The Walls of Jericho

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This article was first published in the Spring 1999 issue of Bible and Spade.

Excerpt Jericho was once thought to be a “Bible problem” because of the seeming disagreement between archaeology and the Bible. When the archaeology is correctly interpreted, however, the opposite is the case. The archaeological evidence supports the historical accuracy of the Biblical account in every detail. Every aspect of the story that could possibly be verified by the findings of archaeology is, in fact, verified... Continue reading

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When one hears the name “Jericho” one naturally thinks of Israelites marching, trumpets sounding and walls falling. It is a wonderful story of faith and victory that we enjoy reading and telling in Sunday School class, but did it really happen? The skeptic would say no, it is merely a folk tale to explain the ruins at Jericho. The reason for this negative outlook is the excavation carried out at the site in the 1950s under the direction of British archaeologist Kathleen Kenyon. She concluded,

It is a sad fact 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.…The excavation of Jericho, therefore, has thrown no light on the walls of Jericho of which the destruction is so vividly described in the Book of Joshua (Kenyon 1957: 261–62).

Thomas A. Holland, who was editor and co-author of Kenyon’s excavation reports, summarized the apparent results as follows:

Kenyon concluded, with reference to the military conquest theory and the L[ate] B[ronze Age] walls, that there was no archaeological data to support the thesis that the town had been surrounded by a wall at the end of LB I (ca. 1400 BCE...) (Holland 1997: 223).

H.J. Franken, a member of the Jericho excavation staff, stated,

Miss Kenyon’s work has presented scholars with the hard fact that if Joshua was active with the incoming Israelites either c. 1400 or c. 1200 B.C. he would not have been able to capture a great walled city of Jericho, because there was no city of Jericho in these periods…the huge ruins of the Hyksos city gave rise to the folktale attached to the hero Joshua (1965: 190, 200).

According to Kenyon’s dating, there was no city for the Israelites to conquer at the end of the 15th century BC, the Biblical date for the event. The Jericho of Joshua’s time could not be found-it was lost! Through our research, however, we have found the lost city of Jericho, the Jericho attacked by the Israelites.


 
 

Aerial view of Jericho, looking south. The trenches and squares visible today are from Kathleen Kenyon’s excavations in the 1950s and the more recent Italian-Palestinian excavation which began in 1997.

Fortifications of Jericho

Before the Israelites entered the promised land Moses told them, “You are now about to cross the Jordan to go in and dispossess nations greater and stronger than you, with large cities that have walls up to the sky” (Dt 9:1). The meticulous work of Kenyon showed that Jericho was indeed heavily fortified and that it had been burned by fire. Unfortunately, she misdated her finds, resulting in what seemed to be a discrepancy between the discoveries of archaeology and the Bible. She concluded that the Bronze Age city of Jericho was destroyed about 1550 BC by the Egyptians. An in-depth analysis of the evidence, however, reveals that the destruction took place at the end of the 15th century BC (end of the Late Bronze I period), exactly when the Bible says the Conquest occurred (Wood 1990).


 

Pottery found at Jericho by John Garstang. This distinctive pottery, decorated with red and black geometric patterns, was in use only in the 15th century BC, the time of the Israelite Conquest according to Biblical chronology.

The mound, or “tell,” of Jericho was surrounded by a great earthen rampart, or embankment, with a stone retaining wall at its base. The retaining wall was some 12–15 ft high. On top of that was a mudbrick wall 6 ft thick and about 20–26 ft high (Sellin and Watzinger 1973: 58). At the crest of the embankment was a similar mudbrick wall whose base was roughly 46 ft above the ground level outside the retaining wall. This is what loomed high above the Israelites as they marched around the city each day for seven days. Humanly speaking, it was impossible for the Israelites to penetrate the impregnable bastion of Jericho.

Plan of the ruins of Jericho. A-area excavated by John Garstang where he found evidence for the destruction of Jericho by the Israelites which he dated to ca. 1400 BC. B-Two 8x8 m squares excavated by Kathleen Kenyon where she found similar evidence for destruction, but misdated it to 1550 BC and attributed it to the Egyptians.

