Battle of Jericho
Part of Israelite conquest of Canaan
Date Late Bronze Age
Location Jericho
Result Decisive Israelite victory
Israelites Caananites
Joshua King of Jericho
8000 fighting men 500
Casualties and losses
Unknown 2,500

The Battle of Jericho is described in the Bible (Joshua 6:1-27) as the first battle of the Israelites during their conquest of Canaan. According to the narrative, the walls of Jericho fell after Joshua's Israelite army marched around the city blowing their trumpets. However, the historicity of the battle is a subject of debate among modern scholars.

Biblical account

Spying on Jericho

Before crossing into the land west of the River Jordan, Joshua sent two spies to look over the land. The king of Jericho heard that two Israelite spies were within his city and ordered them to be brought out to him. The spies had to look out for things such as where guards were placed, whether anyone disliked the king and could help them, what weaponry and armour the guards had, when the guards changed shifts, how much food, water, and other supplies the city had, and the height and width of the walls so as to determine how to get over the walls.

The woman the spies were staying with was named Rahab and she protected them by hiding the two men on her roof. She tells them how the citizens of Jericho had been fearful of the Israelites ever since they defeated the Egyptians via the Red Sea miracle (some 40 years prior), and agrees to cover for them on condition that she and her family are spared in the upcoming battle. The spies agree provided three conditions are met: 1) she must distinguish her house from the others so the soldiers will know which one to spare, 2) her family must be inside the house during the battle, and 3) she must not later turn on the spies. Rahab complies with the conditions (hanging a scarlet rope outside her window to distinguish her house).

Safely escaping the city, the two returned to Joshua and reported that the "whole land was melting with fear".

Prise de Jéricho

Jean Fouquet: The Taking of Jericho Miller, c. 1452-1460

The battle

The Biblical account describes the Israelites being lead by Joshua and crossing the Jordan into Canaan where they laid siege to the city of Jericho. There God spoke to Joshua telling him to march around the city once every day for six days with the seven priests carrying ram's horns in front of the ark. On the seventh day they were to march around the city seven times and the priests were to blow their ram's horns. This Joshua did, and he commanded his people not to give a war-cry until he told them to do so. On the seventh day, after marching around the city the seventh time, the priests sounded their ram's horns, and Joshua ordered the people to shout. The walls of the city collapsed, and the Israelites were able to charge straight into the city. The city was completely destroyed, and every man, woman, and child in it was killed. Only Rahab and her family were spared, because she had hidden the two spies sent by Joshua. After this Joshua burned the remains of the city and cursed any man who would rebuild the city of Jericho at the cost of his firstborn son.


With the fall of Jericho came the Israelites' first victory in their conquest. As a result of the battle, Joshua's fame spread throughout Canaan. Joshua then sent an expedition against Ai west of Jericho. For over 400 years Jericho lay in ruins until Hiel of Bethel rebuilt the city. The city was rebuilt at the cost of Hiel's firstborn son, Abiram, and was fortified at the cost of his second son, Segub.


According to conventional Bible chronology, Joshua lived between c. 1500 – 1390 BC. He would have had to be at least sixty at the start of the conquest of Canaan, taking into account his service as Moses' spy after the exodus and the forty years of wandering in the desert. The battle of Jericho by that reckoning would have been in c. 1440 BC. According to Joshua 24:29, Joshua died at the age of 110.

The battle of Jericho has become a touchstone of the Bible's reliability as a source for the history of ancient Israel, and Jericho has accordingly been a focus of investigation since the earliest days of archaeology in Palestine. The first scientific investigation was carried out by Charles Warren in 1868, but amounted to no more than a site-survey (Warren's prime interest was in establishing the modern equivalents of Biblical locales). In 1907-09 and again in 1911 digging was carried out by two German archaeologists, Carl Watzinger and Ernest Sellin. Watzinger and Sellin believed that they would be able to validate the Biblical story of Jericho's destruction by Joshua and the Israelites, but concluded instead that the data indicated that the city was unoccupied at the time which the Bible indicated for the Conquest.

