Biblical Errors: "Did Joshua tumble the walls of Jericho ?"


Written by Kevin Abdullah Karim



Taken from



The Book of Joshua, as we know, narrates the story of Moses' successor, Joshua and his conquest of Canaan. Joshuas destruction of Jericho stands as one of the most famous battle stories told in the Bible. For six days, Joshuas warriors marched each day once around the city, as seven priests continually blew long blasts on their ram's horns and a retinue of priests carried the Ark of the Covenant around the city walls. Then on the seventh day, the priests marched seven times around the wall. As trumpets blared, Joshua commanded the Israelites to shout loudly and the powerful reverberations caused the walls to collapse. Joshuas troops marched into the city and utterly destroyed what remained, putting to the sword all the men and women, young and old, oxen, sheep, and asses. Let us take a look at the biblical text:


So the people shouted when the priests blew with the trumpets: and it came to pass, when the people heard the sound of the trumpet, and the people shouted with a great shout, that the wall fell down flat, so that the people went up into the city, every man straight before him, and they took the city. And they utterly destroyed all that [was] in the city, both man and woman, young and old, and ox, and sheep, and ass, with the edge of the sword.  [1]


According to the biblical chronology, Joshua' conquest would be placed around 1406 BC. [2]  Estimates for it's actual date vary between 1450 and 1200 BC.  [3]  The author of Joshua as shown elsewhere, is unknown. We can, however, fix an earliest possible date for its writing; or, at least, the writing of some of the source documents that was used in the writing of Joshua. One clue is found in the Joshua 10:12. Here a reference is made to a document called the "Book of Jashar". Whatever else this book may contain, we do know, from II Samuel 1:18 that the Book of Jashar contains the poetic lamentations of David. Thus the Book of Jashar must have been compiled after the time of David, i.e. after the 10th century BC. Therefore the Book of Joshua, or one of its source documents, was written at least three centuries after the events it purports to describe[4]  So, we have every reason to be skeptical of the chronicles in this book: we do not know the identity of the author(s) and the time gap between the events and their actual documentation is too long for first hand accounts to survive. In fact we know of major events in Joshua's conquest of Canaan that has been disconfirmed by the science of archaeology:


  • Joshua and his men did not bring down the walls of Jericho
  • Other cities supposedly conquered by Joshua simply did not exists during the supposed time of the conquest!


The final destruction of Jericho dates archeologically to around 1550 BC in the "16th century BC" at the end of the Middle Bronze Age,  [ 2100 - 1550 BC ]  [5]  by a siege or an earthquake in the context of a burn layer, called City IV destruction. Opinions differ as to whether they are the walls referred to in the Bible. According to one biblical chronology, the Israelites destroyed Jericho after its walls fell in around 1406/1407 BC at the end of the 15th century. Originally, John Garstang's excavation in the 1930s dated Jericho 's destruction to around 1400 BC, in confirmation, but like much early biblical archaeology, his work became criticised for using the Bible to interpret the evidence rather than letting the facts on the ground draw their own conclusions. Kathleen Kenyon's excavation in the 1950s redated it to around 1550 BC, a date widely accepted by modern archeologists. [ see: Professor of Archaeology Israel Finkelstein's book: " The Bible Unearthed" ]  


The archeological evidence at Jericho therefor failed to substantiate a walled city in existence for Joshua to attack in the Late Bronze Age [ in which the biblical date, 1406 / 1407 BC falls ] . It was understood by Kenyon (the excavator) that the city had been abandoned by that date. The city was also an abandoned ruin earlier, ca. 1446 BC, being sparsely occupied ca. 1400 BC [with only one dwelling being found] . Jericho was a mighty walled city, however, when it fell ca. 1560 [other dates are 1550/1540/1530 BC] to the Egyptians, who are understood to have destroyed it in the course of their conquest of Canaan, upon the heels of the Hyksos expulsion. This city was found to have been throughly "torched," or set on fire. I suspect this phenomena is what is being remembered in Joshua's allegedly setting Jericho on fire, destroying everything- "


.."They burned down the city and everything in it." [6] 


Although the city was thoroughly burned ca. 1550/40/30 BC, evidence of "collapsing walls" appears to be primarily attested to in the Early Bronze Age of circa 2300 BC. Briefly quoted below, from a popular work in the 1970's by the English author Magnus Magnuson, are observations about just what was found at Jericho by Dame Kathleen Kenyon. Magnusson noted that an earlier excavator, Professor John Garstang in the 1930's identified collapsed walls, which he thought verified the biblical account. Kenyon's later excavations revealed he was in error, the walls were Early Bronze Age [ circa 2300 BC ].


