Jericho after Joshua’s destruction
The match between the Bible and archaeology
B.R. sent in the following question with the subject line: “Jericho”.
Greetings, what can you tell me about the city that was destroyed in the time of Joshua that was deemed to never be rebuilt. Thanks.
Keaton Halley of CMI–US responds.
Thanks for the opportunity to share some specifics that illustrate the harmony between the Bible and archaeology. This topic is an interest of mine.
You are apparently referring to this verse:
Joshua laid an oath on them at that time, saying, “Cursed before the Lord be the man who rises up and rebuilds this city, Jericho. At the cost of his firstborn shall he lay its foundation, and at the cost of his youngest son shall he set up its gates.” (Joshua 6:26)
After Joshua and his army burned the city of Jericho, he bound the people with an oath not to rebuild it, prophesying the consequence that whoever did so would lose his eldest and youngest sons in the process.
Before I get to the specifics of your question, I’d encourage you to read The walls of Jericho, an excellent article that we published in Creation magazine way back in 1999. The opinion of many secular archaeologists is that Jericho was uninhabited in Joshua’s time, because they say the known evidence for the destruction of the city should be dated to more than a century before Joshua arrived. William Dever was representative when he said, tongue-in-cheek, it appears that “Joshua destroyed a city that wasn’t even there!”1 Not at all. The article above briefly explains why Jericho’s destruction should be dated to Joshua’s time (the evidence from pottery styles), and it shows how, once the remains are dated properly, the archaeology strongly confirms the biblical record.
Here’s a summary of the evidence that is consistent with the Bible:
- Jericho was strongly fortified (Joshua 6:1, 5).
- It was small enough (about 9 acres) for the Israelite army to march around seven times in one day (Joshua 6:15).
- The city’s free-standing inner and outer mudbrick walls collapsed outward, fell down the slope and piled up at the base of the tell (mound), falling “beneath themselves” as the Hebrew of Joshua 6:5 indicates. This allowed the invading Israelites to go straight ahead, up and into the city in the manner described in Joshua 6:20.
- After the walls fell, the city was set on fire (Joshua 6:24). A one-meter-thick layer of ash and debris, including jars of burnt wheat, has been found in many sections of the city.
- The jars full of charred grain support the Bible’s claims that the attack took place just after the harvest (Joshua 3:15), that the siege was short (seven days), and that the Israelites did not plunder the city, except for the precious metals that were “put into the treasury of the house of the Lord” (Joshua 6:24) and the individual sin of Achan (Joshua 7:21).
- Some houses in the lower city were built into the lower city wall, which is exactly how Rahab’s house is described (Joshua 2:15). In at least one area, the mudbrick wall had not collapsed, consistent with Rahab’s house being spared even though it was attached to the city wall.
We have also dealt with the claim that carbon dating supports the earlier date for the destruction of Jericho. Carbon dating requires calibration and there are many factors that can cause the dates to be off by a significant margin, so it would be unwise to take those dates as definitive, when they conflict with the dates from pottery and the Egyptian scarabs found at Jericho.2 See Calibrating carbon dating, How old? When archaeology conflicts with the Bible, and What about carbon dating?
Getting back to your main question, though, what does the Bible tell us about Jericho after its destruction? Actually, the text does not say that the city was never rebuilt. Joshua’s curse was simply that it would cost the builder the life of his sons. And it turns out that Jericho is mentioned a number of times in later periods of biblical history, including the time when Joshua’s prophetic prediction was fulfilled.
Jericho was also known as the City of Palms (Deuteronomy 34:3; 2 Chronicles 28:15), since it is a desert oasis with many date palm trees still growing there to this day. In the time of the Judges, Eglon the king of Moab organized a coalition that took the City of Palms from the Israelites, and the Moabites oppressed them for 18 years until they were delivered by the left-handed judge Ehud (Judges 3:12–30). Eglon was killed in some kind of residential building, and the specific mention of Jericho’s capture seems to imply that Eglon’s building was located there. If so, Eglon did not suffer from Joshua’s curse despite building at Jericho, because he did not rebuild the city proper (foundations and gates). He simply erected some kind of lone palace on the site.
This fits nicely with the evidence we have from the archaeological record. After the destruction of Jericho by Joshua, the city lay abandoned for some time. Evidence of erosion has been found while the site was unoccupied. But then a relatively isolated but substantial building (c. 14.5 × 12 m) was discovered near the summit, which appears to be dated to the second half of the fourteenth century BC, or perhaps the early thirteenth century BC. John Garstang who excavated this palace-like structure in 1933 called it the ‘middle building’. The city as a whole was not reestablished at this time, though to the north a few other structures such as walls, floors, and ovens were found and dated to the same time period. Expensive imported pottery was found associated with the middle building, indicating that its residents were wealthy. The structure was abandoned after only a generation or so, after which further erosion of the tell took place. This could well be Eglon’s palace.3
The city itself was not rebuilt until the time of King Ahab. The Bible says that a man named Hiel rebuilt Jericho, and suffered Joshua’s curse. In 1 Kings 16:34, we read, “He laid its foundation at the cost of Abiram his firstborn, and set up its gates at the cost of his youngest son Segub, according to the word of the Lord, which he spoke by Joshua the son of Nun.”
In the archaeological record, there is some evidence that Jericho was rebuilt in the 10th–9th centuries BC, but little remains of Iron Age Jericho today except for an Israelite-style house on the eastern slope. The site was occupied in later time periods as well, up to and beyond the New Testament era, when Jesus healed two blind men (Matthew 20:29–34) and met with Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1–10) at Jericho.
So Jericho did not remain a ruin forever. But the archaeological record does indicate that there was a long period of time during which the city was not rebuilt, consistent with the picture that emerges when all the Scriptural references to Jericho are taken into account. I hope that is an encouragement to you to trust in the Scriptures as the Word of God.
References and notes
- Dever, W., Recent Archaeological Discoveries and Biblical Research, p. 47, University of Washington Press, Seattle, 1990. Return to text.
- Wood, B.G., Did the Israelites conquer Jericho? A new look at the archaeological evidence, Biblical Archaeology Review 16(2), March/April 1990. Return to text.
- Wood, B.G., From Ramses to Shiloh: Archaeological discoveries bearing on the Exodus–Judges period, April 2008, biblearchaeology.org/research/conquest-of-canaan/2403. Return to text.