Jericho, Israel, is known as the City of Palm It is the oldest city in the world dating from 9000 BCE. This was the Neolithic age when man stopped being primarily a hunter and became a planter. After the conquest of Bethel and Ai by Joshua’s Israelite forces, Jericho became his next city to conquer from the Canaanites. It was here that the tax collector Zaccheus, touched by Jesus spirit gave half of his belongings to the poor. It was also here that Bartemaus was cured of blindness by Jesus. Jesus walked this way. We passed through Jericho two times on our recent Holy Land pilgrimage.
The first time was a stop at the lookout to Temptation Mountain where Jesus was tempted by the Devil for 40 days after his baptism in the nearby Jordan River. We marveled at the rugged desert landscape and gazed at a monastery high up on the mountain, now reachable by tramway.
A somewhat flamboyant Palestinian pilgrim let me take his photo and we bought some delicious dates after trying a sample. Jericho, we were told is the “Florida” of Israel as the temperature is noticeably warmer here in the valley, than in the Judea hills. Well-off Israeli and Palestinian families maintain a second home here. We also saw the famous Tel “El Sultan” (hill) which reflects some 20 civilizations in its past history.
On our second visit we celebrated Mass in the quaint Church of the Good Shepherd, maintained by the Franciscans. I remember the pastor telling us that there were only 324 Catholics living in all Jericho out of a total population of 30,000. Keeping the Church going financially was a real challenge. Fittingly, as he talked, we could hear the call to worship emanating from the Mosque just down the street. That night, our last, we stayed in one of the nicest hotels of the whole trip – the 5* Oasis hotel, owned and operated by Palestinians. We were deep inside the West Bank.
The nearby Dead Sea is the lowest elevation on land in the whole world at 430.5 meters below sea level. It is also 304 meter deep and has hypersalinity. It is salt lake fed by the Jordan with no outlet as is too low for water to flow out of. It is 9.6 times as salty as the oceans. Plants and animals do not flourish here due to the harsh conditions – hence its name.
We were all keen to go for a “float” in the lake and most of us did. We must say, other than the novelty of floating freely, it was awful – the water stung your eyes, nose and mouth and the sharp pure crystalline salt rocks cut at your feet on the way in and out. There is mud everywhere and many people were smearing it on their bodies. After we got out and showered, we were still itchy for an hour!
Nevertheless, it remains and has been a popular tourist destination for thousands of years. It was one of the world’s first health resorts under King Herod the Great. It offers sunny skies, dry air and pleasant temperatures year round. Everything from asphalt and potash to ingredients for cosmetics are extracted from its waters. We enjoyed our visit there and will not soon forget the experience of putting out into the Dead Sea – on our backs.
(There are 3 more Holy Land sites we intend to explore with you before leaving this extended theme: Jerusalem, Petra and Jerash. However, we are about to embark on our next adventure to Mexico so we will see how disciplined we are about this plan.)
As always, thinking of you. Thanks for traveling with us. XOX