The Historical Accuracy of the Fall
The historical accuracy of the fall of Jericho has lain under a cloud of doubt in the minds of many for more than three decades John Garstang, a professor at the University of Liverpool, excavated Jericho between 1930 and 1936. Garstang identified a destruction level at the ancient site which he called City IV. He concluded that this was the occupation level which paralleled the city of Joshua's day, and that the biblical account was accurate. Jericho had fallen to Israel about 1400 B.C. He wrote: "In a word, in all material details and in date the fall of Jericho took place as described in the Biblical narrative" (Garstang, 1937, p. 1222). For several years scholars generally accepted Garstang's conclusions. However, that was to radically change.
From 1952 to 1958, Kathleen Kenyon, of the British School of Archaeology (daughter of famed archaeologist, Sir Frederic Kenyon) supervised an expedition at Jericho. Her work was the most thorough and scientific that had been done at this site. Her team unearthed a significant amount of evidence, but surprisingly, Kenyon's interpretation of the data was radically different from Garstang's. She contended that City IV had been destroyed about 1550 B.C. and therefore there was no fortress city for Joshua to conquer around 1400 B.C. She suggested that the archaeological evidence discredited the biblical record! And, not surprisingly, a sizable segment of scholars fell dutifully into line. Whenever there appears to be an apparent conflict between the Bible and other data, there is always a certain group that immediately calls the Scriptures into question. They never have the patience to wait for the more complete picture. Comments like those of Magnusson are typical: "... on a purely literary level, the Book of Joshua reads more like an adventure story than history ... there is no archaeological evidence to support it" (Magnusson, 1977, p.96). One of the most curious elements of this whole matter, however, is the fact that, prior to her death in 1978, Kathleen Kenyon's opinions regarding Jericho had been published only in a popular book (Kenyon, 1957), in a few scattered artides, and in a series of preliminary field reports. The detailed record of her work was not made available until 1982-83, and an independent analysis of evidence is bringing to light some startling new conclusions!
The March/April 1990 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review (BAR), certainly no "fundamentalist" journal, contains an article titled, "Did the Israelites Conquer Jericho? - A New Look at the Archaeological Evidence," authored by Dr Bryant G. Wood. Dr Wood is a visiting professor in the department of Near Eastern studies at the University of Toronto. He has served in responsible supervisory positions on several archaeological digs in Palestine. In this scholarly article, Wood contends: "When we compare the archaeological evidence at Jericho with the Biblical narrative describing the Israelite destruction of Jericho, we find a quite remarkable agreement" (1990, p. 53, emp. added). The professor emphasizes several major points of agreement between the archaeological evidence and the record in the book of Joshua. We summarize as follows:
1) The Bible indicates that Jericho was a strongly fortified city. It was surrounded by a "wall," and access to the fortress could only be obtained through the city gate (Joshua 2:5,7,15; 6:5,20). BAR notes: "The city's outer defenses consisted of a stone revetment wall [some 15 feet high] at the base of the tell [hill] that held in place a high, plastered rampart. Above the rampart on top of the tell was [the remnant of] a mudbrick wall [about 8 feet high at one point] which served as Jericho's city wall proper" (see Wood, 1990, p.46).
2) According to the Old Testament, the invasion occurred just foflowing the 14th day of Abib (March/April) (Joshua 5:10), thus in the springtime, or in the harvest season (3:15). Rahab was drying flax upon her roof (2:6). Both Garstang and Kenyon found large quantities of grain stored in the ruins of Jericho's houses. In a very limited excavation area, Kenyon found six bushels of grain in one digging season. "This," as Wood comments, "is unique in the annals of Palestinian archaeology" (1990, p. 56).
3) The biblical record affirms that the conquest was swiftly accomplished in only seven days (6:15). The people of Jericho were confined to the city with no chance to escape (6:1). The abundance of food supplies, as indicated above, confirms this. Had the citizens of Jericho been able to escape, they would have taken food with them. Had the siege been protracted, the food would have been consumed. The Old Testament record is meticulously accurate.
4) When the Israelites shouted with a great shout on the seventh day, the "wall fell down flat, so that the people went up into the city" (6:20; cf. Hebrews 11:30). Kenyon's excavations uncovered, at the base of Jericho's tell, a pile of red mud bricks which, she said, "probably came from the wall on the summit of the bank" (Kenyon, 1981, p.110; as quoted in Wood, 1990, p.54). She described the brick pile as the result of a wall's "collapse." Professor Wood states that the amount of bricks found in the cross-section of Kenyon's work-area would suggest an upper wall 6.5 feet wide and 12 feet high (1990, p.54).
5)According to the Scriptures, Jericho was to be a city "devoted" to God, hence, the Hebrews were to confiscate the silver and gold, and the vessels of bras and iron for Jehovah's treasury. How- ever, they were to take no personal possessions (6:17-19). The archaeological evidence confirms this. As indicated earlier a considerable amount of grain was found in Jericho. Grain, in biblical times, was exceedingly valuable, being frequently used as a monetary exchange (see 1 Kings 5:11). It is therefore unthinkable, unless by divine design, that the Israelites would have taken Jericho, and left the grain intact. The Bible is right!
6) The Scriptures state that during the destruction of Jericho, the city was set on fire (6:24). When Miss Kenyon dug down into the city she discovered that the walls and floors of the houses were "blackened or reddened by fire ... in most rooms the fallen debris was heavily burnt" (Kenyon, 1981, p. 370; as quoted in Wood, 1990, p. 56).
7) The Bible indicates that Rahab's house was built "upon the side of the wall, and she dwelt upon the wall" (2:15). A number of houses were found just inside the revetment wall, which could have abutted the wall [see point (1) above] thus easily accommodating an escape access from the city (Wood, 1990, p.56). The evidence indicates that this area was the "poor quarter" of the city - just the type of residence that one might expect a harlot to have.
8) Whereas Kathleen Kenyon contended that Jericho (City IV) had been destroyed about 1550 B.C., and abandoned thereafter, hence, there was no city for Joshua to conquer in 1400 B.C. (according to the biblical chronology), the actual evidence indicates otherwise. A cemetery outside of Jericho "has yielded a continuous series of Egyptian scarabs [small, beetle-shaped amulets, inscribed on the underside, often with the name of a pharaoh] from the 18th through the early 14th centuries B.C.E., contradicting Kenyon's claim that the city was abandoned after 1550 B.C.E." (Wood, 1990, p.53).
Other evidences indicate a harmony with the biblical chronology as well. There is ahsolutdy no reason to contend that the book of Joshua is in error in its description of the conquest of Jericho.
Editor's Note: Excerpted from "The Saga of Ancient Jericho" by Wayne Jackson in Reason & Revelation, April, 1990, Vol.X, No.4, published by Apologetics Press, Inc., 230 Landmark Drive, Montgomery, AL 36117-2752.
John Garstang (1937), Jencho and the Biblical Story," Wonders of the Past, ed. 3. A. Hammerton New York: wise).
Kathleen Kenyon (1957), Digging Up Jericho (London: Ernest Benn).
Kathleen Kenyon (1981), Excavations at Jericho, Vol.3: The Architecture and Stratigraphy of the Tell, ed. Thomas A. Holland (London: British School of Archaeology.)
Magnus Magnusson (1977,. Archaeology of the Bible (New York: Simon & Schuster).
Bryant C. Wood (1990), "Did the Israelites Conquer Jericho? - A New Look at the Archaeological Evidence," Biblical Archaeology Review, 16 : 44-58.