“Joshua fought the battle of Jericho, Jericho, Jericho. Joshua fought the battle of Jericho, and the walls came tumblin’ down.” Don’t remember this children’s song? Listen to the full version at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H3QUS4B0iaM. It is very inspirational – if you cannot find your way “over” the humongous wall in your life right now, try the spiritual path to “pass through it.” Or even dance through it if you like. But did the walls come tumbling down as the bible says they did? Or is it fable? And if it is pure fable, does the theme lose its inspiration?
Archeologists are continually re-exploring ancient sites in the Middle East trying to verify whether the biblical accounts are historically accurate. We can usually agree that they are “historically relevant” – they provide one explanation, accurate or not, of how different lands became populated by the peoples who are now there. But are they accurate?
Or should we even care? After all, if the most significant value of the bible is obtained by interpreting it as allegorical, and then looking for the hidden meanings within the allegories, then is there any need for any part of it to be historically accurate?
The answer to this is not simple. On the one hand, historical inaccuracy should not invalidate the allegorical and hidden meaning. According to the bible, the walls of Jericho came tumbling down because Joshua and his army circled it 7 times and shouted in the name of the Lord. Whether or not this account is historically accurate does not detract from the allegorical and hidden meanings, one being that surmounting huge obstacles can be aided by spiritual preparation and faithfulness, another that spiritual salvation is available to anyone who responds to it, even a harlot who has the wrong lineage and lives in an ignorant culture. Nor does it detract from one of the hidden meanings involving meditation and the 7 chakras which was presented by Joshua Tilghman in the August 12, 2012 post “The Battle of Jericho, and Your Body/Mind Connection!”
On the other hand, suppose there was no Jericho, historically, to begin with. Or suppose it was never defeated. Or maybe it had no walls. Or they did not come tumbling down. Then the entire biblical account would be entirely a fable made up out of thin air. Why should we expect it to have any credibility? We may as well just read any old fable. Find hidden meanings in our favorite comic books. Some people actually believe they can do that, but I think the bible has more credibility than any fable, old or new. If not, then why try so hard to find hidden meanings in it? Why not find hidden meanings in the fable of your choice?
There may be parts of the bible that are not historically accurate, but for it to be credible beyond any old fable, it cannot be all pure fiction. There are five New Testament verses that warn against fables (1Ti 1:4, 1 Ti 4:7, 2 Ti 4.4, Tts 1:14, 2 Pet 1:16). Any evidence that establishes historical accuracy of any part of the bible helps to establish the bible as a sacred, credible document, maybe imperfect, but one from which allegories and encoded meanings may be reliably drawn, and not just some storyteller’s pipe dream.
There is a lot of historical evidence that Hebrew tribes lived in Canaan, that they were aggressive and fought with surrounding ethnic groups for control of land and water rights. However, there is little evidence that they actually came from Egypt, or that they came through a roundabout desert detour, across the Jordon River, and then came to (and conquered) an ancient and might city of Jericho. Some historians and archeologists believe the Hebrews always lived in Canaan and made the whole thing up. However, the latest evidence is that Jericho was a walled ancient city on eight acres of land that was defeated suddenly with its walls being knocked down in either 1400 BC or 1550 BC, close to the date deduced from the biblical account.
Jericho is also believed by some archeologists to be the oldest city on earth, so its demise by the Hebrews may be even more symbolic, in overturning the original corrupted order of civilization.
After examining arguments for and against the biblical account, I think the following article is the most recent and inclusive I have come across, and so I have provided a link. http://www.reclaimingthemind.org/blog/2010/09/top-ten-biblical-discoveries-in-archaeology-3-jericho/
To be honest, it is written by someone with a graduate degree in Historical Theology and Christian Education from Dallas Theological Seminary, so it is might have some degree of bias. It is usually a good practice to look at an author’s background to obtain foreknowledge of their world view. Despite the conservative Christian background in this case, I think the article is the most informative and most objective I could find, and I have summarized it below.
