A Visit to Jericho: The Tel tells the Tale

(Excerpted from “WHO’S LAND IS IT? ARCHAEOLOGICAL EVIDENCE FOR A JEWISH CLAIM TO THE LAND OF ISRAEL”

me at jericho
Me at Jericho. Behind me is Kenyon’s southern archaeological trench. Above my head are three UFO’s flying in formation… yikes! Oh, those are just cable cars going to the monastery on the mountain.

Jericho

The Scriptures tell us that God commanded Israel to completely annihilate the Canaanites, but only in a protracted campaign against specific people groups were they to “not leave alive anything that breathes” (Deut. 20:16-17). The ethical question “why were the Canaanites singled out for such severe treatment?” has perplexed scholars and laypersons for centuries. Yet, there is a reasonable answer that should satisfy anyone with a sober sense of justice and mercy.

Why the Destruction?
The Canaanites had sunk to an unthinkable and incredibly low state of moral depravity to the point where they would burn their living children to death in honor of their gods (Lev. 18:21), as well as practicing sodomy, bestiality, and other assorted evil, repulsive acts (Lev. 18:23, 24, 20:3). The Scripture indicates that when the inhabitants corrupt themselves to an excessive degree, the land itself begins to “vomit” them out (Lev. 18:25, 27-30). Thus they were not only to be cut off as a punishment, but God was sending a message—to protect and prevent Israel and the rest of mankind from being further corrupted (Deut. 20:16-18)—and God would use Israel to accomplish the mission.

The story of Jericho is one of the most famous stories of the Old Testament:  Joshua and the Israelites marched around the city, blew the trumpets, and the walls came tumbling down. But did it really happen that way, and at the time the Bible indicates?

jericho
The ancient tel of Jericho viewed from the (alleged) Mount of Temptation Monastery. Kenyon’s western trench is seen in the middle.

John Garstang

In 1930 British archaeologist John Garstang launched an expedition to excavate Jericho. His team dug until 1936 and after WWII, he published an account of his final views on Jericho.[1]

Garstang excavated a collapsed double city wall on the summit of the tel—or man-made mound and archaeological site with several layers of civilizations—that he dated to the late-15th to early 14th-century B.C.E. (the Late Bronze Age). He also excavated a residential area which he named City IV, on the southeast slope of the mound, which he believed was part of the city fortified by a double wall—it had been completely destroyed in a violent, fiery conflagration. Garstang determined that Jericho came to an end about 1400 B.C.E., based on pottery found in the destruction debris. He ascribed the destruction to the invading Israelites:

In a word, in all material details and in date the fall of Jericho took place as described in the Biblical narrative. Our demonstration is limited, however, to material observations: the walls fell, shaken apparently by earthquake, and the city was destroyed by fire, about 1400 B.C. These are the basic facts resulting from our investigations. The link with Joshua and the Israelites is only circumstantial but it seems to be solid and without a flaw.[2]

Kathleen Kenyon

In the 1950’s another British archaeologist, Kathleen Kenyon, led a dig at Jericho which employed a stratigraphic excavation technique, in which a series of vertical trenches were dug to analyze the soil layers and the relationship to the architecture at the site. Kenyon made some amazing discoveries, determining that Garstang’s City IV had an impressive fortification system, the type of which was not really understood until Kenyon’s careful work at Jericho. This system consisted first of all of a 15 foot high stone “revetment” wall at the base of the mound. At the northern end of the site, remnants of an 8 foot high mudbrick parapet wall, on top of the stone wall, was found. It is likely that this parapet wall originally extended all the way around the city.

The revetment wall held in place a massive packed-earth embankment or rampart with a plastered face that extended to the top of the tel. Atop this earthen embankment was yet another city wall. Unfortunately, the upper portion of the embankment on the rest of the tel has eroded away. Today, though the upper wall that surrounded City IV when it was finally destroyed does not survive, the lower revetment wall and most of the embankment still exist and can be seen.

