Holy Land Pilgrimage and Biblical Archeology



          JOSHUA 6:3               

Holy Sites -- Gila's Highlights

Let's spy out Jericho

The city walls fell ages ago, and just recently the roadblocks have been lifted.  We don’t need a harlot to hide us under some stalks of flax on her roof so we can safely “view the land, even Jericho.” (Joshua 2: 1-6)

My favorite part of the Joshua conquest story is the Israelite march around the city. Jericho was hermetically sealed.  No one came in and no one went out.  We can imagine the anxiety and even terror of the residents of this town as they waited for the Israelites to attack.

They had heard that the God of the Israelites had dried up the waters of the Jordan exactly when the children of Israel were about to cross it.  They also heard how the Israelites had completely defeated the powerful kings Og and Sihon east of the River Jordan.

The old mound of Jericho where "the walls came atumbling down"

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

The mound [or tel] of ancient Jericho, looking east

I’ll bet the women and children were securely hidden in the town that first day the Israelites approached.  The Jericho fighters, waiting for the attack behind the ramparts of the city wall, might have been quaking in their sandals.  They certainly were sweating, for it was most likely unbearably hot at the end of April or early May.

It was a strange army seen by the men of Jericho peeking over the wall: first Joshua’s vanguard of armed fighters, but then seven men in priestly robes blowing rams’ horns and behind them a box of acacia wood carried with great reverence. Behind the Ark, marched the rearguard and then all the people.  There was complete silence, except for the blowing of the shofar, the ram’s horn.

The Jericho fighters must have steeled themselves, awaiting the attack.  Then came an unexpected move.  After the Israelites had completely circled Jericho once, they retreated.  They returned to their camp at Gilgal.

The next day, the Jericho fighters, alert for the attack, would have seen the same strange procession once again: first the vanguard, then the priests carrying shofars, and the Ark of the Covenant followed by elderly men, women, children and babies.  No talking, nor cheering; no gossiping, nor sight-seeing.  And they’d never even been to Jericho before.  And certainly, no clicking of cameras or tweeting.

Jericho was known as the city of the date palms (Deut 34)

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

View from Tel Jericho overlooking the "modern" city

Can you imagine the discussions the Jericho men and women would have had in the evening after the Israelites departed?  But as the surreal march continued day after day, with no attack, the bewilderment of the Jericho-ites turned to scorn.  I’ll bet that at daybreak that seventh day, not only were the men up on the Jericho ramparts, but the women and children were too, pointing and jeering as the Israelites approached.  Scaredy cats.

This time, on the seventh day, the Israelites circled the city six times in utter silence, broken only by the seven priests blowing their trumpets of rams’ horns.  On the seventh time around the city when the priests blasted those rams’ horns, Joshua commanded the Israelites, “Shout! For the Lord has given you the city!”  (Joshua 6: 16)  And we know what happened next – those walls “came a’tumbling down.”

When American journalist Mark Twain visited Jericho in 1867, he reported, “When Joshua marched around [Jericho] seven times, some three thousand years ago, and blew it down with his trumpet, he did the work so well and so completely that he hardly left enough of the city to cast a shadow.”
To this day, those walls that came “atumblin’ down” are nowhere to be seen.  For some one hundred years archeologists -- from Captain Charles Warren to British Director of Antiquities John Garstang to Dame Kathleen Kenyon -- searched, but with no success.

There is an ongoing debate about whether the walls which were unearthed at Jericho are late 16th or 14th century BC, too early to have been destroyed by Joshua and the Israelites.  Perhaps the next generation of archeologists will find and identify the elusive walls.  Nevertheless, Tel Jericho is definitely worth a visit.

Camels on the Jericho plain

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

Beyond the hump of the camel on right is Mount Nebo where Moses died

From the summit of the mound, one has an immediate grasp of the layout of the land: the mountains of Moab, the Dead Sea, the Jericho plain and oases, the wilderness of Judea.  Choose your favorite story:
  • Moses at Mount Nebo looking into the Promised Land
  • Rahab's sheltering of the Israelite spies
  • Joshua at the battle of Jericho
  • The ascent of Elijah in a chariot of fire and a whirlwind
  • John baptizing Jesus in the River Jordan
  • The 40-day temptation in the Wilderness
  • Zacchaeus climbing a sycamore tree
And we have many spirituals to sing!

