Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Jericho - the fortress city

Forty years passed since the Red Sea crossing, and many sad stories filled the painful chapters of Israel’s wilderness wanderings. Difficult but important matters were left undone, while popular distractions occupied the Hebrews like a dog chasing its tail.

Except for Joshua and Caleb, an entire generation died without ever reaching the promised land of Canaan. But on one hot summer’s day, as the sun was setting over the bustling city of Jericho, something was finally happening, though no one seemed to notice.

The “City of Palms”, as it was known then, was surrounded by lush fertile fields bursting with crops, mostly barley, but also checkered with rows of dates, grapes, and olives. A long boulevard of palm trees lined the entrance to the fortress city, whose monstrous walls crowned a proud and prosperous kingdom. Its immense wealth drew traders of every description like bees to a honey pot, all hurrying to enter before the gates closed.

Approaching the large stone archway above the entrance, two such “traders” took careful notice of their surroundings. Phinehas, bearded and in his mid twenties, was tall and exceptionally strong, although modestly dressed in a plain brown robe to blend in with the crowd.

Alongside him was Salman, a slightly younger man of average build but blessed with such boyish charm that could barely hide beneath his scruffy unwashed appearance.

Along the road to Jericho, they had travelled with many merchants and farmers in a caravan trail of camels, cattle, and goats. Some made the short trip from Gilgal, a small town just near the Jordan river, to market their wares in the Jericho markets. Others travelled from distant exotic lands, bringing all manner of luscious fabrics, fragrances and spices .

There were numerous small conversations - answering questions about where they came from, what they were doing, and who they knew at Jericho. Salman did most of the talking, and enjoyed pretending to appear interested without really giving away any information. He particularly liked excusing his “dim-witted brother” from conversations because “he wouldn’t add any thing meaningful.”

Entering the city, they noticed the gates were constructed of large wooden beams plated with thick iron reinforcement. Enormous golden shields engraved with mysterious patterns hung from each interlocking cross beam. A cold shiver ran through Phinehas’ spine as he walked passed the sacred golden calf, the centerpiece of the stone archway above them.

What alarmed Salman the most were the walls - enormous stone mountains of defense, higher and thicker than anything they had ever seen. It made sense; a city guarding such fertile lands and reliable water would be too attractive for invading armies. He counted his steps through the archway, just to be guess the wall’s dimensons, although it was difficult to concentrate in the bustling crowd.

It was a strong and powerful kingdom. Phinehas could see it in the well crafted swords and bronze chest plates of the guards at the gate.

Salman saw it in the eyes of the traders lining the entrance to the city square. They were in it for money, and lots of it. Jericho was the place to set up business, and the city had grown rich by keeping things that way.

Across the bustling square, hundreds of soldiers marched out of the palace and marshalled in the forecourt. The King's palace towered over the whole city, casting a long shadow across all the people. Surrounding the square were countless narrow dusty streets lined with mud brick homes. It was the largest city Salman had ever seen.

But it was the soldiers that kept Phinehas' attention. They appeared to be combat training, although at first there was more shouting than actual fighting. But they seemed very disciplined, and that enticed Phinehas to press closer for a better look.

Walking further across the square, they came alongside dozens of Africans shackled in chains to large iron posts near the cattle yards. Salman tugged at Phinehas’ tunic.

“Look, slaves,” he whispered.
“What?” replied Phinehas, distracted by the soldiers.
“Poor souls,” Salman continued, “who knows where they’ll end up?”

The giant barrel-chested gatekeeper, Adin, rang the bell for the evening watch, sending traders packing up their stalls and heading home. He seemed to enjoy annoying everyone, barking orders and helping himself to whatever he wanted.

Salman observed the movement along the walls. Guards clamored to take their new positions as the day shift came down the narrow staircases. What type of soldiers were they? He would only know for certain in the heat of battle. Phinehas has the right idea, Salman thought. I should watch them train.

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