 


Within the upper wall was an area of approximately 6 acres, while the total area of the upper city and fortification system together was half again as large, or about 9 acres. Based on the archaeologist’s rule of thumb of 100 persons per acre, the population of the upper city would have been about 600. From excavations carried out by a German team in the first decade of this century, we know that people were also living on the embankment between the upper and lower city walls. In addition, those Canaanites living in surrounding villages would have fled to Jericho for safety. Thus, we can assume that there were several thousand people inside the walls when the Israelites came against the city.

 

Schematic cross-section of the fortification system at Jericho.

The Fallen Walls

The citizens of Jericho were well prepared for a siege. A copious spring which provided water for ancient, as well as modern, Jericho lay inside the city walls. At the time of the attack, the harvest had just been taken in (Jos 3:15), so the citizens had an abundant supply of food. This has been borne out by many large jars full of grain found in the Canaanite homes by John Garstang in his excavation in the 1930s and also by Kenyon. With a plentiful food supply and ample water, the inhabitants of Jericho could have held out for several years.

After the seventh trip around the city on the seventh day, Scripture tells us that the wall “fell flat” (Jos 6:20). A more accurate rendering of the Hebrew word here would be “fell beneath itself.” Is there evidence for such an event at Jericho? It turns out that there is ample evidence that the mudbrick city wall collapsed and was deposited at the base of the stone retaining wall at the time the city met its end.


 

Section drawing of Kenyon’s west trench, showing the fallen mud bricks from the collapsed city wall (red area to the left of retaining wall KD).

Kenyon’s work was the most detailed. On the west side of the tell, at the base of the retaining, or revetment, wall, she found,

fallen red bricks piling nearly to the top of the revetment. These probably came from the wall on the summit of the bank [and/or]…the brickwork above the revetment (Kenyon 1981: 110).

In other words, she found a heap of bricks from the fallen city walls! The renewed Italian-Palestinian excavations found exactly the same thing at the southern end of the mound in 1997.


Excavations at the outer (lower) fortification wall by the three major expeditions to Jericho. At the north end (numbers 1–5), a portion of the mud brick wall (red) atop the stone retaining wall survived, demonstrating that the city wall did not fall in this area. Nothing remains of the mud brick city wall at other points investigated, showing that it had collapsed everywhere else (numbers 6–13). Remnants of the collapsed city wall (red) were actually found still in place in three places at Jericho: number 11 (German excavation), number 12 (Kenyon’s excavation), and the 1997 Italian-Palestinian excavation extending Kenyon’s south trench at number 8.

According to the Bible, Rahab’s house was incorporated into the fortification system (Jos 2:15). If the walls fell, how was her house spared? As you recall, the spies had instructed Rahab to bring her family into her house and they would be rescued. When the Israelites stormed the city, Rahab and her family were saved as promised (Jos 6:17, 22–23). At the north end of the tell of Jericho, archaeologists made some astounding discoveries that seem to relate to Rahab.

The German excavation of 1907-1909 found that on the north a short stretch of the lower city wall did not fall as everywhere else. A portion of that mudbrick wall was still standing to a height of 8 ft (Sellin and Watzinger 1973: 58). What is more, there were houses built against the wall! It is quite possible that this is where Rahab’s house was located. Since the city wall formed the back wall of the houses, the spies could have readily escaped. From this location on the north side of the city, it was only a short distance to the hills of the Judean wilderness where the spies hid for three days (Jos 2:16, 22). Real estate values must have been low here, since the houses were positioned on the embankment between the upper and lower city walls. Not the best place to live in time of war! This area was no doubt the overflow from the upper city and the poor part of town, perhaps even a slum district.


After the city walls fell, how could the Israelites surmount the 12–15 foot high retaining wall at the base of the tell? Excavations have shown that the bricks from the collapsed walls fell in such a way as to form a ramp against the retaining wall. The Israelites could merely climb up over the pile of rubble, up the embankment, and enter the city. The Bible is very precise in its description of how the Israelites entered the city: “The people went up into the city, every man straight before him” (Jos 6:20, KJV). The Israelites had to go
up, and that is what archaeology has revealed. They had to go from ground level at the base of the tell to the top of the rampart in order to enter the city.


