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Jericho Oldest and the Lowest City on Earth
Israelite were crossing from the east to the west bank of River Jordan on their way to Canaan the land promised to them from God. Miraculous event narrated in Bible reads the water in River Jordan stopped flowing before the Ark of Covenant of Jehovah and the river remained dry until all the 40,000 people and the priests carrying the Arch had crossed the river (Joshua 4:10-18)
Fall of Jericho to Israelite
Israelite after crossing the river camped at Gilgal, place closer to the Canaanite city of Jericho. God said to Joshua, the leader of Israelite after Moses, to fight against the inhabitants of Jericho and occupy the land for them. Further, God assured Joshua "Every place that the sole of your foot shall tread upon, to you have I given it, as I spoke to Moses" (Joshua 1:3). "Be strong and courageous there shall be not any man be able to stand before you all these days of your life" (Joshua 1:5)."Your wives, your little ones and your cattle shall abide in the land which Moses gave you beyond Jordan" (Joshua 1:14)
Walls of the fortified city of Jericho collapsed and came tumbling down at the sound of Israeli trumpets. Entire city was burned, except Rehab a prostitute who favored Israelite, all the inhabitants were killed (Joshua 6: 20-25). Believe it or not, according to archaeological survey the remnants of the ruined city of Jericho and its fallen down walls still exist in the deserts of Judea even after a period of 3000 years.
Inheritance of Jericho an interesting story
Later, during the height of Roman Empire, Mark Antony gifted the land of Jericho to his Egyptian lover Cleopatra. In a civil war with Octavian who became Augustus Cesar after the assassination of Julies Cesar, Antony got defeated and fled with Cleopatra back to Egypt (Alexandria) where they both committed suicide (You may watch the most celebrated movie of Cleopatra acted by Liz Taylor and Richard Burton for viewing the pivoting point of Roman history). Jericho was then leased to Herod, the Judean King and he kept the city as a private hide out for him away from Jerusalem. King Herod instituted an excellent irrigation system and converted Jericho to a beautiful garden with lots of vegetation which is continued until today though the city is now in Palestine territory.
Journey to Jericho
Jericho claims to be the lowest and the oldest inhabited city on earth and it locates about 55 km away from Jerusalem towards the east. Jerusalem is situated 400 meters above and Jericho is about 250 meters below the sea level. Jericho's moderate climate makes it a favorite winter resort. It is an area for agriculture, producing fresh fruits and vegetables year around. Our journey from Jerusalem to this beautiful ancient land in a multi axle Mercedes bus on steeply descending modern high way was a journey to remember.
We drove through the west bank, a Palestine administered area where we could however see many Israeli settlements on the terraced slopes of mountain on to our left. The settlement contained aesthetically built concrete villas having terracotta tiled roofing located in the middle of beautiful small gardens and the individual villas were compounded by white stone walls. Well arranged lush green trees on the sides of the winding roads going up to the villas were adding immense grace to those hill top settlements. I was enjoying drive in the company of my daughter watching pine trees on the side of the road running backward one after another as the bus was speeding up through the high way until I was put to a cat's nap by the cool breeze entering through the little opening of the bus window.
Good Samaritan Inn
A 19 century Turkish building called the Inn of Good Samaritan is located on our way but little off on the ancient Roman road between Jerusalem and Jericho. Some Christians like to believe the parable of Good Samaritan (Luke 10: 30-37) told by Jesus Christ is a true story that took place on this road so they built the Inn of Good Samaritan here in the Judean desert. Crusaders after the period of Jesus Christ built a fortress in this area and maintained a garrison of army to protect the road from desert robbers who frequently attacked the travelers as said in the parable of Good Samaritan.
High above the Inn on the other side of the road are the remains of the crusader fort. Beside having a church here built by the Greeks, there is also an archaeological museum with large collections of ancient mosaics retrieved from Judean area.
