When Did Jericho's Walls Fall?

Brian Kuehmichel

June 16, 2002



Take your shovel and push it down into the soil and rubble beside a crumbling building or in an old garbage dump. Turn out that scoop and perhaps many more of material and thoughtfully examine all of the material for evidence. Then decide what was there from bygone days that left such evidence that you uncovered. That is a simplification of archaeology.


Sometimes the exhaustive and painstaking work will bring to light part of an old building, pieces or whole vessels of pottery, remnants of tools, toys, jewelry, coins, bones, and other miscellany including seeds and stored foods. Deciphering the original time period of the evidence, the culture of the people depositing these artifacts, and perhaps their ancestry is a difficult and subjective task. Few written materials are found to explain what happened, when the event(s) occurred and under what circumstances to leave behind the current evidence. How often the evidence was disturbed before it reached its present state is also unknown and leaves great gray areas of subjective interpretation by the archaeologists researching their 'dig.' With extensive global trade occurring 3000 and more years ago unearthing an item today does not truly tell its origin and time of creation because not only did people trade items in commerce they often imported skilled craftsman and artisans from other areas to make items and/or accomplish the building of some structure.

These and other facts highlight the controversy regarding excavations of various cities, palaces, courtyards, houses, wells, tombs and other structures and artifacts. Everything is not so simple and plain that archaeologists agree on the interpretation of the evidence as presently found in the excavation. Thus the published research of each archaeologist can be fraught with subjective bias. For an example consider the controversy regarding the excavations at Jericho.

This event in Israel's history is recorded in Joshua 4:19 through 6:27 and is so well known that it stands as a reminder of God causing the impossible to become a reality. But sceptics assert that it is folk legend and has no basis in facts about a real event. Their negative view on this Biblical account of Jericho is based upon excavations during the 1950's under the direction of British archaeologist Kathleen Kenyon. Her report included this statement:
"It is a sad fact that of the town walls of the Late Bronze Age, within which period the attack by the Israelites must fall by any dating, not a trace remains ... The excavation of Jericho, therefore, has thrown no light on the walls of Jericho of which the destruction is so vividly described in the Book of Joshua.1

Thomas A. Holland concluded with this summary statement as the editor and co-author of Kathleen Kenyon's report:
"Kenyon concluded, with reference to the military conquest theory and the LB [Late Bronze Age] walls, that there was no archaeological data to support the thesis that the town had been surrounded by a wall at the end of LB I [ca. 1400 BC]." 2

Since that excavation period much more evidence has been collected and emphasizes another conclusion.


JERICHO'S FORTRESS WALLS

In Deuteronomy 9:1 Moses said to the assembly of Israel, "Hear, O Israel: Thou art to pass over Jordan this day, to go in to possess nations greater and mightier than thyself, cities great and fenced up to heaven." This was indeed the findings of Kenyon's careful work. The city of Jericho was located on a large hill which provided a strategic position of defense against the surrounding terrain. The Canaanite inhabitants raised up a great rampart of soil and stone with a supporting wall at the base. This foundation or base was four to five meters (12-15 feet) tall and continued above with a mud-brick wall about two meters (6 feet) thick.3 This would be a considerable defense structure. Since the base of the hill had this retaining wall the city would effectively be raised above the surrounding countryside perhaps 10 to 15 meters(31-46 feet) and continue to rise toward the crest of the hill. Then another wall closer in toward the hilltop continued above this to form the inner part of the city.

The area contained by this upper city wall would be about 155 by 155 meters (six acres). Archaeologists use a general assessment of about 200 people per acre and estimate that Jericho's population would have been 1,200 people. Early in the 1900's German excavators had learned that inhabitants lived between the outer and inner walls on the embankment. At the time Israel drew near to Jericho many Canaanites from the surrounding fields would have sought refuge inside the fortress swelling its inhabitants and defenders to perhaps several thousand.


