The Walls of Jericho
Scattered throughout Israel are curious earthen mounds rising from the plain or located at a strategic mountain pass which cause excitement in the heart of archaeologists. These mounds are called tells which is a Semitic term indicating that within these mounds lie the ruins of ancient cities in Israel. In fact, a tell could contain the remains of several ruined cities, the one built on the remains of a previously destroyed city. Through very careful and scientific archaeological digging, much can be learned about life in a particular place and time. Often it can also be determined how or why a particular city was destroyed.
Last spring, two archaeologists from the University of Rome, Lorenzo Nigro and Nicolo Marchetti, spent a month digging at Tell es-Sultan which is a tell containing the remains of the long-ruined city of Jericho. These archaeologists claim to have found the Bronze Age ramparts intact and they found no rubble to indicate that the walls of Jericho came tumbling down. The Globe and Mail drew conclusions for them: if their findings were correct then the Biblical account concerning the destruction of Jericho must be false. In other words, the Bible is false. Such conclusions are not new. Archaeologists and Biblical historians have long debated whether the Israelites conquered Jericho. In fact, many have concluded that there is little or no archaeological evidence to support an invasion by Israel into Canaan during the late part of the 15th century B.C., which is the approximate conquest date as we gather from the Bible.
It should be clear to us that regardless of archaeological findings, we believe what the Scriptures tell us about the Israelite invasion into Canaan. The inspired Word of God tells us the facts as they happened. (2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:21) The Scriptures show that in the latter part of the 15th century B.C., the Lord led His people victoriously into the Promised Land. Does it make sense then to make use of archaeological findings in Bible study? The answer is yes. Archaeological discovery is not to be used to prove the truth or facts of the Scriptures, but it does provide information which helps us to understand the Bible in its true historical and cultural perspective. Archaeology, history and geography are used by Bible students and ministers to help modern man better understand what is related to us in the Scriptures. The one caveat to keep in mind is that archaeology is a tool which remains subservient to the authority of the Scriptures. In other words, if archaeology differs with the Scriptures, then the Scriptures are right. It is also good to keep in mind that in the history of archaeology, many conclusions were drawn which later had to be retracted.
In regards to the conquest of Canaan, archaeologists have widely concluded that there is really no evidence to support a military invasion of Canaan by Israel in the time period between 1405-1398 B.C., which is the time period indicated by the Bible. They base their conclusion on the fact that in tells of Canaanite cities there is no evidence found of massive destruction in the late 15th century. One must understand that there is a basic presupposition at work here: a nation which invades and takes over a land will leave a trail of destroyed cities which naturally put up resistance to such a hostile takeover. Archaeologists have sought in vain to find such traces of destruction in the late 15th century. Actually, such findings only clarify what the Bible itself tells us. When we read passages such as Numbers 33:50-56; Deuteronomy 6:10-11; 19:1-2; and Joshua 11:12-15, it is clear that Israel was directed by the Lord to destroy the pagan nations and their shrines, but the cities were not to be destroyed except in the cases of Jericho, Ai and Hazor. This was a rich blessing of the Lord God to His covenant people: they were to receive a rich land with fields, cities and houses for which they themselves did not have to work. They did not receive a land devastated by war, which is what archaeologists are looking for, but by the grace of God they received a land which was truly a rich heritage. Thus the archaeological evidence which can find no massive destruction in the late 15th century B.C. only serves to enhance our understanding of how good God was to His people, and how utterly unique was the conquest of Canaan.
This leaves us with the matter of Jericho, which we know was utterly destroyed. Ever since the British archaeologist, Kathleen Kenyon, excavated Tell es-Sultan in the 1950s, most archaeologists, historians and Bible scholars emphatically deny a destruction of Jericho as described in Joshua 6. Kenyon claimed that there was evidence to suggest that there was a massive destruction of Jericho around 1550 B.C., but by the late 15th century there was no walled or fortified city of Jericho for Joshua and his armed men to conquer. Although the findings of Kathleen Kenyon have been very popular, hers is not the only archaeological evidence that we have. John Garstang, also a British archaeologist, excavated Tell es-Sultan in the 1930s and found evidence of a massive destruction of Jericho during the time that Israel entered Canaan. His findings agreed with the Biblical facts. More recently, Bryant G. Wood wrote in Biblical Archaeology Review of March/April 1990 that Kenyon’s methodology was flawed. He demonstrated how Kenyon’s method of dating was flawed and that a re-examination of her findings would conclude that the massive destruction which she dated at 1550 B.C. should actually be put at about 1400 B.C. Once this is understood, then Kenyon’s findings can be used to demonstrate how Jericho fell and was destroyed before the army of Israel.