Dr. Wood points to collapsed mud bricks from the city wall that fell to the base of the retaining wall at Jericho. His left foot rests on part of the fallen wall. (Italian-Palestinian excavation, 1997, location 8.)

Destruction by Fire

The Israelites “burned the whole city and everything in it” (Jos 6: 24). Once again, the discoveries of archaeology have verified the truth of this record. A portion of the city destroyed by the Israelites was excavated on the east side of the tell. Wherever the archaeologists reached this level they found a layer of burned ash and debris about 3 ft thick. Kenyon described the massive devastation:

The destruction was complete. Walls and floors were blackened or reddened by fire, and every room was filled with fallen bricks, timbers, and household utensils; in most rooms the fallen debris was heavily burnt, but the collapse of the walls of the eastern rooms seems to have taken place before they were affected by the fire (Kenyon 1981: 370).


Excavations of John Garstang at Jericho showing the remains of the city destroyed by the Israelites in about 1400 BC.


Exterior of the retaining wall in Kenyon's west trench.


Section drawing of Kenyon’s excavation showing house walls from the city destroyed by the Israelites and the thick burn layer (lower red layer).

Both Garstang and Kenyon found many storage jars full of grain that had been caught in the fiery destruction. This is a unique find in the annals of archaeology. Grain was valuable, not only as a source of food, but also as a commodity which could be bartered. Under normal circumstances, valuables such as grain would have been plundered by the conquerors. Why was the grain left to be burned at Jericho? The Bible provides the answer. Joshua commanded the Israelites:

The city and all that is in it are to be devoted to the Lord. Only Rahab the prostitute and all who are with her in her house shall be spared, because she hid the spies we sent. But keep away from the devoted things, so that you will not bring about your own destruction by taking any of them. Otherwise you will make the camp of Israel liable to destruction and bring trouble on it. All the silver and gold and the articles of bronze and iron are sacred to the Lord and must go into His treasury (Jos 6:17–19).


Jars full of grain found by John Garstang at Jericho. They were charred in the fire that the Israelites set to destroy the Canaanite city.

The grain left at Jericho and found by archaeologists in modern times gives graphic testimony to the obedience of the Israelites nearly three and a half millennia ago. Only Achan disobeyed, leading to the debacle at Ai described in Joshua 7.

Such a large quantity of grain left untouched gives silent testimony to the truth of yet another aspect of the Biblical account. A heavily fortified city with an abundant supply of food and water would normally take many months, even years, to subdue. The Bible says that Jericho fell after only seven days. The jars found in the ruins of Jericho were full, showing that the siege was short since the people inside the walls consumed very little of the grain.


Lessons of Jericho

Jericho was once thought to be a “Bible problem” because of the seeming disagreement between archaeology and the Bible. When the archaeology is correctly interpreted, however, the opposite is the case. The archaeological evidence supports the historical accuracy of the Biblical account in every detail. Every aspect of the story that could possibly be verified by the findings of archaeology is, in fact, verified.

There are a number of theories as to how the walls of Jericho came down. Both Garstang and Kenyon found evidence of earthquake activity at the time the city met its end. If God did use an earthquake to accomplish His purposes that day, it was still a miracle since it happened at precisely the right moment, and was manifested in such a way as to protect Rahab’s house. No matter what agency God used, it was ultimately the faith of the Israelites that brought the walls down: “By faith the walls of Jericho fell, after the people had marched around them for seven days” (Heb 11:30).

The example of Jericho is a wonderful spiritual lesson for God’s people yet today. There are times when we find ourselves facing enormous “walls” that are impossible to break down by human strength. If we put our faith in God and follow His commandments, even when they seem foolish to us, He will perform “great and awesome deeds” (Dt 4:34) and give us the victory.

See Dr. Wood discuss the evidence in this cutting edge video, Jericho Unearthed. Jericho Unearthed can be purchased in the ABR bookstore.




