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Jericho

Jericho was the first city west of the Jordan to be conquered by the Israelites under Joshua. It was surrounded by a huge wall that was wide enough to have houses built on it. Joshua sent spies into the city, and Rahab, the harlot “let them down by a cord through the window: for her house was upon the town wall.” “About forty thousand prepared for war passed over before the Lord unto battle, to the plains of Jericho.” “Now Jericho was straitly shut up because of the children of Israel: none went out, and none came in.” After a few days of siege, the earth groaned loudly - the Israelites thought in answer to their invocation and their blowing the horns, and “the wall fell down flat.” The conquerors entered the defenseless city and “utterly destroyed all that was in the city” (Joshua 2:3; 4:13; 6:1; 6:20-21).

Joshua proclaimed a curse upon anyone who would rebuild Jericho: “He shall lay the foundation thereof in his firstborn, and in his youngest son shall he set up the gates of it” (6:26). Next the Israelites went against Ai.

Jericho’s fortress wall was famous, for it was huge and impenetrable, and only thanks to a violent earthshock did the besiegers obtain entrance. This wall became even more famous after it fell, because the story of it is one of the best-known episodes of Biblical ancient history.

For about five centuries no attempt was made to rebuild the city accursed by Joshua. In the ninth century, in the days of Ahab, king of Samaria, a certain Hiel the Bethelite built Jericho: “he laid the foundation thereof in Abiram his first-born, and setup the gates thereof in his youngest son Segub, according to the word of the Lord, which he spake by Joshua the son of Nun” (I Kings 16:34).

This short record—contained in a single verse—tells not a little. In order to mollify the Deity and overcbme the curse, this private man sacrificed two of his own sons. The ardor of Hiel, unsupported by the king of Israel, did not result in a true resurrection of the doomed city. For some time in the closing days of Ahab, a little band of prophets had its seat there, as we learn from II Kings 2:15. Near Jericho or its mound, Zedekiah, the last king on the throne of David, was seized by the pursuing Chaldeans, in -586. Eight centuries after Hiel, in the last pre-Christian century, Herod the Great built his winter palace and a Roman theater close to the site.

It was the Jericho that succumbed in the most dramatic circumstances, its great wall tumbling down, that beckoned archaeologists from the very first. A mound, visible from afar, covered the ancient city and its wall; an Arab village grew up nearby because of the clean springs that stream past the mound toward the Jordan and the Dead Sea, both in walking distance of a few hours: a fortified city that fell in a very definite moment of history is a desideratum and a prize that are matchless—and archaeological fervor sensed that here great discoveries awaited the diggers. But it was not until 1907 that E. Sellin and C. Watzinger, German archaeologists, after having obtained the necessary firman from the Turkish Government, lifted earth from a portion of the mound. The great wall was found and no archaeologist could possibly have missed it.

The excavation of this city brought to light three consecutive levels of occupation called by the excavators the “blue”, the “red”, and the “green”.(1) The “blue” was ascribed to the Canaanite period, the “red” to the Israelite period, and the “green” to the Judean period. But in the “red” level many scarabs of the Middle Kingdom were found, as well as pot handles impressed with seals of the same time. It was decided that all of them had been used as unintelligible amulets many hundreds of years after they were made.

However, thirteen years after the publication of the report of the excavations, one of the two excavators published a repudiation of their conclusions.(2) He put the city of the “blue” level in the third millennium, and the city of the “red” level, on the basis of its scarabs, he ascribed to the Middle Kingdom, a change of eight or nine hundred years. This “red” city had a tremendous wall and a palace that came to an end in a violent destruction. The “green” city was assigned to the ninth century, as the work of Hiel the Israelite.

As a result of this new assignment, “in the time of Joshua Jericho was but a heap of ruins on which, perchance, a few single hovels stood”.(3)

This means that the Israelites under Joshua did not find a city on the site of Jericho; the city walls could not have crumbled during the siege by the Israelites if they were already in ruins at the end of the Middle Kingdom.

