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'THE CITY OF PALMS'
Jericho has been called the Oldest Town in the World.' Remains from the lowest of Jericho's excavated levels reach into dim prehistoric times. At about 700 feet below sea level, it is also the 'lowest town on the face of the globe,' as archaeologist Professor Kathleen Kenyon characterised the site Digging Up Jericho, page 23).
The remains of ancient Jericho can be seen as an impressive 10-acre mound, known as the Tell es-Sultan, that rises 65 feet above the surrounding plain. Ancient Jericho was next to a copious spring on the western edge of Jordan Valley, about 6 miles north of the Dead Sea. The tell is on the north-western outskirts of the modern city. The Bible describes Jericho as the 'city of palms' (judges 3:13)
The site's excellent water supply and favourable climate, especially in winter, have made it a desirable place to live from the very beginning of settled habitation. Jericho is strategically located at the entrance route of the heartland of the land of Canaan, especially Jerusalem. Any military force attempting to penetrate the central hill country from the east would first have to capture Jericho. That of course, is exactly why the Bible says the Israelites took Jericho.
A new study confirms Jericho's walls 'fell down flat.' The Bible's account is correct.
ne of the most dramatic stories in the Bible is the account of the fall of Jericho, as told in the book of Joshua, chapter 6. For six days the Israelite army marched around the city, once each day. On the seventh day, the army marched around seven times. When seven priests blew rams' - horn trumpets, all the Israelites 'shouted with a great shout' and 'the wall fell down flat.' They then took the city, destroyed everything and burned it to the ground.
The Bible tells us when this event happened. I Kings 6:1 says the fourth year of King Solomon's reign over Israel was 480 years after the Israelites left Egypt, or 440 years after they entered the Promised Land. Since Solomon's fourth year was about 960 B.C., Jericho's walls fell 440 years earlier, or about 1400 B.C. At the Jericho excavation site, we should expect, therefore, to find evidence that one level of the city's layers represents its destruction at about that time.
No City to Conquer?
However, according to most historians there was no city of Jericho for the Israelites to parade around in 1400 B.C. They say Jericho was destroyed 150 to 200 years earlier and did not exist in Joshua's day. This belief is largely based on the findings of the late and eminent British archaeologist Professor Kathleen Kanyon, who said her excavation at Jericho threw 'no light' on the destruction of the city walls 'so vividly described in the Book of Joshua' (Digging Up Jericho, page 262).
Professor Kenyon's conclusion - that no city existed at Jericho in Joshua's day - was accepted by most archaeologists. This posed a problem for those who believe in the historical accuracy of scripture.
The archaeologist Bryant G. Wood recently expressed the importance of the Jericho dilemma. 'The archaeological evidence announced by Professor Kenyon conflicted with the biblical account - indeed, disproved it' (Unless noted otherwise, quotes are from Dr, Wood's article 'Did the Israelites Conquer Jericho?' in the March-April 1990 Biblical Archaeology Review.)
With Professor Kenyon's reputation for scientific accuracy, writes Dr Wood, a generation of scholars by and large wrote off the biblical record as 'folklore and religious rhetoric.' This is where the Jericho question stood for the past 25 years. However, Dr Wood has re-examined Professor Kenyon's work at Jericho. He has concluded, contrary to her opinion, that the city was destroyed around 1400 B.C. confirming the biblical account.
According to Dr Wood, there is 'a quite remarkable agreement' between the archaeological evidence at Jericho and the biblical narrative of its destruction. We must now ask: why did Professor Kenyon conclude otherwise?
One Major Miscalculation
Archaeologists use a number of means to establish approximate dates of various levels of an excavation site. They place a lot of emphasis on pottery types associated with a certain historical age. Archaeologists search for distinctive pottery to make an age correlation between the new site and other archaeological sites.
How did Professor Kenyon establish the date she did for when the so-called Jericho level IV was destroyed, the level the Bible would ascribe to Joshua's time (about 1400 B.C.)? She dated it 'almost exclusively,' writes Dr Wood, based on her failure to find an exotic type of decorative pottery imported from Cyprus. Its absence, she reasoned, meant the city had become uninhabited.
Her analysis 'was based on what was not found at Jericho rather than what was found,' Dr Wood notes. This technique was 'unsound and, indeed, unacceptable.' Why wasn't this imported pottery found? First, we must consider the kind pf city Jericho was. Professor Kenyon had drawn her comparative material from large cities like Megiddo on major trade routes far from Jericho. By contrast, Jericho was smaller, well away from the major trade routes.
Besides, Dr Wood points out, Professor Kenyon and other excavators had 'dug in a poor quarter of the city where they found only humble domestic dwellings.' Her excavation area was small - two 26 by 26 foot squares. Dr Wood, an expert on ancient pottery, argued that we should not expect to find expensive and imported pottery in this part of the town.
Professor Kenyon based her conclusion on her failure to find 'expensive, imported pottery in a small excavation area in an impoverished part of a city located far from major trade routes! An argument from silence is always inadequate and absence of evidence is not necessary evidence of absence.
What Professor Kenyon Found
Except for the disputed dating, however, Professor Kenyon's discoveries at Jericho's City IV habitation level strikingly match the biblical biblical account. Jericho is most famous as the city where the walls came tumbling down. Professor Kenyon herself determined that City IV had 'an impressive fortification system,' wrote Dr Wood
The defence included what is called a stone revetment or retaining wall. This wall, built against the mound embarkment at Jericho, was about 15 feet high. At the site's northern end, all three major archaeological expeditions to Jericho found remnants of a mud brick wall on top of this revetment wall.