St. George Monastery
Another amazing place of interest on the way to Jericho is St George Monastery that clings to the rocks of Wadi Qelt (Valley of the Shadow of death) in the Judean desert. King David ran in to Judean wilderness when Saul was after him, Jesus Christ came out here for solitude and to get away from worldliness before starting His ministry. Monks of Greeks origin continue to live in this place of solitude and extreme isolation right from 5th century. The road newly built connects the monastery to the civilization now, otherwise it used to be reached by walking across the Judean desert. A beautiful stream of water flowing through the valley makes inhabitancy possible at this totally isolated location.
Mount of Temptation
We have reached the mount of temptation in the Judean desert where Jesus Christ believed to have stayed in a cave on the mountain for 40 days fasting to overcome the temptations from Satan. Greeks have built a monastery here and few monks lives here from 5th century.
There are steps cut from the plains to the cave for the visitors to reach the monastery and a modern cable cart system enables to go on to the summit of the temptation mountain. You will have an extremely beautiful panoramic view of old Jericho by standing at the monastery.
Journey to Jerusalem from Jericho
Driving back to Jerusalem was through the banks of Jordan River before it falls in to Dead Sea. We had the river flowing on to one side of the road while other side was covered by cliffs of yellow colored Brimstone (Phosphorus rich lime stone). I stopped the bus during our drive and shot some beautiful pictures here out of excitement.
People believe a portion of the lime stone standing above is the Pillar of Salt belongs to the wife of Lot. Geographically speaking the place of Sodom and Gomorrah is located around this area at the plains of Jordan River and the Dead Sea. Therefore reasons to believe the story of Lot's wife transforming in to the Pillar of Salt has taken place around here (Genesis 19: 1-26).
On our way back another interesting place we visited is Dead Sea. The Sea of Salt also known as Sea of Death is 377 meter deep and it is the deepest hyper salt water lake in the world. Because of its hyper salinity no living organism can live or flourish in it hence the name Dead Sea.
But the most interesting situation is you remain floating in the sea water, however you try to get below the water surface, you will be pushed upward because of the high density of water due to hyper salinity. So you can be sure that you will not be drowned in Dead Sea even though it is dangerously deep.
It is learned more than 35 different types of minerals are found in the Dead sea water; Mud bath in Dead Sea is famous for health and cosmetic reasons. There are many expensive hotels on the sea shore where people from different parts of the world arrive to get treated by the mud bath and to lie down on the sea shore because of the high oxygen level in the area. You need not have to stay in hotels or in private resorts around, there are well organized public amenities provided for enjoying the Sea floating and for the mud bathing.
Also you can buy Dead Sea mud in small gift bottles for nominal price or you may as well collect some fresh quantity direct from the sea for giving out as present to friends back home.
Our journey continued and we reached Qumran on our way back. This is an archaeological site in the west bank of Jordan River closer to the Dead Sea. It was the settlement of Jewish people who ran away from Jerusalem during their persecution. They carried many of their records and documents along with and kept them safe in the caves around here. Numerous scrolls written on papyrus and copper sheets were found from Qumran caves and most of them were well preserved in side sealed earthen pots and Jars.
Dead Sea scrolls are collection of over 970 texts consisting of biblical manuscripts from what is known as the Hebrew Bible and extra biblical documents. Scrolls were found between 1946 and 1956 from 11 caves in Qumran located in the west bank. Qumran scrolls after finding were scattered at different places in the world with different people. However they are bought out by Israeli government at the cost of large sum of money and presently exhibited at the Shrine of Books in Israel.
Sycamore fig tree of Zacchaeus.
The last leg of our journey was visiting the Sycamore fig tree - Jericho. Bible narrates since Zacchaeus, the tax collector was short he climbed on to a Sycamore fig tree to see Jesus while He was moving in a crowd of followers passing the streets of Jericho. This is one of such trees and location is believed to be the same where the original tree stood (Recommended to read Luke 19: 1-10 for the interesting story)
Having some background knowledge, a drive in Judean deserts and back to Jerusalem through the banks of River Jordan and Brimstone cliffs is an experience of a life time. It takes a full day to visit the places as explained if you are staying in Jerusalem or at near by places.