The Turkish rule in Palestine ceased before the end of World War I and was followed by British occupation and mandate. John Garstang undertook new excavations at Jericho. He saw traces of intense fire. “Houses alongside the wall are found burned to the ground, their roofs have fallen upon the domestic pottery within.” (4) “Palace storerooms were burnt in a general conflagration.” “White ash was overlaid by a thick layer of charcoal and burnt debris.” (5)

The consecutive settlements from the lowest level up were called by the letters of the alphabet. One city was destroyed at the end of the Middle Kingdom or at the beginning of the time of the Hyksos. The invasion of the Israelites was synchronized with the end of City “D”, sometime in the days of Amenhotep III: a few scarabs of this king were found in the cemetery, and the excavator reasoned that the city must have fallen during the king’s reign. This theory was inspired by another theory which identified the Habiru of the el-Amarna letters with the Israelites.

Finally, after World War II, Jericho being now a part of the Jordan kingdom, Miss Kathleen Kenyon undertook the decisive work of clarifying Jericho’s history from the Neolithic age on. In several painstaking campaigns she lifted one veil after another from the city of legend and history. She was not led by any theory about the time of the Exodus, neither by that of Garstang who claimed Exodus in the days of Amenhotep II and Conquest in the days of Amenhotep III of the eighteenth dynasty (Habiru theory), nor by that of Albright that the Exodus took place in the days of Ramses II and the Conquest in the days of Merneptah (Israel Stele), both of the nineteenth dynasty, except that in agreement with all schemes of accepted chronology she expected to find the Old Testament confirmed and the great walls of Jericho dating from some time of the Late Bronze: The New Kingdom in Egypt, to which both the eighteenth and the nineteenth dynasties belonged. Whether the Exodus took place in the days of Amenhotep III and of the el-Amarna letters, or in the days of Ramses II or Merneptah and the Israel stele, the Conquest must have fallen into the Late Bronze or the New Kingdom in Egypt. Miss Kenyon revised Garstang’s estimates.

There was found a Jericho of the days of the Early Bronze—the Old Kingdom in Egypt. Its defenses were destroyed, and immediately and in great haste the people of Jericho built again, but their hastily-erected wall was destroyed by fire before having been completed. As to the causes of these destructions, Miss Kenyon expresses herself this way: “Earthquakes undoubtedly played their part. Owing to the cataclysmic terrestrial upheavals which resulted in the formation of this great cleft, the Jordan Valley is peculiarly liable to earthquakes.” (6)

In the time of the Middle Kingdom, Jericho was at its apogee as a city and fortress. “...the Middle Bronze Age is perhaps the most prosperous in the whole history of Palestine.” (7) “The defenses ... belong to a fairly advanced date in that period.” (8) There was “a massive stone revetment... part of a complex system” of defenses.(9) “The final buildings [of the Middle Bronze Age city] were violently destroyed and left in ruins with all their contents.” (10) Fire was one of the agents of destruction. “Over most of the area ... excavated on the west side of the mound, the thick layer of burning above the Middle Bronze Age buildings is the highest surviving layer.” (11)

After the great fortress, its palace and its walls ruined and burned, there was no Jericho again. The near-absence of Late Bronze remains is explained by an extraordinary amount of weathering on the site. “The houses of Late Bronze Age Jericho have therefore almost entirely disappeared.”(12) Only in one small area were foundations of Late Bronze Age houses discovered. When Garstang excavated the site, he found also “traces of the several houses which sprang up independently of the fortifications upon the ruins of the city at its northern end.” (13) The time of this settlement was near the end of the eighteenth dynasty in Egypt, the days of Amenhotep III or Amenhotep IV (Akhnaton).

But of any fortifications that the Late Bronze Age settlement might have had, no trace survives. Garstang thought to have found them in the excavations that he conducted on the site between 1930 and 1936; but the double line of wall, thought by Garstang to be of the Late Bronze age, or New Kingdom in Egypt, was proved to date from the Early Bronze, contemporary with the Old Kingdom in Egypt. Garstang’s conclusion of a sizable fortress in the days of Amenhotep III was shown to be wrong. Very few traces were found above the destruction level of the Middle Bronze Age city, which, in accordance with the statement cited above, “is the highest surviving layer.”

“It is a sad fact”, wrote Miss Kenyon, “that of the town walls of the Late Bronze Age, within which period the attack by the Israelites must fall by any dating, not a trace remains. . . . As concerns the date of the destruction of Jericho by the Israelites, all that can be said is that the latest Bronze Age occupation should, in my view, be dated to the third quarter of the fourteenth century B.C. This is a date which suits neither the school of scholars which would date the entry of the Israelites into Palestine to c. 1400 B.C. nor the school which prefers a date of c. 1260 B.C.” (14)

We carefully followed this trend of thought and we see that, under the great walls of Jericho, the theories of Conquest in the days of Habiru (El-Amarna) and the Conquest in the days of Merneptah (Israel Stele) are equally well-buried.

