Wikipedia explains three archaeological studies of the Jericho site, and concludes that the city was abandoned at the time the supposed Biblical battle took place.
How do Christians reconcile the Biblical account with this science?
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Several methods of dating put the destruction of Jerusalem in 587 BC, the beginning of the building of Solomon's Temple in 967 BC, the Fall of Jericho in 1406 BC, and the descent into Egypt of Jacob in 1876 BC. Four scriptures are very useful for Bible chronology: Exodus 12:40, 1 Kings 6:1, and Ezekiel 40:1 together with Leviticus 25:9 and the Seder Olam comment that the Jubilee Year in Ezekiel 40:1 was the 17th.
The consensus of modern scholarship is well described in the Wikipedia article to which the question refers. Most scholars are committed to a view that the Old Testament for the most part contains myth possibly to bolster/justify Jewish claims on the land of Israel. Many are also committed to the Wellhausen Documentary Hypothesis or similar derivatives.
It would not be welcome to many to discover that there is evidence that the walls of Jericho came tumbling down just as the Bible says and in a year which substantiates the conquest of the land of Israel harmonizing with scriptural testimony.
The testimony of radiocarbon dating: Fall of Jericho, about 1550 BC
Before continuing, I must acknowledge that the carbon dating does not at first appear to corroborate the date of the Fall of Jericho presented here: most scholars take these carbon dates at face value and assert that Jericho was destroyed about 1550 BC. However, it is not the only time that carbon dating has come up with an answer that is doubted by archaeologists. The evidence of the carbon dating must be weighed against other evidence: in the view of archaeologist Dr Bryant Wood dating Middle Eastern sites by means of pottery evidence trumps carbon dating methods. Furthermore, the carbon dating method relies on calibration using tree-ring data in order to produce absolute year values: it is the assumptions made in the calibration, and the poor quality of the underlying tree-ring data which are disputed:
The LB I [Late Bronze Age I] dating has received much opposition from skeptical archaeologists, who insist on dating the pottery at Jericho City IV to Middle Bronze, about 120 years earlier, and who also appeal to radiocarbon dating that is consistent with that estimate. Bryant’s present work is therefore significant in refuting that viewpoint. Support for Bryant’s LB I date comes from the finds at Avaris in Egypt’s Delta, where LB I pottery from the 15th century BC is similar to that found at Jericho City IV. Further, radiocarbon dating for this same area and time of Egypt is about 120 to 170 years too high, the same amount of offset for radiocarbon results from Jericho [emboldening is mine, AS]. These too-early radiocarbon dates for Egypt and other areas of the Mediterranean in the period 1400 BC and earlier have led to a conflict between “science” and what had been accepted as firmly established archaeological dates. Critics of the radiocarbon dates have argued that they are too early, not because of wrong measurements of the 14C/12C ratios, but because of the very dubious, and poorly documented, matching of tree-ring data that provides the adjustments that are used to derive absolute (BC) dates from carbon ratios. In this ongoing debate, those who proclaim that “science” has disproved the Bible account of Jericho have never themselves investigated all the steps that go into establishing the “scientific” dates, but instead direct skepticism only at the Bible. (Rodger Young, See A Tribute to the Scholarship of Bryant Wood )
So, doubts concerning the dates provided by radiocarbon dating are not confined within the heads of narrow-minded, pea-brained, Bible fundamentalists, nor confined to issues relating only to Bible events. Manfred Bietak, distinguished Egyptologist and archaeologist, but not a Bible believer as far as I know, argues that the radiocarbon date of 1600 BC or so for the Thera Eruption is about 150 to 170 years too early. The Egyptian archaeological evidence that Manfred Bietak uses to argue this is hard to deny. The radiocarbon date for the Fall of Jericho is 1550: reducing it by the same value gives a date for the Fall of Jericho of 1400 to 1380, precisely the date to vindicate the Bible account.
In short, once it is recognised that the radiocarbon dating methodology is consistently producing results that are wrong by ~150 years then the radiocarbon dating results for Jericho are no longer vindicating Kathleen Kenyon's date of 1550 BC, but rather confirming a date of 1400 BC.
For further reading see Destruction of Jericho City IV Dated to ~1400 BC by Pumice from Thera, Pottery, Scarabs, and Relative Radiocarbon Dates
Biblical and extra-Biblical testimony for the year of the Fall of Jericho.
