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Jericho after Joshua’s destruction

The match between the Bible and archaeology

Published: 4 April 2020 (GMT+10)
Deror_avi, Wikimedia commonsancient-stone-retaining-wall-at-Jericho
The ancient stone retaining wall at Jericho that Joshua marched around. Archaeologists found mudbricks piled up at the base of these stones, which fell down from the former free-standing walls above.

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.

Hello B.R.,

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:

The tell (mound) of ancient Jericho
  • 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.

Associates for Biblical ResearchGarstangs-middle-building
The “Middle Building” at Jericho—possibly Moabite King Eglon’s palace

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

Bichrome pottery from Jericho dating to the fifteenth century BC

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.

Keaton Halley

References and notes

  1. Dever, W., Recent Archaeological Discoveries and Biblical Research, p. 47, University of Washington Press, Seattle, 1990. Return to text.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Helpful Resources

Evidence for the Bible, MB Edition
by Clive Anderson and Brian Edwards
US $30.00
Hard Cover

Readers’ comments

Miguel M.
Response to Keaton Halley

So you say there is no archaeological proof for the source documents for the docummentary hypotheses but you trust the whole bible as it is presented to you even though you dont have the original documents so you dont know if they were edited, if there were changes to jesus story I mean you have so much trust in the biblical writers, church fathers you never question if they were biased , if they had their own political agendas, were corrupt etc

Let me ask you this if I wrote a book saying that jesus appeared on my front yard would you believe me ???

The Tel Dan stella is not proof enough that king david existed do you really think people in the ancient near east cared about each others historical foundations if they were true or false and besides if kings david and solomon were so famous in the ANE then why dont the egyptians assyrians phoenicians other ethnical groups mention them in their documents
Keaton Halley
Miguel, there are thousands of extant manuscripts for the books of the Bible, especially of the New Testament books, and by comparing these we actually do know that there were no substantial changes to the 'Jesus story', as you say. But why do you assert that I "never question" without supplying any evidence for your assertion? You are not being fair at all in your standards and if you are not even willing to accept the Tel Dan Stela as evidence for the historical David then you have just demonstrated your own severe and unreasonable bias. I wonder what worldview you hold and why you demonstrate such passion for arguing against my Christian convictions. From what you've said, it seems clear you don't believe in God. But then it makes little sense to have such moral indignation without a fixed standard for objective right and wrong. I recommend you read Can we be good without God? There are many other excellent answers to your questions but frankly you don't really seem interested in learning these, only in blasting the Bible and CMI. I hope you'll reconsider, and examine your own convictions with more evenhandedness than you are now giving to others.
Miguel M.
This article does not prove anything. Everyone here in this website still need to prove that the god of the bible is the true god of all millions of gods that exist around the world, that the bible is not historical fiction israelite propaganda book with fanciful stories exaggerations mythical stories.

No proof for king david and solomon and every man woman child named in the whole bible has been unearthed and will never be unearthed because there is no such thing as miracles magic supernatural gods and spirits controlling the world

The docummentary hypotheses makes more sense of the data that scholars including christians and jews use for biblical research that you and the people at associates for biblical research refuse to accept

This article shows me that the israelites were all brainwashed by their priests by using the concept of god to controll people and punish them as the mosaic laws show. Its easy to controll an illiterate society to do whatever you want
Keaton Halley
This article is not intended to carry such a heavy burden—to prove all by itself that the biblical God is real. But it's one small piece of a larger pattern that shows the consistency between the biblical claims and the real world. You say there is no proof for David and Solomon, but again 'proof' is a strong word. There certainly is evidence, like the Tel Dan Stele that testifies to David's existence and the dynasty he founded, in accordance with the Davidic covenant. But if you require such a high standard to believe the Bible, why do you have a double standard when it comes to your own favoured theory of the Documentary Hypothesis (JEDP)? Where is the archaeological evidence that these hypothetical source documents ever existed? It seems your bias against the miraculous is actually driving force behind your unreasonable (and inconsistent) standards for evidence.
Colin N.
This is true - but the archaeological remains attributed to the destruction of Jericho are dated to the Middle Bronze Age, consistent with the timeline which underpins the Patterns of Evidence DVD series (available from CMI). They don't fit with a Late Bronze Age destruction and so are not consistent with the alternative timeline to be promoted on your autumn Nile tour.
Keaton Halley
I realize there are differences of opinion here. The walls existed in the Middle Bronze, but their destruction may not have been until Late Bronze I. The earlier dating of the destruction is based on carbon dating and the absence of certain pottery styles. But Bryant Wood argues that this allegedly 'missing' pottery style from the Late Bronze was actually found at Jericho, and we've included photos of some of this pottery in this article and the previous one by Dr Wood. And even some who do not necessarily agree with his views regarding the pottery have said that the walls may have continued into the Late Bronze.
Don M.
Thank you for the excellent article, Keaton. Thanks for all your careful research! It's amazing to see how God has made it possible for us to have so much that validates all that is recoded in the Word!
John W.
The 'City of Palms' does not indicate that Jericho was a desert city as palms grow in the wet tropics as well (e.g. Fiji) - and the photograph in your article shows lush green surroundings. Indeed, it is my belief that the climate of the Levant must have been much more verdant in Old Testament times, judging, for instance, by the numbers of cattle that were mentioned in several passages of the Kings.
Thank you, by the way, for your excellent article(s).

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