Despite the fact that the area where the upper wall once stood is gone, there is amazing evidence from Kenyon’s own detailed report that this wall came tumbling down and, in the words of the Biblical account, “fell down flat”, or literally, “fell beneath itself” (Joshua 6:20). Kenyon made three cuts through the city’s ramparts—on the north, west and south. In all three cuts, she carried her excavation to the lower revetment wall; in the west cut, however, she went even beyond the revetment wall to the area outside the wall.

What Kenyon found outside the revetment wall in the west cut was astonishing. There, she found bricks from the city wall above that had collapsed. Kenyon describes how the upper wall was constructed out of red bricks, and that there was a “heavy fill of fallen red [mud]bricks piling nearly to the top of the revetment [wall]. These [red bricks] probably came from the wall on the summit of the bank [emphasis added].”[3]

It appears that a wall made of red mudbricks existed either on top of the tel, as Kenyon claims, or on the top of the revetment wall itself, or both, until the final destruction of City IV. The red mudbricks came tumbling down, falling over the outer revetment wall at the base of the tel. There the red mudbricks came to rest in a heap,[4] essentially creating a ramp around the city whereby, just as the Scripture states: “the people went up into the city, every man straight ahead, and they took the city” (Joshua 6:20b).

jericho bricks
Remains of red bricks and additional stonework near the north end of Jericho.

Remnants of the final phase of City IV were also found on the southeast slope, just above the spring, by both Garstang and Kenyon. They both concluded that City IV was massively destroyed in a violent conflagration[5] that left a layer of destruction debris a minimum of a yard thick across the entire excavation area.[6]Again, Kenyon describes the scene:

The destruction was complete. Walls and floors were blackened or reddened by fire, and every room was filled with fallen bricks, timbers, and household utensils; in most rooms the fallen debris was heavily burnt, but the collapse of the walls of the eastern rooms seems to have taken place before they were affected by the fire.”[7]

The last observation in this quotation suggests that an earthquake preceded the destruction by fire, which again coincides with the Biblical account: “They burned the city with fire, and all that was in it” (Joshua 6:24).

Grain

Interestingly, the most abundant item found in the destruction, apart from pottery, was grain. Both Garstang and Kenyon found large quantities of charred grain stored in the ground-floor rooms of the houses.[8] In her limited excavation area—remember, rather than excavating a broad area, Kenyon’s expedition dug trenches—Kenyon recovered six bushels of grain in one season![9] This is unique in the history of what is called “Palestinian archaeology.” Perhaps a jar or two might be found, but to find such an extensive amount of grain is considered exceptional. Why?

In ancient times grain was considered very valuable, and even used as a medium of exchange. The presence of these grain stores in the destroyed city is entirely consistent with the Biblical account. Jericho did not fall as a result of a starvation siege, as was common in ancient times, but rather, the Bible tells us Jericho was destroyed in a single day (Joshua 6:15,20).

brick kiln or storage
I am not sure what this is: perhaps a well (long since filled in), or a kiln, or storage area, possibly for grain.

Normally, successful attackers would plunder a city after capture, including valuable grain, but this is not consistent with the grain found here. The Israelites were told that “the city and all that is within it shall be devoted to the Lord for destruction,” and they were commanded, “Keep yourselves from the things devoted to destruction” (Joshua 6:17-18). So the Israelites were forbidden to take any plunder from Jericho, which could explain why so much grain was left to burn when Jericho met its end.

One other interesting note regarding the grain and the season of the event: the city fell shortly after the Spring harvest, just after Passover (Joshua 5:10). This is precisely when the Bible says the Israelites attacked Jericho: Rahab was drying freshly harvested flax on the roof of her house (Joshua 2:6); and the Israelites crossed the Jordan while it was in flood at harvest time (Joshua 3:15).