See Dr. Wood present his research on Jericho in this video from 2009.

Bibliography

Franken, H.J.
1965 Tell es-Sultan and Old Testament Jericho. Oudtestamentische Studiën 14: 189–200.

Holland, T.A.
1997 Jericho. Pp. 220–24 in The Oxford Encyclopedia of Archaeology in the Near East, Vol. 3, ed. E.M. Myers. New York: Oxford University Press.

Kenyon, K.M.
1957 Digging Up Jericho. London: Ernest Benn.
1981 Excavations at Jericho, Vol. 3. London: British School of Archaeology in Jerusalem.

Sellin, E., and Watzinger, C.
1973 Jericho die Ergebnisse der Ausgrabungen. Osnabrück: Otto Zeller, reprint of 1913 edition.

Wood, B.G.
1990 Did the Israelites Conquer Jericho? Biblical Archaeology Review 16.2: 44–58. 

Comments Comment RSS

2/3/2009 1:14 PM #

Dear Austin,

In the "Related Articles" section above your comment are several more articles about Jericho that include many of the pictures you may be looking for... I hope this helps---Henry Smith

Henry Smith - 2/3/2009 1:14:31 PM

6/14/2009 8:04 PM #

I was wondering how many miles around the walls of Jericho did the Israelites have to walk. I can't seem to find out this question. I understand that inside was 6-9 acres but it doesn't tell me the mileage around the walls.

Norma Dodgens - 6/14/2009 8:04:58 PM

6/20/2009 5:20 AM #

For Norma Dodgens:

The upper city of Jericho occupied an area of about 6 acres.  If the fortification rampart around the upper city is included, the total area of Jericho was about 9 acres, with a circumference of about ½ mile.

Bryant G. Wood, Ph.D.

Bryant Wood - 6/20/2009 5:20:58 AM

9/13/2009 6:46 AM #

What language do you think the Spies and Rahab used to communicate with eachother?

Marcie - 9/13/2009 6:46:51 AM

9/15/2009 5:46 AM #

Dear Marcie,

Yes, that is an interesting question.  Canaanite and Hebrew are very similar languages, so I think it would have been quite easy for speakers of the two languages to communicate with one another.  One might compare it with Hebrew and Arabic today.  When the Patriarchs lived in Canaan it is clear that they had no trouble communicating with the local population.

Dr. Bryant Wood

ABR - 9/15/2009 5:46:32 AM

9/15/2009 7:46 PM #

Jerico fell becoz the children of Isreal followed the Holy Spirit's instructions detail by detail on how to conquour Jerico. Remember the chief commander of the army of God who is Christ Jesus was the one leading the attack but it had to take obedience on the part of Isreal for the battle to be won, this is a great wonder and no one can dispute what God did so miraculous and mind blowing, but it happened. Same applies to us as God's children no matter what problems we face if we follow the Holy spiri's instructions we shall be able to have victory becoz he dwells in us and in him there is no failure.  

Steve Msimuko - 9/15/2009 7:46:51 PM

6/15/2010 7:51 AM #

After reading this article, many will say there is no wall. What wall will be left after God gave specific orders to Joshua and his people on how to go about around the city and what to do no the seventh day.  With this vast destruction, only rubble would be left, but yet that rubble proves that the Bible is true because the Word of God is the Bible that we read today and His Word is true.  Those who do not believe in God and in Jesus Christ His Son our Savior has only to say it was an earthquake. If it were an earthquake then why is there not deep fisures in the ground? And why are there ruins of the jars of grain and other items left behind? All this would have been destroyed in an earthquake which proves again that the Bible the Word of God our Creator is true and what did occur is for real. Sorry that some only will believe in apes and evolution and in et's. Sorry for their souls.

Angela Rodriguez - 6/15/2010 7:51:21 AM

9/22/2010 6:40 PM #

I was reading this interesting article. What was the problem with Kenyon dating, and why did she feel the place was destroyed by the Egyptians?