She found that there had been a considerable Early Bronze Age city at Jericho throughout the third millenium BC, whose walls had fallen and been rebuilt no fewer than seventeen times between 3000 and 2300 BC, when the city suffered a catastrophic destruction. The last three stages of these fortifications had been built seven metres beyond the line of the original walls, farther down the slopes of the tell. These had been Garstang's celebrated walls that Joshua and the earth quake had apparently destroyed- except for the fact that they had been destroyed a thousand years before Joshua came on the scene.


For several centuries after the destruction of 2300 BC, Jericho was occupied only by squatter nomads. But then, around 1900 BC, a new city arose: the Jericho of the Middle Bronze Age...This city flourished until the end of the Egyptian Hyksos period, when once again it came to a violent end, around 1550 BC; this destruction by fire was probably associated with the expulsion of the Hyksos from Egypt and the Egyptian pursuit.


Once again the site was abandoned...The site seems to have been reoccupied around 1400 BC on a much smaller scale. No new walls were built. [7] 


Kathleen Kenyon showed with archeological evidence that there were no big city walls at Jericho by the time of the supposed Israelite conquest. However in 1990, Bryant Wood critiqued Kenyon's work after her field notes became fully available. Observing ambiguities and relying on the only available carbon dating of the burn layer, which yielded a date of 1410 BC plus or minus 40 years, Wood dated the destruction to this carbon dating, confirming Garstang and the biblical chronology. Unfortunately, this carbon date was itself the result of faulty calibration. In 1995, Hendrik J. Bruins and Johannes van der Plicht used high-precision radiocarbon dating for eighteen samples from Jericho, including six samples of charred cereal grains from the burn layer, and overall dated the destruction to an average 1562 BC plus or minus 38 years Kenyon's date of around 1550 BC is more secure than ever. Below one can read an abstract on the findings of Hendrik J. Bruins and Johannes van der Plicht:


Samples from Tell es-Sultan, Jericho , were selected for high-precision 14C dating as a contribution toward the establishment of an independent radiocarbon chronology of Near Eastern archaeology. The material derives from archaeological excavations conducted by K. M. Kenyon in the 1950s. We present here the results of 18 samples, associated stratigraphically with the end of the Middle Bronze Age (MBA) at Tell es-Sultan. Six short-lived samples consist of charred cereal grains and 12 multiyear samples are composed of charcoal. The weighted average 14C date of the short-lived grains is 3306 7 BP. The multiyear charcoal yielded, as expected, a somewhat older average: 3370 6 BP. Both dates are more precise than the standard deviation (sigma) of the calibration curves and the absolute standard of oxalic acid. Calibration of the above Jericho dates is a bit premature, because several groups are currently testing the accuracy of both the 1986 and 1993 calibration curves. Nevertheless, preliminary calibration results are presented for comparison, based on 4 different calibration curves and 3 different computer programs. Wiggles in the calibration curves translate the precise BP dates into rather wide ranges in historical years. The final destruction of MBA Jericho occurred during the late 17th or the 16th century BC[8]


The chart below shows the results of the radiocarbon dates found by Hendrik J. Bruins and Johannes van der Plicht,  taken from: "The Biblical Chronologist Volume 2, Number 3". Heavy black bars have been added showing the range of dates radiocarbon gave from the six charred grain samples from City IV Jericho. The letter "A" points to 1407 B.C., the traditional biblical date for the destruction of Jericho by Joshua







As is evident from the chart, 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. The Bible is therefor in error here.


The latest results brought forward by many archaeologists is in stark contradition to the biblical account. Bill Dever, for example, heavily emphasised the conflict between his belief and the biblical story of Joshua's capture of the city



............."If you want a miracle, here's your miracle: Joshua destroyed a city that wasn't even there.."   [9]


William H. Stiebing moreover confirms this biblical problem related to the story of Jericho.


