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What lies behind the walls of Jericho

“Death has always surrounded it. It is not of this earth,” Salah warns Indy about the Ark of the Covenant in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Despite the warning, and several other perils that await him, Indiana Jones embarks on an adventurous journey to find the biblical artefact before Nazis could get their hands on it. After all, it had the power of gods that could destroy anything, let alone win a war. Spielberg’s Raiders of the Lost Ark is a catalogue of biblical secrets that leaves the audience wondering whether the Ark was a figment of imagination or really existed.

According to the Hebrew Bible Book of Exodus, it is real. The Bible says, the Hebrews used the Ark to house the stone tablets on which God etched his Ten Commandments. But the Ark wasn’t just any other chest holding a holy relic, it is believed to have had its own fabled powers. Even though Hebrews considered the Ark as a gift of God, some greedy ones used it to their advantage. As written in the Book of Joshua—the sixth book in the Hebrew Bible—Israelis used the Ark to bring down the incredible wall of Jericho to conquer the city. The wall now lies hidden in a heap of ruins, concealing the stories of the past 10,000 years, and probably, our empirical link with the Bible.

Jericho, arguably the oldest city in the world, dates to 9000 BCE. From the melting Ice Age to the early human migration; from the Bronze Age to the battle of Jericho in Bible, Jericho has seen it all. Even the dawn of human civilisation begun at the doorstep of Jericho when humans were still hunters. To trace the history of the city, one needs to start from the beginning when the environment was changing radically.

Jericho city

Jericho city, an abode for 10,000 years

Somewhere around 10,000 BCE, Natufian hunter-gatherers settled in the lowlands of West Bank, called Tell es-Sultan, which was two kilometres from the modern-day Jericho. It was the time when the Late Glacial Maximum was abating. The environment was becoming warmer; some species were on the verge of extinction while others were beginning to thrive, especially ours. One could say, the hunter-gatherers, who had settled in Tell es-Sultan benefited the most from the radical change in the environment owing to the rains and fertile land of Jericho.

Thanks to the abundance of resources, the settlement grew rapidly. People hunted wild animals, cultivated barley and wheat for food and lived in the houses made from clay and straw. In a few decades, the settlement became a full-fledged town, expanding from Tell es-Sultan to Jericho, from 70 houses at first to hundreds. As time passed, the population of Jericho rose and life was beautiful. The inhabitants had no complaints, no worries except a fear of floods and invasion. It is impossible to know what gave them the idea, but they decided to build a wall to protect themselves from such calamities. It was the first of its kind in human history. The wall was approximately 10 feet high and 4 feet thick. At the same time, they also raised a 28-feet tall tower at the central courtyard, which was the mark of communal power and territorial claim.

The wall stood tall like a colossus for centuries. But around 7000 BCE, some unknown invaders, who saw Jericho as a road to paradise, invaded it. After all, Jericho was a settlement way ahead of time with its limitless supply of fresh water, crops and mud-bricked shelters. When the new people came, the growth trajectory of Jericho reached new heights. They absorbed the old settlement into their culture, expanded the boundaries of Jericho, and invented new tools and practices to construct buildings. The Bronze Age was on the rise, and Jericho was on top of it.

ancient jericho

The excavated sites of ancient Jericho

Over the next millennia, Jericho was invaded multiple times by the nomadic newcomers. But no one attacked the settlement with the intention to destroy it as everyone longed to make Jericho their abode. And each time a new community came, their knowledge and culture expanded the urbanisation of Jericho. But the settlement reached its prime when Canaanites came to Jericho in 1900 BCE. They were rich aristocrats who introduced town culture in Jericho. They increased the size of the wall, making it impenetrable. For 500 years, the wall remained invincible keeping enemies at bay.

In 1400 BCE, Israelis came from the other side of the Jordan river and attacked Jericho under the command of Joshua. When their early attempts went in vain, it is said that Israelis used the Ark to destroy the wall. The people shouted when the priests blew the trumpets. “And it happened when the people heard the sound of the trumpet, and the people shouted with a great shout, that the wall fell down flat.” (Joshua 6:20 – 24) But unlike other invaders, Joshua turned Jericho into ashes and placed a curse on anyone who rebuilt it. It remained in ruins for the next 550 years till King Ahab reconstructed Jericho and restored its prominence.

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