In 1868, British Engineer Charles Warren excavated an earthen mound in the area believed to be a possible site of ancient Jericho. He discovered that the mound was not a natural formation but contained remains of what he believed to be ancient castles. Around 1910, a team of Austrians and Germans dug further and uncovered a retaining wall that circled an entire city. From 1930 -1936, the first excavations using modern archeological methods lead by British archeologist John Garstang discovered collapsed city walls built on top of portions of the retaining wall and evidence that it enclosed a city that met a quick and violent end. In his words:
“In a word, in all material details and in date the fall of Jericho took place as described in the Biblical narrative. Our demonstration is limited, however, to material observations: the walls fell, shaken apparently by earthquake, and the city was destroyed by fire, about 1400 B.C. These are the basic facts resulting from our investigations. The link with Joshua and the Israelites is only circumstantial but it seems to be solid and without a flaw.”
Because Garstang’s findings were met with much controversy, he invited the up-and-coming British Archeologist Kathleen Kenyon to study his findings. She did and eventually performed her own excavations in 1952-1958 that made her famous. She discovered 20 distinct phases of architectural development, each representing a different time period in the city’s history. She describes the time period closest to the time period in the biblical account as being wrought with calamity:
“The destruction was complete. Walls and floors were blackened or reddened by fire, and every room was filled with fallen bricks, timbers, and household utensils; in most rooms the fallen debris was heavily burnt, but the collapse of the walls of the eastern rooms seems to have taken place before they were affected by the fire.”
One of her most significant finding was vast stores of clay jars, some still sealed shut, filled with grain that was burnt to a crisp. This implies that the city was not destroyed by the usual method of siege – cutting off the city’s food supply to the point of starvation, and then attacking. The vast amount of burnt food implies that it was destroyed not long after Harvest season, when the stores were fullest.
Kenyon’s findings below correlate with the biblical narratives in parenthesis:
- The city was strongly fortified (Joshua 2:5,7,15, 6:5,20).
- The attack occurred just after harvest time in the spring (Joshua 2:6, 3:15, 5:10).
- The inhabitants had no opportunity to flee with their food (Joshua 6:1).
- The siege was short (Joshua 6:15).
- The walls were leveled, possibly by an earthquake (Joshua 6:20).
- The city was not plundered (Joshua 6:17-18).
- The city was burned (Joshua 6:20)
All of Kathleen Kenyon’s findings agreed with the biblical account except her assignment of the date for this destruction. She assigned the destruction as occurring in 1550 BC, 150 years before the biblically derived date of 1400 BC, with little or no rebuilding occurring for hundreds of years afterwards. So in effect, if the Hebrews got there in 1400 BC, they would have found a destroyed city.
Her assignment of the date was refuted later by Dr. Bryant G. Wood in 1990 who claimed her assignment was based largely on not finding expensive pottery imported from Cyprus that was available in 1400 BC. Woods claims that Kenyon dug for pottery only in a section of the city that was a residence for commoners who would not have acquired expensive pottery.
My summary of the article ends here. To date there have been two instances of radioactive carbon dating of samples from Jericho, one confirming the 1400 BC date and the other affirming the 1550 BC date. On top of that, there is archeological evidence that the Hebrews existed in Canaan as early as 1550 BC, which suggests that the biblical account might be accurate, but the date of destruction deduced from the bible may be 150 years off.
Although the archeological dating of the destruction of Jericho is inconclusive, and there is no evidence outside the bible that the Hebrews were the ones who actually destroyed it, it is clear that Jericho had walls that fell, and fell suddenly in a disorganized fashion as if in an earthquake. It is also clear that the rest of the city was totally destroyed by sudden fire, and that it was not rebuilt for more than a century after. The biblical account is not a bad fit.
By all means, we should encourage one another to keep tuning our 7 chakras and to keep tunneling through walls. But are we to find hidden meanings in thin air, or in accounts that have some semblance of being historical? You decide.