It is one of the most dramatic events chronicled in the O.T., but for generations, scholars have debated whether the Israelites’ assault on Jericho was fact or myth. Over the past 3 decades, the consensus has gone against the biblical version. The late British archaeologist Kathleen Kenyon established in the 50’s that while the ancient city was indeed destroyed, it happened around 1550 B.C., some 150 years before Joshua could have shown up.
Kenyon Was Wrong According to Wood
But archaeologist Bryant Wood, writing in the March/April issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, claims that Kenyon was wrong. Based on a reevaluation of her research, which was published in detail only recently, Wood says that the city walls could have come tumbling down at just the right time to match the Biblical account. While that does not prove that the event happened, it does give plausibility to the O.T. Version.
Kenyon’s dating of Jericho’s destruction was based largely on the fact that she failed to find a type of decorative pottery, imported from Cyprus, that was popular in the region around 1400 B.C.. Its absence, she reasoned, meant that the city had long since become uninhabited. But Wood, an ancient pottery expert at the U. of Toronto, argues that Kenyon’s excavations were made in a poorer part of the city, where the expensively imported pottery would have been absent in any case. And he says that other pottery, dug up in Jericho in the 1930’s, was common in 1400 B.C.
Consistent with the Bible
Except for the disputed dating, Kenyon’s discoveries at Jericho were largely consistent with the Bible story. For one thing, she found that the walls had fallen in a way suggestive of sudden collapse. Many scholars think the destruction was caused by an earthquake, which could also account for a temporary damming of the Jordan River described in the Bible. Moreover, Kenyon found bushels of grain on the site. That is consistent with the Bible’s assertions that Jericho was conquered quickly. If the city had capitulated after a long siege, the grain would have been used up.
A thick layer of soot at the site, which according to radiocarbon dating 14 was laid down about 1400 B.C. supports the biblical idea that the city was burned, not simply conquered. Finally, Egyptian amulets found in Jericho graves can be dated to around 1400 B.C. as well. Says Wood: “It looks to me as though the biblical stories are correct.”
…The most serious sticking point: few scholars think Joshua and fellows entered the land as early as 1400 B.C. Most believe the Israelites came about 200 years later, and then not as military conquerors but as a wave of immigrants. (p. 59)