“I respect your willingness to go where the evidence leads. Have you ever come across the work of Bryant Wood? He is an archaeologist who believes that the walls of Jericho fell when the Israelites came into Canaan. If I recall correctly, his argument is that a Middle Bronze wall could have lasted into the Late Bronze Age.”
I appreciate your question, James. Especially since you noted that I do prize the evidence and at least try to follow it where I believe it leads me. Often where I am led is not where many Christians would like me to be, as I was informed today by a Christian college friend of mine whose spouse seems to read my work closely. Nonetheless, honest inquiry doesn’t allow such factors to blur and warp the process of seeking truth, as I try to do here at my site. Now, for the question.
According to the biblical narrative “When the people heard the sound of ram’s horns, they shouted as loud as they could. Suddenly, the walls of Jericho collapsed, and the Israelites charged straight into the town and captured it” (Joshua 6:20, emphasis mine). The long story short, the Bible claims that Jericho town had walls that fell at the feet of the invading Israelite forces which enabled them to conquer the town (I recently examined how this relates to biblical inerrancy). The problem, however, is that mid 20th century excavations by Kathleen Kenyon has rendered doubt on several of these details (1). Scholars have widely accepted Kenyon’s diagnosis over the previous theory put forth by John Garstang. Garstang believed that the biblical narrative concerning Jericho’s invasion was historical and he dated the invasion to 1400 BC. However, over a decade later Kenyon examined the evidence with more sophisticated technology and dating techniques. She dated the Jericho invasion to 1550 BC and found no signs of any habitation for the period around 1400 BC. Kenyon’s findings have proven conclusive and has since convinced the academy en masse (14). “The overwhelmingly dominant scholarly position,” explains Christian Old Testament scholar Peter Enns, “is that the city of Jericho was at most a small settlement and without walls during the time of Joshua” (2). Karen Armstrong, in her well articulated treatment of the Bible, explains that “Israeli archaeologists, who have been excavating the region since 1967, have found no evidence to corroborate this story: there is no sign of foreign invasion or mass destruction, and nothing to indicate a large-scale change of population” (3). This brief background helps to sketch out the overwhelming consensus of scholars, Christian and non-Christian alike, on this issue. Now, how does Bryant Wood factor in, as James suggests he does?
Firstly, Bryant Wood is a prominent archaeologist and Christian, but he is also an inerrantist which is a clear sign of bias in favour of the biblical texts and Christian religion. The inerrantist believes that the Bible does not, and cannot, make any mistakes whatsoever on matters of science, history etc. So, before the interpretative process even begins the inerrantist, such as Wood, rules out the possibility that the Bible can err in anyway. This is a controlling presupposition that is used as a template to evaluate any evidence. And experience in engaging with inerrantists taught me that no matter how compelling the counter evidence is against inerrancy the inerrantist will still stick to his inerrancy. The point being is that Wood’s clearly has a theological bias before he even interprets the evidence; a bias that most historians who at least try to remain objective do not have.
Secondly, Wood argued that Garstang was correct in dating the fall of Jericho to about 1400 BC, which supported not only the historicity of the Jericho story but also the early date of the exodus. However, Enns explains that “Wood’s interpretation has gained no traction among archaeologists for evidentiary (not ideological) reasons. Further, placing Jericho’s destruction in the Late Bronze period creates a whole other problem” (5). One problem is that radiocarbon dating of grains (charred cereal grains from the City IV destruction layer) persuasively suggests that Jericho City IV was destroyed during the late 17th or the 16th century BC (6). This puts the discovery in line with Kenyon’s findings. Dr. Aardsma, a Christian of the Biblical Chronologist, likewise agrees that “Wood’s chronology is not valid, we are left with the problem we started with. Traditional biblical chronology conflicts with the archaeological/radiocarbon chronology of Jericho. Traditional biblical chronology places the date of the Conquest of Jericho at a time when there was no city at Jericho” (7). This certainly gives the ring of truth to Woods’ own words that “Jericho has become the parade example of the difficulties encountered in attempting to correlate the findings of archaeology with the biblical account of a military conquest of Canaan” (8).
Thirdly, the way the town of Jericho is said to have been destroyed is seen to be quite inconsistent with the archaeological evidence (9). No evidence that the Israelites “burned the city with fire” (Josh. 6:24) exists which is clearly another issue for inerrantists like Wood. The accepted explanation is that the author of Joshua was writing some “centuries after any historical events and take the form of invented history designed to serve theological, cultic, and political agendas” (10). That the author(s) penned their accounts many centuries removed from the events almost certainly explains the historical errors in the text (12). This is why most scholars reject the view of Wood’s and realize that the Jericho conquest is historically problematic (13).
I believe one could fittingly conclude with the thoughts of the late Piotr Bieńkowski, a former classical scholar and archaeologist. Bieńkowski explained that “Not a single one of these arguments” from Wood’s “can stand up to scrutiny. On the contrary, there is strong evidence to confirm Kathleen Kenyon’s dating of City IV to the Middle Bronze Age. Wood’s attempt to equate the destruction of City IV with the Israelite conquest of Jericho must therefore be rejected” (11).
1. Kenyon, K. 1957. Digging Up Jericho: The Results of the Jericho Excavations 1952–1956. p. 256-265.
2. Enns, P. 2013. “Inerrancy, However Defined, Does Not Described What the Bible Does” in Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy. p. (Scribd ebook format) REF number
3. Armstrong, K. 2007. The Bible: A Biography. p. 20 (Scribd ebook format)
4. Wood, L. 1986. A Survey of Israel’s History. p. 74.
5. Enns, P. 2013. Ibid.
6. Aardsma, G. Is Bryant Wood’s chronology of Jericho valid? Available.
7. Aardsma, G. Ibid.
8. Wood, B. 1990. “Did the Israelites Conquer Jericho? A New Look at the Archaeological Evidence” in Biblical Archaeology Review. p. 49.
9. Enns, P. 2013. Ibid. p. 60.
10. Enns, P. 2013. Ibid. p. 61.
11. Bieńkowski, P. 1990. “Jericho Was Destroyed in the Middle Bronze Age, Not the Late Bronze Age” in Biblical Archaeology Review 16(5).
12. Creach, J. 2003. Joshua. p. 9-10.
13. Killebrew, A. 2005. Biblical Peoples and Ethnicity. p. 152.
14. Bruins, H. & Van Der Plicht, J. 1995. “Tell es-Sultan (Jericho): Radiocarbon results of short-lived cereal and multiyear charcoal samples from the end of the Middle Bronze Age” in Radiocarbon. 37(2). p. 213.