It is likely this wall originally extended all round the city. Dr Wood estimates from the number of bricks that the upper wall could have been 12 feet high. On the outside of the revetment
wall, Professor Kenyon found bricks from this collapsed upper city wall. These 'red mud-bricks came tumbling down, falling over the outer revetment wall at the base of the tell,' writes Dr Wood. 'Incredible as it may seem,' he said, it was possible that 'this wall...in the words of the Biblical account in Joshua, "fell down flat".' Dr Wood concludes, 'The walls of Jericho did indeed topple as the Bible records.'
Professor Kenyon also found that Jericho City IV was destroyed in a great fire. She found a layer of destruction debris a yard or more thick across the entire excavation area. In the words of Professor Kenyon: '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.'
This description, says Dr Wood, supports the biblical account that the city was put to the torch. After the Israelites gained access to the city, 'they burned the city and all that was in it with fire' (Joshua 6:24).
Preserved Grain Supply
Then there is the matter of the large grain supply found in the burnt debris of Jericho City IV. In fact, grain was the most abundant item found by professor Kenyon, apart from pottery. 'In her limited excavation area, Professor Kenyon recovered six bushels of grain in one season!...unique in the annals of Palestinian archaeology' wrote Dr Wood.
Successful attackers would normally remove valuable grain after capturing a city. However the Israelites by divine command, were forbidden to take any grain from Jericho (verses 17-18, 21). 'This could explain why so much grain was left to burn when City IV met its end,' wrote Dr Wood. For this amount of grain to have been stored, the city would have to have been destroyed in the spring of the year, shortly 'after harvest time, not before,' Dr wood emphasises.
This is precisely when the Bible says the Israelites attacked Jericho (Joshua 5:10). Rahab, for example, had been drying freshly harvested flax on the roof of her house in Jericho at the time (Joshua 2:6). The jars full of grain indicate 'that when the city met its end there was ample food supply,' wrote Dr Wood. This meant that Jericho had succumbed quickly, not after a long siege.
This is consistent with the biblical account that Jericho was destroyed after only seven days (verses 15, 20). Evidence from radio-carbon dating also supports the conclusion that City IV was destroyed around 1400 B.C. One carbon-14 sample taken from a piece of charcoal found in the debris of City IV was dated to 1410 B.C.
Based on such findings, Dr Wood concludes: "The correlation between the archaeological evidence and the Biblical narrative is substantial.' This interpretation, if it survives critical appraisal, would be important to those who believe the Bible is historically accurate.
One Final Question
Most archaeologists reject the comment in Kings 6:1 and instead believe Israel did not arrive in Canaan until some 150 to 200 years later. What are we to do with this problem? Simply wait. As Dr Wood puts it, 'As new data emerge and as old data reevaluated, it will undoubtedly require a reappraisal of current theories.'
In any case, disputes are likely to continue among historians and archaeologists over the date of the fall of Jericho and the entrance of Israel in Canaan. Ultimately, faith is the deciding ingredient for those who believe God inspired the Bible.
The Bible tells us, 'By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they were encircled for seven days' (Hebrews 11:30). By faith we know God supernaturally caused those walls to fall down flat in front of Joshua and the Israelites.
WAS THERE A CITY IN JOSHUA'S TIME?
The date of Jericho's destruction has been the subject of controversy ever since the city was first excavated around the turn of the century. It points out the problem archaeologists have in establishing the exact setting of ancient habitation levels.
'The first major Jericho excavation was conducted by an Austro-German expedition under the direction of Ernst Sellin and Carl Watzinger from 1907 to 1909 and again in 1911' (Bryant G Wood, did the Israelites Conquer Jericho?', Biblical Archaeology Review, March-April 1990).
Watzinger concluded that Jericho was unoccupied and unfortified during the Late Bronze period, around 1550-1200 B.C. This is the time when the Bible says the Israelites appeared in Canaan and destroyed Jericho.
The next major expedition, in the 1930s, was by British archaeologist John Garstang. He was the first to use modern methods of excavation, though his research was still crude by today's standards. Garstang contradicted Watzinger. He concluded that City IV (the one whose destruction Professor Garstang ascribed to Joshua's time) came to an end about 1400 B.C., as the Bible indicates. 'In all material details and date,' said Garstang, 'the fall of Jericho took place as described in the Biblical narrative' (ibid).
Garstang's pro-biblical stance caused considerable controversy among his colleagues. To put the dispute at rest, he asked the respected Britich archaeologist, professor Kathleen Kenyon to review and update his findings.
Professor Kenyon's excavations during the 1950s ushered in a new era of Palestinian archaeology. She introduced rigorous stratigraphic excavation techniques, including detailed analysis of soil and debris layers as well as careful recordings of finds.
Professor Kenyon, however, contradicted Garstang's position. She supported, in general, the conclusion Sellin and Watzinger had reached. The destruction of City IV, which Garstang had dated to about 1400 B.C., occurred, wrote Professor Kenyon, at the end of the Middle Bronze Age, about 1550 B.C. No strongly fortified Late Bronze Age city existed at Jericho for Joshua to conquer, she concluded.
Now an American archaeologist, Bryant G. Wood, has contradicted Professor Kenyon's position. He says the Bible's account does fit in with the archaeological facts. His analysis of the local items in use at Jericho and the other inland sites has stirred new controversy over this ancient city and the Bible's amazing report about it.