Jericho and the Yarikhu

As this study is concerned more with the importance of the moon-god in biblical history than the specifics of the Exodus and the conquest of Canaan, we’ll skip over the forty years of wandering in the desert to the beginning of hostilities in the war for the Holy Land.

After a skirmish in the Negev with the Canaanite king of Arad, Moses led the Israelites northward, around the edges of the lands controlled by Edom and Moab. Their kings, suspicious of their long-lost cousins, refused to allow the Israelites passage.

The first battle was against the Amorite king, Sihon, who ruled a small territory east of the Jordan between Moab and Ammon. He must have been a tough dude; the Book of Numbers preserves a song about Sihon that was apparently a hit back in the day:

Come to Heshbon, let it be built; 
let the city of Sihon be established. 
For fire came out from Heshbon, 
flame from the city of Sihon. 
It devoured Ar of Moab, 
and swallowed the heights of the Arnon. 
Woe to you, O Moab! 
You are undone, O people of Chemosh! 
He has made his sons fugitives, 
and his daughters captives, 
to an Amorite king, Sihon. 
So we overthrew them; 
Heshbon, as far as Dibon, perished; 
and we laid waste as far as Nophah; 
fire spread as far as Medeba.

Numbers 21:27–30

Why did Sihon fight instead of letting the Israelites pass? We can only speculate. The king of Heshbon couldn’t have had much hope of winning a battle on his own. Numbers 1:46 tells us that Israel counted more than six hundred thousand men who were able to go to war. United Nations statistics show that there are only about a million men of fighting age, between the ages of twenty and forty-five, in the entire country of Jordan today![1] The kingdom of Sihon was much smaller and entirely agrarian, unlike present-day Jordan. In other words, Sihon’s forces were probably outnumbered by the host of Israel, and not by a little bit.

Maybe Sihon counted on help from his ally to the north, Og of Bashan, or from the Amorites west of the Jordan River in Canaan. It’s not like Israel’s arrival was a secret; moving a couple million people, along with their flocks and herds, about six miles a day ruled out blitzkrieg from the list of tactics available to Moses and Joshua. It’s clear from what Rahab of Jericho told the Israelite spies that the people of the land had been dreading the coming of Yahweh and His people for forty years.

Maybe that’s why help never came for Sihon.

Sihon may have been induced to attack Israel by his god. If he served the moon-god, the “god of the Amurru-land,” could Sîn/Yarikh have been looking for payback? After all, Yahweh had used Sinai, his mountain, to deliver the Law to Moses and prepare Israel for the conquest of Canaan, which was occupied by moon-god worshipers. What an insult to the elohim who was called “Father of Wisdom,” “Lord of Destinies,” and “Originator of Life” by his followers!

Remember that this is just speculation on the little we know about Sihon. It’s also possible that the king of Heshbon saw Israel’s arrival on his border as an existential threat and figured he had nothing to lose, even though Moses had sent messengers asking for peaceful passage through his territory.[2] Or maybe the prospect of looting and enslaving a couple million people was just too tempting to pass up. After all, the Amorites spawned the Bedouin culture that elevated caravan raiding to the status of holy war when Muhammad arrived on the scene about two thousand years later.

Whatever the reason, Sihon attacked and his army was destroyed. His fellow Amorite king to the north, Og, was next.

Og appears to have been the Israelites’ first target all along. The obvious question: Why? Bashan wasn’t on the direct route to the Holy Land. It’s a long walk from the Dead Sea to the Golan Heights, especially with infants, old people, and cattle along for the trip—probably two to three weeks, at best. Maybe after forty years that didn’t seem like a big deal, but since the plan was to cross the Jordan near the Dead Sea, at Jericho, the attack on Og meant walking to the north end of the Jordan Valley, fighting a battle, and then marching south again. That was at least an extra month of travel, not including the time to fight the army of Og, plunder the cities of Bashan, and take possession of Og’s territory.

Bad Moon Rising

God probably directed Moses and the Israelites to take out Og before crossing into Canaan because Bashan was a site of special supernatural significance. It was believed to be the home of pagan gods of the underworld: Rapiu, “King of Eternity,”[3] whose name is the singular form of rapiuma (Rephaim), who may be the same deity as Molech,[4] the god to whom the Judahite kings Ahaz and Manasseh sacrificed their children. Even the name “Bashan” in the Ugaritic dialect meant “place of the serpent.”[5]

In short, the kingdom of Og was believed to be the entrance to the netherworld. It’s not a coincidence that Bashan was just below the southern slopes of Mount Hermon.

Veneration of the dead and gods of the underworld was a snare to the Israelites for centuries. Worship of Baal-Peor, another god connected to the netherworld, caused God to send a plague among the people in the plains of Moab.[6] But while targeting Bashan first may have been due to Og being the last of “the remnant of the Rephaim,”[7] it may also be that he represented the occult system of Babylon.

Behold, his bed was a bed of iron. Is it not in Rabbah of the Ammonites? Nine cubits was its length, and four cubits its breadth, according to the common cubit.

Deuteronomy 3:11

Why did Moses bother to write down that odd detail? Was Og really a giant thirteen feet, six inches tall?

Not necessarily. Here’s why: The dimensions of Og’s bed match exactly the cultic bed in the temple of Marduk in Babylon,[8] where every spring, during the annual akitu festival, Marduk and his consort Sarpanitu were believed to have ritual sex.

