Jericho meaning | Jericho etymology

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ירחו
יריחו
יריחה
Jericho in Biblical Hebrew
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The name Jericho in the Bible

Jericho is a city near the Jordan, which walls famously fall when Joshua has the Israelites march around it (Joshua 6). Although Joshua curses anyone who would rebuilt the city (6:26), Hiel of Bethel does it anyway, at dear cost, during the days of king Ahab (1 Kings 16:34).

But apparently, Jericho had remained to exist between its destruction and its revival (Joshua 16:1, 7; 2 Samuel 10:5). Perhaps the ruins remained a landmark, or perhaps a new settlement grew out of the same reasons that spawned the old Jericho.

The rebuilt Jericho is visited by Elisha (2 Kings 2:5), and Jesus on more than one occasion (spelled Ιεριχω, Iericho; Matthew 20:29; Luke 19). Zedekiah, the last king of Judah, is captured there (2 Kings 25:5), and is taken to Babylon after horrible torture. Some 345 men of Jericho who return from the Babylonian exile go back to Jericho (Ezra 2:34) and help with the rebuilding of Jerusalem (Nehemiah 3:2).

Etymology of the name Jericho

The meaning of the name Jericho is unclear, and that's probably because in the Old Testament, the name Jericho comes in three differing variations:

  • As ירחו in Numbers, Deuteronomy, 2 Samuel, 2 Kings 25, 1 and 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah and Jeremiah.
  • As יריחו in Joshua and 2 Kings 2.
  • As יריחה in 1 Kings 16:34.

There's no way to say which form was the original one, and which two are playful variations, or even whether there aren't two different names for the same city (forms 2 and 3 are linguistically related). BDB Theological Dictionary and NOBSE Study Bible Name List appear to assume that forms 2 and 3 are the original and take the name Jericho from the noun ריח (reah) meaning scent or fragrance:

Abarim Publications Theological Dictionary

And Jericho is indeed called Ir-hatamarim, or the City Of Palms (Deuteronomy 24:3, 2 Chronicles 28:15) and apparently its district was 'abounding in palms, rose-gardens, balsam, etc' (says BDB Theological Dictionary).

Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names, on the other hand, appears to be most enthusiastic about form 1, and relates the name Jericho to the noun ירח (yareah) meaning moon as time indicator; month. The etymology of this word is lost but some scholars suggest it has to do with the verb ארח ('arah), meaning to wander or journey, as the moon is the most ambulant body in the night sky:

Abarim Publications Theological Dictionary

Jericho meaning

The name Jericho may mean City Of The Moon (Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names) or Place Of Fragrance (NOBSE Study Bible Name List). And of course, the authors of the Bible probably were very much aware that they gave Jericho its two different names, suggesting that this city was known for both moon worship and fragrances.

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