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Bible Encyclopedias

Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature


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Jer´icho, a town in the plain of the same name, not far from the river Jordan, at the point where it enters the Dead Sea. It lay before the Israelites when they crossed the river, on first entering the Promised Land; and the account which the spies who were sent by them into the city received from their hostess Rahab, tended much to encourage their subsequent operations, as it showed that the inhabitants of the country were greatly alarmed at their advance, and the signal miracles which had marked their course from the Nile to the Jordan. The strange manner in which Jericho itself was taken must have strengthened this impression in the country, and appears, indeed, to have been designed for that effect. The town was utterly destroyed by the Israelites, who pronounced an awful curse upon whoever should rebuild it; and all the inhabitants were put to the sword, except Rahab and her family (). In these accounts Jericho is repeatedly called 'the city of palm-trees;' which shows that the hot and dry plain, so similar to the land of Egypt, was noted beyond other parts of Palestine for the tree which abounds in that country, but which was and is less common in the land of Canaan than general readers and painters suppose. It has now almost disappeared even from the plain of Jericho, although specimens remain in the plain of the Mediterranean coast.

Notwithstanding the curse, Jericho was soon rebuilt [HIEL], and became a school of the prophets (;; ). Its inhabitants returned after the exile, and it was eventually fortified by the Syrian general Bacchides (;; ). Pompey marched from Scythopolis, along the valley of the Jordan, to Jericho, and thence to Jerusalem; and Strabo speaks of the castles Thrax and Taurus, in or near Jericho, as having been destroyed by him. Herod the Great, in the beginning of his career, captured and sacked Jericho, but afterwards strengthened and adorned it, when he had redeemed its revenues from Cleopatra, on whom the plain had been bestowed by Antony. He appears to have often resided here, probably in winter: he built over the city a fortress called Cypros, between which and the former palace he erected other palaces, and called them by the names of his friends. Here also was a hippodrome or circus, in which the same tyrant, when lying at Jericho on his death-bed, caused the nobles of the land to be shut up, for massacre after his death. He died here; but his bloody intention was not executed. The palace at this place was afterwards rebuilt more magnificently by Archelaus. By this it will be seen that the Jericho which existed in the time of our Savior was a great and important city—probably more so than it had ever been since its foundation. It was once visited by him, when he lodged with Zaccheus, and healed the blind man (;;; ). Jericho was afterwards made the head of one of the toparchies, and was visited by Vespasian before he left the country, who stationed there the tenth legion in garrison. Eusebius and Jerome describe Jericho as having been destroyed during the siege of Jerusalem, on account of the perfidy of the inhabitants, but add that it was afterwards rebuilt. The town, however, appears to have been overthrown during the Muhammadan conquest; for Adamnanus, at the close of the seventh century, describes the site as without human habitations, and covered with corn and vines. The celebrated palm-groves still existed. In the next century a church is mentioned; and in the ninth century several monasteries appear. About the same time the plain of Jericho is again noticed for its fertility and peculiar products; and it appears to have been brought under cultivation by the Saracens, for the sake of the sugar and other products for which the soil and climate were more suitable than any other in Palestine. Ruins of extensive aqueducts, with pointed Saracenic arches, remain in evidence of the elaborate irrigation and culture of this fine plain—which is nothing without water, and everything with it—at a period long subsequent to the occupation of the country by the Jews. It is to this age that we may probably refer the origin of the castle and village, which have since been regarded as representing Jericho. The place has been mentioned by travelers and pilgrims down to the present time as a poor hamlet consisting of a few houses. In the fifteenth century the square castle or tower began to pass among pilgrims as the house of Zaccheus, a title which it bears to the present day.

The village now regarded as representing Jericho is supposed to date its origin from the ninth century. It bears the name of Rihah, and is situated about the middle of the plain, six miles west from the Jordan, in N. lat. 31° 57´, and E. long. 35° 33´. Dr. Olin describes the present village as 'the meanest and foulest of Palestine.' It may perhaps contain forty dwellings, formed of small loose stones. The most important object is a square castle or tower, which Dr. Robinson supposes to have been constructed to protect the cultivation of the plain under the Saracens. It is thirty or forty feet square, and about the same height, and is now in a dilapidated condition.

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Bibliography Information
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Jericho'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature".

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