What are your thoughts on the 1995 radiocarbon dating performed on charred cereal remains found at Jericho’s (Tell Es-Sultan) Middle Bronze Age City IV which dated these remains to the 17th or early 16th century BC? (Link to report below) Many use this finding as a counter to Bryant Wood’s conclusion that the Middle Bronze Age Jericho wall dates to 1400 B.C. They claim that because these charred cereal remains found by Kathleen Kenyon are carbon date to the late 17th or early 16th century, then the Biblical narrative of Jericho being destroyed is incorrect since internal Biblical dating (1 Kings 6:1) might place the Jericho destruction by the Israelites at circa 1400 B.C. (well after the 17th/16th Century BC). This has caused me to wrestle in my faith and fight to trust that the Biblical narrative is indeed historical fact.


The account you heard of Kathleen Kenyon’s work is accurate.  She did find evidence of fire and destruction from the late seventeenth century BC.  Based on this, some have even used this to prove that the city was not destroyed in the late fifteenth century BC.  However, the Kenyon data certainly does not do this. I was at the biblical Jericho just a few months ago.  It is a very high tell, produced by literally thousands of years of occupation at the ancient site, beginning at least 8300 BC. I do not have the actual facts in front of me, but I believe there have been something like thirty distinct levels/layers of destruction and rebuilding of Jericho over the last ten thousand years.  That the city was destroyed and burned in the seventeenth century does not mean that it was not also destroyed and burned two hundred years later.  The fact that I lived in San Diego from 1986 to 1992 does not prove that I did not also live in San Diego from 2000 to 2018.  Besides, Kenyon is not the only or the most recent archaeologist to work in Jericho–not even close.  Her work was in the 1950s.  Many have dug in Jericho since then.  The latest evidence does indeed register a destruction of Jericho around 1400 BC, after which the city was only fairly lightly occupied.  Here is an article which seems to be a fair-minded summary of the current research.   I am including an excerpt below.  Here is the really quick version.  The dates for the end of major occupation of Jericho vary from about 1550 to about 1400 BC, based on stratigaphic, pottery and C-14 data.  The traditional date for the biblical destruction of Jericho by Israel lies within this range.  The C-14 data points more toward the earlier date and the pottery points more toward the later date.  Archaeology neither proves nor disproves the biblical account of the destruction of Jericho, but it is consistent with that account.

John Oakes

Simply put, there is an enormous range of error in the C14 dates pertaining to Jericho in my opinion. Dr. Bryant Woods published C14 dates of 1410 +/- 40 B.C. for charcoal from the destruction level of Jericho. This was later found to be in error and corrected to 1590 or 1527 +/- 110 B.C., depending on how one reads the calibration curve . Additional tests were done on six grain samples resulting in dates between 1640 and 1520 B.C. and 12 charcoal samples resulting in dates between 1690 and 1610 B.C. Woods’ dating of Jericho to ca. 1400 B.C. is primarily based on pottery, which, in turn, is based on Egyptian chronology. “Jericho is just one example of the discrepancy between historical and C14 dates for the second millennium B.C. C14 dates are consistently 100–150 years earlier than historical dates.”

Bryant Woods also explains in the March/April 1990 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review that Garstang was right all along. Woods proposed that the termination of City IV Jericho be redated from ca. 1550 B.C. to ca. 1400 B.C. He argued that a reanalysis of pottery sherds excavated from City IV, stratigraphic considerations, scarab evidence, and a single radiocarbon date all converged “to demonstrate that City IV was destroyed in about 1400 B.C.E., not 1550 B.C.E. as Kenyon maintained.”
Similar with Wood’s assessment, in The Quest For The Historical Israel, it’s explained that at many sites, The Late Bronze Age II cities were destroyed in large conflagrations and were dated to the late thirteenth century B.C.E and associated with the invading Israelites. The dating is associated with conventional chronology of Aegean pottery. This in turn was influenced by Canaan conquest stories in the Bible; another clear case of circular reasoning . Furthermore, archaeological excavations have shown that Jericho was not inhabited in the Late Bronze Age, and even it was, it was far less significant than explained in the Bible .

My principal observation and argument about the chronological dating of Jericho is the fact that every archaeologist involved in the excavations, has approached the site in different ways. This approach had yielded degrees of variation, which is to be expected when differing archaeological methods are used to assess a site. David Ussishkin noted that, recent excavators of Jericho and Shechem, including Kenyon, G. E. Wright, Dever, and their colleagues, have followed the “debris/layer excavation method”, and have tended to interpret constructional differences in monumental structures and different layers of debris associated with them as representing chronologically different phases of construction, settlement, and use . The problem is, this is not always the case. Some construction and debris layers are representative of one continual phase of one structure. It depends on the data collected. Stratigraphy layers can shift, and with that modification of layers, artifacts and building structures move as well. Therefore, dating the site to one particular year or range of years is virtually impossible, since environmental changes yield varying evidence overtime. For example, some individuals might interpret a wall, whose lower part is wider and built in a different style, than the top as having been built and used during two phases of settlement. Subsequently, they might see two overlaid debris surfaces covering the floor space of a building as two separate floors indicating two phases of use .

In conclusion, radicals date Jericho to 15th century and minimalists date it to 13th century. Kenyon dates it to 1550 B.C.E. based on the fact there were no walls at that time. Kathleen Kenyon never found pottery from Cyprus, but she failed to look for pottery of the Canaanites. This is an enormous issue considering she didn’t take into the account the social organization of Jericho at the time of the destruction. Therefore, she would have never found pottery from Cyprus, which represented a richer class of people. Garstang dated the site to 1400 B.C.E. according to biblical accounts and he then attributed his findings to the Late Bronze Period where biblical scholars expected it to be.

Kay Prag posits “both Trench I and Trench II suggest that the end of the occupation may have been brought about by earthquake and subsequent fire; but the massive and prolonged erosion that followed may have removed evidence for some later phases, and even for earlier phases”.

Wright decidedly believed that no such occupation was observed at Jericho from 1200 to 1500 B.C.E. and Finkelstein is an entirely new discussion. The problem seems to lie in the chronology and the reliability of the biblical narrative. It’s not a question as to whether Jericho existed, because it did. It’s also not a question as to whether people ever occupied the site of Jericho, because they could have, even as far back as the tenth century B.C.E, according to stratigraphic layers and common foodstuffs discovered. The issue seems to be that it’s “virtually” impossible to assess the site of Jericho because the biases of scholars alike cloud the actual archaeological evidence. Furthermore, the chronological dating of specific samples, as Bryant explained prior, gives us too many dates to pinpoint an actual point of destruction at Jericho. Consequently, stratigraphic layers are not always contemporaneous with each other. Sometimes strata in cultural layers are not obvious and sometimes they’re uniform. When you get a shift in cartography, you have to start a new layer. Subsequently, when you get to a cultural level you break it down into 10 cm arbitrary levels. I wonder if archaeologists like Kenyon and Garstang thought to do so?

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