In Conclusions to her Digging up Jericho, Kathleen Kenyon wrote with a sigh:

“At just that stage when archaeology should have linked with the written record, archaeology fails us. This is regrettable. There is no question of the archaeology being needed to prove that the Bible is true but it is needed as a help in interpretation to those older parts of the Old Testament which from the nature of their sources . . . cannot be read as a straight-forward record.”

And what a pity it is. “When Joshua wished to lead the Children of Israel into the Promised Land, he said to his spies ‘go view the land and Jericho’, because Jericho was the entrance into central Palestine.” (15)

A tragic note is heard in Kenyon’s report. She intended to discover the truthfulness of the written record. Some other scholars did not share Kenyon’s regret. Professor Martin Noth pointed to the Jericho discrepancy as the best and most decisive proof of the unreliable character of the historical parts of the Old Testament. It became a major issue for Old Testament studies. When Professor Wright of Harvard expressed himself as trusting the historical truth of Old Testament records, he was accosted by Professor Finkelstein of Los Angeles University with reference to the walls of Jericho that were in ruins long before the Israelites reached them.(16)

The conclusion reached by the excavator of the great-walled Jericho—a Middle Bronze city, destroyed only a short time after the end of the Middle Kingdom—is in perfect agreement with the time table of Ages in Chaos: the Israelites arrived at the walls of Jericho only a single generation after the end of the Middle Kingdom in Egypt, still in the Middle Bronze (the beginning of the Hyksos occupation). There is complete agreement between the archaeological finds and the scriptural record.(17)

In the days of Ahab, Hiel, his subject, built on the ruins of Jericho. No wonder that the few buildings that were erected at that time and the few tombs that were used, date from the time of Amenhotep III and IV (Akhnaton). Hiel’s building activity in Jericho falls in their time because they were contemporaries of Ahab. Over sixty-five of Ahab’s letters addressed to these pharaohs are in the el-Amama collection, found in the short-lived capital of Akhnaton.

The stumbling block is really a foundation stone; the great walls of Jericho fell suddenly when the Israelites under Joshua, after crossing the Jordan, were closing in on the city; and the temporary reoccupation almost six hundred years later is, once more, a case of a complete agreement between archaeology and the written record; it verifies the present reconstruction and is verified by it.


References

  1. E. Sellin and C. Watzinger, Jericho, Die Eigebnisse del Ausgrabungen (Leipzig, 1913).

  2. C. Watzinger, “Zur Chronologie der Schichten von Jericho,” Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenlšndischen Gesellschaft, LXXX (1926), 131-36.

  3. Ibid., p.135.

  4. John Garstang, The Foundations of Bible History (1931), p. 146.

  5. J. Garstang and J.B.E. Garstang, The Story of Jericho (1940), p. 104.

  6. Kathleen Kenyon, Digging Up Jericho (London, 1957), pp. 175-176.

  7. Ibid., p.212.

  8. Ibid., p.214.

  9. Ibid., p.215.

  10. Ibid., p.229.

  11. Ibid., p.261.

  12. Ibid., p.261.

  13. John Garstang, The Foundations of Bible History, ‘Joshua, Judges’, (New York, 1931), p. 146.

  14. K. Kenyon, op. cit., pp. 261-262.

  15. Ibid., 266.

  16. G. Ernest Wright, “Is Glueck’s Aim to Prove that the Bible is True?”, The Biblical Archaeologist Reader, (Anchor Books, 1961).

  17. [The archeology agrees with the Biblical account even in minor details. Miss Kenyon reports of the last Middle Bronze Age city (MB II) that “very little metal was found” (Digging Up Jericho, p.232.). This is consistent with Joshua 6:24: “And they burnt the city with fire, and all that was therein: only the silver, and the gold, and the vessels of brass and iron, they put into the treasury of the house of the Lord”. On the archeological anomalies of Jericho see also John J. Bimson, “The Conquest of Canaan and the Revised Chronology,” S.I.S. Review I, 3 (Summer 1976), pp. 2ff, and G. Gammon, “The Walls of Jericho,” Ibid., pp. 4-5.]



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