This entry is part 16 of 122 in the series: Tough texts
- Genesis 1:26 – Why a plural name for God?
- Genesis 3 – traditional and revisionist readings
- Genesis 3:16b – ‘Your desire shall be for your husband’
- Genesis 5 – the ages of the antedeluvians
- Genesis 6:1f – ‘The sons of God’
- Genesis 6-8 – A worldwide flood?
- Genesis 12:3 – ‘I will bless those who bless you’
- Genesis 15:16 – ‘The sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its limit’
- Genesis 19 – What was the sin of Sodom?
- Genesis 22 – “Abraham, kill your son”
- Exodus – Who hardened Pharaoh’s heart?
- Exodus 12:37 – How many Israelites left Egypt?
- Leviticus 18:22; 20:13 – Homosexual acts prohibited?
- Leviticus 19:18 “Love your neighbour as yourself”
- Deuteronomy 23:6 – ‘Never be kind to a Moabite’?
- Joshua 6 – the fall of Jericho
- Joshua 10 – Joshua’s ‘long day’
- Judges 19:11-28 – The priest and the concubine
- 1 Samuel 16:14 – ‘An evil spirit from the Lord’
- 1 Samuel 28:7-14 – Did Samuel visit from the grave?
- 2 Samuel 1:26 – ‘More special than the love of women’
- 2 Sam 24:1, 1 Chron 21:1 – Who incited David?
- 1 Kings 20:30 – ‘The wall collapsed on 27,000 of them’
- Psalm 105:15 – ‘Touch not my anointed’
- Psalm 137:8f – ‘Happy is he who dashes your infants against the rocks’
- Isaiah 7:14/Matthew 1:23 – “The virgin will conceive”
- Daniel 7:13 – ‘Coming with the clouds of heaven’
- Jonah – history or fiction?
- Mt 1:1-17 and Lk 3:23-38 – the genealogies of Jesus
- Matthew 2:1 – ‘Magi from the east’
- Matthew 2:2 – The star of Bethlehem
- Matthew 2:8f – Can God speak through astrology?
- Matthew 2:23 – ‘Jesus would be called a Nazarene’
- Matthew 5:21f – Did Jesus reject the Old Testament?
- Matthew 7:16,20 – ‘You will recognise them by their fruit’
- Matthew 8:5/Luke 7:3 – Who asked Jesus to help?
- Matthew 8:5/Luke 7:7 – son? servant? male lover?
- Matthew 8:22/Luke 9:60 – ‘Let the dead bury their dead’?
- Matthew 8:28 – Gadara or Gerasa?
- Matthew 10:23 – ‘Before the Son of Man comes’
- Mt 10:28/Lk 12:4f – Whom should we fear?
- Matthew 10:28 – ‘destroy’: annihilation or everlasting punishment?
- Matthew 10:34 – ‘Not peace, but a sword’?
- Matthew 11:12 – Forceful entry, or violent opposition, to the kingdom?
- Mt 12:30/Mk 9:40/Lk 11:23 – For, or against?
- Matthew 12:40 – Three days and three nights
- The Parable of the Sower – return from exile?
- Mt 15:21-28/Mk 7:24-30 – Jesus and the Canaanite woman
- Mt 16:28/Mk 9:1/Lk 9:27 – “Some standing here will see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom”
- Matthew 18:10 – What about ‘guardian angels’?
- Matthew 18:20 – ‘Where two or three are gathered…’
- Matthew 16:18 – Peter the rock?
- Matthew 21:7 – One animal or two?
- Mt 24:34/Mk 13:30 – ‘This generation will not pass away’
- Matthew 25:40 – ‘These brothers of mine’
- Matthew 27:46/Mark 15:34 – Jesus’ cry of dereliction
- Matthew 27:52f – Many bodies raised?
- Mark 1:41 – ‘Compassion’, or ‘anger/indignation’?
- Mark 2:25f – ‘When Abiathar was high priest’
- Mark 3:29; Luke 12:10 – The unpardonable sin
- Mark 4:31 – ‘The smallest of all the seeds’?
- Mark 6:45 – ‘To Bethsaida’
- Mark 12:41-44/Luke 21:1-4 – ‘The widow’s mite’
- Luke 2:1f – Quirinius and ‘the first registration’
- Luke 2 – Was Joseph from Nazareth, or Bethlehem?
- Luke 2:7 – ‘No room at the inn’
- Luke 2:8 – Shepherds: a despised class?
- Luke 2:39 – No room for a flight into Egypt?
- Luke 4:16-19 – An incomplete quotation?
- Luke 7:2 – ‘Highly valued servant’ or ‘gay lover’?
- Luke 14:26 – Hate your family?
- Luke 22:36 – ‘Sell your cloak and buy a sword’
- John 1:1 – ‘The Word was God’
- John 2:6 – symbol or history?
- John 2:12 – Did Mary bear other children?