Kathleen Kenyon found very little evidence from the Late Bronze period at Jericho , so she speculated that the extensive Late Bronze Age city described in the Book of Joshua must have eroded away. But the remains of the eroded buildings and the abundance of pottery sherds they should have contained had to go somewhere -they should have washed down the slopes of the site and been present at the base of the mound. However, while trenches dug at three different locations around the base of the tell uncovered vast amounts of material from the eroded Middle Bronze Age city, no trace of the expected Late Bronze debris was found.


Kenyon also hypothesized that her failure to find evidence of Late Bronze city walls at Jericho might have been due to the Late Bronze population's reuse of the Middle Bronze Age fortifications. But the amount of erosion the Middle Bronze levels had undergone during the period the site was abandoned following its Middle Bronze Age II destruction makes it very unlikely that the Middle Bronze walls remained standing to any degree around the tell. If the walls had survived to a height sufficient for them to be used later, they would have acted as a dam around the circuit of the mound, keeping the Middle Bronze remains within them. The extensive erosion Kenyon noted should not have been able to occur. The only viable conclusion seems to be that there was no fortified town at Jericho for Joshua to destroy during the Late Bronze Age."  [10]



A few scholars follow the controversial "new chronology" of David Rohl, which postulates that the entire mainstream Egyptian chronology is 300 years misplaced; with the conseqence that, among other things, the exodus would be dated to the 16th or 17th century BC, and hence the archaeological record on Jericho would be much more aligned with the biblical account. However Rohls theory is not that strong, and introduces a number of other problems and issues. The vast majority of Egyptologists reject Rohl's theories, Rohl's most vocal critic has been the respected Egyptologist/ Professor Kenneth Kitchen, formerly of Liverpool University. One of Kitchen's major objections to Rohls' arguments concerns his alleged omission of evidence that conflicts with Rohl's theories. Kitchen has pointed out that the genealogies Rohl references to date Ramesses II omit one of more names known from other inscriptions. Similarly, Egyptologists have pointed out that no other known king of Egypt fits the identification as well as Shoshenq I. Redating the floruit of Ramesses II three centuries later would not only reposition the date of the Battle of Qadesh and complicate the chronology of Hittite history, it would require a less severe revision of the chronology of Assyrian history prior to 664 BC


Gary Greenberg, President of the Biblical Archaeology Society of New York,  in his famous book: "101 Myths of the Bible" provides us with the next interesting information:


It's a pretty gruesome picture and quite a testament to the power of Israel 's god. Despite the obvious fantasy nature of the battle, many people determined to preserve the Bible's integrity argue that the continues noise created enough vibrations to weaken the walls and that the story has some scientific plausibility. Even if we wanted to stretch our imaginaion to allow for such an unlikely possibility, archaeological evidence shows that at the time of Joshua, Jericho had neither walls nor residents. The city had been vacated centuries earlier.


Jericho was one of the earliest and most ancient cities of the world. Archaeological data suggests an inhabitation going back to the eighth millennium B.C. Evidence for a destruction of the walls dates to about 2300 B.C.  , but inhabitants rebuilt the town and errected new fortifications. Jericho appears to have been thoroughly destroyed by fire "during the sixteenth century B.C."  , and, at best, only sparsely populated thereafter. Prior to 1300 B.C. , the fortifications already had been destroyed, leaving no walls to tumble down before Joshua. At the time of the biblical battle, the city had been completely abandoned for at least a century or two. Not until about the seventh century B.C.  , do we see evidence for a repopulation of the city. [11]


T.A. Holland in the "Anchor Bible Dictionary" writes:


With regard to a late bronze age fortification system at Jericho, there is no archaeological data to support the presence of a walled town....After Jericho was abandoned during the early part of Late Bronze Age IIb [ca. 1350-1275 BCE), it was not thought to be reoccupied to any great extent until the 7th century BC.  [12]