In the five and twentieth year of our captivity, in the beginning of the year, in the tenth day of the month, in the fourteenth year after that the city was smitten, in the selfsame day the hand of the Lord was upon me, and brought me thither. (Ezekiel 40:1, KJV)
You will notice that it says "in the selfsame day" or "on that very day" and yet in the English translation it hasn't yet mentioned any day at all. What it has said is "in the beginning of the year". The Hebrew that has been translated "in the beginning of the year" is "Rosh Hashanah". Now the phrase "Rosh Hashanah" appears nowhere else in the Old Testament. But in the Old Testament, there was the Feast of Trumpets, and it was the first day of the month beginning the agricultural year which is the 7th month (Tishri), starting after the bringing in of the harvest of summer fruits of figs, sycamore figs pomegranates and especially the grape harvest. (Lev 23:23-25). The month of Tishri is in about September. After the exile, the Feast of Trumpets on the first of Tishri, became known as Rosh Hashanah, New Year's Day. But Rosh Hashanah is not always at the New Moon, the first day, of the 7th lunar month. In Ezekiel 40:1 Rosh Hashanah is said to have fallen on the tenth day of the month, that is on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 23:27), and this only happened once every 49 years in the Year of Jubilee. In the year of Jubilee, the Feast of Trumpets (which became Rosh Hashanah) was held on the tenth day of Tishri (Leviticus 25:9).
Then shalt thou cause the trumpet of the jubilee to sound on the tenth day of the seventh month, in the day of atonement shall ye make the trumpet sound throughout all your land.
Now the point is that the Talmud says that the Year of Jubilee noted in Ezekiel 40 verse 1 was the seventeenth Jubilee. The Seder Olam written in the first century draws attention to this and finds it to be deeply mysterious because the Jewish author of the Seder Olam cannot reconcile this with the lengths of the Hebrew kings in Scripture. (It wasn't until the doctoral thesis of Edwin Thiele in the 1940s that the lengths of the reigns of the Hebrew kings could begin to be understood.)
A Year of Jubilee happened every 49 years and so 17 Jubilees covers 833 years. The Sabbatical and Jubilee cycles first began with the year of entry into the Promised Land (Leviticus 25:2), which is the same as the year of the Fall of Jericho. The year of the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar was either 587 BC or 586 BC and 14 years after this is 573 or 572 BC. So the year mentioned in Ezekiel 40:1 was the 14th after, which was in either 573 or 572, and the Fall of Jericho was consequently either (573 + 833 =) 1406 BC or 1405 BC. Rodger C. Young insists that the destruction of Jerusalem was in 587 BC and so the Fall of Jericho was in 1406 BC. (See "The Talmud's Two Jubilees and their relevance to the date of the Exodus" and "When did Jerusalem fall?").
Another means of calculation uses Edwin Thiele's calculations for the years of the Hebrew kings. He places the beginning of the reign of Solomon in 971 BC and his fourth year in 968/967 BC. The Bible gives a link from this date to the date of the Exodus:
1 Kings 6:1
And it came to pass in the four hundred and eightieth year after the children of Israel were come out of the land of Egypt, in the fourth year of Solomon's reign over Israel, in the month Zif, which is the second month, that he began to build the house of the Lord. (See also Judges 11:26)
So subtracting 479 years from 967 gives the year of the Exodus from Egypt of 1446 BC. And 40 years in the wilderness gives the year of the Fall of Jericho as 1406 BC, precisely the same year, with no tricks, and no circular reasoning. As Rodger C. Young argues this perfect agreement by these two completely different methods puts a serious hole under the water of the Wellhausen Documentary Hypothesis and all that modern scholarship which follows Wellhausen (www.rcyoung.org).
The testimony of the Amarna Letters, and the High Chronology and the Low Chronology of the 18th dynasty
Turning to the Amarna letters, it may not be wise to try to either verify or discredit the Biblical account of the Battle of Jericho by appealing to the dates of the Amarna letters. El Amarna was the capital city of Egypt for a very limited period during the 18th dynasty of Egypt and was abandoned in the second year of Tutankhamun. At Amarna were discovered the Royal Archive containing letters from all over the Levant. Some of these letters are appeals to the Egyptian pharaoh for help because Canaan is being overrun by "the Habiru". The question is were "the Habiru" the Hebrews?
The 18th dynasty ended about 1300 BCE. I have in front of me pages 310 and 311 of "The British Museum Dictionary of Ancient Egypt", edited and compiled by the distinguished Egyptologists Ian Shaw and Paul Nicholson. [A fabulous book for those interested in Egyptian history, but buy the second edition because it contains corrections to minor mistakes found in the first.] Those pages contain a chronology of ancient Egypt, and at the head of the chronology it says
" All dates before 690 BC are approximate".
