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JERICHO Part II - The Biblical Account

We first hear of Jericho when the children of Israel are camped on the Plains of Moab by the Jordan River and the wording is somewhat strange in each case. If one were not aware of the location of the city one is lead to believe that it is on the other side of the Jordan. Thus:

"And Moses and Eliezer the priest spoke with them in the plains of Moab by the Jordan at Jericho saying…….." Numbers 26:2.

It would thus appear from this account that they had crossed the Jordan ( very unlikely) or that the city of Jericho was very substantial and exerted its influence across the Jordan River.

Nor is this an isolated incidence. In Numbers 22:1, 26:3, 33:48, 34:15, 35:1, and 36:13, the same type of description is used. When describing the area to the east of the Jordan it is done with reference to Jericho. When Moses was ordered to Mount Nebo in Moab again it is described as against Jericho. Deuteronomy 33:49. It must have been a powerful and important city indeed.

I emphasize this point for two reasons, the first is to show how important the city was as a strategic center at that time. For those who claim that the Torah was redacted after the exile, they have to explain why Moab was described in this way when 1,000 years later Jericho was no longer of such geographical importance.

The Children of Israel camped on the East Bank of the Jordan at Shittim and sent two spies over the river to reconnoiter the land. They found that Jericho was a walled town with a gate (the archaeologists definition of a city) and that Rahab the prostitute who became their informant had a flat roofed house actually on/in the wall itself. She was able to let the spies out of her house from a window, by a cord, directly out of the city. She was also told to hang a scarlet thread out of her window to identify her house from a distance so that the future attack by the Children of Israel would leave her alone. Joshua 2:1-15

Thus the account gives a great deal of information about a city which would not necessarily be known by historians or tellers of tales a 1,000 years later.. If of course such details could be verified.

When the children of Israel finally crossed the border en masse, they camped at Gilgal on the eastern border of Jericho and 40,000 of their fighting men prepared to do battle in the Valley of Jericho. On the 14th day of Nisan, they kept the Passover festival and immediately thereafter began the siege of the city. Presumably all the people living outside of the city on the plain itself fled to the fort for protection for "none went out and none came in" Joshua 6:1.

For six days, every day all the soldiers in Joshua's army and seven priests with the Ark of the Covenant, went once around the walls of Jericho and on the seventh day they went around the walls seven times. If this were true the circumference of the town could not have been very great. Thus we see another paradox which one would expect a redactor or an author of fiction to correct. A powerful yet small city. We shall see from the archaeology that this is exactly what it was.

"So the people shouted when the Priests blew with the trumpets and it came to pass when the people heard the sound of the trumpets, and the people shouted with a great shout, that the wall fell down flat, so that the people went into the city, every man straight before him and they took the city. And they utterly destroyed all that was in the city……….with the edge of the sword………….And they burnt the city with fire and all that was therein……… and Joshua adjured them………..at that time saying cursed be the man before the Lord that riseth up and buildeth this city Jericho, He shall lay the foundation thereof in his firstborn, and in his youngest son shall he set up the gates of it." Joshua 6:1-26.

In spite of this curse on the man who was to rebuild this city, it was given to the Tribe of Benjamin when the land was divided among the tribes and it is certain that they occupied the land surrounding the city if not the city itself at this time. The area was obviously of too great a strategic prize to abandon.

Over 100 years later we read in the Book of Judges:-

"And the Children of Israel did evil again in the sight of the Lord and the lord strengthened Eglon, the King of Moab against Israel………And he gathered unto him the children of Ammon and Amelek and went and smote Israel and possessed the City of Palm Trees, so the Children of Israel served Eglon, the King of Moab, 18 years." Judges 3:12

It is interesting to note that here Jericho is not referred to by name but as "The City of Palm Trees".

That the "City of Palm Trees" was Jericho is not in doubt and these references prove it.

" …And the South, and the Plain of the Valley of Jericho, 'The City of Palm Trees' unto Zoar." Deuteronomy 34:2

" They brought them to their kinsfolk at Jericho, 'The City of Palm Trees'." (at the time of Ahab ) 2 Chronicles 28:3

It is obvious that the narrator had in mind ( don't forget this account is not in Torah but in Judges) the curse and was seemingly embarrassed to admit that Jericho had been at least garrisoned until the time of Eglon and that this Moabite King had occupied it for a purpose.. There was surely no point in the Moabite occupying a bare ruin especially in view of its extremely important strategic location especially viz. a vis Moab. It was after all the area directly opposite to Jericho across the Jordan River.

There can be absolutely no doubt whatsoever that for at least 18 years the King of Moab must have garrisoned the city and in all probability used the Benjaminites as slave labour to re-fortify it.

However, there must still be a question as to whether there had been a Benjaminite occupation of Jericho prior to the Eglon invasion in spite of the curse. Remember there was always the terrible threat of a Moabite invasion throughout this period. Even present day Judaic law allows exemptions to its precepts if there should be a real and present danger to life and limb.

What is clear however is that after the 18 years of Moabite occupation and oppression, a savior of the House of Benjamin, one Ehud, by a trick killed the King of Moab and by cutting off the Moabite retreat by capturing the fords over the River Jordan, killed all the men of Moab remaining on the left bank.

" 10,000 of them all lusty and all men of valour; and there escaped not a man, so Moab was subdued that day under the hand of Israel and the land had rest four score years." Judges 3:29

No commander of any worth (and the Benjaminites were known as the warrior tribe) would fail to garrison the strategic fort of Jericho, curse or no curse. In this case however it would have been Eglon the Moabite who had restored the walls and the gate so the curse would have been moot.

We will see more of what happened to Jericho in the Biblical account next week.

Any questions.

Michael S. Sanders

February 11, 1998


  1. Tanakh: A New Translation of the Holy Scriptures According to the Traditional Hebrew Text (ISBN: 0827603665)


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