Excavation Evidence for Jericho

Jericho Tel es Sultan

Jericho. There are few who have not heard the name of this ancient biblical city. The story of the Israelis marching around its walls and blowing trumpets has been a favorite one to tell in Sunday school classrooms for generations. But did this city really exist? Easton’s Bible Dictionary states that it was,

            a fenced city in the midst of a vast grove of palm trees, in the plain of Jordan, over against the place where that river was crossed by the Israelites (Jos 3:16). Its site was near the ‘Ain es-Sultan, Elisha’s Fountain (2Ki 2:19-22), about 5 miles west of Jordan. It was the most important city in the Jordan valley (Num 22:1; Num 34:15), and the strongest fortress in all the land of Canaan. It was the key to Western Palestine.[1]

The city of Jericho had two sites in the Biblical chronology, one for the Old Testament and one for the New Testament. The site covered here will be the Old Testament site, thought by some to be Tel es-Sultan. Tel es-Sultan has much to tell about the ancient Old Testament city of Jericho. In doing so the historical background of the site must be illumianated, as well as the objectives of the current and on going excavation. There has been much progress on the site from its discovery to the present– much of which has major significance to biblical studies.

The earliest explorer to the site, besides that of those from antiquity, was Captain Charles Warren of the Royal British Engineering Corps. In 1868 he cut a trench into the site and concluded that there was nothing there of interest.[2] The first group to conduct an extensive scientific archaeological expedition was a Austro-German team in 1907 till 1909 under the direction of Ernst Sellin and Cari Watzinger. They extensively excavated the tell, but wrongly dated the chronology until the work of W. F. Albright helped Watzinger to correct it. Their major contribution was to show that the site was occupied continuously from the tenth to the sixth century BC.[3]

It wasn’t until 1930 that the site was once again reopened for excavation, but this time by the British under the leadership of the distinguished John Garstang. His work revealed important discoveries such as “Mesolithic and especially Neolithic layers, the period when (J)ericho was one of the most relevant sites of the whole Fertile Crescent; the huge necropolis west and north of the site, with a series of familiar tombs from the Early, Middle, and Late Bronze Age.”[4] The second British excavation in 1952 was led by the controversial and influential K. M. Kenyon who’s work in Tel es-Sultan set the standard for archaeology.[5] Kenyon argued that Garstang had made an error in his excavation and dated the destruction of the Tell to the MB period due to the absence of bichrome pottery.[6] This set off a great debate since setting the destruction of Jericho in the MB period, instead of the LB period, would likely make its destruction too late to have been caused by Joshua and the Israelites in the Exodus. Dr. Bryant Wood re-evaluated the data and found through the discovery of bichrome pottery that the destruction matches closer to the LBA period.[7]

Current work on Tel es-Sultan has been progressed by the Italian-Palestinian Expedition since 1997 in cooperation with Rome University. The main focus has been on the Bronze Age city fortifications and residential areas.[8] “The basic contribution of the Italian–Palestinian expedition was to put forward an overall periodization of the site, reexamining and matching the data produced by all the previous expeditions.”[9] This expedition has confirmed Kenyon’s MB destruction with a small LB occupation after.[10] Their most current report (season 2015) states that their objectives were to continue archaeological research in Areas A, B, B West, G, P and S, use the new site mapping on all shipments, continue the restoration and museum display in the Archaeological Park of the Oasis of Jericho, and to train Palestinian archaeologists and restorers in all the steps of documentation, publication, and dissemination of the results of the excavation.[11]

When all the progress on the site is considered, its reveals archaeological evidence that is helpful to biblical studies. Dr. Wood and others have argued for several parallels between the biblical record for the destruction of Jericho and archaeological evidence for it.[12] First, Jericho was strongly fortified and the walls collapsed at the time of the city’s destruction. Second, the destruction happened during harvest as the biblical record indicates. Also of interest is that several grain storage jars were burned without being plundered. The evidence indicates that the siege of Jericho was short since so much of the grain was not consumed. The city walls were leveled as part of the destruction and the city was destroyed by fire. According to the evidence Jericho lay abandoned for a period of time as well.[13] Dr. Graves comments on this evidence and states “While the date of the destruction of the city continues to be debated, there is no doubt that the city met with a violent end, and scholars should be at least open to the possibility that the destruction involved the army of Israel…”[14]

The site of Tel es-Sultan, otherwise known as Jericho, still has a lot more to tell. But at the very least it proves that there even was a city called Jericho, despite the debate as to its destruction. The site has a rich history, both in the annals of ancient history and in the more recent record of scientific archaeological excavation. One lesson that can be learned from Tel es-Sultan is not to rely on non-evidence as evidence as Kenyon did in the second British excavation. In conclusion, it is sure that Tel es-Sultan is Jericho, but whether or not it will continue to confirm the biblical account of it with certainty remains to be seen.

 

Bibliography

Bible, Holy. New King James Version.

Easton, M. “Jericho – Easton’s Bible Dictionary.” Blue Letter Bible. Last Modified 24 Jun, 1996.       https://www.blueletterbible.org//search/Dictionary/viewTopic.cfm

Graves, David E. “Jericho” Deus Artefacta. Feb. 8th, 2016.             http://smyrnaean.blogspot.ca/2016/02/jericho.html

Graves, David E. Biblical Archaeology: An Introduction with Recent Discoveries that Support           the Reliability of the Bible. NB, Canada: Electronic Christian Media, 2014.

“History of Archaeological Exploration at Tell es-Sultan/Jericho.” Tell es-Sultan/Jericho.           Accessed on 6/25/16. http://www.lasapienzatojericho.it/History.php

Nigro, Lorenso. “Tell es-Sultan/Jericho: in the Early Bronze II (3000-2700 BC): the rise of an         early Palestinian city A synthesis of the results of four archaeological expeditions.” STUDIES ON THE ARCHAEOLOGYOF PALESTINE & TRANSJORDAN, no. 5 (2010).

Price, Randall. The Stones Cry Out: What Archaeology Reveals About the Truth of the Bible. Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House Publishers, 1997.

Endnotes

[1] Easton, M. “Jericho – Easton’s Bible Dictionary,” Blue Letter Bible, Last Modified 24 Jun, 1996, https://www.blueletterbible.org//search/Dictionary/viewTopic.cfm

[2] “History of Archaeological Exploration at Tell es-Sultan/Jericho,” Tell es-Sultan/Jericho, accessed on 6/25/16, http://www.lasapienzatojericho.it/History.php.

[3] History of Archaeological Exploration at Tell es-Sultan/Jericho

[4] History of Archaeological Expl.

[5] History of Archaeological…

[6] David Graves, Biblical Archaeology: An Introduction with Recent Discoveries that Support the Reliability of the Bible, Canada: Electronic Christian Media, 1997, p. 149.

[7] Graves, Biblical Archaeology, 150.

[8] History of Archaeology.

[9] History of Archae.

[10] Graves, 149.

[11] “Season 2015,” Tell es-Sultan/Jericho, accessed on 6/25/16, http://www.lasapienzatojericho.it/Season.php?Res=2015

[12] Graves, 150

[13] Graves, 152

[14] Graves, 153.

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