National Geographic : 1951 Dec
The Ghosts of Jericho BY JAMES L. KELSO Professor of Old Testament, Pittsburgh-Xenia Theological Seminary With Illustrations from Photographs by the Author NEARLY EVERY visitor to the Holy Land is drawn, as if by a magnet, eastward along the tortuous black top road that leads from Jerusalem over the Mount of Olives and down through the dun colored wastes of the Jordan Valley to the Dead Sea. As to distance, it is a comparatively short journey-some 30 miles. But it is an adven ture in time, for the centuries seem literally to roll backward with each of the 50 minutes or so that it takes to cover the route. Even though the roadbed has been shifted somewhat to accommodate the motor traffic of the 20th century, it still passes through places with names as significant to the traveler as inscriptions on the stones of his family burial plot. First, there's the Mount of Olives itself, then Bethany, then the Good Samaritan Inn, then Jericho, and beyond it the Jordan River, which runs down to the salty blue landlocked sea. It's no wonder that the traveler to Palestine seldom feels his journey complete until he has traversed this historic route and at least dipped a hand into the Dead Sea's oily-feeling surf. Traveling over this tiny bit of geography is particularly stimulating in these days when the cycle of history seems to have come full circle within its limits. The trip is likely to begin at the verge of no man's land on the Arab side of Jerusalem. As late as the fall of 1950, the uneasy truce between the Arabs and Jews was marked by a display of arms on either side of the barriers and an occasional "practice" sniping, especially in the Valley of Gehenna. It was enough to remind the traveler of the pressing problems of our times, of Israel again carved out of this ancient land by the force of arms (map, page 828).* New Testament Jericho Unearthed At the other end of the road on the east ern side of this mountain ridge, toward the Jordan River, lies all that is left of the Jeri cho that fell so long ago to the trumpeting of Joshua's hosts. Now it is only a mound of uninteresting rubble, its mud-brick walls showing here and there. But, as long ago as Neolithic times, it was a proud city. Even today thousands of Arab refugees get their water from the same spring that supplied that Neolithic settlement. Perhaps it is this concentration of human endeavor in so small a space-the works and mementos of mankind's activities down through the ages, literally piled one on top of the other-that makes the Holy Land so rewarding for the tourist and scholar alike. In my own case, a professional curiosity has led me repeatedly back to Palestine. I go to probe under the sandy loam with which the winds have covered those many monu ments which the ancient Jews must have con sidered then as enduring as we do our con crete and steel cities of today. Only last year I followed this much-trav eled historic route from Jerusalem to the Dead Sea-and arrived at my most exciting discovery to date. The expedition I headed unearthed New Testament Jericho (p. 837). Our "find" lies just a little beyond the traditional site of the Good Samaritan Inn, now a coffee shop and police station (page 840). It is some 15 minutes in driving time over the rough old Roman road which branches off the main motor highway at an Arab Legion camp. The ruins are sufficiently well preserved to enable even the least im aginative visitor to reconstruct the scene of some of the Holy Land's most savage and colorful historic episodes. Winter Capital of Herod the Great New Testament Jericho, we know from his torical records of the times, was the seat of the winter capital of Herod the Great and his son Archelaus. It was here that Herod the Great put to death his innocent young brother-in-law, Aristobulus, the high priest. Here also died Herod, perhaps the greatest puppet of them all, not excluding our modern Quislings. What is now left of this once fabulous resort has become an Arab national monument and has undoubtedly been included by the numerous guides and chauffeurs on their tour of that valley so reminiscent of the traveling ministry of Jesus and the trav ails of ancient Israel. When we first arrived over the site where Herod's magnificence had once been cele * See, in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, "Home to the Holy Land." by Maynard Owen Wil liams, December, 1950; "Geography of the Jordan," by Nelson Glueck, December, 1944; and "Canoeing Down the River Jordan," by John D. Whiting, De cember. 1940. See also "Bible Lands and the Cradle of Western Civilization," map supplement to the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, December, 1946.