Battle of Jericho

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Battle of Jericho
Tissot The Taking of Jericho.jpg
James Tissot, The Taking of Jericho
Location Jericho
Result Decisive Hebrew victory
Israelites Canaanites
Commanders and leaders
Joshua King of Jericho †
40,000[1] Unknown
Casualties and losses
Nil Unknown

The Battle of Jericho is a battle in the biblical Book of Joshua, (Joshua 6:1-27) the first battle of the Israelites during their conquest of Canaan. According to the narrative, the walls of Jericho fell after Joshua's Israelite army marched around the city blowing their trumpets.

Biblical account[edit]

Spying on Jericho[edit]

Before crossing into the land west of the River Jordan, Joshua sent two spies to look over the land. The king of Jericho heard that two Israelite spies were within his city and ordered them to be brought out to him. The spies were tasked with ascertaining where the guards were placed, whether anyone disliked the king and could help them, what weaponry and armour the guards had, when the guards changed shifts, how much food, water, and other supplies the city had, and the height and width of the walls so as to determine how to overcome the city.

The woman with whom the spies were staying was named Rahab and she protected them by hiding the two men on her roof. She tells them how the citizens of Jericho had been fearful of the Israelites ever since they defeated the Egyptians via the Red Sea miracle (some 40 years prior), and agrees to cover for them on condition that she and her family are spared in the upcoming battle. The spies agree provided three conditions are met:

  1. She must distinguish her house from the others so the soldiers will know which one to spare
  2. Her family must be inside the house during the battle, and
  3. She must not later turn on the spies.

Rahab agrees to the conditions: she hangs a scarlet rope outside her window to distinguish her house from the others.

Safely escaping the city, the two returned to Joshua and reported that the "whole land was melting with fear."

Jean Fouquet: The Taking of Jericho, c. 1452-1460. Note the anachronistic medieval European architecture, such as the church steeple in background.

The battle[edit]

The biblical account describes the Israelites being led by Joshua and crossing the Jordan into Canaan where they laid siege to the city of Jericho. There, God spoke to Joshua telling him to march around the city once every day for six days with the seven priests carrying ram's horns in front of the Ark of the Covenant. On the seventh day they were to march around the city seven times and the priests were to blow their ram's horns. And Joshua ordered the people to shout. The walls of the city collapsed, and the Israelites were able to charge straight into the city. The city was completely destroyed, and every man, woman, child and animal in it was killed by Joshua's army by God's command. Only Rahab and her family were spared, because she had hidden the two spies sent by Joshua. After this, Joshua burned the remains of the city and cursed any man who would rebuild the city of Jericho would do so at the cost of his firstborn son. It is generally accepted that the biblical date for the fall of the walls is the 28th of Nisan, according to the Hebrew calendar.[2]

Historicity and archaeological investigations[edit]

The first scientific investigation of the site of Jericho was carried out by Charles Warren in 1868, but amounted to no more than a site-survey. Warren's prime interest was in establishing the modern equivalents of biblical locales.

In 1907–09 and again in 1911, digging was carried out by German archaeologists, Carl Watzinger and Ernest Sellin. Watzinger and Sellin believed that they would be able to validate the biblical story of Jericho's destruction by Joshua and the Israelites, but concluded instead that the city was unoccupied at the generally accepted time of Joshua, c. 1400 BC.

These results were tested in 1930–36 by John Garstang, at the suggestion of William F. Albright, the doyen of Palestinian archaeology at the time. Garstang discovered the remains of a network of collapsed walls which he dated to about 1400 BC, the time he believed the Israelites were on their conquest, that had apparently fallen in a dramatic fashion as opposed to being ruined by abandonment or decay from natural forces. Garstang's work thus reversed the conclusions of the earlier diggings.

By the post-war period, a revolution had occurred in archaeological methodology, and Albright accordingly asked Kathleen Kenyon, one of the most respected practitioners of the new archaeology, to excavate at Jericho once more. During 1952–1958, Kenyon traced the entire history of the city from the earliest Neolithic settlement. She did this by digging a narrow deep trench maintaining clean, squared off edges, rigorously examining the soil and recording its stratification, and thus building up a cross-section of the tell. When presented with an area that would require wider areas to be excavated– a floor plan of a house for example– she carefully dug in measured squares while leaving an untouched strip between each section to allow the stratification to remain visible. Kenyon reported that her work showed Garstang to have been wrong and the Germans right: Jericho had been deserted at the accepted biblical date of the conquest.

In 1990 biblical archaeologist (with a particular focus on Canaanite pottery), and Research Director of the inerrantist Associates for Biblical Research [3] Bryant G. Wood proposed that the pottery recovered during the excavations of Garstang and Kenyon pointed to a destruction date of the city ca. 1400 BC rather than 1550 BC, as concluded by Kenyon.[4] Wood's main argument was that Kenyon's conclusion was based on the expensive, imported Cypriot pottery that was not found at the excavation site and that she ignored the vast amount of local pottery that was recovered. In addition to the ceramic data, Wood appealed to stratigraphy, a scarab series uncovered by Garstang, and a carbon-14 sample of a single charcoal piece found in the destruction debris as further evidence in favor of the later 1400 BC destruction date. Wood's proposal did not settle the debate and he was forced to defend his argument against direct criticism, specifically from Piotr Bienkowski.[5]

In 1995 Kenyon's result was corroborated by radiocarbon tests which dated test samples taken from the site to 1562 BC (±38 years) with a certainty of 95%.[6] The specific charcoal sample Wood referenced in his proposition was found to be in error and corrected to 1590 or 1527 +/- 110 BC.[7]

See also[edit]