Jericho PDF Print E-mail
Written by Stephen Langfur
 
  
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Jericho Road


The Jericho Road

On leaving Jericho, Jesus healed the blind Bartimaeus (Mark 10:46-51).

Heading south from Tell es-Sultan, we cross a riverbed (Wadi Qilt) and make the next right. We are now following the line of the old Roman road toward Jerusalem, with the wadi on our right. After one kilometer we shall spot, across the river, Herod's winter palace. (See Second Testament Jericho.)

(Note: The ascent from here is hazardous, a two-way street. Drive with care -- and not at all when it's wet.)

When Jesus climbed this road toward Jerusalem in 30 CE, he did not see palaces. All had burned down in the brief revolt that followed Herod's death.

To our west yawns the canyon of Wadi Qilt, guarded by two fortresses. There is the cone of Cypros on the south bank. (Cypros was Herod's mother; this may have been the Hasmonean fortress, Threx.) On the north is the half-cone of Taurus. In the region east of Jerusalem, this wadi is the only natural opening in the cliff along the Jordan Valley.

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In First Testament times, before there was an aqueduct along the bank of the wadi, people would take the upper, easier road (the one we are on) in winter and spring, drinking from the cisterns. In summer and autumn, they would stay in the canyon, drinking from the springs and resting in the shade. The Hasmoneans put in the first aqueduct from springs to the west. Then there was always water available on this upper road, and it became the only one.

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In the face of the north bank, as we drive, we can see the caves of Byzantine monks. We come to a large gate and continue about 200 yards. Here we stop and climb to a cross, from which we can see St. George's monastery, nestled in the northern cliff face. To its left and ours, a functioning aqueduct (1945) crosses the wadi, bringing water to the fields around Jericho.

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St. George's shares a number of traits with Qarantal. It is Greek Orthodox. It too contains just a few monks today. In its present form it dates from the nineteenth century, but with traces of Crusader and Byzantine predecessors. Although founded by Syrian monks in the fifth century AD, the monastery takes its name from a great teacher, George of Kosiba, who lived and taught here in the sixth and seventh centuries, dying seven years after the Persian conquest of 614.

This is a good place to consider the road on which we are driving. We can measure the 13 miles from Jerusalem to Jericho, because to the west we can see a tower on Mt. Scopus overlooking the city beyond, while on the right we can see the wall of Dok. Surrounded by desert, this was a dangerous road. Outlaws could get control of the watering places. An army might come to try and bring order (think of Saul chasing David) but it could not long endure on limited water supplies. (The exception was Masada). Once the army went back to the city, the outlaws returned to their posts. (In the nineteenth century, pilgrims had to travel in groups from Jerusalem to the Jordan, paying protection money to the Beduin.) It is not a coincidence, then, that Jesus sets the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10: 25-37) on this road.

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