THE FLATTENED WALLS 

During the excavations of Jericho (1930-36) [John] Garstang found something so startling that a statement of what was found was prepared and signed by himself and two other members of the team. In reference to these findings, Garstang says, "As to the main fact, then, there remains no doubt: the walls fell outwards so completely that the attackers would be able to clamber up and over their ruins into the city." Why so unusual? Because the walls of cities do not fall outwards, they fall inwards. And yet in JOSHUA 6:20 we read "...The wall fell down flat, so that the people went up into the city every man straight ahead, and they took the city." The walls were made to fall outward." 4

The inhabitants had prepared well for an attack and siege. They had numerous earthen vessels filled with grain found in the houses. The harvest time was about completed (Joshua 3:15) and the city's water supply was a spring inside the walls which still flows today. This was verified by John Garstang in his excavation in the 1930s and later by Kenyon when they found many large jars full of grain in the Canaanite homes. The excavations showed evidence of fire debris on top of various items and this would be consistent with the account in Joshua 6:24, "And they burnt the city with fire, and all that was therein: only the silver, and the gold, and the vessels of brass and of iron, they put into the treasury of the house of the LORD." See: REFERENCES AND NOTES

The Israelites in Joshua 6:15-16 "compassed the city after the same manner seven times... and it came to pass at the seventh time, when the priests blew with the trumpets, Joshua said unto the people, Shout; for the LORD hath given you the city... 20 and the people shouted with a great shout, that the wall fell down flat, so that the people went up into the city, every man straight before him, and they took the city." The evidence shows that the outer mud-brick wall fell outward beside the base 5. The ramp made by the fallen rubble provided the means for the Israelites to be able to ascend to the city "every man straight before him". Kenyon's detailed report of the excavation work stated they had found "fallen red bricks piling nearly to the top of the revetment. These probably came from the wall on the summit of the bank [and/or] the brickwork above the revetment." 6 In 1997 an Italian team excavating at the southern end of the mound found the same thing. Stated plainly, they found a ramp of bricks from the fallen city walls for the Israelites to clamber up to the city from all sides. The city of Jericho was destroyed about 1400 BC (end of the Late Bronze I period), exactly when the Bible says the Conquest occurred.7


DESTRUCTION BY FIRE

Kenyon showed that Jericho was a very fortified city and that it had been burned by fire. The excavations on the east side showed evidence of fire. The archaeologists found a layer of burned ash and debris about one meter(three feet) thick. This would be consistent with the account in Joshua 6:24, "And they burnt the city with fire, and all that was therein: only the silver, and the gold, and the vessels of brass and of iron, they put into the treasury of the house of the LORD." Her report states:
"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." 8

The storage jars full of grain that had been caught in the fiery destruction were found by both Garstang and Kenyon. For archaeology this was a special discovery because grain was valuable. It was a source of food and used as a commodity for bartering. Normally every conqueror would have plundered all the food and all usable materials from the conquered city. However Joshua 9:17-19 explains everything:

"And the city shall be accursed, even it, and all that are therein, to the LORD: only Rahab the harlot shall live, she and all that are with her in the house, because she hid the messengers that we sent. And ye, in any wise keep yourselves from the accursed thing, lest ye make yourselves accursed, when ye take of the accursed thing, and make the camp of Israel a curse, and trouble it. But all the silver, and gold, and vessels of brass and iron, are consecrated unto the LORD: they shall come into the treasury of the LORD."

The Israelites obeyed and the grain remained for others to find later. The inhabitants of Jericho probably felt they could survive a long siege with their spring of water and food store. But God could flatten an impregnable city in seven uneventful days while their full jars of grain remained as silent testimonials.