As better dating been carried out, to disprove the other dating, or other date evidence?

vince white - 9/22/2010 6:40:40 PM

9/23/2010 11:03 AM #

Dear Vince White,

You can find more discussion on your question at:

www.biblearchaeology.org/.../...ical-Evidence.aspx

Blessings,

ABR

ABR - 9/23/2010 11:03:47 AM

10/11/2010 12:56 PM #

I was reading in 1 Kings, chapter 16:34 and it said that in Ahab's time a man named Hiel of Bethel rebuilt the walls of Jericho (at much personal expense). I wondered if he built it on top of the original Jericho or at a different location. I'm guessing perhaps at a different location because of the evidence found but nothing is addressed in your information that I can find about that. It puts unnecessary doubts in my head. Could you help me by answering that? Thank you.   Lisa

Lisa Keller-Johnson - 10/11/2010 12:56:39 PM

10/15/2010 10:06 AM #

Dear Lisa,

Thanks for your good question. Here is a brief answer from Dr. Wood:

Since reference is made in 1 Kings 16:34 to the curse Joshua put on anyone who would rebuild Jericho (Joshua 6:26), we can conclude that Hiel rebuilt the city that had been destroyed by the Israelites (Joshua 6) and where Eglon king of Moab later built a residency (Judges 3:12–30).  Excavations at the site in the early 20th century revealed remains that date to the reign of Ahab (874–853 BC).


I hope this is helpful to you in your study of the Scriptures,

Blessings,
ABR

ABR - 10/15/2010 10:06:13 AM

5/8/2011 1:00 AM #

When was the Wall of Jericho found?

Hana Yoo - 5/8/2011 1:00:29 AM

12/26/2011 8:20 PM #

If you would like to contact a minister by the name of Roberts Liardon, he may be able to tell you the story he told our church in the early 90's. When Roberts was 8 years old, Yahweh took him to heaven in a vision for about 8 hours. An angel told Roberts that the angels at Jericho pushed the wall of Jericho straight down into the ground, thus preserving Rahab's house on top of the wall. His story fits with your better rendering of the term "fell flat", meaning that the wall "fell beneath itself". Since hearing Roberts' story, I've often wondered, if the wall collapse did happen the way Roberts described, would that affect dating of the destruction of Jericho, since the burned remains/ruins would now be located at the "top" of the wall, instead of at its "base"?

Gene Benjamin II - 12/26/2011 8:20:06 PM

2/7/2012 1:33 AM #

So... 1/2 mile around... 600,000 warriors(?)  If they are spaced 3 feet apart... that means less than 1000 would be needed to encompass the city.  Should we think that they marched 600 deep?  Did they all march?  Thanks for your thoughts

Joe Bubar - 2/7/2012 1:33:32 AM

3/12/2012 7:04 PM #

what are the engineering discoveries from the remains of the wall of Jericho?
e.g. the art, design, lessons to the engineers  as shown by the findings.

Govinda - 3/12/2012 7:04:44 PM

5/11/2012 5:46 PM #

love this

bill oliver jr - 5/11/2012 5:46:28 PM

2/3/2014 4:56 PM #

I am still confused as to the location of Rahab's house. Was it in the top portion of the wall or near the bottom? Either way, somehow, God protected her house when the walls fell. Is there evidence as to the location of the house? And of course, the Israelites identified the house by the red cord she tied in the window. What were the shape of these windows, square or rounded on top? And was the sill of wood or stone? I ask because I understand that the sill was painted red to indicate that it was a prostitute residence..is that correct? I am trying to render this picture in paint and I want to be as accurate as possible. Thank you so much for your insight!

Lina Birge - 2/3/2014 4:56:30 PM

3/18/2014 1:14 PM #

As for Rahab's house...

On the northern section of the site, there are still some mud-brick walls standing. These correspond to the outer wall, and demonstrate that the notion of Rahab's house ("against the wall") standing, while the rest of the wall fell. Whether her house was 1 story or two, she had roof/upper floor where harvested products could dry out in the sun.

TIM - 3/18/2014 1:14:24 PM

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