The Walls of Jericho
The Story of Jericho.
by John Garstang and J. B. E. Garstang.
New edition, revised. London: Marshall, Morgan and Scott. 200 pp. 8/6.
Everyone knows that the walls of Jericho came tumbling down, and archaeology has confirmed the fact. In the present volume, a revision of one issued originally in 1940, Professor Garstang, the principal excavator of the site, attempts, with the aid of his son, to present a connected history of the city in the light of what he has found there and to fit into that history the Biblical account of the invasion under Joshua.
Garstang believes that the Exodus from Egypt took place around 1450 BCE and that Jericho fell some fifty years later. It was destroyed, he thinks, as the result of an earthquake; but the invading Israelites deliberately added to the havoc by also setting it afire, as stated in Joshua 6:24. In support of these conclusions, Garstang observes that the exterior walls of the city appear indeed to have fallen outwards, as one would naturally expect in the case of an earthquake, while between the outer and the inner walls there is marked evidence of conflagration. Moreover, he reminds us, Jericho lies in the Jordan Rift, and this area has in fact been visited by seismic disturbances no less than eight times within the past seven hundred years. The last occasion was as late as 1927, when the waters of the Jordan were dammed for twenty-one hours. This, says Garstang, agrees remarkably with the statement in Joshua 3:16 that, at the time when the Israelites crossed the river, “the waters which came down from above stood, and rose up in one heap, a great way off . . . while those that went down toward the sea of the Arabah, even the Salt Sea, were wholly cut off.” After its destruction, Jericho appears to have remained virtually desolate for some five hundred years. There is evidence, however, that around 900 BCE it was reconstructed, for at that date its slope was reinforced by pisé work. This, says Garstang, bears out the statement in I Kings 16:34 that in the reign of Ahab, King of Israel, “Hiel the Bethel-ite built up Jericho.”
Garstang’s narrative and his skilful interweaving of the archaeological and Biblical evidence is indeed seductive, but the lay reader should know that the reconstruction here proposed does not command anything like unqualified acceptance by other authorities. The excavation of Jericho, far from being a complete confirmation of the Scriptural narrative, is also a serious challenge to it. Most archaeologists now agree that the fall of the city must be dated between 1400 and 1350, but where they part company with Garstang is in his assumption that this was about fifty years after the Exodus. The consensus of scholarly opinion today is that the Exodus could not have taken place before about 1290 BCE. Consequently, the fall of Jericho must have preceded it, and not followed it, as stated in the Bible.
The usual method of reconciling the discrepancy is to assume that the Biblical narrative represents a foreshortened version of what really occurred, telescoping into a single incursion what was actually a process of infiltration lasting more than a hundred years. The fall of Jericho would then belong to an earlier phase of the movement, the precise sequence of events having come to be forgotten by the time the Book of Joshua was compiled. In support of the view that the Scriptural account does indeed confuse the chronology and blend together successive stages of the invasion, it is pointed out that, according to archaeological evidence, the cities of Bethel, Lachish, and Debir, which Joshua is said to have captured at about the same time as he took Jericho, could not have fallen before about 1260–1230 BCE, while Ai, which he is described as having razed, was in fact a ruin (as its name indeed implies) throughout the whole period from 2200 BCE onwards.
For Jews, the problem raised by the excavation of Jericho reaches far beyond the limits of mere archaeological controversy. The Jewish religion rests very largely upon acceptance of a certain historical tradition. Its festivals are commemorations of events recorded in that tradition, and the character of the Jew qua Jew depends upon identification of the individual with what is assumed to be a continuous and unbroken collective experience. This being so, an assault upon the authenticity of that tradition might easily come to be regarded as a challenge to the title-deeds of Judaism. It is, indeed, an apprehension of this fact that has led so many spokesmen of Orthodox Jewry to the view that the higher criticism of the Bible is incompatible with the doctrines of the faith; and it is this too which inspired Solomon Schechter’s intemperate designation of that science as “the higher anti-Semitism.”
The fact is, however, that the dilemma is illusory. What has to be recognized is that the tradition upon which a people or group founds its identity and cohesion does not need factual authentication in history; myth and legend, saga and fable are an equally valid basis. What matters is the intensity and tenacity of acceptance, not the veracity of the thing accepted. No Christian has to prove that Christ was born on December 25 (actually, a late tradition) in order to observe Christmas; and by the same token no Jew need have to prove that the events of his past actually took place in the manner described in his traditional literature before he can observe the festivals or the home ceremonies of Judaism.
We must recognize that tradition is compounded of fancy as well as fact, and that it is the fusion of both in the popular mentality that creates a culture and a civilization. The authentication of the Biblical narrative is important only for historical inquiry; but the faith and self-expression of a people requires no historical validation. Human truth must not be confused with documentary fact.