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The Walls Of Jericho




Recently on another website a raging Fundie posted that the collapsed walls of Jericho were positive proof of the truth of the bible. He tried to use outdated material from Dr. Bryant Wood to show that Watzinger and Kenyon's dates were out of kilter. Here is my response....


There have been only 3 major excavations at the site of the “biblical” Jericho, all during the 20th century. The first was by Ernst Sellin and Carl Watzinger during the “dig seasons” of 1907, 1908, and 1909. Based on the findings of this dig, the conclusion was that Jericho was unoccupied during the Late Bronze Age (1550-1200 BCE), which would have precluded the fanciful myth of “and the walls come tumblin’ down”!


In the 1930s John Garstang (a really fantastic individual who did much to regulate Palestinian archaeology, but unfortunately one of the old school who dug with a shovel in one hand and the bible in the other) questioned these results and conducted his on expedition where relying on extant scarabs and pottery shards dated the end of the occupation of the town at 1400 BCE (affirming the biblical account of Joshua and the Israelite conquest). However, modern archaeologists discount his conclusions and his methods of dating.


The third and final major excavation of Jericho was conducted by Dame Kathleen Kenyon in the 1950s using the most modern methods, revised the previously published dates of Garstang, concluding that the massive destruction by earthquake and resulting conflagration occurred around the middle of the sixteenth century BCE (very close to the conclusion of Watzinger earlier).


In 1990, Bryant Wood, director of the Associates for Biblical Research asserted serious problems with Kenyon’s chronology. Wood strongly asserted the destruction of Jericho at around the year 1400 BCE, which would again line it up with the biblical story found in Joshua. What Wood attempted to do was redate the destruction of Jericho (City IV) from the end of the Middle Bronze Age (c. 1550 BCE) to the end of the Late Bronze Age I (c. 1400 BCE). Presently the evidence strongly confirms Kenyon’s dating of Jericho (City IV) to the Middle Bronze Age and Wood’s attempt to redate this occurance to coincide with the supposed Israelite conquest has been rejected by all but a very small group of historians. It is clear that the question is one of chronology. When was City IV Jericho destroyed? The scholarly consensus says ca. 1550 B.C., Wood says ca. 1400 B.C.


What source can we turn to to settle this dispute? In 1990, when Wood first published his claims there was only one radiocarbon measurement available for Jericho. It was from a piece of charcoal dated by the British Museum to 1410 BCE plus or minus 40 years. Unfortunately, this date was later retracted by the British Museum, along with dates of several hundred other samples. The British Museum found that their radiocarbon measurement apparatus had gone out of calibration for a period of time, and thus had yielded incorrect dates during that period. The corrected date for the charcoal sample from City IV turned out to be consistent with Kenyon's ca. 1550 B.C. date for the City IV destruction. The corrected date no longer supported Wood's proposal, , but it was insufficient to falsify the proposal. Radiocarbon dates on charcoal give the date the wood grew, not the date it was burned. To be consistent with Bryant Wood's proposal, the wood which burned to produce the charcoal sample would need to have been cut from a living tree 150 years prior to the destruction. Of course, this is not impossible.


As mentioned earlier, no other radiocarbon dates from samples from City IV Jericho were available in the early 1990's. In 1995, however, results were published by Hendrik J. Bruins and Johannes van der Plicht from high-precision radiocarbon measurements made on eighteen samples from Jericho. Six of these samples were charred cereal grains from the City IV destruction. Bruins and van der Plicht didn’t set out to disprove Wood's thesis, their stated purpose was to contribute "toward the establishment of an independent radiocarbon chronology of Near Eastern archaeology." The resulting measurements were 16th century BCE (1525 BCE plus or minus 25). Bruins and van der Plicht recognized the results of their work held a serious implication for Wood's theory. They devoted only one sentence to this implication: Further, the fortified Bronze Age city at Tell es-Sultan [Jericho] was not destroyed by ca.1400 BC, as Wood (1990) suggested. As is evident the radiocarbon measurements strongly support the chronology advanced by Kenyon long before the radiocarbon measurements were made. This radiocarbon evidence falsifies Wood's theory. City IV was destroyed ca. 1550 B.C., not ca. 1400 B.C. City IV Jericho was not destroyed by Joshua.


The chronology of Jericho is by no means the only problem associated with the traditional biblical chronology of the Exodus and Conquest. For example, even if Wood's chronology of Jericho were viable, the complete absence of fortified habitation at et-Tell (identified by almost all scholars with the biblical Ai) for 1000 years prior to the traditional biblical chronology date for its destruction by Joshua is still left to be explained. And the archaeological and historical data from Egypt must also be explained. These depict Egypt as a stable, properous nation at the very time the traditional biblical chronology date for the Exodus says Egypt should be a nation devastated by plagues.


Having settled the dispute over the date of City IV Jericho's destruction and having demonstrated that Wood's chronology is not valid, we are left with the problem we started with. Traditional biblical chronology conflicts with the archaeological/radiocarbon chronology of Jericho. Traditional biblical chronology places the date of the Conquest of Jericho at a time when there was no city at Jericho. In fact, as noted in the preceding paragraph, traditional biblical chronology of the Exodus and the Conquest is plagued by such problems. Partially extracted from The Biblical Chronologist, Vol 2, No. 3



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