The findings of many archaeologists are therefore in stark contradiction to the biblical account. Despite these solid facts, some Christian archaeologists even went so far by making similar attempts to inflate the biblical chronology by adding years to the genealogies without using another version of the Bible. Gerald Aardsma, editor of The Biblical Chronologist, "suggests" that 1 Kings 6:1 is corrupted, and should read "in the "1480th" year after the children of Israel were come out of the land of Egypt" instead of "480th"  year. He places this "missing" one thousand years between the books of Judges and 1 Samuel. Aardsma believes that the archaeological evidence demands this shift ( while the bible itself  clearly doesn't support nor demand this shift ! ) , asserting that 480 years is insufficient for the wilderness wanderings, the conquest of Canaan, the period of the Judges, and the regencies of Saul and David. However this hypothesis is highly questionable and unreliable. It is summarily dismissed by other biblical chronologists. Bryant Wood, Director of the Associates for Biblical Research, critically reviewed Aardsma's book, and concluded that his theory is


."misguided, lacks credibility and is without rational basis." [13]


He went on to say  that:


...."giving it even passing consideration distracts from the correct understanding of Biblical history and chronology".. [14]


The facts are: "Both Aardsma and Wood failed to solve the contradiction between the biblical account of Jerihco and the findings of modern archaeologists ! Both theories of these men are wrong, have no support from the Bible itself, and lack credible evidence to make a case.  Conclusion: "The Bible's description of Jericho states its walls collapsed and the city was torched. Archaeology ought to be able to verify this. Fallen walls and a torched city were verified. The fallens walls were ca. 2300 BC  and the torched city was ca. 1550 BC. According to the biblical chronology, Joshua' conquest would be placed around 1406-1407 BC.  These biblical dates have now been disconfirmed by the science of archeaology [The fallens walls were ca. 2300 BC and the torched city was ca. 1550 BC ] . Archaeology has shown us that Jericho never fell to Joshua around 1406 BC .The Bible is therefor in error here." Praise be to Allah !  



References and Notes:


Joshua. 6:20-21, King James Translation of the Bible



The bible narratives indicate that the Exodus occurred ca. 1446 BC (cf. 1 Kings 6:1, 480 yrs + 966 BCE, Solomon's 4th yr), and some 40 years later, Canaan is invaded by Joshua, ca. 1406 BCE.


The earlier was suggested for the conquest by scholars after it was realized that a fifteenth century or early fourteenth century "conquest" does not coincide well with historical and archaeological evidence of Palestine. For it was during the fifteenth to the thirteenth century that Egyptian control of the Palestine was at its peak. (see Steibing p53). The chaotic situation that prevailed from circa 1200 to 1050 BC seems to allow for conquest, settlement and the period of the "judges". The later portion of this period would be too close period of the united monarchy under Saul, David and Solomon (between 1050-920BC) and would leave no room for the period of the "Judges." Thus, conservative scholars have chosen 1200 BC as the "best compromise" although it does not agree with the time frame given by I Kings 6:1.




See: Anderson, "A Critical Introduction to the Old Testament" ,  p.58 and Parmalee, "A Guidebook to the Bible", p.38


See:  Encyclopedia Brittanica for time sequence of Middle Bronze Age ; ""


Joshua 6:24, TANAKH. Philadelphia . The Jewish Publication Society. 1988


pp.93-94, Magnus Magnuson, Archaeology of the  Bible, New York, Simon & Schuster, 1977 


Bruins, H. J. and van der Plicht, J.  "Tell Es-sultan (Jericho): Radiocarbon results of short-lived cereal and multi-year charcoal samples from the end of the Middle Bronze Age." Proceedings of the 15th International 14C Conference. Cook, G. T., Harkness, D. D., Miller, B. F. and Scott. M. (eds.). Radiocarbon. Vol. 37. No. 2. 1995. pp. 213-220


Sturgis, Matthew, McCarthy, John (2001). It Ain't Necessarily So. London : Hodder Headline, p. 6


William H. Stiebing Jr. Out of the Desert? Archaeology and the Exodus/Conquest Narratives. Amherst , New York . Prometheus Books. 1989, pp. 81-82. 




Gary Greenberg, "101 Myths of the Bible", p. 239-240


See: Anchor Bible Dictionary, Vol. 3, pp.736-7, T.A. Holland, "Jericho," 1992 




See: "Wood, Bryant G. (1993), "One Thousand Years Missing from Bible History?" Bible and Spade, 6[4]:97-111, Autumn."







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