But in case you think that is a cop-out, I shall argue that the dates of the Amarna letters, on minimal conservative assumptions, could fit perfectly with the date of Fall of Jericho of 1406 BC. The city of El Amarna is most closely associated with the Pharaoh Akhenaten (Amenhotep IV) who is usually said to have reigned from about 1352 to 1336. However, those are not the only possible dates: those dates are using what is known as the "Low Chronology" for the 18th Dynasty. There is also the "High Chronology" which puts the dates 25 years earlier.
The difference in the two chronologies is all down to a recorded observation of a "heliacal rising" of the Sothis/the Dog Star/Sirius, for which the year is given according to one of the 18th dynasty pharaohs. Unfortunately, the record does not say from which city the observation was made: was it observed at Memphis or at Thebes? The difference makes a 25-year difference in the chronology of the 18th dynasty. So Akhenaten might have reigned not from 1352 to 1336 but rather from 1377 to 1361 BC.
As I said Amarna is mostly associated with Akhenaten; but actually some of the Amarna letters are known to have been sent to his predecessor, Amenhotep III, who according to the Low Chronology reigned from 1390 to 1352, but according to the High Chronology reigned from 1415 to 1377 BC.
(There is a known synchronism between the reign of Akhenaten and Ashur-uballit I, who reigned 1365-1330 BC. Both the High and Low Chronologies allow for this synchronism.)
In short, we cannot tell which pharaoh most of the letters were written to. Before about 1000 BC it was ancient Egyptian convention to refer to the pharaoh simply as "pharaoh" without specifying the name of the pharaoh. (This convention is followed in Scripture; after 1000 BC scripture still follows the later Egyptian convention of naming the pharaoh.) We are fortunate that in the case of the Amarna letters, the name of the pharaoh is known in some cases. Thus it is quite reasonable to argue that the relevant Amarna letters from Canaan without the pharaoh's name were written to Amenhotep III sometime between 1415 and 1377, which fits perfectly with the time of the conquest of the "Promised Land", starting in 1406 BC with the Fall of Jericho.
The High Chronology, by the way, fits far better with the life of Moses and the period of the Exodus. For example, Moses fled from pharaoh when he was 40 years old (Acts 7:23) and was 40 years in Sinai (Acts 7:30) when he was told that the men who wanted to kill him were all dead (Exodus 4:19). The pharaoh who wanted to kill Moses also died (Exodus 2:23). There are only two pharaohs throughout the 18th and 19th dynasties whose reign lasted longer than 40 years: Thutmose III (1504-1450 BC, High Chron.) and Rameses II (1279-1213 BC, according to Shaw & Nicholson; or 1290-1224 BC according to Douglas Petrovich, see academia publication "Chronology of Egyptian Dynasties 12, 18, 19 & 20"). The data fits perfectly with the High Chron. but not the Low Chron. In the Low Chronology, Thutmose III died in 1425 BC, which is after the Exodus, 1446 BC, and obviously according to Exodus 2:23 the pharaoh who wanted to kill Moses for 40 years must have died before the Exodus. Also, when Aaron was born in 1529 there had been no order to kill the baby boys, but by the time Moses was born in 1526 BC a decree had been passed. Thutmose I became pharaoh in 1529 (High Chron.) suggesting this change of policy was his soon after he became pharaoh.
The evidence of the scarabs found at Jericho
Scarab amulets are named after beetles because of their similar shape. They began to be used in Egypt but their use spread to other areas including the Levant. Individuals used them for various reasons, sometimes for making seal impressions for legal documents and trade documents as the equivalent of signatures. Immediately prior to the conquest of the Promised Land by the Israelites the city kings of the Levant pledged allegiance to Egypt. This was because the area had been conquered by Thutmose III. (He fully established the area as part of the Egyptian Empire by his victory over the Prince of Qadesh and his Mitannian allies at the Battle of Megiddo, 15th May 1482 BC (High Chron.) (according to Richard A. Parker).) Because of this, the scarabs of the Levant bore not only the name of the owner but also the name of an Egyptian pharaoh, from which it seems possible to arrive at a date for when a city was occupied. For these reasons, scarabs are precious discoveries to archaeologists.
