The Holy Land: Jericho, The Oldest City in the World
Our next stop was Jericho, a few miles away from the Dead Sea. Bounded by the mountainous Judean desert on one side and a plain with cultivated fruit trees (mostly Palm trees), it is 850 feet below sea level. The Palm trees gave Jericho the title, “The City of Palm Trees” or “The Fragrant City” from Canaanite word “reah” that means “fragrant’. Our guide, a Botany professor, was throwing metaphor about the palm trees like ‘it takes fifteen years for the bone to dry,” and rambled on about the plants.
Since we were on a pilgrimage, the focus of our trip was on ‘Jesus Jericho’ as opposed to “Anthony and Cleopatra Jericho” (term coined by our guide). We saw the natural landscapes – the Mount of Temptation where Jesus Christ was tempted by the devil during his 40-day fast, and the “Valley of the Shadow of Death” in the Psalm of David. The Gospel also stated that Jesus passed through Jericho where he healed one or two blind beggars and inspired a local chief tax collector named Zacchaeus to repent of his dishonest practices. The road between Jerusalem and Jericho was the setting for the Parable of the Good Samaritan.
Our bus drove around town for us to see the oldest Sycamore tree. I saw beautiful flowering jacaranda and Poinciana trees (said to have originated in Johannesburg) alongside piles of garbage. I saw a tiny city hall, scattered mosques and a Catholic Church where our priest celebrated a mass.
We stopped at “Elisha’s Spring Fountain” with the inscription “Jericho the oldest city of the world.” In order to explain the inscription, our guide talked a little bit about the history of the place (what he called “the Anthony and Cleopatra Jericho”). Jericho went under the Persia rule to serving as the private estate of Alexander the Great between 336-323BCE after his conquest of the region. In the middle of the 2nd century BCE, Jericho was under the Hellenistic rule of the Seleucid Empire, then the Syrian, Hasmoneans, and Maccabean and until the Roman influence brought Herod to claim the Hasmonean throne of Judea. Herod originally leased Jericho from Cleopatra, after Mark Anthony gave it to her as a gift. Several aqueducts have been found along the stream, the oldest dating to the Hasmonean (2nd century BC) in Wadi Qelt. It was home to the winter palaces of Hasmonean kings. Today, Wadi Qelt contains monasteries and old Christian structures.
Our guide mentioned about the Canaanite potters in Jericho, said to be among the best that ever worked in Palestine. It was a lead-in to the pottery factory/store. After the factory/store, we continued the pilgrimage part of the trip by visiting the spring of Ein-es-Sultan. A few people were exhausted or thought that there was nothing much to see, so they stayed on the bus. I was glad I saw the spring of Ein-es-Sultan. It gave me a clearer understanding of the topography – the spring that provides the city’s water supply and an oasis in Wadi Qelt, the midst of the arid Judean desert. For a city that claimed to be the oldest city of the world and with great religious significance that should attract tourism, it did not seem to be tourist friendly. It seemed to be like any other cities facing economic and environmental issues. I left the city with more questions about the politics of the region, sadly, a topic that our guide cared not to discuss.