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The Collapse of the Wall of Jericho

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The book of Joshua recounts in detail how God told Joshua to approach the city of Jericho. The Israelites were to march around the city on seven successive days. On each day the priests were to blow trumpets (rams’ horns). On the seventh day, while the horns were sounding, the whole army was to shout loudly. The wall of the city would then fall down and the Israelites could storm the city and conquer it. The Israelites followed God’s instructions, and the city fell exactly as promised (Joshua 6:3-20).

Archaeologists examining the site have indeed found the remains of a fallen city wall at ancient Jericho. Unlike other cities with fallen walls—where such walls had fallen inward due to being smashed from outside—Jericho’s wall had fallen outward, as if it had been knocked down from inside. Could this be a clue that it did not fall by the usual means?

Ernst Sellin and Carl Watzinger conducted the first major archaeological excavation at the Jericho site between 1907 and 1911. They dated the remains of “City IV” as being Late Bronze Age (c. 1550-1200 BC), during which time Jericho was supposedly unoccupied.

In 1930-36, archaeologist John Garstang examined the ruins of the wall and concluded that it was indeed the one we read of in the book of Joshua. He noticed something extraordinary, unlike what was found at remains of walled fortifications elsewhere: At other destroyed fortifications, walls had always fallen inward, as would be expected when they were battered from the outside. At Jericho, however, Garstang found walls that had strangely fallen outward. Garstang wrote a detailed account of his discovery; after signing it himself, he had two of his coworkers witness and co-sign the report—because he was sure that skeptics would otherwise doubt his findings.

In the late 1950s, another archaeologist, Kathleen Kenyon, registered her dissent to Garstang’s conclusion that the remains corroborated the biblical account. Kenyon held that the remains should be dated as belonging to the Middle Bronze Age—around 1550 BC. At that time, the generally accepted date for the Exodus (for those who believed it had ever happened) was sometime in the 1200s BC. If Jericho’s wall had fallen 300-plus years before the Exodus, it clearly could not have resulted from Joshua’s attack.

Skeptics seemed to have won the controversy—that is, until 1990, when Bryant Wood re-examined the remains, especially the pottery shards on which earlier dates for the site had been based. Bringing his expertise to bear on the shards found at the site, Wood determined that they were indeed from the Late Bronze Age (rather than the Middle Bronze Age, as Kenyon had concluded).

Like Wood, Garstang had also found bi-colored pottery legitimately dated as Late Bronze Age. Kenyon was not privy to what Garstang had found, and she had not found this kind of pottery in the very limited area (two 26-ft. by 26-ft. squares) she excavated. Her dating, then, was based on what she did not find, rather than on what she did find. Wood also found bi-colored pottery shards from the Late Bronze Age, as well as scarabs (beetle-shaped amulets worn around the neck) with the names of Egyptian kings who reigned much later than the 1550 BC date favored by Kenyon.

To summarize: All scholars agree that “City IV” (the Jericho of the period in question) was violently destroyed. The only major disagreement concerns the date of the remains.

Still, each of the archaeologists who examined the remains—including Kenyon—found evidence that corroborates the details of the account in the Bible of Joshua’s conquest. Garstang, as we saw earlier, noted that the wall had fallen outward, unlike the walls of any other conquered city excavated by archaeologists. He also found shards of bi-colored pottery dating from the Late Bronze Age, which Kenyon later overlooked. Both Garstang and Kenyon, however, found multiple jars of stored grain, much of it charred by fire—confirming that the conquest of Jericho was right after the spring harvest and that the city was subsequently burned.

Kenyon writes, “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.”17

Bryant Wood summarizes the ways in which the account in the book of Joshua is corroborated by the evidence found at the remains of Jericho:

  • The city was strongly fortified (Josh. 2:5, 7, 15; 3:15; 5:10).
  • The attack occurred just after harvest time in the spring (Josh. 2:6; 3:13; 5:10).
  • The inhabitants had no opportunity to flee with their foodstuffs (Josh. 6:1).
  • The siege was short (Josh. 6:15).
  • The walls were leveled, possibly by an earthquake (Josh. 6:20).
  • The city was not plundered (Josh. 6:17-18).
  • The city was burned (Josh. 6:20).18

The only major disagreement among analysts, then, is on the date. The preponderance of archaeological evidence favors a date for the remains of Jericho of approximately 1410 BC. The Bible and written history indicate a date for Israel’s Exodus from Egypt at approximately 1480-1450 BC. Since the conquest of Jericho was 40 years after the Exodus, a 1410 date for the fall of Jericho certainly fits with the Bible’s narrative.