The reigns of the pharaohs using the High Chronology are thus:
|Amenhotep I||1550-1529||21 years|
|Thutmose I||1529-1517||12 years|
|Thutmnose II||1517-1504||13 years|
|Thutmose III||1504-1450||54 years|
(co-regency w/ Thutmose III)
(brief co-regency w/ Thutmose III)
|Thutmose IV||1425-1415||10 years|
|Amenhotep III||1415-1377||38 years|
|Rameses I||1306-1305||1 year|
|Sety I||1305-1290||15 years|
|Rameses II||1290-1224||66 years|
There have been a number of scarabs found at Jericho which relate to the time of the fall of the walls and the destruction of the city. Scarabs have been found containing the names Thutmose III, Hatshepsut, Amenhotep II, and Amenhotep III. There have been no scarabs found after the reign of Amenhotep III at Jericho.
This is powerful evidence for a date of the Fall of Jericho during the reign of Amenhotep III, 1415-1377.
Other Archaeological Discoveries
I only want to look at two pieces of evidence as discovered by three archaeologists, John Garstang, Kathleen Kenyon, and Bryant Wood: pottery dating, and those full jars of grain.
John Garstang investigated Jericho in the period 1930-36. He found evidence that the walls of Jericho had fallen down dramatically. And from his examination of the pottery he declared that the fall of Jericho happened about 1400 BC, confirming a literal reading of 1 Kings 6:1.
Kathleen Kenyon investigated from 1952-58. She agreed the walls had come dramatically tumbling down. But she claimed that the pottery did not confirm the date of 1400 BC or anywhere near it.
Both these two archaeologists very kindly (?) sent their pottery finds to museums and other institutions supporting their digs all over the world.
Bryant Wood studied pottery for several years and his doctoral thesis was in Middle Eastern late bronze age pottery, precisely the skill needed to date the Fall of Jericho. He then decided he would re-examine the pottery finds and other finds of both John Garstang and Kathleen Kenyon and examine their methodology. So for many years off he went on his holidays on planes all over Europe and the States to all the museums, etc. He examined every single piece of pottery from both digs. What he found was a big surprise. He found he agreed with the methodology and conclusions of John Garstang but neither the methodology nor the conclusions of Kathleen Kenyon. Kenyon based her date of the fall of Jericho not on what pottery she had found but on what she had not found .. a highly dubious methodology. She was looking for a very expensive Cypriot pottery which is a key indicator for the period and when she did not find it she decided that Jericho could not have fallen during that time period.
According to Bryant Wood, she made two big blunders:
Her archaeological dig was in the poor sector of ancient Jericho as identified by the houses being close together. You shouldn't expect to find expensive pottery in a poor neighbourhood.
She should have realized that the pottery she had found was actually a poor man's imitation of the expensive Cypriot pottery! So actually what she found was not against the date of the late 1400s BC but confirmation! According to Bryant Wood, Kathleen Kenyon should have realized she had found confirmation that Jericho fell in agreement with the date arrived at using 1 Kings 6:1 (as described above).
Full Jars of Grain
Bryant Wood, in examining the notes of both archaeological digs found another important discovery. Both John Garstang and Kathleen Kenyon in their respective digs had found something which is very rarely found in archaeological digs. They both had dutifully recorded it, but its significance had clearly not struck them.
We need to remember what the Bible says: they came to Jericho after the flax harvest, in the Spring, having celebrated Passover at Gilgal (Joshua 5:10). They went around the city for a week and the walls came tumbling down. They then killed all (except Rahab and family); they did not take anything of value, such as food, etc., (except for one act of disobedience by Achan); and they then set the city on fire.
This is in great contrast to a normal siege of a city with strong walls: normally the city would be laid siege for months until the food had run out; then it would be conquered and anything of value would be taken.
What the notes of the archaeological digs recorded was that they had found many houses with a room containing jars of grain. The jars were full, and the grain had been damaged by fire. (See Bryant Wood's lecture below, 47:50 minutes).
These full jars demonstrate that:
Firstly, the conquest was soon after the grain harvest agreeing with the Bible's account of the flax on the roof and the Passover celebration (Joshua 2:6; 5:10) - in the valley of the Jordan the micro-climate is hotter and the grain harvests come earlier in the year; second, when Jericho was conquered the food had not run low, so clearly the city had not been put under siege for several months, again agreeing with the Bible account of a seven-day "siege" (Joshua 6:4); thirdly, after the city defenses were breached the city was not plundered, the jars full of grain would have been well worth taking away before burning the city, but in this case the full jars of grain were left - again this agrees with the Bible which says the whole city and everything in it was cursed (except Rahab and her family; and the gold, silver, bronze and iron were for the treasury of the LORD) (Joshua 6:17-19; 7:1); and finally the city had been burned just as the Bible says (Joshua 6:24).
The unusual discovery of these jars full of grain significantly ties in with the Biblical account.
