Jericho PDF Print E-mail
Written by Stephen Langfur
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The Oldest City
Archaeological Debate
Mount of Temptation
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Jericho Road

When Did What Walls Fall?
The Archaeological Debate Over Jericho

In the first half of the second millennium BC, Jericho encompassed ten or twelve acres, though much consisted of ramparts. According to Kathleen Kenyon, this city was destroyed (along with many others in the country) when the Egyptians established control in Canaan after driving out the Hyksos - an event usually dated to 1550 BC, long before the time of Joshua. She finds no city at Jericho again until the 11th century, well after the time of Joshua.

In the early 1980's, a few years after Kenyon's death, her detailed reports were published. Bryant G. Wood took a new look at her findings and re-evaluated them in the Biblical Archaeology Review (March-April 1990). The city with the impressive ramparts, he holds, endured all through the Middle Bronze Age (2100-1550 BC) and was destroyed in a period called Late Bronze IIA: about 1400 BC. This would fit the date of Israel's entry into Canaan, if that date is reckoned by adding up the years in the Bible since Creation.

n the 1980's, Israeli archaeologists carried out surface surveys in the hill country between the Jezreel Valley and Beersheba. They found 248 sites in the Middle Bronze Age (2100-1550 BC), then a sudden drop to a mere 29 in the Late Bronze (1550-1200 BC) followed by an upsurge to 254 in Iron Age I (1200-1000 BC). (The  upsurge reflects a great upheaval that took place throughout the Eastern Mediterranean in the late 13th and early 12th centuries BC.) These Iron-Age settlements were mostly small. They "possessed an overall material culture that led directly on into the true, full-blown Iron Age culture of the Israelite Monarchy" (Dever ).

Using the pottery and architectural styles of the Late Bronze period, it is impossible to distinguish the Israelites from other ethnic groups. One thing, however, does seem to work: the study of animal bones. At Ashkelon, Ekron and Timna (Timna in the Shephelah), three Philistine sites, between 8% and 18% of the animal bones belonged to pigs. These were popular at other lowlands sites as well. At Heshbon in the highlands of Transjordan, 5% of the bones belonged to pigs. At Ebal and Raddana, two Israelite sites, the percentage of pig bones was zero, and at Shilo, 0.1 (someone noshing on the sly). "(Pigs) disappear from the faunal assemblages of the hill country... The faunal assemblages of Iron II [1000-586 BC -- SL] reflect the same traits." (Finkelstein , p. 206.) citing B. Hesse , pp. 217-218.

For the Cisjordanian highlands, William Dever writes:

Population estimates, based on site size and well-developed ethnographic parallels, indicate a central hill-country population of only about 12,000 at the end of the Late Bronze Age (13th century B.C.E.), which then grew rapidly to about 55,000 by the 12th century B.C.E. and then to about 75,000 by the 11th century B.C.E. Such a dramatic population explosion simply cannot be accounted for by natural increase alone, much less by positing small groups of pastoral nomads settling down. Large numbers of people must have migrated here from somewhere else, strongly motivated to colonize an underpopulated fringe area of urban Canaan, now in decline at the end of the Late Bronze Age.
Here is the view of A. F. Rainey:
The Egyptian records reveal that the Shasu pastoralists were becoming more numerous and troublesome during the thirteenth century BCE. The archaeological surveys in the central hill country indicate that the Iron I settlements initially sprang up in marginal areas where pastoralists could graze their flocks and engage in dry farming. Later they spread westward, cleared the forests and began building agricultural terraces. Nowadays there is no compelling reason to doubt the general trend of the Biblical tradition that those pastoralists were mainly immigrants from Transjordan.
Yet some of these new settlers may have come from within Canaan itself. In the 13th century BC, the Egyptians strengthened their hold on the lowlands. They took power from local notables and put it in the hands of Egyptian officials, imposing new laws on everyone. To escape the central authority, some probably shrank back into the hill country where they could be free.

Conclusion: the Israelites first settled in the central highlands toward the end of the 13th century BC. This fits the first mention of Israel in an extra-Biblical document, namely the stele of Pharaoh Merneptah, which is dated to ca. 1205 BC.

