The History

Jericho, also known as Yericho (Hebrew) and Ariha (Arabic) is not only the oldest of the Israeli cities but also one of the oldest in the world!  Tel Jericho or Tel As-Sultan mound is now a UNESCO Heritage site within modern day Jericho at the junction of Highway 90 (Jericho to Bet Shean) and Highway 3 (Jericho to Ramallah). The site is near Elisha’s Spring, a source of fresh water which is also called The Prophet’s Fountain.


Archaeological excavations in Jericho were mainly carried out by Great Britain’s Dame Kathleen Kenyon in 1952-1958 who wrote extensively about the history of the city including its initial settlement and the destruction of the city by Joshua and the Israelites. Known for her meticulous excavation technique, she is considered one of the most influential archaeologists of the 20th century.


The earliest information about the city dates to the 10th century during the Mesolithic Era (15th through the 6th centuries BC).  During this period, the city stretched across the plain near the Elisha Spring. 

The 8000 year old mud brick tower found in excavations.
The 8000 year old mud brick tower found in excavations.

During the Pre-Pottery Neolithic Period (8th century BC), Jericho was already a large settlement. A large wall has survived from this time and a portion of it is still visible today at 6 meters (19.7 feet) high. Stone steps lead to the base of a round stone tower whose diameter is 8.5 meters (29.7 feet) and 8 meters (26.2 feet) high.

 The existence of these structures provides evidence that Jericho is one of the oldest ancient cities on the planet although recently, cities around the same age and even older have been discovered in Anatolia, Turkey. 

Around the 5 century BC, Jericho was abandoned and was not inhabited again until the Copper Age (4th century BC).  From the Bronze Age during the time of the Hyksos Dynasty (rulers of Palestinian origin who governed northern Egypt), the city flourished in the 18 to 17 centuries BC and a system of fortifications have been found. 


The story from the Old Testament tells about the conquest and destruction of the city by the Israelite tribes on their way from Egypt to the Promised Land. The remains of the city walls from this period have not been found. This is how the book of Joshua describes the battle and destruction of Jericho,

“Now Jericho was securely shut up because of the children of Israel; none went out, and none came in. And the Lord said to Joshua: ‘See! I have given Jericho into your hand, its king, and the mighty men of valor. You shall march around the city, all you men of war; you shall go all around the city once. This you shall do six days.


And seven priests shall bear seven trumpets of rams’ horns before the ark. But the seventh day you shall march around the city seven times, and the priests shall blow the trumpets. It shall come to pass, when they make a long blast with the ram’s horn, and when you hear the sound of the trumpet, that all the people shall shout with a great shout; then the wall of the city will fall down flat. And the people shall go up every man straight before him.’


Then Joshua the son of Nun called the priests and said to them, ‘Take up the Ark of the Covenant, and let seven priests bear seven trumpets of rams’ horns before the Ark of the Lord.’ And he said to the people, ‘Proceed, and march around the city, and let him who is armed advance before the Ark of the Lord.’


So it was, when Joshua had spoken to the people, that the seven priests bearing the seven trumpets of rams’ horns before the Lord advanced and blew the trumpets, and the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord followed them. The armed men went before the priests who blew the trumpets, and the rear guard came after the ark, while the priests continued blowing the trumpets.


Now Joshua had commanded the people, saying, ‘You shall not shout or make any noise with your voice, nor shall a word proceed out of your mouth, until the day I say to you, “Shout!” Then you shall shout.’ So he had the Ark of the Lord circle the city, going around it once. Then they came into the camp and lodged in the camp.


And Joshua rose early in the morning, and the priests took up the Ark of the Lord. Then seven priests bearing seven trumpets of rams’ horns before the ark of the Lord went on continually and blew with the trumpets. And the armed men went before them. But the rear guard came after the ark of the Lord, while the priests continued blowing the trumpets. And the second day they marched around the city once and returned to the camp. So they did six days.