Monastery of the Temptation remembers the forty days and nights Jesus was tempted by satan

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

The Monastery of the Temptation overlooks the mound of Old Jericho


Jericho's famous sycamore tree recalling Luke 19

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

Jericho's famous sycamore tree


Pilgrims by the bank of the River Jordan in Judea

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

By the bank of the River Jordan, just east of Jericho

Gila Yudkin, a Connecticut-born Yankee living in King David’s Court, loves to spy out Jericho, particularly in winter.  Gila’s interest in spies and spying began at age 13 when she chanted Joshua chapter 2 (in Hebrew!) for her bat mitzvah.

Beginning of Joshua chapter 2 from Gila's Bat Mitzvah "Maftir" booklet


First two verses of Joshua 2 from Gila's Bat Mitzvah "Maftir" booklet

Never did she dream that she would be telling the Jericho story to thousands of pilgrims, in a guiding career spanning three decades (so far!).  Along with sharing biblical insights and archeological anecdotes with pilgrim groups, Gila loves singing traditional Negro spirituals.  “Joshua ‘fit the battle of Jericho” is one of her all-time favorites!
Edward Robinson, a Connecticut Yankee who visited Jericho in 1838, noted that in the city of date palms (Deut. 34:3), “only one solitary date palm lingers in all the plain.”  Edward Robinson possessed an uncanny knack for accurately identifying lost biblical sites.
Charles Warren in 1868 missed finding Jericho’s early Neolithic Tower by only three feet!  It was found nearly 100 years later by Kathleen Kanyon.  But nevertheless, Charles Warren does have many archeological exploits to his credit.
For more of Gila’s spirited comprehensive commentary on Jericho and Jerusalem, listen to Gila’s newly-released 60-minute audio CD.  It’s a perfect way to prepare for a Holy Land tour, or to replay your own experiences in your car or home.  More about Gila's audio highlights....
Have you hiked the old Jericho Road where there's room for just two, no more and no less....?
During the 1980s I spent every Shabbat morning guiding a walking tour to one of the Quarters of the Old City.  The walking tours were sponsored by the City of Jerusalem and took place in the blazing heat as well as in the freezing snow.  I learned much at that time from my mentor and fellow guide Shira Nahari.  She shared with me many lesser known engaging stories about the holy city and demonstrated how to guide with grace under tough and unpredictable conditions.
In response to this highlight, Shira wrote me the following:


My own favorite understanding of "the walls came tumbling down" is that the climax of the psychological warfare you so aptly describe was a collapse of the morale of the city's inhabitants making a conquest relatively easy.

Last year I was privileged to participate in a guide seminar to Gilgal and adjacent sites with Adam Zartal, the head of a 30-year long on-foot survey of Israelite settlements in the Jordan Valley.  The weather was perfect - not too hot, not too cold, and slightly overcast, with a breeze that made the plague of flies bearable.

The team found 200-250 mostly sandal-shaped settlements, dating from the time of Joshua and the Judges (i.e. 1250-1000 BCE, as confirmed by carbon 14 tests on pottery at the sites).  We saw some of these very, very ancient remains -- quite exciting the way our guide brought them to life.  One highlight was an hour-long hike in a wadi [dry riverbed], along which were more settlements (as in: piles of rocks!)

We visited the "real" Gilgal, Joshua's base camp.  It was not an encampment of dwellings, but rather a ritual center, with a raised round structure in the middle that may have been a bamah or an altar.  There was a processional path around the circumference of the wall demarcating the boundary of the encampment.  We walked along the ceremonial path used by the Israelites when they honored the Mishkan [Tabernacle]  -- THRILLING!

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More Biblical Archeology:

Let's visit Gezer, Solomon's wedding gift

Let's see where the Priestly Benediction was found

Let's follow Abraham all the way to DAN

Gezer / Solomon's wife   

Priestly blessing

Dan / Abraham

Let's talk about Armageddon at Megiddo

Let's inspect the ancient scroll of Isaiah

Megiddo / Armageddon

Hazor / Joshua

Study of Dead Sea Scrolls

Copyright 2009, 2012 Gila Yudkin.  Permission needed for any reuse.




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Holy Land Photography by Gila Yudkin