These results were tested in 1930-36 by John Garstang, at the suggestion of William F. Albright, the doyen of Palestinian archaeology at the time. Garstang discovered the remains of a network of collapsed walls which he dated to about 1400 BC, the time he believed the Israelites were on their conquest, that had apparently fallen in a dramatic fashion as opposed to being ruined by abandonment or decay from natural forces. Garstang's work thus reversed the conclusions of the earlier diggings.

By the post-war period a revolution had occurred in archaeological methodology, and Albright accordingly asked Kathleen Kenyon, one of the most respected practitioners of the new archaeology, to excavate at Jericho once more. Kenyon dug at Jericho over the seasons between 1952-1958. Kenyon traced the entire history of the city from the earliest Neolithic settlement. She did this by digging a narrow deep trench maintaining clean, squared off edges, rigorously examining the soil and recording its stratification, and thus building up a cross-section of the tell. When presented with an area that would require wider areas to be excavated - the floor plan of a house for example - she carefully dug in measured squares while leaving an untouched strip between each section to allow the stratification to remain visible. Kenyon reported that her work showed Garstang to have been wrong and the Germans right - Jericho had been deserted at the accepted Biblical date of the Conquest. Her result supported a growing body of evidence from other sites throughout Palestine - there was no sign anywhere of a sudden, synchronised destruction of Palestinian cities, at this time or indeed at any other. Albright's response was to abandon the Biblical chronology and change his date for the Conquest from c.1400 BCE to a period over a century later, which he felt better fitted the evidence.

Kenyon's work was accepted for the remainder of the 20th century, until in 1990 Bryant Wood published a paper in which he challenged her methods and conclusions. The essence of Wood's case was that locally-produced pottery from the site coincided with other local pottery common to around 1400BC, and that carbon-14 testing (a technology not available to Kenyon) of a sample of charcoal from the site indicated a date of 1410 BC. Wood's case against Kenyon's dating caused a stir in archaeological circles, but failed to gain a large following among scholars.[1] The argument was further settled and Kenyon's findings confirmed in 1995 by radiocarbon tests using more advanced techniques: these dated the destruction to 1562 BCE (plus/minus 38 years) with a certainty of 95%.[2]

The battle's historicity is therefore dismissed by most modern scholars - archaeologist Bill Dever, for example, has said: [I]f you want a miracle, here's your miracle: Joshua destroyed a city that wasn't even there,[3] and biblical scholar Eric Cline writes:

The simple fact is that there is no mention of the Hebrews or Israelites in any text from Canaan, Egypt, or elsewhere in the Near East before 1207 B.C. And yet there should be if the Exodus took place in 1450 B.C. and the Israelite conquest of Canaan took place in 1410 of 1400 B.C., because there are plenty of Canaanite and Egyptian texts what could have mentioned them if they were present.[4]

Nevertheless, Evangelical scholars such as Kenneth Kitchen, while largely accepting Kenyon's dating, continue to believe that the biblical battle represents real history.[5]


  1. Iain Provan, V. Philips Long and Tremper Longman, "A Biblical History of Israel", (Westminster John Knox Press, 2003), pp.175-6.
  2. (Radiocarbon Vol. 37, Number 2, 1995.)
  3. Sturgis, Matthew; John McCarthy (2001). It ain't necessarily so : investigating the truth of the biblical past. London: Headline. ISBN 0-7472-4506-1. 
  4. Cline, Eric H (2007), From Eden to Exile: Unravelling Mysteries of the Bible, National Geographic Society, ISBN 978-1426200847 p.116
  5. Kenneth Kitchen, "On the Reliability of the Old Testament" (Eerdman's 2003), pp.187-8

ar:معركة أريحاja:エリコ大虐殺 pt:Batalha de Jericó

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