Jericho is a Palestinian city in the West Bank between the Jordan River and Jerusalem with a population of slightly over 20,000. Ancient Jericho (Tel Jericho), described in Deuteronomy 34:3 as “the city of palm trees", is located 2 km north of modern Jericho. Archaeologists believe that it was inhabited from 10,000 BC, one of the oldest cities in the world and the oldest city with protective wall. According to the New International Commentary on the Old Testament, the city measured 225 meters by 80 meters with a circumference of 600 meters. Archaeological evidence reveals that it’s surrounded by a stone wall 3.6 meters (11.8 feet) high and 1.8 meters (5.9 feet) wide at the base.
In Joshua 6:1-2, the city of Jericho was tightly shut to prevent the invasion of Israelites, but the Lord promised to give the city into Joshua’s hand. Under God’s direction, the Israelites marched around the city once a day for six days and seven times on the seventh day. The city wall fell after a long blast with the ram’s horn by the priests and a great shout by the Israelites on the seventh day.
The Seven Trumpets of Jericho (1896-1902 James Tissot) depicting the Israelites carrying the Ark of the Covenant in the initial conquest of Canaan
In Joshua 6:26, Joshua made the Israelites take an oath to be cursed for rebuilding Jericho with the loss of the firstborn when laying the foundation and the youngest son when setting up its gates. Sadly 500 years later, Hiel the Bethelite tried to rebuild Jericho (1King 16:34). His firstborn son Abiram died when he laid the foundations and he lost his youngest son Segub when setting up the gates, as predicted by Joshua.
In the New Testament, Jesus healed two blind men in Jericho before his triumphal entry to Jerusalem (Matthew 20:29; Mark 10:46; Luke 18:35) and urged Zaccheus the local chief tax-collector to repent of his dishonesty (Luke 19:1–10). The road between Jerusalem and Jericho is the setting for the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30). In Hebrew 11:30, the fall of the walls of Jericho were mentioned as a result of faith.
Various archaeological evidence pointed to what had been depicted in Joshua 2-6:
1. Remains of 3 successive and massive plastered ramparts surrounding the city suggesting that Jericho was a walled city.
2. Walls and floors were blackened or reddened by fire, and in most rooms the fallen debris was heavily burnt. In the east side, a layer of burnt ash and debris about one meter thick was discovered, which indicated a massive fire (Joshua 6:24).
3. The fortification walls were collapsed (Joshua 6:20).
4. Rooms with large storage jars full of grain untouched for thousands of years were found, suggesting that the destruction was in the time of Spring harvest (Joshua 2:6; 3:15; 5:10).
5. The grain stored in the rooms was largely unconsumed nor used by invaders, indicating a sudden destruction and a prohibition to take away the grain (Joshua 6:15-20).
Conventionally, it’s believed that Solomon began to reign at about 970BC (Wikipedia). In the 4th year of his reign, i.e. 966BC, 480 years after the Exodus, he began to build the First Temple (1 Kings 6:1). The Israelites wandered in the desert for 40 years after Exodus. Therefore, according to the biblical chronology, the Israelites conquered Jericho at (966 + 480 – 40 years) around 1406 BC.
The first excavation at Jericho began in 1868 by a British archaeologist Sir Charles Warren. He found little to interest him. In 1930, another British archaeologist John Garstang arrived and excavated until 1936. He uncovered 4 distinct layers of occupation, which he interpreted as four separate cities built on top of each other. The majority of his findings were ceramic. His excavation showed a quintessential example of the Pre-Pottery Neolithic A Phase.
20 years later, renowned Oxford scholar and British archeologist Dame Kathleen Mary Kenyon (1906-1978) started her excavation in Jericho (Tell es Sultan) from 1952 till 1958, linking her excavation to the Old Testament narrative. She re-dated Jericho to 1550 BC which was almost 150 years earlier than 1406 BC derived from the Bible’s Internal chronology. She claimed that there was no signs of any habitation at all for the period around 1400 BC. She concluded from her findings that Jericho fell long before the arrival of Joshua. Kenyon's work was cited to support the Minimalist School of Biblical Archaeology which claimed that the Bible can no longer be considered reliable evidence for what had happened in ancient Israel.
If the capture of the first Canaanite city didn’t happen as stated in the Bible, how can we believe all the biblical account of the rest of the conquest? In 1984, Dr. Bryant Wood from the University of Toronto began to re-inspect the evidence. He collected Canaanite potteries excavated from Jericho and re-examined them again carefully. He tracked every piece of pottery from Jericho in Museums in Europe and the Middle East and documented them meticulously. He found that Kenyon was selective in examining the pottery shards and hadn’t analyzed the local potteries found in the destruction debris. She made her conclusion with absence of important potteries. Wood then checked Garstang’s potteries again and confirmed that they were from the late Bronze Age, i.e. 1400 BC. In 1990, he published his well-known article in Biblical Archaeology Review on the destruction of Jericho and its correlation with the Biblical account. Today, the debate still goes on. In March 2012, Wood at the age of 78 wrote a long article in Associates for Biblical Research (denoted in the QR Code below) responding to his key challenger Piotr Bienkowski. At the end of the paper, he said: “Unless Bienkowski is prepared to rewrite the archaeological history of Palestine, he is going to have to accept the fact that Jericho was destroyed early in the Late Bronze Age, in about 1400 B.C.E.”
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