Evidence at Jericho Supports Biblical Testimony

One excellent example of archaeology supporting the truth of the Bible made headlines in the press a few years ago. For several decades the prevailing archaeological opinion about the ancient city of Jericho was that it had been destroyed about 1550 BC and that there was no fortified city in existence in the time of Joshua (conservative scholars date Joshua’s destruction of Jericho at about 1400 BC). Kathleen Kenyon was the last archaeologist to do any serious, systematic excavating at the site of Jericho (Tell es-Sultan), and this was during the years 1952 to 1958. It was her interpretations and conclusions, including the 1550 BC destruction date, which remained normative and virtually unchallenged until 1990. No matter how one works the Biblical chronologies and the dates, the 1550 BC date is simply too early to coincide with the Biblical record. In fact, this date flatly contradicts the Word of God.

However, a reevaluation of the archaeological data not only supports a 1400 BC date for Jericho’s destruction, but provides evidence that matches the Biblical account on every detail. Because of the very professional and precise methods of recording an archaeological dig, other archaeologists not involved in the initial excavation can evaluate the published reports and interpret the evidence without even visiting the site. Near Eastern Studies scholar Bryant G. Wood (then of the University of Toronto), published these findings in the March/April 1990 issue of Biblical Archaeological Review . Wood’s own summary of his conclusions is as follows:

Correlation between the archaeological evidence and the biblical narrative is substantial:

  • 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 levelled, possibly by an earthquake (Joshua 6:20)
  • The city was not plundered (Joshua 6:17-18)
  • The city was burned (Joshua 6:24)

To arrive at the c. 1400 BC date, Wood took into consideration four lines of evidence: ceramic data (pottery fragments), stratigraphy, scarab evidence (Egyptian amulets with inscriptions) and radiocarbon dating. When analysing the pottery fragments found at Tell es-Sultan (Wood is an expert in ceramic seriation), he found that the most recent artifacts at the destruction level were from the Late Bronze I period (which agrees with the 1400 BC date), rather than the Middle Bronze III period (which Kenyon suggested). With regard to stratigraphy, Wood found that there were too many habitation layers to support a 1550 BC destruction date. Wood also noticed that the Egyptian scarab amulets (which can be dated by the names of reigning Pharaohs inscribed on them) found at the site were in a continuous series from the 18th century BC to the early 14th century BC. Finally, Wood cites the evidence of a Carbon\_14 dating sample, taken from the destruction debris, which was dated at 1410 BC (plus or minus forty years). All this evidence strongly supports the later c. 1400 BC date.

Perhaps most interesting of all is that the archaeological evidence points not only to a c. 1400 BC date, but a particular kind of destruction, which accurately correlates with the Joshua account. Kenyon concluded that the city had been destroyed by either the Hyksos (a Semitic people) or the Egyptians, but Wood points to several considerations that argue against this. For example, the Egyptians are known to have customarily laid siege to cities just prior to harvest, when food stores were at their lowest. Thus the Egyptian army could harvest the fields to feed their own troops, and put the inhabitants of the city in peril of starvation. However, the archaeological excavation yielded evidence of much stored grain, indicating both an attack just after harvest and that the siege was of a very short duration — short enough that the inhabitants hardly touched their supplies. This is exactly the scenario depicted in the Biblical account (Joshua 2:6, 3:15, 5:1 0).

Also of special note is the fact that the evidence shows that the city was not plundered, but rather that all the goods were burned with the destroyed city (for example, the grain stores discovered at the site were thoroughly incinerated). This was unusual in the ancient world, since booty was one of the primary motivations for attacking a city. Again, this evidence agrees with Scripture, which says that the city was not to be plundered wholesale, but rather to be put under the ban and for items of precious metal to be devoted to the LORD (Joshua 6:17-18).

The collapse of the walls of Jericho

Jericho’s walls shatter as an earthquake rumbles across the great rift of the Jordan Valley. At the bottom, the city’s stone revetment wall (large boulders) and the crenellated mudbrick parapet wall on top of it (smaller bricks) start to crumble. The mudbrick city wall on top of the tell cracks and tumbles down as well; the quake splits houses built on top of the earthen rampart between the lower and upper walls. Piles of crumbled bricks form rough ramps, allowing an invader to go directly into the fatally exposed city (description from Wood’s article).

Wood’s analysis also helps explain an aspect of the Joshua account that might otherwise have raised questions in the minds of readers. In Joshua 6:20 we are told that after the trumpet blast, “the walls fell down flat” and that “the people went up into the city” . Section drawings of the destroyed city show that Jericho’s walls were actually a two-tiered system, consisting of a stone-faced earth revetment wall, topped by a mudbrick parapet wall. The city was at least as high as the revetment wall, and the section drawings produced at the site show that it was the mudbrick parapet wall that had collapsed outward. As Wood points out, “the fallen bricks would have provided a convenient ramp for the Israelite army to go ‘up into the city'”.

The evidence Professor Wood presents corroborates exactly with the Bible. The facts match the Bible in every detail. In every way the archaeological evidence from Jericho testifies that the Biblical record is true, and that it is a record in which we can have faith and confidence.

For more detail: Did the Israelites Conquer Jericho? A New Look at the Archaeological Evidence

Other notable recent finds in Biblical archaeology:

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