Wood is aware of these arguments, but he holds to his position. One who agrees with it, David Livingston, proposes that the Israelites arrived around 1400 BC but that they lived for 200 years in tents, which leave no traces, until at last they decided to build houses. Yet why would they not build houses soon after arrival? They had no venerable tradition of living in tents. There was plenty of building material. Anyone who has braved the winter in the highlands of Cisjordan would use that material as quickly as possible.

Thus, even if Middle Bronze Jericho lasted till 1400 BC, as Wood maintains, we would still have a problem of two centuries. To eliminate them would require a major revision of archaeological analysis at several sites . The motive for such a revision would have to be a new chronology. Future work in radiocarbon dating and the counting of tree rings may supply such a motive, but so far it has not.

In addition to the results from the Cisjordanian highlands, we have evidence from Egypt, again pointing to the end of the 13th century BC. For this, see our page on the exodus, entitled From Egypt to Canaan. Contrast, however, this article by Wood, which suggests the Hyksos period as the time of slavery in Egypt.

When was the last Bronze-Age destruction of Jericho?

If we leave the question of the Biblical story aside, we still have Wood's points dating a destruction of Jericho to 1400 BC. Do these points hold water? Should we revise the dating of Kenyon?

1. Imported Cypriot and Mycenean pottery constitute a clear and firm ceramic indicator for the existence of a city in the Late Bronze Age.(See Mazar , pp. 218, 261- 264.) Kenyon asserted that there was no city here in the Late Bronze period (1550-1200 BC) because she found no Cypriot ware. According to Wood, however, her predecessor, Garstang, did find Cypriot ware, though he did not recognize it as such.

2. Wood points out that in a cemetery just northwest of the tell, Garstang found scarabs with the names of pharaohs from the Late Bronze period. But since such items were passed through the generations as heirlooms, they could have been laid in the grave in the Iron Age. Also, during times of pastoral nomadism, people sometimes buried their dead near tells that were not in use. (Mazar , p. 279.)

3. In his article from 1990, Wood mentioned some charcoal that had been dated by the Carbon-14 method to around 1400 BC, but this dating was later corrected. All Carbon-14 dates from the last Bronze-Age destruction support Kenyon's dating. Since the amount of C-14 in the atmosphere varies at different times, raw C-14 dates are calibrated to actual dates by checking the C-14 in trees, whose rings can serve as an independent indicator. Wood cites studies showing regional differences among trees with respect to the quantity of C-14 at given times. Since there is not enough data from local trees to calibrate raw C-14 dates, Wood refuses to accept the above findings for Jericho. (For more, see dating.)

Wood has made further arguments:

4. If Jericho was destroyed in 1550 BC, who would have done the deed? This was the time when the Egyptians drove the Hyksos out. It does not make sense that the fleeing Hyksos would have destroyed the town. As for the Egyptians, their records show them pursuing the Hyksos only as far as Sharuhen, a city in the Negev.

However, since Kenyon's dig at Jericho, archaeologists have found evidence of numerous destructions throughout the country, all dated to around 1550 BC. (To name just some of the better-known cities that fell: Hebron, Shiloh, Jerusalem, Gezer, Aphek -- in addition to Sharuhen.) The destroyers may have been local people, taking advantage of the collapse of Hyksos control. Or they may have been, pace Wood, the Egyptians, who established control over Canaan during the next hundred years. (See Mazar, pp. 226-27.)

In this connection, one discovery is puzzling. In the destruction layer of the last Bronze Age Jericho, Kenyon found storage jars containing six bushels of grain. Wood dwells on this point. The find speaks against a long siege, for the grain would have been eaten. It also speaks against a conquest by the Egyptians, who preferred to attack before the harvest, taking the crops for their troops and laying siege to the cities.The presence of grain suggests that the harvest was recently past, which could indicate springtime, as fits the Biblical account. Moreover, one would expect the conquerors to eat the grain - unless they were prohibited by God from taking anything, as the Israelites were. Puzzling as the find may be, however, we have already seen that the Israelites would not have been here either in 1550 or in 1400 BC - unless, of course, we accept the suggestion that they lived in tents for 200 years.