After 40 years of wandering in the desert, and the death of the adult generation who had departed from Egypt (Numbers 13–14), it makes perfect sense that the Israelites would not have left a footprint in the archaeological record during these early, nation-forming days. They had been living in tents as sojourners in the desert for 40 years. They would have had little or no pottery-making expertise, and none of them had ever built a city.
Moreover, Scripture records that the Israelites did not take over the entire land all at once. In fact, the Conquest was not truly complete until the days of David and Solomon. This is clearly spelled out in the book of Judges, where the Canaanites remained a deeply negative influence through multiple cycles of idolatry and oppression over several centuries. Joshua lists several places the Israelites could not conquer (11:22, 13:1–5, 15:63, 16:10, 17:11–12, 17:16). The Israelites primarily conquered the highlands of Canaan, called the central hill country. Important areas were left unconquered, especially the lowlands.
Pottery production facilities and social infrastructure used by the indigenous population would have remained intact throughout the Judges era. The Israelites were not required to start a new material culture from scratch. Thus, we should not expect to find large-scale archaeological evidence of immediate Israelite takeover around 1400 BC, because the Bible explicitly tells us it took several centuries for such a takeover to happen.
As they slowly took over the land of promise and the Canaanite culture disappeared, the Israelites eventually would have to develop their own material culture. And this is what we find in the archaeological record starting around 1200 BC.9
Ironically, the lack of a widespread Israelite archaeological footprint is perfectly consistent with the biblical accounts.
The Bible does record three events that we would expect to find in the archeological record. Joshua destroyed and burned precisely three cities: Jericho, Ai, and Hazor. At all three cities, archaeologists have found compelling evidence consistent with the Bible.
Kathleen Kenyon based her 1550 BC destruction date primarily on the absence of expensive imported pottery from Cyprus, a feeble argument from silence. Imported Cypriote pottery would have been much more readily available near trade routes, such as the Way of the Sea (Via Maris), which ran through the coastal plain of Israel. As Wood has thoroughly documented, extensive amounts of local Canaanite pottery from the time of Joshua were discovered by both Garstang and Kenyon in the destruction layer at Jericho.
The correlations between the biblical account and the archaeological record are impressive:
• The city was strongly fortified (Joshua 2:5, 2:7, 2:15, 6:5, 6:20).
• The attack occurred just after harvest time in the spring (Joshua 2:6, 3:15, 5:10).
• The inhabitants had no opportunity to flee with their foodstuffs (Joshua 6:1).
• The siege was short (Joshua 6:15).
• The walls were leveled, possibly by an earthquake (Joshua 6:20).
• The city was not plundered (Joshua 6:17–18).
• The city was burned (Joshua 6:24).
Instead of being an indictment on the Bible, the archaeology from Jericho is a powerful extra-biblical witness to the accuracy of the Conquest narratives.