Jericho’s Walls

Aug 11, 2019 | Diggings Online | 0 comments

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Both Bible history and archaeological discovery make it very plain that the walls of Jericho fell down. Recent excavations at Tel es-Sultan – the Arabic name for ancient Jericho – provide further evidence for that. The problem is that authorities cannot agree on whether the Bible and archaeology are referring to the same walls.

Joshua 6:20 relates: “So the people shouted when the priests blew the trumpets and when the people heard the sound of the trumpet and shouted with a loud shout, the wall fell down flat. Then the people went up into the city, every man straight before him, and they took the city.”

Although the Biblical record implies that it was the noise of the trumpets and the shout of the people which caused the walls to topple, it does not specifically say that. It is most likely that an earthquake occurred at this precise moment which brought down the walls. Every excavation at Jericho, from John Garstang onwards, has unearthed fallen walls and the recent excavations are no exception.

Shimon Riklin was in charge of some development work on the tel and at the same time did some digging. Writing in “ESI 15” p. 69 he said, “A 7.25m long stretch of a massive brick wall (W100, width 2.3m) ending in a heap of fallen stones was exposed 1.75m east of the city wall and parallel to it. The six surviving courses of this wall (height 0.75m) were built of brown and white bricks joined with cementing material. The courses are somewhat irregular, possibly due to an earth tremor.”

In 1930 Garstang reported, “The main defences of Jericho in the Late Bronze Age followed the upper brink of the city mound and comprised two parallel walls, the outer six feet and the inner twelve feet thick. Investigations along the west side show continuous signs of destruction and conflagration. The outer wall suffered most, its remains falling down the slope. The inner wall is preserved only where it abuts the citadel or tower, to a height of eighteen feet. Elsewhere it is found largely to have fallen, together with the remains of buildings upon it, into the space between the walls which was filled with ruins and debris. Traces of intense fire are plain to see, including reddened masses of brick, cracked stones, charred timbers and ashes. Houses alongside the wall were found burned to the ground, their roofs fallen upon the domestic pottery within.” The story of Jericho, p. 136

On page 138 Garstone wrote: “One conclusion indeed seems certain: the power that could dislodge hundred of tons of masonry in the way described must have been superhuman. Earthquake is the one and only known agent capable of the demonstration of force indicated by the observed facts.”

Garstang did not try to prove that this earthquake occurred at the moment the priests blew with their trumpets, but he ascribed this catastrophe to the Late Bronze Age, which by the conventional dating accepted at his time, would have been at the period the Israelites attacked the city.

But then came Dr Kathleen Kenyon, who claimed that Garstang had wrongly identified these walls. She excavated from 1952 to 1956 and wrote, “We have nowhere been able to prove the survival of walls of the Late Bronze Age, that is to say, of the period of Joshua. This is at variance with Professor’s Garstang’s conclusions. He ascribed two of the lines of walls which encircle the summit to the Late Bronze Age, but everywhere that we examined them it was clear that they must belong to the Early Bronze Age and have been buried beneath a massive scarp belonging to the Middle Bronze Age.” Digging Up jericho, p.46

The latest excavations at Jericho support this conclusion. “A 19m long north-south strip of Early Bronze Age city wall H was exposed in the excavations of the tel strata. The city wall . . . was built of brown bricks laid on two stone courses. The bottom part of the east face of the city wall was built of narrower bricks. The destruction of the upper part of the wall can be distinguished in the south section of the excavation area.” ESI 15 p. 69

With these latest identifications we are in agreement. It was undoubtedly the Early Bronze walls that collapsed, but with their dating we would disagree. The Early Bronze period is usually considered to have ended about 2000 BC, but we would agree with Dr Courville that the Early Bronze period ended about 1400 BC, which was when the Israelites conquered Jericho. That would be when the wall “fell down flat”.

We were interested in Riklin’s observation that “further north there is a breach in the city wall, in which the imprint of a human foot was visible.” Could this be the earliest Israelite footprint ever discovered? If Courville’s conclusions are correct, perhaps the imprint is of one of the soldiers who went “straight before him” to enter the city and destroy its impious inhabitants.

May 2003

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