Jericho PDF Print E-mail
Written by Stephen Langfur
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Second Testament Jericho

According to Josephus, the Jericho of his day was a garden city, eight miles long and more than one wide, irrigated by Elisha's spring. In fact, the Hasmonean and Herod brought water from many springs, because under the tropical conditions, they could grow the costliest spices and perfumes, especially balsam (Jewish War, IV 8.3). For this reason Cleopatra of Egypt coveted Jericho, doing all she could to get it from Herod. Eventually she succeeded, and he had to lease it back from her until her suicide in 31 BC. 

Heading south from Tell e-Sultan, we take a brief look at one of the three surviving fig sycamores in Jericho (Zacchaeus! Luke 19:1-8.). We then continue south. Crossing a riverbed (Wadi Qilt), we make the next right. We are now following the line of the old Roman road toward Jerusalem, with the riverbed on our right. After a kilometer, we see a small mound before us and pull off to the right in front of it. This was part of Herod's winter palace. A bridge crossed the river to the main part of the palace on the other side, the outlines of which are clearly visible.
Here Herod died, at the age of 69, in 4 BC. Josephus tells the story

Today the water of Wadi Qilt is led to the fields before it reaches this point, but Herod had the river flowing through his palace.


jericho-hasmonean-synagogue.jpgBefore Herod's time, this area was the royal quarter of the  Hasmoneans . North of the palace, near the foot of the cliff, is a small excavated hill. It was the palace-turned-villa of Alexandra, mother of Mariamne, whom Herod fiercely loved. Alexandra had a 17-year-old son named Aristobolus. She got Mariamne to pressure Herod to appoint him High Priest. As soon as he had done so, however, Herod rued the decision. For the youth soon proved very popular (he had the blood of the freedom-fighting Hasmoneans in his veins) and for the last hundred years the high priest had also been king. Herod, on the other hand, was a "mere" Edomite, whose paternal grandfather had converted to Judaism, and his fellow Jews considered him a collaborator with Rome.

Fearing a coup, Herod decided to cut his losses. When Alexandra invited him to Jericho after the Feast of Tabernacles, he ordered his courtiers to drown the boy, as if by accident, in the swimming pool. This is visible just east of the villa (one must visit by foot in order to see it). See Josephus (Antiquities, XV.3.3.

East of the pool, in 1998, archaeologist Ehud Netzer found remains of a colonnaded hall that may have served as a synagogue. If so, it is the earliest yet discovered; it was built in the time of the Hasmoneans, between 75 and 50 BC and destroyed in the earthquake of 31 BC.