The walls of Jericho (Joshua 6)

Old Testament Jericho has undergone four excavations: by Charles Warren (1867-1868), Ernst Sellin and Carl Watzinger (1907-1909), john Garstang (1930-1936) and Kathleen Kenyon (1952-1958). Unfortunately, the first three digs used methods modern archaeologists consider primitive and unreliable, and the site has suffered from erosion.

Watzinger concluded that Jericho was unoccupied during the Late Bronze Age, when it was supposed to have been destroyed by Joshua, while Garstang determined that the heavily fortified city was destroyed late in this period. But Kenyon argued that it was annihilated at the end of the Middle Bronze Age, around 1550 B.C., after which it boasted at best a meager settlement through the Late Bronze period – leaving no fortified city for Joshua to destroy.

Dating issues aside, much of the archaeological data corresponds with the Biblical account:

Jericho’s prominence (Joshua 5-6) and wealth (Joshua 7:21) suggests a great city. Excavations have shown that Jericho had massive defences. Its tell (mound composed of remains of successive settlements) was surrounded by an earthen embankment stabilized by a 4,6 m stone wall. Atop the remaining wall stood a free-standing mud brick wall about 1,8 m thick and three or four times as high. A similar wall topped the embankment.

Jericho’s mud brick walls crumpled in a heap at the base of the retaining wall (Joshua 6:20). Archaeologists suggest that an earthquake took place and that the fallen bricks formed a ramp by which the Israelites surmounted the retaining wall.

A 0,9 m high ash layer verifies a massive conflagration (fire) (Joshua 6:24).

There are indications of plague in Jericho before its fall (cf. Numbers 25:8-9).

Joshua 3:15 states that Israel forded the Jordan at harvest time. Collaborating evidence includes Rahab’s drying of flax on her roof (Joshua 2:6) and Israel’s Passover celebration (a springtime festival observed just prior to harvest) immediately before the battle (Joshua 5:10).

Full jars of recently harvested grain confirm the brevity of the siege (Joshua 6:15).

That Jericho’s grain was left to burn is extraordinary, suggesting that the invaders had an unusual reason for leaving it intact (see Joshua 6:17-19).

The details surrounding the destruction of Jericho City IV thus closely parallel what we read in the Bible. Unfortunately, the date of the fall of this city remains a problem. If, as Watzinger and Kenyon argued, Jericho fell around 1550 B.C., there would have been no significant city there when Joshua arrived around 1400 B.C. Nevertheless, however one deals with the chronological problem, there is much about City IV to encourage the Christian reader about the reliability og the Joshua 6 account.

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