The Walls which came tumbling down
Archaeology has discovered there were two walls surrounding Jericho which is on a hill, the inner wall was mud brick; and a stone and mud outer wall, the lower part being a stone brick retaining wall, and the top part was about 20 feet height of mud brick.
This stone brick retaining wall is still there in places and is about 18 feet high; it did not collapse: what happened was that the (estimated) 20 ft high, 6ft wide mud brick above it collapsed and the mud, etc., fell in front of the retaining wall conveniently providing a rampart of reasonable gradient for the Israelites to scale and get over the 18ft retaining wall.
Obviously, the stone brick retaining wall was built before the mud brick wall on the top.
Kathleen Kenyon agreed that there had been a mud brick wall and that it had come dramatically tumbling down; she agreed that the mud bricks fell and gathered up immediately in front of the retaining wall - she could hardly do otherwise, there was the evidence of the remains of the mud brick plainly to see; but she had said that the mud-brick part of the wall had come down about 1550 BC, 150 years before the date needed for the Bible to be true. She based this on the absence of the Cypriot pottery, as has been said already.
Archaeological excavations by an Italian-Palestinian joint collaborative expedition from the University of Rome, starting in 1997, found evidence that the stone brick retaining wall had not even been built by 1550 BC: it was finished about 1500 BC. For the date that Kathleen Kenyon says the wall came tumbling down, there was no mud-brick wall to fall! For more about this see the 52-minute lecture, starting from 24:50 minutes; and Tell Es-Sultan – A Pilot Project for Archaeology in Palestine
THANK YOU FOR READING THIS FAR.
For more information see "The Fall of Jericho with Dr. Bryant Wood: Secrets of the Bible", a 55-minute documentary (for more about the grain discovery start at 27:20 minutes)
and "Jericho and Archaeology, by Dr. Bryant Wood", a 52 minutes lecture by Dr Bryant Wood.
For more on the interface between archaeology and the Bible for this period of Biblical history see Who was Pharaoh when Moses lived in Egypt?
What is there to 'reconcile'?
If God's word is true (a presuppositional point I take because God cannot lie and scripture comes from God and the 'battle' record itself starts with "The LORD said to Joshua"), then the science will conform to the Bible, and not the other way around.
As to precise dates - we have several plausible timelines. Starting from the creation of the world, I charted [almost] all of the Bible's characters and lives (that we have years on) through Jacob. Based on a whole-years reckoning of lives, Jacob died ~2255AA (After Adam). Based on several other people's work, I agree that the earth was created in about 4004 BC.
That places Jacob's death (in Egypt) at approximately 1749 BC. From a chronological study of Exodus through Joshua I am currently engaged in, but have not published yet, from Moses' birth to the destruction of Jericho is ~121 years (he dies at age 120, and Jericho is conquered within the next several weeks).
That puts the conquest of Jericho approximately between 1534 and 1219 BC - right in the range as shown in the wikipedia article cited for when Jericho was abandoned.
As a sidebar, wouldn't a city appear to be "abandoned" if it had just been completely destroyed?
The most common response of conservative Christians is to attempt to refute the evidence of archaeology. 1 Kings 6:1 places the Exodus from Egypt approximately 1440 BCE, because this verse dates the Exodus 480 years before the fourth year of Solomon's reign, and the Bible dates this year of Solomon's reign at 960 BCE. This would place the Battle of Jericho around 1400 BCE, long after archaeologists say that the city had been abandoned. The archaeological evidence for the destruction of the walls has been suggested as so imprecise as to make a date around 1400 BCE possible, although this argument is no longer sustainable following carbon dating and other dating methods that confirm Kathleen Kenyon's initial estimate.
Some conservative Christians suggest that the Battle took place earlier than the biblical record suggests, placing it at the time of the actual destruction of Jericho's walls. A problem with this comes from the Amarna letters, which demonstrate conclusively that the Canaanite cities were still ruled by petty kings under the suzerainty of their Egyptian overlords until at least 1350 BCE, with no suggestion of a threat from outsiders. Therefore it is no longer possible to date a military conquest of Canaan until long after 1350 BCE.
Wikipedia states that almost all scholars agree that the book of Joshua holds little of historical value, and so many liberal Christians accept that the biblical Battle of Jericho is not literal history. On this view, historical errors in the biblical account do not alter the underlying message of the Bible. For example, The Catholic Bible, edited by Jean Marie Hiesberger, says (page rg97) "Archaeological excavation supports the conclusion that the stories of conquest found in Joshua were not based on memories of actual battles that took place at Jericho."