Friday 20th June 2014
Today we had a bus tour to Jericho. It is claimed to be the oldest inhabited city in the world, going back to 10,000 years BC. It is also the lowest city in the world, being 258 metres below sea level. Habitation in the otherwise harsh desert environment is made possible by the Ein es-Sultan spring, which provides water for drinking and irrigation. Consequently, Jericho is an oasis in the Judean wilderness. For more detailed information on Jericho see
We left Jerusalem at 6.30 in the morning, the early start a -practical strategy to avoid the hottest part of the day when the temperature climbed into the mid-thirties – and yes, we followed the road of the man in the famous parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:30 which begins,
“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. …”
Our first stop was Wadi Kelt, to overlook the Judean wilderness.
As you look out over this scene – knowing that this is where some of the ancient Israelite prophets encountered God in the wilderness; where Jesus went into the wilderness after his baptism at the Jordan; where later, after centuries of marginalisation and persecutions the Constantinian establishment made Christian living easier, those who sought a more rigorous following of Jesus went into the wilderness, following the monastic practices which had begun in Egypt – imagine the heat, the dryness, the dust, the isolation, the barrenness. In this vivid context, the words of the Psalmist resonate deeply:
Comfort and Assurance in God’s Presence
A Psalm of David, when he was in the Wilderness of Judah.
1 O God, you are my God, I seek you,
my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
2 So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary,
beholding your power and glory.
3 Because your steadfast love is better than life,
my lips will praise you.
4 So I will bless you as long as I live;
I will lift up my hands and call on your name.
5 My soul is satisfied as with a rich feast,[a]
and my mouth praises you with joyful lips
6 when I think of you on my bed,
and meditate on you in the watches of the night;
7 for you have been my help,
and in the shadow of your wings I sing for joy.
8 My soul clings to you;
your right hand upholds me.
9 But those who seek to destroy my life
shall go down into the depths of the earth;
10 they shall be given over to the power of the sword,
they shall be prey for jackals.
11 But the king shall rejoice in God;
all who swear by him shall exult,
for the mouths of liars will be stopped.
Here is one such hardy pilgrim seeking a closer following of Jesus!
I have also read that because of its harsh environment the Wadi is also associated with Psalm 23’s “the valley of the shadow of death”!! Yet surprisingly, here and elsewhere along the road, we occasionally saw shepherds leading their flocks of goats. There are natural springs which feed water into the valley for both animals and humans. And although the land is dry and stony, some rough low-lying plants do grow and provide sufficient pasture for the animals.
Wherever the bus stopped, Bedouins swarmed us offering head gear, trinkets and souvenirs, assuring us of bargain prices!! They also had donkeys for tourists to ride.
Our next stop a short distance further on was a scenic lookout over the St George’s Greek Orthodox Monastery. The site is associated with the story in 1 Kings 17:2-6 where God sent ravens to feed the Prophet Elijah:
2 The word of the Lord came to him, saying, 3 “Go from here and turn eastward, and hide yourself by the Wadi Cherith, which is east of the Jordan. 4 You shall drink from the wadi, and I have commanded the ravens to feed you there.” 5 So he went and did according to the word of the Lord; he went and lived by the Wadi Cherith, which is east of the Jordan. 6 The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning, and bread and meat in the evening; and he drank from the wadi. (1 Kings 17:2-6)
The Monastery, built around the cave associated with the above story, is perched on the cliffs high above the wadi below.
While the monks lived a frugal communal life of prayer and work in the monastery, those seeking an even more austere life lived as hermits in caves in the wilderness, joining the community only on occasions for Eucharist. For some more information on the history of the Monastery see
Then we continued on to Jericho. We took a cable car up the Mount of Temptation – much easier than walking!! – for a visit to the Monastery of the Temptation. The site is traditionally associated with the following event in Jesus’ life. According to the Gospels, after his baptism in the River Jordan by John, Jesus went into the wilderness for forty days and forty nights (symbolic of ancient Israel’s forty years in the desert after the Exodus from Egypt).
The Temptation of Jesus
1 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. 3 The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4 But he answered, “It is written,
‘One does not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6 saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written,
‘He will command his angels concerning you,’
and ‘On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”
7 Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; 9 and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10 Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written,
‘Worship the Lord your God,
and serve only him.’”
11 Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.
Here is a view from the cable car of the Monastery of the Temptation:
Here is view from the Monastery looking out over the modern city of Jericho.
As with St George’s Greek Orthodox Monastery, so also here, those monks seeking a more austere life lived as hermits in the caves.
The first temptation is to turn stone into bread, so naturally some creative monastic mind found the ‘stone’ said to be the place of that particular temptation, around which the Monastery was then built.
The second temptation is traditionally understood as having occurred at the Temple in Jerusalem. The third temptation, because of Jericho’s eminence as an ancient city, is traditionally presented as having taken place on the summit of the mountain above the Monastery, hence, along with the “stone”, the Mountain of Temptation. For more information on the Mount and Monastery of Temptation see and
We returned to Jericho on the cable car, passing again over ruins of the ancient walled city of Jericho, famed for its defeat when, according to the Old Testament Book of Joshua, Chapter 6, following God’s instructions, Joshua had the priests circle the city blowing their rams’ horns, which brought about the collapse of the walls. The event is depicted in art and song (e.g. The Statue of Faith in Jaffa which I mentioned in a previous post), but I have heard that there is no archaeological evidence for such an event to have occurred on the site! Perhaps it is an account based on what happened elsewhere which is being used to show how God’s power enabled the ancient Israelites to take possession of the land.
In Jericho we visited the Elisha’s Spring.
The name of the spring comes from the following story in 2 Kings 2:19-22
Elisha Performs Miracles
19 Now the people of the city said to Elisha, “The location of this city is good, as my lord sees; but the water is bad, and the land is unfruitful.” 20 He said, “Bring me a new bowl, and put salt in it.” So they brought it to him. 21 Then he went to the spring of water and threw the salt into it, and said, “Thus says the Lord, I have made this water wholesome; from now on neither death nor miscarriage shall come from it.” 22 So the water has been wholesome to this day, according to the word that Elisha spoke.
Whatever the historical reliability of the story, it is certainly true that this spring and others like it that provide the water for Jericho and its trees, gardens and fields, certainly make the city an oasis in the wilderness. Elisha must have been a formidable prophet, as the very next verses after the above miracle show:
23 He went up from there to Bethel; and while he was going up on the way, some small boys came out of the city and jeered at him, saying, “Go away, baldhead! Go away, baldhead!” 24 When he turned around and saw them, he cursed them in the name of the Lord. Then two she-bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the boys. 25 From there he went on to Mount Carmel, and then returned to Samaria.
Obviously not a man to be meddled with!!!
Our second-last stop of the morning was at a newly built Romanian Orthodox Church in Jericho. The walls, ceiling and inside the dome of the church and of the crypt were covered in vividly coloured Romanian icons. They are a catechetical presentation in images of major events in the Old and New Testaments, as well as of the saints. Here are a few samples:
Our final stop for the morning was at “The Sycamore Tree”. This site is from the following event recorded in chapter 19 of Luke’s Gospel as having taken place in Jericho:
Jesus and Zacchaeus
1 He entered Jericho and was passing through it. 2 A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. 3 He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. 5 When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” 6 So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. 7 All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.” 8 Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” 9 Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”
The event is commemorated by The Sycamore Tree:
We enjoyed an Arab-style meal at a local restaurant and had a final stop at a tourist souvenir shop (was it the cousin or uncle of the local Palestinian guide or of the bus driver?!?!) before heading back to Jerusalem.
Shalom, Peace, Salaam!!!