 259; G. Le Strange, Palestine Under the Moslems (1940), 1855; M. Benvenisti, The Crusaders in the Holy Land (1970), index; S. Runciman, History of the Crusades, 3 vols. (1951–54). ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: K.M. Kenyon, Digging Up Jericho (1957); O. Bar-Yosef, "The Walls of Jericho: An Alternative Explanation," in: Current Anthropology, 27 (1986), 157–62; P. Bienkowski, "Jericho in the Late Bronze Age (1986); idem, "Jericho Was Destroyed in the Middle Bronze Age Not in the Late Bronze Age," in: Biblical Archaeology Review, 16:5 (1990), 45–46, 69; B.G. Wood, "Dating Jericho's Destruction: Bienkowski Is Wrong on All Counts," in: Biblical Archaeology Review, 16:5 (1990), 45, 47–49; Z. Ilan, Ancient Synagogues in Israel (1991); H.J. Franken, In Search of the Jericho Potters (1974); P. Dorrell, "The Spring at Jericho from Early Photographs," in: Palestine Exploration Quarterly, 125 (1993), 95–114; E. Netzer, The Palaces of the Hasmoneans and Herod the Great (2001).
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.