But it came to pass on the seventh day that they rose early, about the dawning of the day, and marched around the city seven times in the same manner. On that day only they marched around the city seven times. And the seventh time it happened, when the priests blew the trumpets, that Joshua said to the people: ‘Shout, for the Lord has given you the city!


Now the city shall be doomed by the Lord to destruction, it and all who are in it. Only Rahab the harlot shall live, she and all who are with her in the house, because she hid the messengers that we sent. And you, by all means abstain from the accursed things, lest you become accursed when you take of the accursed things, and make the camp of Israel a curse, and trouble it. But all the silver and gold, and vessels of bronze and iron, are consecrated to the Lord; they shall come into the treasury of the Lord.’


So the people shouted when the priests blew the trumpets. And it happened when the people heard the sound of the trumpet, and the people shouted with a great shout, that the wall fell down flat. Then the people went up into the city, every man straight before him, and they took the city. And they utterly destroyed all that was in the city, both man and woman, young and old, ox and sheep and donkey, with the edge of the sword.


But Joshua had said to the two men who had spied out the country, ‘Go into the harlot’s house, and from there bring out the woman and all that she has, as you swore to her.’ And the young men who had been spies went in and brought out Rahab, her father, her mother, her brothers, and all that she had. So they brought out all her relatives and left them outside the camp of Israel.


But they burned the city and all that was in it with fire. Only the silver and gold, and the vessels of bronze and iron, they put into the treasury of the house of the Lord. And Joshua spared Rahab the harlot, her father’s household, and all that she had. So she dwells in Israel to this day, because she hid the messengers whom Joshua sent to spy out Jericho.


Then Joshua charged them at that time, saying, ‘Cursed be the man before the Lord who rises up and builds this city Jericho; he shall lay its foundation with his firstborn, and with his youngest he shall set up its gates.’ So the Lord was with Joshua, and his fame spread throughout all the country” (Joshua 6:1-27).


I wonder, if the city was cursed with such a terrible spell then who would dare to build it again?  Clearly this refers to the restoration and strengthening of Jericho, which was unconditionally forbidden by Joshua after God miraculously destroyed this city.

 “In the thirty eighth year of Asa king of Judah, Ahab the son of Omri became king over Israel; and Ahab the son of Omri reigned over Israel in Samaria twenty-two years. Now Ahab the son of Omri did evil in the sight of the Lord, more than all who were before him"  (Joshua 6:26).


And it came to pass, as though it had been a trivial thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, that he took as wife Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal, king of the Sidonians; band he went and served Baal and worshiped him. Then he set up an altar for Baal in the temple of Baal, which he had built in Samaria. And Ahab made a wooden image.


Ahab did more to provoke the Lord God of Israel to anger than all the kings of Israel who were before him.     


In his (Ahab’s) days, Hiel of Bethel built Jericho. He laid its foundation with Abiram his firstborn, and with his youngest son Segub he set up its gates, according to the word of the Lord, which He had spoken through Joshua the son of Nun” (1 Kings 16:29-34).


During the reign of King Ahab, Hiel the Bethel made a serious attempt to restore Jericho to its original condition. Indeed, the prophecy of Joshua came true as Heil’s two sons died. At first glance, the mention of Jericho in this passage seems unrelated to the preceding verses which describes Ahab’s ascension to the throne of Israel and worship of Baal. Perhaps it was included here to show that disobedience to God would be punished as promised in the Scripture. In Heil’s case, he was punished for rebuilding the city of Jericho and Ahab’s punishment was yet to come for his practice of idolatry. Both actions were specifically condemned by the Lord.


Jericho was the location of a school for prophets during that time in the history of Israel. Elijah was one of the most famous prophets and his ascension to heaven is recorded in 2 Kings:

“Then Elijah said to him, ‘Elisha, stay here, please, for the Lord has sent me on to Jericho.’ But he said, ‘As the Lord lives, and as your soul lives, I will not leave you!’ So they came to Jericho.


