Give you give a brief history of archaeological discoveries at Jericho, as well as a brief history of theories about their implications and the current state of knowledge about Jericho and its relevance to biblical statements about the city.


[Editor’s note: This answer comes from a student in our Christian Apologetics Certificate Program, Randy Hroziencik]

In 1867, the Palestine Exploration Fund surveyed various sites in Palestine. At this time Charles Warren dug some shafts at Jericho. One shaft, which was approximately nine feet deep, revealed some charred timber, but at this time in history there was no real means of dating either the wood or the strata – it would be a number of decades before radiocarbon dating came into existence, and in fact radioactivity in general would not even be known until the end of that century – and therefore the only fact that could be established was at some point in Jericho’s history some wood was burned, an obvious point that is essentially useless. There was no way anyone could realistically extrapolate that find to say that Jericho as a whole had burned at some time in the past.

In 1908 an excavation team from Austria and Germany, under the leadership of Sellinger and Watzinger, performed meticulous excavations at Jericho. Unfortunately, pottery identification and dating had not yet been developed at this time, so they also had no means of identifying or dating the layers that they had excavated.

However, from 1930 to 1936 John Garstang of Liverpool University excavated the site. He was not only a very capable scholar, but he also had a very well-respected team under his leadership. Garstang respected the Bible, although he did not necessarily consider Scripture to be infallible. In short, Garstang did not have an ulterior motive, namely to “prove” the biblical record. Garstang wrote: “Much of the work done in the Holy Land has been stripped of its scientific value by the assumption that the scriptures are above criticism and necessarily exact in every detail…In the search for truth the only safe procedure in such a case, we submit, is to present the facts first, and then to examine the relevant passages in the Bible, to see to what extent they agree or disagree with the material evidence, and whatever the result to state it without prejudice or concealment.”

Nonetheless, he claimed that the biblical record was confirmed, as the walls had fallen and the burning of buildings was found to have been throughout the city. Garstang wrote of his findings: “Our excavations have in fact proved that after its destruction the walled city was not reconstructed, nor was the site more than partially inhabited, for about 500 years.” This interpretation of the data fits with the Old Testament historical record, of course.

Interestingly enough, Garstang likely found the evidence for Joshua’s invasion of Jericho, but his dating did not necessarily allow for that conclusion. He wrote: “About 2000 B.C., or rather later, a major catastrophe overwhelmed the aged city…An entirely new culture, that of the Middle Bronze Age, replaced the old. Moreover the change was general, and it affected in similar fashion all the great cities of the highlands above the Jordan Valley…These traces of occupation, to quote from our formal report at this time, indicate the incoming of a people without resources or aptitude for building.” Of course, the Israelites, who had spent the past forty years in tents in the wilderness, likely would not have had the aptitude for building projects. Those who knew how to build were older and perhaps no longer able to easily do so, and besides that the cultural focus had shifted to military operations; building projects only happen once a people group becomes reasonably settled.

During the decade of the fifties, the British archaeologist Kathleen Kenyon oversaw significant excavations at Jericho. Unfortunately for Bible-believing Christians, Kenyon arrived at the conclusion that, “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.”

David Down, an archaeologist who made his first visit to Jericho only two years after Kenyon finished her work there in 1956, notes that Kenyon got some things right, but “missed the boat” (my term) in other areas: “The Early Bronze Age people paid a lot of attention to rebuilding and strengthening the already massive walls, but it all came to a disastrous end. Kenyon concluded that an earthquake had brought the walls down…This earthquake apparently came at a very convenient time for the invaders who brought this Early Bronze Age to an abrupt end. ‘There is no evidence in the excavated areas that any of the collapses were due to breaching or undermining by enemies. But in a number of places the walls have been destroyed by fire, which is almost certainly the work of enemies’ [quoting Kenyon]. These enemies then proceeded to systematically destroy the whole city. ‘The wall was violently destroyed by fire. The layers of ash, in beautiful pastel shades of blues, greys and pinks, suggesting brushwood or thatch as did the other fire, come right down against the stones of the foundations, showing that they were exposed when the fire took place. The brickwork, normally mud-coloured, is burnt bright red throughout, clear evidence of the strength of the conflagration…The disaster was indeed complete, for this was the end of Early Bronze Age Jericho’ [quoting Kenyon].”

Kenyon concluded that these enemies were not a people from within the land of Canaan, but instead were invaders who lived as nomads and were a religious people. Of course, this description accurately describes the Israelites, but for Kenyon the dating did not match. Down, a pre-suppositional young earth creationist, has come to the conclusion after several years spent studying this site that the evidence clearly supports the Israelite conquest of Jericho.

Bryant Wood, an internationally recognized authority on the archaeology of Jericho, further excavated the area in the decade of the nineties. Wood is known for his proposal that the date of the destruction of the walls of Jericho is more in line with 1400 B.C., as compared to the generally accepted date of 1550 B.C. that was established predominately by Kenyon. Wood supports Kenyon’s finds that Jericho had been heavily-fortified and also that it had suffered burning, but is in disagreement with Kenyon on the issue of chronology. According to Wood, Kenyon had been convinced that Jericho was destroyed by the Egyptians around 1550 B.C., but Wood maintains that Jericho was destroyed a century and a half later (1400 B.C.), at the time of the Israelite conquest of Canaan.

Wood notes that both Garstang and Kenyon found evidence for earthquake activity at the time of Jericho’s demise. However, he states that, “If God did use an earthquake to accomplish His purposes that day, it was still a miracle since it happened at precisely the right moment, and was manifested in such a way as to protect Rahab’s house.”

Ultimately, one must admit that the interpretation of the archaeological data at Jericho is not agreed upon by all scholars, and even among all Bible-believing scholars at that. As mentioned in Question #1, the interpretation of the data will depend in large part upon one’s worldview; minimalists may be inclined to not see evidence that clearly coincides with support for the biblical record, and devout “fundamentalists” may be too quick to associate minor finds as being “proof” for the Bible. Garstang seemed to be pretty well-balanced, as he respected the Bible but was hesitant to pronounce a find as being in support of the biblical record until the evidence was clearly in.

Randy Hroziencek

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