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JERICHO Part VI - The Update

We have seen in our discussion of the sites of Ai and Jericho that the orthodox view was that neither site showed any evidence of the Biblical account of the conquest. This was due to the fact that in conventional dating, the attack on Ai and Jericho by Joshua and the Children of Israel took place at the end of the Late Bronze Age and in neither case was there any evidence of a Late Bronze Age city.

We further showed that if the conventional chronology was abandoned in favor of our revision, all the archaeological evidence confirmed the Biblical account.

With the same object in mind others have come up with alternative solutions which we have not found satisfactory but we feel that they should be mentioned.

Their solutions have fallen into two main categories.

1) The conventional dating is correct but the interpretation of the sites has been in error.

2) The conventional dating is in error but they opt for a different solution to our revision.

The first category has been spearheaded by archaeologists in the group "Associates for Biblical Research" Dr. David Livingston, the founder and Dr. Bryant Wood an expert in the dating of ancient pottery.

They both accept the conventional chronology and believe the solution to the problem is different for each of the sites. As far as Ai is concerned, Dr. Livingston suggests that the identification of the site itself is in error and that Ai should instead be identified with a site "1 kilometer east of El-Bireh". (The Westminster Theological Journal XXXIII) He has done extensive work to try and prove his case to the orthodox scholars, so far without much success.

Dr. Wood on the other hand has suggested in a widely quoted paper in the prestigious Biblical Archaeological Review (16:2 1990), that Dame Kathleen Kenyon was wrong in her assessment of the site and that the town which she dated to the Middle Bronze Age should in fact be dated to the late Bronze Age. Thus it would confirm the Biblical account exactly. The end of the Late Bronze Age being dated by conventional chronology at 1400 BC.

His argument involved four separate pieces of evidence which he claimed were either not known or ignored by Kenyon.

1) The Pottery. Wood suggests that Kenyon both misinterpreted the type of pottery not found and ignored the pottery that was found. This is not the place to go deeper into the argument but it has to be noted that the position of Wood were rebutted by the foremost living expert on Jericho, Piotr Bienkowski in a later edition of the Biblical Archaeological Review (16:5 1990). (I will put Wood's complete argument in the library when we have the relevant permissions).

2) The Scarabs. John Garstang had found a small series of scarabs in his excavation of the cemetery at Jericho. They covered the period from the XIIIth to the XVIIIth dynasty and then ended. A very small sample (only four scarabs) were from the XVIIIth dynasty and two were from Amenhotep III (conventional date c 1386-1349 BC ). Wood from this meager evidence surmises that the cemetery was in use until the end of the Late Bronze Age. Others have suggested that scarabs because of their value were often kept for long periods of time as keepsakes and that they are, for that reason alone, not very reliable markers or time.

3) A carbon 14 dating sample which was taken from the final destruction layer of the city and dated 1400 BC plus or minus 40 years. The location of the find has been disputed and it is very dangerous to accept just one carbon dating sample anywhere at any time.

4) The Stratigraphy. Perhaps Wood's strongest argument. I will quote him in full from his Biblical Archaeological Review paper.

" ....... Kenyon was able to identify many different occupational phases during the Bronze Age at Jericho. Middle Bronze III, the last sub-period of Middle Bronze, lasted from about 1650 to 1550 BCE The beginning of the Middle Bronze III phase at Jericho can be fixed quite confidently at Kenyon's Phase 32. From Phase 32 to the end of the life of City IV, Kenyon identified 20 different architectural phases, with evidence that some of these phases lasted for long periods of time, Over the course of the 20 phases there were three major and 12 minor destructions. A fortification tower was rebuilt four times and repaired once, followed by habitation units that were rebuilt seven times. If Kenyon were correct that City IV met its final destruction at the end of the Middle Bronze Period (c. 1550 BCE), then all these 20 phases would have to be squeezed into a mere 100 years (Middle Bronze III). It is hardly likely that all of this activity could have transpired in the approximately 100 years of the Middle Bronze III period."

Wood's conclusion is that the 20 phases must have taken a substantially longer period of time and therefore accepting Kenyon's date for the beginning of the series the logical conclusion is that it must have lasted until 1400 BC, his date for the conquest. Our conclusion however is much more logical. The Middle Bronze Age is the age of the Judges and that very satisfactorily answers the questions of both the time period and the constant changing of the site.

There is of course a larger question for both Livingston and Wood. If the problems between the archaeology and the Biblical account were restricted to just Ai and Jericho, then one would have to take great pause. The problem however is much wider. Practically none of the sites in Israel show that there were any cities of substance during the Late Bronze Age and worse those that did exist were not destroyed in the way the Biblical account describes. Hence both Livingston and Wood have an immense task in re-evaluating practically every archaeological site in the Holy Land. A task which we think is admirable in its objective but futile in the long run.

The second approach to tackling the problem of the disparity between the archaeological evidence and the Biblical account is to dispute the existing chronology but come up with a different solution to the one we have proposed.

That approach is the one taken by Dr. John Bimson (Redating the Exodus and Conquest) and David Rohl (Pharaohs and Kings, A Biblical Quest). Their solution is to have the conquest take place at the end of the Middle Bronze Age as opposed to our proposal that it took place at the end of the Early Bronze Age.

There are three main objections to that solution.

1) Not all the archaeological sites in the Holy Land confirm the Biblical story when that solution is taken into account. For example Ai did not exist as a city in the Middle Bronze Age and there are problems with the way other cities were abandoned or destroyed that do not fit the Biblical account.

2) They have to conveniently forget parts of the Biblical account in order to have their solution fit. The fact that there were two burnings at Jericho has to be ignored if the final burning coinciding with the conquest was at the end of the Middle Bronze Age. Where for example was the burning of ALL the cities of Benjamin described in Judges 20: 34-47 ?

[Judg 20:48] And the men of Israel turned back against the Benjaminites, and smote them with the edge of the sword, men and beasts and all that they found. And all the towns which they found they set on fire.

3) As we shall see in upcoming lectures, their solution to the conquest problem does not solve the absence of any archaeological evidence for the migration after the Exodus into Canaan during the Middle Bronze Age. Only during the interval between the Early Bronze Age and the Middle Bronze Age is there substantial archaeological evidence of such a migration.

Any Questions.

Michael S. Sanders

Irvine CA

May 14, 1998


  1. Pharaohs and Kings by David M. Rohl (ISBN: 0517703157)
  2. Centuries of Darkness by Peter James et al (ISBN: 022402647x)

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