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  JERICHO - Part I: Introduction

Jericho, "The City of the Palms" of the Bible, lies some seven miles west of the River Jordan, 300 meters below sea level.

Map of Central Israel Whilst the small Arab town of al Riha is unprepossessing, there is no doubt that the town of antiquity which commands the steep ascent to the highlands of the interior was a place of strategic importance to those who occupied it.

To the East of the Jordan was the great King's Highway which in antiquity was the main inland route from Egypt to Damascus. The most convenient way to enter Canaan from that direction would be a crossing of the Jordan near this ancient city.

The mound that is the remains of that ancient city is now known as Tell es-Sultan. It is located in the Jordan valley some mile and a half northwest of the modern town of Jericho beside a spring known as Elisha's fountain. The location of that spring is probably the reason why the first settlers camped there. Later its location would dominate the pass through eastern Judea to Jerusalem. It is inconceivable that one could hold Judea without holding Jericho, nor could one conquer Judea from the east without first taking it as we see in the story of Joshua and the conquest.

Map of Jericho It had been a favorite winter resort of Herod in Roman times but fortunately he did not build upon the old tell so there is no question, unlike some sites, as to it being Jericho of the Biblical account.

It is surely at this site that the Biblical story of the conquest and its subsequent history would be etched into the archaeology. As we shall see in a subsequent lecture this is far from the case and in fact from an orthodox chronological point of view the site of Jericho DISPROVES the biblical account.

The first work on the site was done by the famous Captain (later Major-General Sir) Charles Warren of the British Royal Engineers who were surveying Palestine in 1867. He is of course better known for his work in Jerusalem. He sunk a shaft into the Tell, and failed to find anything to interest him, so moved on. In fact his shaft was driven into the core of an early Bronze Age Town wall and was found nearly a hundred years later by Kathleen Kenyon who later performed the most authoritative work on the site.

Between 1908 and 1911 an Austro-German expedition was led by L. Sellin and T. Watzinger and their meticulous work was extensively published. Their problem revolved around dating. As we have already seen because of the lack of inscribed material in Biblical Archaeology almost all dates have to be obtained by pottery typing and in the early part of the century such work was in its infancy pioneered by the great British archaeologist Sir William Flinders Petrie.

In 1930 a major 6 year expedition was undertaken by Liverpool University under the direction of one of the most accomplished archaeologists of his or any other generation, Professor John Garstang. Pottery typing by then had become much more sophisticated and Garstang created headlines throughout the world with his startling claim that "Joshua's Walls Found At Last".

Burnt Walls of Jericho The above photograph was published in the British Daily Telegraph in the mid-thirties. At that time of course it was commonly accepted that the Biblical account was correct in that the Exodus took place 480 years before the building of Solomon's Temple. Hence the conquest was generally agreed to have taken place around 1400 BC.

Garstang also found that that "one part of the outer wall was certainly tilted bodily forward…" He was inclined to the view that the fall of the walls was due to an earthquake and that the Israelites deliberately then destroyed the city by fire. The evidence to him was overwhelming.

It was all there, the correct date, the tilted walls, the destruction by fire. The Late Bronze Age city of Jericho had been destroyed by Joshua exactly in accordance with the Biblical account.

And then along came Dame Kathleen Kenyon. Twenty years later with improved techniques of digging and dating between the years 1952 and 1956 she totally demolished Garstang's arguments.

Under the auspices of the British School of Archaeology in Jerusalem and supported by the Department of Antiquities of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan she undertook a major excavation and re-evaluation of the site using new techniques of soil removal and classification.

Amongst her many finding were that the walls that Garstang had identified as Late Bronze Age and dated to 1600-1400 BC were in fact much earlier and belonged to the Early Bronze Age which she dated as ENDING around 2100 BC. Thus the evidence was 700 years too early for it to have been destroyed by Joshua and in fact although there was a late Bronze Age city in the 14th century "NOTHING SURVIVES TO ILLUSTRATE THE BIBLICAL ACCOUNT.".

That was it, the most authoritative report about Jericho showed NO evidence whatsoever of any of the Biblical account of the conquest and that was re-affirmed for practically every other site linked to the Bible. Thus the skeptics were proven correct, the Bible was just a hodge podge of myth and half remembered stories.

Next week we will investigate exactly what the Biblical account states and in subsequent weeks show how all was not lost.

Any Questions?


© Michael S. Sanders
Irvine, CA
February 10, 1998


  1. The Anchor Bible Dictionary (ISBN: 038542583X)
  2. The New Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land by Ephraim Stern, et al. (ISBN: 0132762889)
  3. The Oxford Encyclopedia of Archaeology in the Near East by Eric M. Meyers (Editor), (ISBN: 0195065123)


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