Kenyon herself determined that Jericho had an impressive fortification system. First there was a 15 foot high stone revetment wall (revet means to face an embankment with stone to give strength and support) with a mud-brick parapet wall of at least 8 feet high on top of it. This wall went all around the city. This stone wall was held in place from the inside by a massive packed-earth embankment or rampart, on top of which there was yet another wall. To this very day, the lower stone revetment wall and most of the embankment or rampart still survives – which is what the two Italian archaeologists found. Now comes the amazing discovery. Outside all of this – outside the high stone revetment wall – Kenyon found red mud-bricks resting in a heap against the revetment wall. Kenyon concluded that these bricks fell from a wall on top of the revetment wall and that they had to have been knocked down due to a violent force which shook the city. If one looks at Kenyon’s personal diagrams of her findings, then it is evident that the bricks which tumbled down from Jericho’s wall formed a slope which covered up the lower revetment wall and its embankment or rampart so that anyone outside the city could just walk into the city. The way into the city had become a gentle upward sloping mound. For all intents and purposes, it lay wide open. Thus the discovery of the rampart by the Italians really does not deny the complete collapse of Jericho and its being laid wide open. Archaeologists suppose that something like a terrible earthquake must have knocked down Jericho’s massive wall system. Unfortunately even Wood speculates that an earthquake may have laid Jericho open so that Israel could simply march in.
There are other interesting archaeological finds at Jericho which are worthy to note. On the lower slopes of the rampart, near the top of the stone revetment wall, there is evidence of domestic structures. It appears that the houses furthest to the outside could have been incorporated into the parapet wall overlooking the stone revetment below. Rahab, who let the two Israelite spies through her window, down the city wall, could have lived in such a house (Joshua 2:15). Also discovered by archaeologists was a large quantity of grain stored in lower regions of the city’s homes amidst charred debris. It is clear that grain had been left for destruction. This is most exceptional. Grain was very precious in those days. It was either to be eaten by the invaders or used as a valuable medium of exchange later on. It is most unusual to discover that whoever destroyed Jericho left such a valuable commodity for destruction.
Archaeology’s findings, though often misinterpreted as we have seen and therefore used against the Bible, when used rightly can give us valuable insights into the Biblical record. We know from Joshua 6 that the city of Jericho was shut up tight when threatened by Israel. In keeping with the Lord’s command, Israel marched around Jericho once per day for six days and then seven times on the seventh day. Then on the seventh day the trumpet was sounded, the people shouted, and the walls of Jericho fell down so that the army of Israel could march right in. Once the people were inside they were required to destroy everything and take nothing except for a few precious materials for the Lord God. The findings of Kenyon and others, of a city utterly collapsed and accessible from the outside, where everything was destroyed and no obvious plundering was done, gives a mute but powerful testimony to this very day that Jericho was completely destroyed as the Lord had instructed Joshua.
This does not conclude our evaluation of archaeological discoveries regarding Jericho. Archaeology, geography and history also help us to understand the theological significance of Jericho’s fall. We also learn that Jericho was one of the world’s oldest cities with enviable climactic and geographical conditions. It was also a strategically placed entrance to the heartland of Canaan. Any military force attempting to penetrate Canaan from the east would first have to attack and capture Jericho. This helps us to understand why the Lord selected Jericho to be the first city that was to fall after Israel crossed the Jordan River, and why it had to fall the way it did. The overwhelming collapse and destruction of Jericho gave all the nations of Canaan a new reason to tremble and to know without a doubt that the God of Israel was the Almighty and that the God of Israel would take this land to be His dwelling place with His people.
The way in which the mightily fortified city of Jericho fell – not by the hand of man but by the miraculous power of God – was a strong reminder for Israel as they entered and settled into this rich land that this was God’s gracious gift to them. Man has nothing to boast of in himself but relies utterly on the steadfast love of God. In connection with this, the Lord’s demand that Jericho and everything in it was to be utterly destroyed, and that no one was ever to rebuild Jericho (Joshua 6:26), was to be a lasting reminder to Israel that from the moment they entered the gateway to the Promised Land, the Lord made clear that the land was His and that His people could enjoy it only when they used their lives and their possessions to the praise and glory of their God. We are reminded here of the warnings and encouragements of Deuteronomy 8.
From our viewpoint today, we see God’s glorious deeds of salvation as He brought His people into the Promised Land fulfilled in the gift of His own Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Christ gained the decisive and complete victory over Satan, sin and death, and now moves victoriously over the face of the earth by His Spirit and Word to gather His church from every tribe, tongue and nation. Though Satan and his supporters conspire against Christ and His church, nothing can prevent the fulfillment of Christ’s victory which will be signaled by the cry of command and the trumpet call. Then before the descending Christ, all walls of opposition will fall away and Christ will gather His church into the rich and everlasting welcome of His eternal kingdom.