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Arial view of Tell es-Sultan (ancient Jericho)

Jericho (Hebrew: ירחו, Yerēkhō; Arabic: أريحا, Arīchā) or “The City of the Palms” in the Bible, is one of the most excavated sites in Israel. Once a favored winter-resort of Herod and a key city in the control of Canaan, Jericho played an important role in the Bible. It was an important historical, cultural, and political center located northwest of the Dead Sea. Commonly known as “the oldest city in the world,” the city is perhaps best known from the Biblical story of a great victory over its Canaanite citizens by the Israelite leader Joshua. In the story, the walls of the heavily fortified city were destroyed with divine assistance during the year Date::1400 BC.

The site of ancient Jericho, known today as Tell es-Sultan, has been the focus of several archaeological excavations to investigate the Biblical story. The original settlement was built on a hill, or “tell”. The results of these excavations suggest that the walls of Tell es-Sultan have been built and rebuilt many times, due mainly to collapse caused by earthquakes, which are common in the region.[1]


Location of Jericho near the Dead Sea.

In Deuteronomy 9:1 (ASV), Moses tells the Israelites that they are going to come upon a country that was more powerful and stronger than they. It would have had large cities with walls that reached to the sky. The fortifications were extensive. The tell, or hill, which Jericho rested atop was surrounded by an enormous rampart made of mud bricks with a stone wall around its base. This rock wall was around twelve to fifteen meters in height. The earthen wall that was on top of it was at least six feet thick and up to twenty-six feet high. At the top of the embankments sat another earthen wall about forty-six feet taller than the ground level of the lower wall. It was supposed to be physically impossible for the Israelites to breach this incredible city. Inside of the upper wall lay about six acres of land; the total area of the upper city and its fortifications equaled about nine acres, approximately fifty percent larger than the lower area. If there were the typically assumed two-hundred people per acre, then there would have been a population of around twelve-hundred people in the upper level. This does not include the people living in the area between the rampart between upper and lower levels of wall; nor does it include the surrounding Canaanites who would have taken refuge in Jericho once the attack started. The people of Jericho were well prepared for a siege. They city, like most, was conveniently located by a spring for water; this spring is still there today. The harvest had been gathered at the time of the attack, so they did not run out of food. It has been estimated that at least a few years worth of food was stored within the city. Houses were also built into the walls, like Rahab’s; the city wall formed the back wall of the house. [2] The ancient city of Jericho is located about two kilometers away from its modern namesake. During Jesus’ time, he would have seen a new structure built on the wadi banks by Herod the Great. [3]


On the seventh day, the walls fell as the people honored what God told them to do. Every person in Jericho was killed, except for the woman Rahab and her family who were spared for her aid of the spies.

Charles Warren (1868)

Major-General Charles Warren was a British engineer who was sent to survey Palestine in 1867. He sank a total of six shafts into the tell where Jericho was buried, but failed to find anything there that held his interest. The first shaft had in fact been placed in the center of an ancient Bronze Age town wall. [4] He belived that the location of the mound (by the mouth of the wadi) suggested that it was a defensive structure. [5]

Ernst Sellin and Carl Watzinger (1907 - 1911)

After abandoning an unpromising dig and being rejected for another site, Sellin finally began an excavation at Jericho in 1907. Since he was not an archaeologist, very few professionals were willing to partner with him save for Carl Watzinger. [6] This team unearthed town walls from the Early Bronze Age and houses from the Israelite's occupation of Jericho. [5]

John Garstang (1930 - 1936)

John Garstang at 80 years of age, July 1956

John Garstang was a British archaeologist. His techniques could be considered primitive by today’s standards, but he did the best he could at the time. He is known for finding a network of walls which he believed to have fallen suddenly, not collapsed from time and decay. He dated the walls to about 1400 B.C. To him, the city was clearly destroyed by the Israelites, a belief that clearly opposed the others of the time. [7]

Kathleen Kenyon (1952 - 1958)

