י״ז במרחשון ה׳תשע״ח (November 6, 2017)

Sanhedrin 113a-b: The Symbol of Yeriho

When the Children of Israel entered the Land of Israel after 40 years in the desert, the first city that they encountered and conquered was Yeriḥo (see Sefer Yehoshua chapter 6). Having defeated this first Canaanite city, Yehoshua declared that the city was to remain a symbol, and no one could rebuild it, cursing anyone who tried to do so with the death of his children (Yehoshua 6:26).

In fact, the navi later relates that there was a later attempt to reestablish the city of Yeriḥo. In Sefer I (16:34) we find that in the time of King Aḥav a man named Ḥiel Beit-HaEli built the city of Yeriḥo, and that when he began his oldest child, Aviram passed away and when he completed the city his youngest son, Seguv, died as well.

It is interesting to note that the Gemara assumes that the city built by Ḥiel Beit-HaEli was not built on the ruins of the original city of Yeriḥo, rather that he built a different city, giving it that name. According to the Gemara, Yehoshua’s original curse included both a situation where the destroyed city would be rebuilt with another name, or a situation where another city would be built that would be called by the name of Yeriḥo. The Talmud Yerushalmi explains that the Yeriḥo built by Ḥiel could not have been the original city, since Ḥiel was living under the rule of King Aḥav in the Northern Kingdom of Israel, while the original city of Yeriḥo was located in the Southern Kingdom of Yehuda.

The entrance of Israel into the Land of Canaan was not merely the capture of land from the local tribes, rather it was a total rejection of the values and mores of a Canaanite culture that celebrated cultic religious beliefs that included the murder of children to the god Molekh and ritualistic sexual harlotry in the service of the god Ba’al. The destruction of the city of Yeriḥo and the oath to leave the city in a state of ruin symbolized the aim of the Israelites to uproot these pagan practices. With the reestablishment of Canaanite rituals by King Aḥav, it appears that Ḥiel Beit-HaEli wanted to reject that symbolism by rebuilding the original Canaanite city.

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