Now the sons of the prophets who were at Jericho came to Elisha and said to him, “Do you know that the Lord will take away your master from over you today?


Then it happened, as they continued on and talked, that suddenly a chariot of fire appeared with horses of fire, and separated the two of them; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven” (2 Kings 2: 4-5, 11).

Tel Es Sultan, the Excavation of Ancient Jericho.

The Tel As-Sultan mound is the site of ancient Jericho and is located 10 km (6.2 miles) from the Dead Sea and 250m (820 feet) below sea level with a height of 21m (69 feet).


The Ein as-Sultan stream flows through the city and the Bible tells how the prophet Elisha turned its salt water to fresh, drinkable water,

“Then the men of the city said to Elisha, ‘Please notice, the situation of this city is pleasant, as my lord sees; but the water is bad, and the ground barren.’


And he said, ‘Bring me a new bowl, and put salt in it.’ So they brought it to him. Then he went out to the source of the water, and cast in the salt there, and said, ‘Thus says the Lord: I have healed this water; from it there shall be no more death or barrenness.’ So the water remains healed to this day, according to the word of Elisha which he spoke” (2 Kings 2:19-22).


The first scientific studies of the mound were carried out by the famous Welsh pioneer of archeology in Palestine, Sir Charles Warren in 1867. Nearly 100 years later, British archaeologist Dame Kathleen Kenyon identified a wall of mud brick, the age of which was established by the method of radiocarbon analysis as originating from 7400-8500 BC. Dame Kenyon was primarily responsible for the extensive excavation of Jericho and discovered one of the oldest urban buildings in the world. She also discovered the tower which was probably used for religious purposes.


Because of the Oslo 1993 Peace Agreements  between the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Israel, the city of Jericho was transferred to full control of the Palestinian leadership. Since then, research has been carried out under the auspices of the PA and in cooperation with the University of Rome, La Pienza.

Zacchaeus' Tree

Zacchaeus sycomore tree in Russian Orthodox Church Mission territory
Zacchaeus sycomore tree in Russian Orthodox Church Mission territory

“Then Jesus entered and passed through Jericho. Now behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus who was a chief tax collector, and he was rich. And he sought to see who Jesus was, but could not because of the crowd, for he was of short stature. So he ran ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see Him, for He was going to pass that way. 


And when Jesus came to the place, He looked up and saw him, and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house.’ So he made haste and came down, and received Him joyfully. But when they saw it, they all complained, saying, ‘He has gone to be a guest with a man who is a sinner.’


Then Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, ‘Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham; for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost’” (Luke 19:1-10).

Russian Orthodox Church Mission in Jericho

Russian Orthodox Church property with the archaeological remains of the Byzantine church and the garden with ancient sycomore trees, one of them believed to be the one Zacchaeus climbed.

 In the mid-19th century, The Russian Spiritual Mission was created with the goal to acquire land, build Orthodox churches, extend support and care for existing churches and provide spiritual and educational work for pilgrims. 


Archimandrite Antonin Kapustin was appointed head of the mission in 1865. He acquired the site in Jericho in 1874 to receive pilgrims who were arriving to visit the site of the baptism of Christ on the Jordan and the famous Orthodox monasteries of the Judean Desert, nicknamed the "spiritual meadow" of believers. Since the 6th century, the house of the tax collector Zacchaeus has been revered on the site, the story of his meeting with Christ is described in the Gospel of Luke. 


Antonin Kapustin carried out excavations on the territory and discovered Byzantine columns, stones with images of saints, a slab of pink stone and a mosaic of the 6th century were found. The inscription on the slab:

"The tomb of Blessed Kyriakos, who built the chapel of the glorious martyr George ... (565-578).

 A chapel was erected above it in honor of John the Baptist and the baptism of the Lord. Sava the Sanctified, one of the most revered ascetics of the Orthodox church built a shelter here during this period.