Kathleen Kenyon is probably one of the most famous archaeologists of Jericho. Her equipment and techniques were far better and more in depth than Garstang’s; she took a plethora of soil samples and took meticulous records of the strata. One of the most notable methods she used was implementing trenches so that she could both dig and keep a complete record of the strata layers. Even when she had to unearth huge sections, like a whole house, she dug square by square leaving narrow walls between each. Her goal was to retrace the entire history of Jericho to its formation. While digging, she came upon the first wall and a series of houses and adjoining courtyards. She dated these at 10,000 B.C. closer inspection brought about the discovery that the wall had been destroyed and rebuilt at least seventeen times. Another incredible find was a tomb containing multiple human skulls. Each was plastered with clay and then heavily decorated with paints. Kenyon, unlike Garstang, found no evidence of any defensive structures or fortifications and concluded that Jericho had been laid to waste long before Joshua arrived. To her, there was nothing left for Joshua to destroy and so the Bible, to her, was inaccurate. [7] Kenyon had all of the evidence staring her in the face, and yet she decided that "The excavation of Jericho, therefore, has thrown no light on the walls of Jericho of which the destruction is so vividly described in the Book of Jericho.” And the skeptics rewarded her for it.

Bryant Wood

Bryant Wood did not agree with Kenyon's decision. In 1990, he reevaluated Kenyon's work. He came to the conclusion that the pottery discovered by Kenyon coincides perfectly with the Biblical timeline when compared to other pottery of the time. Carbon dating also gives the ashes and charcoal an age of around 1410 B.C. [7]

Archaeological Finds

Other than Jerusalem, Jericho is the most heavily excavated site in Israel. There have been multiple digs over the years.

The Walls

The walls of Jericho all collapsed save for the wall that faced to the north. This would have been where Rahab’s house was located according to the Biblical account of Jericho’s demise. Archaeologists have found that along with the lone standing wall, the Bible was also correct in its description of the house on the walls. [8] Kenyon found while investigating a pile of red bricks at the base of the revetment wall, piling up almost to the top. These bricks “probably came from the wall on the summit of the bank [and/or] … the brickwork above the revetment.” This pile of bricks would have easily allowed the Israelites to go “into the city, every man straight before him” Joshua 6:20 (ASV). The walls have also been found to have fallen outwards, unlike they were designed to. The walls crubmled outwards only at the base; bricks fell from the ramparts to create a slope so the Israelites could climb into the city. [9]


According to the Bible, the Israelites were told to burn everything and take nothing from Jericho. Archaeological proof further supports the Bible through this aspect. One level of the excavation consists of a layer of ashes and burned debris approximately three feet thick. According to Kenyon “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.” In this debris was also found many charred jars of grain. Grain in those days was very valuable as a food source and a monetary supplement. For them to be left behind in a fire was very odd indeed. But the Bible gives a specific explanation since the Israelites were told to dedicate everything in the city to the Lord. Other peoples would have taken the grain without a second thought. This food also provides another argument for the Bible. If the people of Jericho had heavy fortifications, which has been found to be true, large food stores, which have also been found, and were built right on top of a water supply, they would have easily outlasted anyone who tried to subdue them through siege. Clearly, siege was not the downfall of Jericho. Almost no grain was consumed, proving that the siege of the Israelites was short just like the Bible said. [2]

Neolithic Tower

Jericho has been called the oldest city in the world based on this single discovery. Found by Kathleen Kenyon in her Trench 1, the Neolithic Tower spans eight meters in diameter and is attached to the inside of a four-meter-thick wall. This has been dated to about 7000 to 8000 B.C. [3]

Discovery Summary

  • As the finds were dated again after it was discovered that Kenyon had committed an error in her own dating, the fall of the city was found to be around 1400 BC, consistent with the Bible.
  • The fortifications of the city were virtually indestructible. The city had two outer walls, the base wall being 5 meters thick, and the inner wall being 6 meters thick. The base wall was below the inner wall, which would have made it infinitely more difficult for intruders to get through should they ever have been able to breach the first. Both walls were 8 meters tall, a huge feat to overcome.
  • In the Hebrew translation of the Bible, it states that the wall 'fell beneath itself'. After searching, there was a substantial amount of evidence that this is indeed what happened. A mud-brick retaining wall collapsed against the stone base wall, which was found by several teams who excavated the site.
  • As stated in the Bible, the Israelites burned the city and everything in it. The ample evidence of this fire was so great it was thought to be the only reason the city was destroyed in Kenyon's first uncovering.

Biblical Text

Israelites encountered Jericho after their exodus from Egypt. Joshua, the leader of the Israelites at that time, received a command from God as to how the city was to be taken. With the massive outer two walls (One 5 meters thick, the other 6 meters, and both eight meters tall.) Jericho was a virtually impregnable city. But under Joshua's leadership, the Israelites had no need to get over the walls.