Yet with all of Kenyon’s amazing discoveries, her conclusions regarding the date of Jericho’s demise conflicted with Garstang’s. She concluded that the wall Garstang associated with the Israelite invasion should have been dated to the Early Bronze Age some 1,000 years earlier. Thus the destruction of Jericho, which Garstang had dated to about 1400 B.C.E., occurred, according to Kenyon, at about 1550 B.C.E., 150 years before the time of Joshua. [10]

Obviously this is a problem for Bible literalists. The Exodus occurred c. 1445 B.C.E., and with Israel wandering in the wilderness for 40 years, the Biblical account of the fall of Jericho would be placed c. 1405 B.C.E. If the destruction of Jericho occurred a thousand years earlier there would be no fortified city to be conquered, and the Bible story is just that: a bible story, a myth, and nothing more.

Kenyon’s view would endure for another 30 years, with academic consensus going against the biblical version. Because of Kenyon’s death in 1978, her research at Jericho was never fully published until the early 1980’s. However, after years of research Dr. Bryant Wood, an ancient-pottery expert then at the University of Toronto released his analysis of Kenyon’s data. In a Time magazine article from May 1990, Wood explains how Kenyon erred with the earlier date, and why he prefers Garstang’s date of 1400 B.C.E.:

Kenyon’s dating of Jericho’s destruction was based largely on the fact that she failed to find a type of decorative pottery imported from Cyprus, that was popular in the region around 1400 B.C. Its absence, she reasoned, meant that the city had long since become uninhabited. But Wood argues that Kenyon’s excavations were made in a poorer part of the city, where the expensive imported pottery would have been absent in any case. And he says that other pottery, dug up in Jericho in the 1930s, was common in 1400 B.C.[11]

Wood further explains:

Kenyon based her conclusions on a very limited excavation area—two 26-foot by 26-foot squares. An argument from silence is always problematic, but Kenyon’s argument is especially poorly founded. In other words, Kenyon’s analysis was based on what was not found at Jericho rather than what was found. According to Kenyon, City IV must have been destroyed at the end of the Middle Bronze Age (c. 1550 B.C.E.) because no imported Cypriote ware—diagnostic for the ensuing Late Bronze I period—was found at Jericho.

jericho.kenyons2digspots
Kenyon’s two 26-foot by 26-foot square excavation areas.

Dating habitation levels at Jericho on the absence of exotic imported wares – which were found primarily in tombs in large urban centers – is methodologically unsound and, indeed, unacceptable. Kenyon drew her comparative material from large cities like Megiddo situated on major trade routes far from Jericho. Jericho, by contrast, is a small site[12] well off the major trade routes of the day.[13]

So, was the destruction of Jericho at the hands of the Israelites? Let’s review the correlation between the archaeological evidence and the Biblical account:

  • The city was strongly fortified (Joshua 2:5,7,15, 6:5,20).
    • The attack occurred just after harvest time in the spring (Joshua 2:6, 3:15, 5:10).
    • The inhabitants had no opportunity to flee with their foodstuffs (Joshua 6:1).
    • The siege was short (Joshua 6:15).
    • The walls were leveled, possibly by an earthquake (Joshua 6:20).
    • The city was not plundered (Joshua 6:17-18).
    • The city was burned (Joshua 6:20).

Although the debate over when the destruction of Jericho occurred continues to be hotly contested, from the overwhelming evidence it is undeniable that the destruction of Jericho occurred just as the Bible says. Additionally, two other towns were attacked and burned in a similar fashion as Jericho: Ai and Hazor (Joshua 8:28, 11:11): the archaeological evidence confirms that both towns were destroyed c. 1400, and burned to the ground.

Yet, modern scholarship has attempted to deny that Joshua led a military campaign into Canaan. Rather, they have opted to craft a myth that the indigenous Canaanites joined the “Yahweh cult” and eventually became the Israelites, conveniently doing away with the Biblical account. But the evidence of Jericho, Ai and Hazor speaks to the contrary, and testifies that Joshua did fight the battle of Jericho and other towns in Canaan. Thus by 1405 B.C.E., the Jewish people were back from Egypt, and were present in the Land.

