The Ancient City of Jericho: The Oldest City in the World



Located in the Palestinian West Bank, Jericho’s claim to fame lies in being the oldest continually inhabited city in the world. Surrounded by springs, the city has attracted humans for thousands of years, and archaeologists have unearthed over 20 different settlement layers that go back as far as 11,000 years!

The Seven Trumpets of Jericho, by James Tissot. (Public domain)

The Seven Trumpets of Jericho, by James Tissot. ( Public domain )

The Ancient City of Jericho in the Bible

Then the Lord said to Joshua, “See, I have delivered Jericho into your hands, along with its king and its fighting men. March around the city once with all the armed men. Do this for six days. Have seven priests carry trumpets of rams’ horns in front of the ark. On the seventh day, march around the city seven times, with the priests blowing the trumpets. When you hear them sound a long blast on the trumpets, have the whole army give a loud shout; then the wall of the city will collapse and the army will go up, everyone straight in.”  Joshua 6:2-5

The ancient city of Jericho is well known from the Biblical story where God commands Joshua to destroy the city because of its inhabitants’ disobedience to God, as the above abstract mentions. But the story of the city goes back to about 8,000 BC when it was occupied during the  Natufian period , making the structures in it the oldest man-made structures on Earth.

The Battle of Jericho is an amazing tale, with the description of the Ark of the Covenant and the trumpets used as a weapon under the command of Joshua and the orders of God himself. It wasn’t just a simple fight; these weapons were so powerful that they were capable of completely destroying an entire city in seven days. With the exception of a prostitute—who was thought to have betrayed her fellow citizens—and her family, every single living being died. After that the city was cursed by Joshua to never be built again. Nevertheless, the city was rebuilt many times after that event.

Jericho was a city heavily fortified and stocked with enough food and water to last for months. It would have taken many months—even years—to destroy such a city, and yet Joshua did it, according to the Bible, in seven days. Ancient astronaut theorists have argued that some kind of superior weaponry provided by external, perhaps even alien, interference was used in the destruction of Jericho. This is a mystery still unresolved.

Birdseye view of the unearthed foundations at Tell es-Sultan in Jericho and the surrounding area in 2008. (Public domain)

Birdseye view of the unearthed foundations at Tell es-Sultan in Jericho and the surrounding area in 2008. ( Public domain )

Excavations at Tell Es-Sultan in Jericho

Jericho attracted the attention of archaeologists since it was first identified and excavated in 1868 by Charles Warren as part of the Palestine Exploration Fund. His work centered on Tell es-Sultan, just a couple of kilometers north of Jericho center. Warren believed this to be the site of ancient Jericho due to the existence of an important spring. This spring, known as Elisha’s Spring, is famed as being the location where Elisha was healed according to the Bible.

Excavations have unearthed walls, which have been subject of much discussion and research due to their importance for evaluating the historicity of the  Biblical narrative of the ancient Israelite invasion of Canaan. The  Biblical narrative describes the city as having nearly impregnable walls, which were intimidating to anyone who tried to take the city.

Remains of a tower at Tell es-Sultan in ancient Jericho. (Salamandra123 / CC BY-SA 3.0)

Remains of a tower at Tell es-Sultan in ancient Jericho. (Salamandra123 / CC BY-SA 3.0 )

Some claim that the archaeological evidence has verified the Biblical story is accurate, with excavations showing that Jericho was once fortified and that it was subsequently attacked and burned sometime in the middle or late  Bronze Age  between 1550 BC and 1400 BC.

“In the same way, these archaeological findings at Jericho do not necessarily prove that the  Biblical narrative happened exactly as described, but they do lend credence to the story described on the pages of the Bible,” argued Caleb Strom in Ancient Origins . “Although sometimes archaeology casts doubt on traditional stories about the past, other times it confirms them in surprising ways.”

Excavations by Kathleen Kenyon from the 1950s discovered 17 early Bronze Age walls, some of which showed signs of destruction by earthquakes and others showing signs of destruction by nomadic invaders. In fact, Willem Boshoff explains that her work concluded that Jericho’s walls did not correspond to Biblical Joshua’s assumed time slot, predating the assumed date by centuries and finding that much of the wall rubble actually dated to the Early Bronze Age. During her excavations Kenyon also discovered an 8.5 meter (28 ft) stone tower dating back to 8,000 BC, making it one of the earliest stone constructions ever built. 

The Mount of Temptation in Jericho. (Aleksandar Todorovic / Adobe Stock)

The Mount of Temptation in Jericho. ( Aleksandar Todorovic / Adobe Stock)

Visiting Jericho

This historic city, with more than 10,000 years of history, clearly deserves a visit if you’re in the West Bank in Palestine. Due to check points, it’s easier to get there from Ramallah. The main attraction is of course the Jericho Tell, or Tell al-Sultan, which can be found 2.5 kilometers from Jericho’s main square. This ancient settlement mound is 21 meters (69 ft) high, and while it may be hard to decipher for the untrained eye, this is a fundamental location for understanding the history of human civilization as the world’s oldest continually inhabited city.

Another important location is the Mount of Temptation, a stunning pilgrimage site where Jesus is said to have fasted after being baptized by John the Baptist. If you don’t feel like walking up the steep path, there is a cable car to take you there.

Top image: Tell al-Sultan in Jericho is an archaeological site with remains dating back to 10,000 BC. Source: Robert Hoetink / Adobe Stock

By John Black


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