- Mt 21/Mk 11/Lk 19/Jn 2 – When (and how many times) did Jesus cleanse the Temple?
- John 3:16f – What is meant by ‘the world’?
- John 4:44 – ‘His own country’
- John 7:40-44 – Did John know about Jesus’ birthplace?
- John 7:53-8:11 – The woman caught in adultery
- John 10:8 – “All who came before me were thieves and robbers”
- John 10:34 – “You are gods”
- John 14:6 – “No one comes to the Father except through me”
- John 14:12 – ‘Greater deeds’
- John 20:21 – “Just as the Father has sent me, I also send you.”
- John 21:11 – One hundred and fifty three fish
- Acts 5:1-11 – Ananias and Sapphira
- Acts 5:34-37 – a (minor) historical inaccuracy?
- Romans 1:5 – ‘The obedience of faith’
- Romans 1:18 – Wrath: personal or impersonal?
- Romans 1:26-27 – ‘Natural’ and ‘unnatural’ sexual relations
- Rom 3:22; Gal 2:16 – faith in, or faithfulness of Christ?
- Romans 5:18 – ‘Life for all?’
- Rom 7:24 – Who is the ‘wretched man’?
- Romans 10:4 – ‘Christ is the end of the law’
- Romans 11:26a – ‘And so all Israel will be saved’
- Romans 16:7 – ‘Junia…well known to the apostles’
- 1 Corinthians 14:34 – ‘Women should be silent in the churches’
- 1 Corinthians 15:28 – ‘The Son himself will be subjected to [God]’
- 1 Corinthians 15:29 – ‘Baptized for the dead’
- 1 Corinthians 15:44 – ‘Raised a spiritual body’
- 2 Corinthians 5:21 – ‘God made Christ to be sin for us’
- Galatians 3:17 – How much later?
- Galatians 3:28 – ‘Neither male nor female’
- Galatians 6:2 – ‘The law of Christ’
- Galatians 6:16 – The Israel of God
- Ephesians 1:10 – ‘The fullness of the times’
- Philippians 2:10 – ‘The name that is above every name’
- 1 Cor 11:3/Eph 5:23 – ‘Kephale’: ‘head’? ‘source’? ‘foremost’?
- Colossians 1:19f – Universal reconciliation?
- 1 Thessalonians 2:14f – ‘The Jews, who killed Jesus’
- 1 Timothy 2:4 – ‘God wants all people to be saved’
- 1 Timothy 2:11f – ‘I do not allow woman to teach or exercise authority over a man’
- 1 Timothy 4:10 – ‘The Saviour of all people’
- Hebrews 6:4-6 – Who are these people?
- Hebrews 12:1 – Who are these witnesses?
- 1 Peter 3:18-20 – Christ and the spirits in prison
- 2 Peter 1:4 – ‘Partakers of the divine nature’
- 2 Peter 3:9 – ‘The Lord wishes all to come to repentance’
- Jude 7 – ‘Unnatural desire’
- Revelation 7:4 – The 144,000
- Revelation 14:11 – ‘No rest day or night’
The biblical account of Jericho as a walled city in the time of Joshua is discussed as a ‘test case’ in the book Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy. Peter Enns says that the ‘overwhelmingly dominant’ scholarly position is that Jericho was a small, unwalled settlement at that time (about 1400 BC, if a later date for the exodus is accepted). He says that although in the 1930s, John Garstang claimed to have found remains of a well-populated walled city on the site, Kathleen Kenyon’s excavations in the 1950s led her to argue that these walls dated to about 1550 BC. According to Enns, only biblical inerrantists such as Bryant Wood contest the generally-held view that Jericho was without walls in the time of Joshua. Evangelical scholars such as Kenneth Kitchen and Richard Hess take the view that the ‘essential historicity’ of the biblical account can be maintained, suggesting that the notion of a walled city in the Late Bronze Age is ‘not impossible’, given the possibility that erosion may have obliterated the remains of the walls. But for Enns, this is merely a ‘rhetorical strategy’:-
‘If the archaeological evidence does not make the biblical view absolutely impossible, the biblical account remains historically possible and therefore should be given the benefit of the doubt, and external evidence should be interpreted generously to support that conclusion.’
The rejection of a position as a mere ‘rhetorical strategy’ could be more fairly levelled against J. McDowell (The New Evidence That Demands a Verdict, p95, repeated verbatim on p382) who mentions the earlier work of Garstang but fails to mention that of Kenyon.
Enns’ own view is that ‘the biblical story of the fall of Jericho is perhaps a significant elaboration on a historical kernel, not a reliable record of a historical event.’
According to The Archaeological Encyclopedia of the Holy Land:-
‘It is possible…that the Late Bronze Age II city of Jericho was conquered by Joshua, and that during the long period that elapsed before its resettlement in the time of Hiel the Bethelite all remains were washed away by the [winter] rains.’