For the complete paper on WHO’S LAND IS IT?: ARCHAEOLOGICAL EVIDENCE FOR A JEWISH CLAIM TO THE LAND OF ISRAEL, click here: Whos Land is It: Archaeological Evidence

For more about Jericho from Dr. Bryant Wood, click here: http://www.biblearchaeology.org/bookstore/product.aspx?id=107

and here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e5Fjth9T12U

Notes:

                [1] John Garstang, and J.B.E. Garstang, The Story of Jericho, John Garstang and J.B.E. Garstang, The Story of Jericho. London: Marshall, Morgan and Scott, Rev. ed. London: Marshall, Morgan and Scott, rev. ed., 1948.

                [2] John Garstang, “Jericho, and the Biblical Story”, p. 1222.

[3] Kathleen Kenyon, “Jericho 3,” 110.

[4] John Garstang, “Jericho: Sir Charles Marston’s Expedition,” 128.

[5] John Garstang, “The Walls of Jericho. The Marston-Melchett Expedition,” p. 192; “Jericho: City and Necropolis,” LAAA 21, pp. 122-123; “The Fall of Bronze Age Jericho,” p. 68; “Jericho and the Biblical Story,” p. 1220; Garstang and Garstang, The Story of Jericho, p. 123. Kenyon, Digging Up Jericho, p. 232; Archaeology in the Holy Land, pp. 171, 181-182; Jericho 3, pp. 368- 370.

[6] It is clear that the destruction continued beyond the excavation area, since erosion debris from upslope was colored brown, black and red by the burnt material it contained (Kenyon, Archaeology In the Holy Land, p. 182).

[7] Kenyon, Jericho 3, p. 370.

[8] John Garstang, “The Walls of Jericho. The Marston-Melchett Expedition,” pp. 193-194; “Jericho: City and Necropolis,” LAAA 21, 123, 128, 129; “The Fall of Bronze Age Jericho,” p. 66; “Jericho and the Biblical Story,” p. 1218. Kenyon, Archaeology in the Holy Land, p. 171; Jericho 3, pp. 369-370.

[9] Kenyon, Digging Up Jericho, p. 230.

[10] Kenyon, Digging Up Jericho (London: Ernest Benn, 1957), p. 262; “Jericho,” in Archaeology and Old Testament Study (AOTS) ed. D. Winton Thomas (Oxford: Clarendon, 1967), pp. 265- 267; “Jericho,” in Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land (EAEHL), vol. 2, ed. Michael Avi-Yonah (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1976), pp. 551, 564; The Bible in Recent Archaeology (Atlanta: John Knox, 1978), pp. 33-37.

[11] Michael D. Lemonick;Katherine L. Mihok,  Science: Score One for the Bible, Time Magazine; NEW YORK, Monday, Mar. 05, 1990

[12] The area inside the city wall was originally about 5-6 acres (John Garstang, “The Walls of Jericho. The Marston-Melchett Expedition of 1931,” PEFQS 1931, p. 186; “Jericho: City and Necropolis,” LAAA 19, p. 3), while the total area, including the fortification system, was approximately twice that, or 10-12 acres (John Garstang, “The Walls of Jericho,” p. 187, and “Jericho: City and Necropolis,” LAAA 19, p. 3; Kenyon, “Jericho,” EAEHL, p. 550 [4 hectares = 9.9 acres]). Magen Broshi and Ram Gophna list the size of the site as 1.5 ha (3.7 acres; Broshi and Gophna, “Middle Bronze Age II Palestine: Its Settlements and Population,” BASOR 261 [1986], Table 4), but this is no doubt the estimated size of the site as it is today. A considerable portion of the tell was removed in the construction of the reservoir and the modern road.

[13] Bryant G. Wood PhD, Did the Israelites Conquer Jericho? A New Look at the Archaeological Evidence; May 01, 2008. website: http://www.biblearchaeology.org/post/2008/05/01/Did-the-Israelites-Conquer-Jericho-A-New-Look-at-the-Archaeological-Evidence.aspx

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