A STANDING WALL

The German excavation team noted that inhabitants lived on the embankment outside the inner city wall. Since the embankment area was probably less defendable and may have been inhabited by the poorer or lower ranking citizens, Rahab's house could have been attached to the outer two meter thick mud-brick wall, "for her house was upon the town wall, and she dwelt upon the wall." Joshua 2:15 According to the account in vs18 Rahab was to bring her father, mother and siblings into her home and she was promised protection there. The German excavation of 1907-1909 showed a most significant finding at the north end of the hill or "tell of Jericho". A section of the mud-brick wall over two meters(8 feet) tall remained and it had houses built against it. Now it is possible this was Rahab's dwelling 9 and since the outer wall formed the back wall of the house the spies could have been lowered down from there. "Then she let them down by a cord through the window: for her house was upon the town wall, and she dwelt upon the wall." The northern end of Jericho was close to the hills of the Judean wilderness where the spies "went, and came unto the mountain, and abode there three days." Joshua 2:15,16, 22 Later when the city walls fell Rahab and her family could have been rescued according to the promise of the Israelite spies.


THE PROBLEM OF JERICHO10

Various ideas are proposed to explain the falling of Jericho's thick fortress walls. Garstang and Kenyon found evidence of earthquake activity at the time the excavated walls collapsed and the city was destroyed. God certainly could use an earthquake occurring at the precise time when "the people shouted with a great shout, that the wall fell down flat". Hebrews 11:30 simply says "by faith the walls of Jericho fell down" after Israel marched around them one time each day for six days and seven times around Jericho's walls on the seventh day. Obedience to God's directions made all the difference in Joshua's day and it will do the same today for me and you!

Archaeologists thought the Bible had a problem because there seemed to be no evidence to support the Biblical account until the evidence was reexamined carefully. Dr Bryant Wood says:
"Jericho was once thought to be a 'Bible problem' because of the seeming disagreement between archaeology and the Bible. When the archaeology is correctly interpreted, however, just the opposite is the case. The archaeological evidence supports the historical accuracy of the biblical account in every detail. Every aspect of the story that could possibly be verified by the findings of archaeology is, in fact, verified."11


For more information on archaeology and the Bible contact:
Associates for Biblical Research, 31 East Frederick St., Suite 468, Walkersville MD 21793-82324.
Visit the ABR web site. http://www.biblearchaeology.org/

Or visit Archeology and the Bible here.



REFERENCES AND NOTES

For a schematic cross-section diagram of the fortification system at Jericho based on Kenyon's west trench see: link 1 & link 2

1 - Kathleen M. Kenyon, "Digging Up Jericho", London, Ernest Benn, pp. 261-62 1957.

2 - Thomas A. Holland, "Jericho", pp. 220-24 in The Oxford Encyclopedia of Archaeology in the Near East, Vol. 3, ed. Eric. M. Myers, New York, Oxford University Press, p. 223, 1997.

3 - Ernst Sellin and Carl Watzinger, "Jericho die Ergebnisse der Ausgrabungen", Osnabrück, Otto Zeller Verlag, p. 58, 1973 (reprint of the 1913 edition).

4 - Josh McDowell, "Evidence That Demands A Verdict" - Here's Life Publishers

5 - The root of the word tahteyha in Jos 6:5, 20 is tahath, meaning 'underneath', or 'below' implying the upper wall fell at the base of the wall.

6 - Kathleen M. Kenyon, "Excavations at Jericho", 3:110, London, British School of Archaeology in Jerusalem, 1981.

7 - Bryant G. Wood, "Did the Israelites Conquer Jericho?", Biblical Archaeology Review 16(2):44-58, March-April 1990.

8 - Kenyon, Excavations at Jericho, 3:370.

9 - The Hebrew phrase in Jos 2:15 is beqîr hahômah. Usually qîr means a small wall, but can also indicate the vertical surface of a wall. Brown, Driver and Briggs' lexicon suggests this for Joshua 2:15 (p. 885), and in this case the preposition would mean 'against'(p. 89). Thus, literally, 'her house [was built] against [the] vertical surface of the [city] wall.'

10 - J.P. Holding, "The Critics Came Tumblin' Down", www.tektonics.org/tekton_05_04_01.html
Revised link - http://www.tektonics.org/gk/jericho.html

11 - Bryant G. Wood, "Archaeology Confirms: They Really Did Come A-Tumblin' Down", Creation Ex Nihilo 21(2):36-40, March-May 1999.