We read, that this city was not only wasted by Joshua with fire and sword, but cursed also. "Cursed be he before the Lord, who shall rise up and build that city Jericho," Joshua 6:26. "Nor was another city to be built (says the Talmudists), which was to be called by the name of Jericho: nor was Jericho itself to be built, although to be called by another name." And yet I know not by what chance this city crept out of dust and rubbish, lived again, and flourished, and became the second city to Jerusalem. The same persons which were just now cited, suppose that the restorer of it was Hiel, the son of Jehoshaphat, to wit, the same with Jechiel, 2 Chronicles 21:2; "Hiel (say they) was of Jehoshaphat, and Jericho of Benjamin." And that is a just scruple, which R. David objects,--how it came about, that the pious king Jehoshaphat should suffer such a horrid thing to be done within his kingdom? Much more, how this should have been done by his son? Let them dispute the business; we hasten somewhere else.
That, which ought not to be done,--being once done, stands good. Hiel did a cursed thing in building Jericho: yet Jericho was not to be cursed, being now built. A little after its restoration, it was made noble by the schools of the prophets, 2 Kings 2:5; and it flourished with the rest of the cities of Judea unto the destruction of the nation by the Babylonians.
It flourished more under the second Temple, so that it gave place to no city in Judea; yea, all gave place to it, besides Jerusalem. A royal palace was in it, where Herod ended his days: a Hippodromus, where the Jewish nobility, being imprisoned by him, were to be slain, when he expired: an amphitheatre, where his will was publicly opened, and read over; and sometime a sessions of the Sanhedrim, and "a noble troop of those, that waited in their courses at the Temple."
"The elders sometime assembled together in the chamber Beth-gadia in Jericho: the Bath Kol went forth, and said to them, There are two among you, who are fit to receive the Holy Ghost, and Hillel is one of them: they cast their eyes upon Samuel the Little, as the second. Another time the elders assembled together in a chamber in Jafne; the Bath Kol went forth, and said, There are two among you, who are fit to receive the Holy Ghost, and Samuel the Little is one of them: they cast their eyes upon R. Lazar. And they rejoiced, that their judgment agreed with the sentence of the Holy Ghost."
"There is a tradition, that there were, at Jerusalem, twenty-four thousand men of the station; and half a station" (that is, twelve thousand men) "at Jericho. Jericho also could have produced a whole station; but because she would give place to Jerusalem, she produced only the half of a station."
Behold! five hundred men of every course residing at Jericho! But what were they? They were ready at hand to supply any courses that wanted, if there were any such at Jerusalem; and they took care of supplying them with necessaries, who officiated at Jerusalem. Hence it is the less to be wondered at, if you hear of a priest and a Levite passing along in the parable of him, that travelled between Jerusalem and Jericho, Luke 10:31,32.
In so famous and populous a town, there could not but be some council of three-and-twenty, one, at least, of more remark, if not more,--when so many of the stations dwelling there were at hand, who were fit to be employed in government; and so many to be governed.
"The men of Jericho are famed for six things done by them: in three of which the chief council consented to them, but in the other three they consented not." Those things, concerning which they opposed them not, were these:--
I. "They ingrafted, or folded, together, palm-trees every day." Here is need of a long commentary, and they produce one, but very obscure. The business of the men of Jericho was about palm-trees; which they either joined together, and mingled males with females, or they ingrafted, or (as they commonly say) inoculated the more tender sprouts of the branches into those, that were older. So much indulgence was granted them by the wise men concerning the time, wherein these things are done, which elsewhere, would scarcely have been suffered; unless, as it seems, the nature of the place, and of the groves of palms, required it.
II. "They folded up the recitations of their phylacteries": that is, either not speaking them out distinctly; or omitting some doxologies or prayers; or pronouncing them with too shrill a voice. See the Gemara and the Gloss.
III. "They reaped, and gathered-in their sheaves, before the sheaf [of first-fruits] was offered": and this, partly, because of the too early ripeness of their corn in that place; and, partly, because their corn grew in a very low valley, and therefore it was not accounted fit to be offered unto the Mincha, or daily sacrifice. See the Gloss.
The three things, concerning which the wise men consented not to them, were these:--
I. Such fruits and branches, also certain fruits of the sycamine-trees, which their fathers had devoted to sacred uses,--they alienated into common.
II. "They ate, on the sabbath-day, under the tree, such fruits, as fell from the tree," although they were uncertain whether they had fallen on the sabbath-day or the eve of the sabbath: for such as fell on the sabbath were forbidden.
III. They granted a corner of the garden for herbs, in the same manner as a corner of the field was granted for corn.
Let the description of this city and place be concluded with those words of the Talmud, in the place noted in the margin: "Do they use a certain form of prayer upon balsam? Blessed be he, who hath created the ointment of our land." The Gloss is, "The ointment of our land: for it grows at Jericho; and, for its smell, it is called Jericho: and it is that Pannag of which mention is made in the Book of Ezekiel. 'Judah and the land of Israel were thy merchants in wheat of Minnith and Pannag.' This I have seen in the book of Josephus Ben Gorion." Judge, reader.