So, Og’s height wasn’t as important as the spiritual power behind his throne. Moses used the size of Og’s bed to explicitly link Bashan, the “place of the serpent,” to Babylon and the occult religious system established by Amorite kings who worshiped the moon-god, Sîn.

Having dispatched the Amorite kings in the Transjordan, it was time for Israel to finally turn its attention to the Holy Land.

As we noted earlier, one of the other major cult centers of the moon-god in the ancient Near East was Jericho. The Amorite name for the moon-god was Yarikh, but by transliterating the Y to a J, you see that the city was named for the Amorite moon-god. It was also the name of an Amorite tribe, the Yarikhu, who are mentioned in texts found in the ruins of Mari. A city called Yarikh, located north of Mount Hermon in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, was called a “ruin” in a letter to the Mariote king, Yasmah-Addu. The scholar who translated the letter identified the city as a settlement of the Yarikhu tribe.[9]

This means that at the time of the patriarchs, a city and tribe named for the moon-god anchored the northeastern end of the Great Rift Valley that extends from the Lebanese border with Syria down to the Red Sea. Jericho sits at the south end, near the Dead Sea, and in the middle, near the Sea of Galilee, was another city called “House of the Moon-god,” Bet Yerah, just a day’s walk from a huge stone monument shaped like the crescent moon. In other words, there were moon-god worshipers all along the Jordan Rift Valley from about 3000 BC until the time of the conquest of Canaan.

The Yarikhu were one of five tribes in a confederation called the Binu Yamina, a name that means “sons of the right hand.” Since Mesopotamians oriented themselves by facing east, the direction of the rising sun, the Binu Yamina were considered “southerners,” while the Binu Simʾal (“sons of the left hand”) were “northerners.”[10] This was more or less how the tribes’ pastureland was distributed in western Mesopotamia.[11]

As a side note, “Binu Yamina” was just the Amorite way of saying “Benjamin.” That doesn’t mean there was any connection to the Israelite tribe of Benjamin, but it confirms that the culture described in the Bible is consistent with what archaeologists have been digging out of the ground for the last two hundred years.

The presence of cities and a tribe bearing the Amorite name of the moon-god suggests that Yarikh/Sîn was one of the more prominent gods of Canaan. God knew it. It’s no coincidence that Jericho, the city of the moon-god, was the first objective in the Holy Land. Let’s examine the record and consider the evidence.

First of all, pay attention to dates in the Bible. They’re included when they’re important.

While the people of Israel were encamped at Gilgal, they kept the Passover on the fourteenth day of the month in the evening on the plains of Jericho. And the day after the Passover, on that very day, they ate of the produce of the land, unleavened cakes and parched grain. And the manna ceased the day after they ate of the produce of the land. And there was no longer manna for the people of Israel, but they ate of the fruit of the land of Canaan that year.

Joshua 5:10–12

God started those daily deliveries of manna (except on the Sabbath) forty years earlier on the very day the Israelites entered the Wilderness of Sin, the fifteenth day of the second month after leaving Egypt. Passover is always in the month of Nisan, the first month of the year in the Hebrew calendar. So, the attack on Jericho, which began shortly thereafter, occurred on or about the fifteenth of Nisan. Not only was this the anniversary of the night in Egypt when God had convinced the oppressors of Israel to let His people go, it means Joshua’s attack on the city of the moon-god was during the first full moon of the new year!

But it’s even cooler than that. Have you ever wondered why God told Joshua and the Israelites to march around Jericho for seven days? We’ll explain that next time.

[1] Total population about 9.5 million.

[2] Numbers 21:21–22.

[3] Ugartitic text KTU 1.108. Nicolas Wyatt, “After Death Has Us Parted.” In The Perfumes of the Seven Tamarisks: Studies in Honor of Wilfred G. E. Watson (Münster: Ugarit-Verlag, 2012), 272.

[4] KTU 1.100, line 41.

[5] From Ugaritic bṯn (“serpent”). Lete, del O. G., “Bashan.” In K. van der Toorn, B. Becking, & P. W. van der Horst (Eds.), Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible (2nd extensively rev. ed) (Leiden; Boston; Köln; Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge: Brill; Eerdmans, 1999), 161.

[6] Derek P. Gilbert, Last Clash of the Titans: The Second Coming of Hercules, Leviathan, and the Prophesied War Between Jesus Christ and the Gods of Antiquity (Crane, Mo.: Defender, 2018), 170–173.

[7] Deuteronomy 3:11.

[8] Timo Veijola, “King Og’s Iron Bed (Deut 3:11): Once Again,” Studies in the Hebrew Bible, Qumran, and the Septuagint (ed. Peter W. Flint et al. VTSup 101 (Leiden: Brill, 2003), 63.

[9] Wolfgang Heimpel, Letters to the King of Mari: A New Translation, with Historical Introduction, Notes, and Commentary (Winona Lake, In.: Eisenbrauns, 2003), 16.

[10] Daniel E. Fleming, Democracy’s Ancient Ancestors: Mari and Early Collective Governance (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 9–10.

[11] Daniel E. Fleming, “Mari and the Possibilities of Biblical Memory.” Revue d’Assyriologie et d’archéologie orientale, Vol. 92, No. 1 (1998), 61–62.


  1. Excellent! Thank you for sharing.

  2. Thank you, awesome content!

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