The Battle of Jericho By: Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld (1794-1872).

Now Jericho was tightly shut up because of the Israelites. No one went out and no one came in. Then the LORD said to Joshua, "See, I have delivered Jericho into your hands, along with its king and its fighting men. March around the city once with all the armed men. Do this for six days. Have seven priests carry trumpets of rams' horns in front of the ark. On the seventh day, march around the city seven times, with the priests blowing the trumpets. When you hear them sound a long blast on the trumpets, have all the people give a loud shout; then the wall of the city will collapse and the people will go up, every man straight in." So Joshua son of Nun called the priests and said to them, "Take up the ark of the covenant of the LORD and have seven priests carry trumpets in front of it." And he ordered the people, "Advance! March around the city, with the armed guard going ahead of the ark of the LORD." When Joshua had spoken to the people, the seven priests carrying the seven trumpets before the LORD went forward, blowing their trumpets, and the ark of the LORD's covenant followed them. The armed guard marched ahead of the priests who blew the trumpets, and the rear guard followed the ark. All this time the trumpets were sounding. But Joshua had commanded the people, "Do not give a war cry, do not raise your voices, do not say a word until the day I tell you to shout. Then shout!" So he had the ark of the LORD carried around the city, circling it once. Then the people returned to camp and spent the night there. Joshua got up early the next morning and the priests took up the ark of the LORD. The seven priests carrying the seven trumpets went forward, marching before the ark of the LORD and blowing the trumpets. The armed men went ahead of them and the rear guard followed the ark of the LORD, while the trumpets kept sounding. So on the second day they marched around the city once and returned to the camp. They did this for six days. On the seventh day, they got up at daybreak and marched around the city seven times in the same manner, except that on that day they circled the city seven times. The seventh time around, when the priests sounded the trumpet blast, Joshua commanded the people, "Shout! For the LORD has given you the city! The city and all that is in it are to be devoted to the LORD. Only Rahab the prostitute and all who are with her in her house shall be spared, because she hid the spies we sent. But keep away from the devoted things, so that you will not bring about your own destruction by taking any of them. Otherwise you will make the camp of Israel liable to destruction and bring trouble on it. All the silver and gold and the articles of bronze and iron are sacred to the LORD and must go into his treasury." When the trumpets sounded, the people shouted, and at the sound of the trumpet, when the people gave a loud shout, the wall collapsed; so every man charged straight in, and they took the city. They devoted the city to the LORD and destroyed with the sword every living thing in it—men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep and donkeys. Joshua said to the two men who had spied out the land, "Go into the prostitute's house and bring her out and all who belong to her, in accordance with your oath to her." So the young men who had done the spying went in and brought out Rahab, her father and mother and brothers and all who belonged to her. They brought out her entire family and put them in a place outside the camp of Israel. Then they burned the whole city and everything in it, but they put the silver and gold and the articles of bronze and iron into the treasury of the LORD's house. But Joshua spared Rahab the prostitute, with her family and all who belonged to her, because she hid the men Joshua had sent as spies to Jericho—and she lives among the Israelites to this day. At that time Joshua pronounced this solemn oath: "Cursed before the LORD is the man who undertakes to rebuild this city, Jericho: At the cost of his firstborn son will he lay its foundations;at the cost of his youngest will he set up its gates." So the LORD was with Joshua, and his fame spread throughout the land. Joshua 6:1-27 (ASV)

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  1. Jericho, West Bank The Visible Earth, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Jericho's Walls Bryant Wood, Creation 21(2):36–40, March 1999
  3. 3.0 3.1 Jericho by Bible Places, Accessed: May 30, 2010.
  4. Jericho Lecture © Michael S. Sanders, Irvine, CA, February 10, 1998
  5. 5.0 5.1 Jericho Daniel Moorhead and Sarah Henkel
  6. The Newsletter of the Megiddo Expedition November 1999
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Jericho© 2005-2010 Minnesota State University · Mankato, Minnesota 56001 · United States of America
  8. Is the Bible accurate concerning the destruction of the walls of Jericho? Author: Bryant Wood and Gary Byer of Associates for Biblical Research. Editor: Paul S. Taylor, ChristianAnswers.Net. Copyright © 1995, 1999, 2002, Associates for Biblical Research, All Rights Reserved
  9. Evidence Proving Scripture Brian Kuehmichel, June 16, 2002

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