Mysteries of the Bible

"Unanswered Questions of the Bible"

The Fall of Jericho

Posted by foryourfaith on September 13, 2011


“When the people heard the sound of the trumpet, they raised a mighty war cry and the wall collapsed then and there” (Joshua 6:20). As the walls f Jericho crumbled, Joshua led the Israelites into the city, which they utterly destroyed. The capture of Jericho was the Israelites’ first major success in the Promised Land. Prior to the attack on Jericho, the Israelites had achieved victories only on the east side of the River Jordan – the land of Canaan proper remained untouched. The next phase of the conquest depended on establishing a foothold to the west of the Jordan.

Also known as the “City of Palms,” Jericho was situated in a lush part of the Jordan valley, commanding some important trade routes. It must have been considerably wealthy. The account in Joshua refers to booty of silver, gold, bronze and iron, and to rich vestments imported from Babylonia – all seized by the Israelites for Yahweh’s treasury.

Carefully planning his attack, Joshua sent two spies across the Jordan to explore the country and Jericho. The spies entered Jericho and took lodgings with Rahab, a prostitute, who concealed them and then helped them to slip away safely the next day back to the Israelite camp: their news was that Jericho’s morale was low – Canaan was terrified by Israel’s military reputation and imminent approach.

As the Israelite army crossed the Jordan, the river miraculously stopped flowing. On the other side, they interrupted their march at Gilgal for all the men to be circumcised. After a necessary period of rest, they marched on Jericho. Joshua’s instructions were clear. Protected by troops to the front and rear, seven priests were to march around the city, carrying ram’s horn trumpets and leading the holy ark of the covenant. Though the priests were to blow their trumpets, the war cry was not to be raised until Joshua gave the order.

Marching to the sound of the trumpets, the army circled the walls of Jericho for six days. On the seventh day, the trumpets sounded, the war cry was raised and the walls collapsed. As Joshua ordered, the city was burnt to the ground while the citizens were put to the sword. Only Rahab the prostitute and her family were spared.

Geological evidence suggests a possible explanation for the miraculous elements in the Jericho story. The tumbling of the city’s walls was preceded, a few days earlier, by the crossing of the Jordan on dry land. Exactly the same “miracle” has been witnessed in modern times. The Jordan valley lies on a major geological rift, subject to frequent earthquakes. Quake-induced mud-slips have been known to dam the river on a number of occasions, most recently in 1927. It seems reasonable to suppose that the same phase of earthquake activity dammed the Jordan and destroyed Jericho’s walls.

Yet it is often stated that there is no archaeological evidence of the tumbled walls of Jericho. The conventional dating of the conquest places the event around 1200 BC, when Jericho was an insignificant settlement with no trace of walls.

However, a recent assessment of the conquest, following traditional Biblical dates, places it around 1400 BC, arguing that Joshua confronted an earlier settlement. At this time, Jericho had mighty walls and its destruction reveals signs of earthquake as well as a thick layer of ashes from burning. The new dating is controversial; still, it is true to say that the Biblical story of Jericho’s destruction has not yet been ruled out by archaeology.


The Curse of Jericho

After the burning of Jericho, Joshua made the Israelites swear a solemn oath over its ruins: “Accursed before Yahweh be the man who rises up and rebuilds this city! On his first-born will he lay its foundations, on his youngest son set up its gates!” (Joshua 6:26).

To lift this curse, the next builder would have to kill his eldest son and bury him under the foundations, then his youngest to bury under the gates. So Jericho lay abandoned for several centuries, until the time of King Ahab when Hiel, a man of Bethel, rebuilt Jericho and sacrificed his sons Abriam and Segub, “just as Yahweh had foretold through Joshua son of Nun” (1 Kings 16:34).


The first Jericho was a city of small round, mud-brick houses, surrounded by a stone defensive wall – including an impressive tower, enclosing some eight acres.

In the later Neolithic Age, the city seems to have declined, but recovered during the Early Bronze Age (c. 3000 BC), when huge mud-brick walls were built for the city’s defense.

Jericho’s greatest period was during the Middle Bronze Age (c. 1850 – 1550 BC). Imposing double defenses were built around a greatly expanded city. Whether earthquake or invasion was responsible, the thriving Middle Bronze Age city was completely gutted by fire. Little evidence has been found of settlement from later periods, and Jericho only became important again in the time of the Maccabees.

Jericho may be the oldest city in the world, for radiocarbon dating suggests that it was first built as early as 8000 BC in a phase of the New Stone Age.

Bone carvings of birds, used as inlay decoration on wooden boxes, have been found in the Middle Bronze Age tombs of Jericho, contemporary with the city’s last period of greatness. The tombs contain mass burials, perhaps the result of a plague that struck the city shortly before its destruction.

Found carefully placed next to the bodies were weapons, wooden stools, tables laden with offerings of food, and baskets and pots containing personal effects – combs, wigs, boxes for cosmetics and trinkets. These finds attest not only to a prosperous community but also to a strong belief in the afterlife.

Outside the city an extremely valuable group of Middle Bronze Age tombs were found. They contained organic material (including baskets an wooden furniture) in a remarkable state of preservation, considering they were buried some 3,500 years ago.

Scientific analysis suggests that subterranean gases had seeped into the tombs shortly after the burials, killing all the bacteria and preventing decay. Thus further suggests that there was some earthquake activity at about the same time as the city fell.


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