Presumably, the author of this article is not offering this as merely a ‘rhetorical strategy’ to shore up doctrinal conservatism. The same article adds that no remains have been found of the later city (early 9th century BC) built by Hiel the Bethelite (1 King 16:34).
The relevant article in Harper’s Bible Dictionary (again, not exactly a bastion of conservative evangelicalism) also notes that Kenyon found little evidence of occupation of the site, and no evidence of walls, from the Late Bronze Age, adding that ‘the forces of erosion had removed all the vital evidence’.
Again, Enns’ confident scepticism seems challenged by the agnosticism found in Harper’s Bible Commentary (again, not a conservative evangelical publication):-
‘Whether the conquest of this city is to be taken largely as a later liturgical creation or whether this town actually fell to Israel will remain a debated problem for a long time to come. Here is a case where archaeology cannot seem to resolve the problem. The excavator of Jericho, Kathleen Kenyon, held that the archaeological evidence is unclear about whether a city existed on the site at the time of Joshua’s conquest.’
‘The ruins of Tell es-Sultan include massive collapsed and burnt mud-brick structures. These ruins were once a flourishing Canaanite city, built in the Early and Middle Bronze Ages (third to mid-second millennium B.C.E.) upon the remains of a major fortified Neolithic settlement. The ruins are far older than the date of Joshua’s conquest (that is, the end of the Late Bronze Age, around the thirteenth century B.C.E.). In fact, there is no evidence connecting the remains of this impressive city with the Jericho described in Joshua.’
‘We have to imagine that, when the biblical author included Jericho in the conquest story, the site was already a heap of burnt and ruinously collapsed bricks. These ruins must have seemed to prove the story and were thus exploited by the biblical author: everybody could see that the city of Jericho had been violently destroyed by fire. The author thus ascribed this event to the arrival of the Israelites in the promised land.’
According to Kitchen (NBD), the possibility that the remains of Jericho from Joshua’s day have been entirely washed away ‘is not just a “harmonistic” or heuristic view, but one suggested by the evidence of considerable erosion of the older settlements at Jericho.’ Kitchen adds:-
‘It seems highly likely that the washed-out remains of the last Late Bronze Age city are now lost under the modern road and cultivated land along the E side of the town mound, as the main slope of the mound is from W down to E. It remains highly doubtful whether excavation here (even if allowed) would yield much now.’
Given Jericho’s long and varied history, it is not surprising that J.G. McConville (Dictionary of Old Testament: Historical Books) says that its archaeological record is ‘not easy to read’. He cites Kenyon and Mazar in support of the possibility that ‘the Early and Middle Bronze walls were simply used again by occupants in the Late Bronze.
McConville concludes that ‘it would be mistaken either to prejudge the nature of the biblical account on the basis of the archaeology or to force the ambiguous archaeology to fit the biblical picture.’
In The Bible Unfiltered (ch. 20) Michael Heiser notes that a literal reading of biblical chronology (esp. 1 Kings 6:1) would date the fall of Jericho to around 1400 BC.
As noted above, the predominant archaeological view since the middle of the last century has been that a Jericho without walls was destroyed in 1250 BC, that the city had no walls (and was unoccupied) in 1400 BC when, according to the biblical accounts, its walls fell.
Heiser responds that there is, in fact evidence of
- occupation of Jericho in 1400 BC. This evidence is in the form of pottery, and Egyptian scarabs found in Jericho cemeteries that record the names of pharaohs known to have reigned between 1700 and 1300 BC.
- collapsed walls dating to that time
- sudden siege around 1400 BC
- storage jars – still full of harvested food – at the same archaeological level. (Note that Joshua’s siege took place in early spring, after the harvest (Josh 2:6; 3:15; 4:9; 5:10)
(For these points, Heiser references: Bryant G. Wood, 1990. Did the Israelites Conquer Jericho? A New Look at the Archaeological Evidence. Biblical Archaeology Review, 16(2), pp.44–59. Wood’s case does not appear to have been well received by other archaeologists, but I am not competent to adjudicate in this matter.)
Heiser suggests another line of enquiry. It is possible, he writes, that the date favoured by most archaeologists for the fall of Jericho (1250 BC) may be consistent with the biblical evidence after all. There are, he says, indications that the biblical chronology is to be understood figuratively, rather than literally.
‘In this view, the 480 years of 1 Kings 6:1—which supplies a chronology for the exodus—is taken as a figurative number, not a literal one. The 480 years described in this passage are divisible by 40 (12 × 40). The number 40 occurs more than 100 times in the Old Testament. The reigns of many judges and kings seem to be 40 years, and so scholars suspect that the number is a deliberate marker for a generation or transition (e.g., Judg 3:11, 31; 8:28; 1 Sam 4:18; 2 Sam 2:10; 5:4; 1 Kgs 2:11; 11:42). As a result, the dates of the exodus and conquest may be flexible.’