Jericho

Originally published July 1, 2013

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I wrote a western song with a Middle Eastern tinge called “Jericho,” but I could never figure out what it was about. That is, I had written a melody, some lyrics, a guitar line with a fun time signature — and I knew Jericho was a main factor for it all — but I had no idea why Jericho was so essential to this song.

When Nadia chose the theme “Death and Rebirth: Like a Mushroom,” I wondered if my Jericho song might fit, somehow. My research first led me to the major biblical references: Joshua and the ancient Jews conquer the city by blowing rams’ horns; the Jerichoan woman, Rahab, betrays her city by harboring Jewish spies, and is thus spared when the city falls; the detail that the Jews were only allowed to take valuable metals, but were not to touch any “personal” belongings, such as food.

Beyond the Old Testament, there is a scene in the New in which Zacchaeus, a disreputable tax collector in Jericho, is hiding in a tree to have a look at Jesus. To the shock of a self-righteous crowd, Jesus has dinner with him. In a parable, a priest is on his way to Jericho when he sees a wounded man and crosses the street to walk by on the other side; the “Good Samaritan” then saves this man’s life (Samaritans were ironically considered to be unsavorypersons). In another account, Jesus is leaving Jericho when he restores vision to a blind man.

But these are all red herrings. The narrator in my song is not Joshua, the conqueror; not Rahab, the traitor; not the tree-climber Zacchaeus; nor is it the blind man, his vision restored; it is the oft-overlooked curse, which states that he who rebuilds Jericho will lose his offspring to an untimely death.

And so it has come to pass, time and time again.

I saw Jericho
I saw those walls fall down
I saw Jericho
Come crumbling to the ground
And Levite, Jericho
Though so long ago now
I fought Jericho
I knocked it to the ground

I saw Jericho
I saw those walls fall down
I fought Jericho
I knocked it to the ground
Then up came Jericho
It rose into the sky
I’ve knocked down Jericho
So goddamned many times

There is an excellent episode of Radiolab on the fall of Jericho, and its scientific/ historical relevance, with an emphasis on whether it is possible to knock down a city’s walls by blowing on rams’ horns.

Guitar & vocals: James
Violin: Grace