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JERICHO

JERICHO (Ἰεριχώ, Ἰεριχοῦς, Strab.), a strongly fortified city of the Canaanites, miraculously taken by Joshua, who utterly destroyed it, and prohibited it from being rebuilt under pain of an anathema (Josh. ii. vi.), which was braved and incurred by Hiel of Bethel, five centuries afterwards, in the reign of Ahab, king of Israel. (1 Kings, 16.34.) It then became a school of the prophets. (2 Kings, ii. 4, 5.) It lay in the border of Benjamin, to which tribe it was assigned (Josh. 18.12, 21), but was not far from the southern borders of Ephraim (16.1). It is mentioned in the New Testament in connection with the wealthy revenue-farmer Zacchaeus, who resided there, and probably farmed the government dues of its rich and well cultivated plain. Josephus describes it as well situated, and fruitful in palms and balsam. (Ant. 4.8.1, B. J. 1.6.6.) He places the city 60 stadia from the Jordan, 150 from Jerusalem (B. J. 4.8.3), the intervening country being a rocky desert. He accounts for the narrow limits of the tribe of Benjamin by the fact that Jericho was included in that tribe, the fertility of which far surpassed the richest soil in other parts of Palestine ( § § 21, 22). Its plain was 70 stadia long by 20 wide, irrigated by the waters of the fountain of Elisha, which possessed almost miraculous properties. (Ant. 4.8. § § 2, 3.) It was one of the eleven toparchies of Judaea. (B. J. 3.2.) Its palm grove was granted by Antony to Cleopatra (1.18.5), and the subsequent possession of this envied district by Herod the Great, who first farmed the revenues for Cleopatra, and then redeemed them (Ant. 14.4. § § 1, 2), probably gave occasion to the proverbial use of his name in Horace (Hor. Ep. 2.2. 184):-- “cessare et ludere et ungi,
Praeferat Herodis palmetis pinguibus.

It is mentioned by Strabo (xvi. p.763) and Pliny (5.14) in connection with its palm-trees and fountains. The former also alludes to the palace and its garden of balsam, the cultivation and collecting of which is more fully described by Pliny (12.25).

The palace was built by Herod the Great, as his own residence, and there it was that he died; having first confined in the hippodrome the most illustrious men of the country, with the intention that they should be massacred after his death, that there might be a general mourning throughout the country on that occurrence. (B. J. 1.33.6.) Josephus further mentions that Jericho was visited by Vespasian shortly before he quitted the country, where he left the tenth legion (B. J. 4.8.1, 9.1); but he does not mention its destruction by Titus on account of the perfidy of its inhabitants; a fact which is supplied by Eusebius and St. Jerome. They add that a third city had been built in its stead; but that the ruins of both the former were still to be seen. (Onomast. s. v.) The existing ruins can only be referred to this latest city, which is frequently mentioned in the mediaeval pilgrimages. They stand on the skirts of the mountain country that shuts in the valley of the Jordan on the west, about three hours distant from the river. They are very extensive, but present nothing of interest. The waters of the fountain of Elisha, now ‘Ain-es-Sultan, well answer to the glowing description of Josephus, and still fertilise the soil in its immediate neighbourhood. But the palms, balsam, sugar-canes, and roses, for which this Paradise was formerly celebrated, have all disappeared, and the modern Riha consists only of the tents of a Bedouin encampment.

[G.W]

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