Joshua’s Lost Conquest -- By: Henry B. Smith Jr.

Journal: Bible and Spade (Second Run)
Volume: BSPADE 27:4 (Fall 2014)
Article: Joshua’s Lost Conquest
Author: Henry B. Smith Jr.


Joshua’s Lost Conquest

Henry B. Smith Jr.

Archaeological research in the Holy Land began in the mid-late 19th century, prompted by a keen interest in the land and history of the Bible. Evidence related to the Conquest of Canaan by Joshua soon became an important area of focus for archaeologists interested in the relationship between archaeology and the Bible. However, two significant developments eventually led to a widespread rejection of an historical Conquest.

One of the first cities excavated in Israel was Jericho. German scholars Sellin and Watzinger dug at Jericho in the early 1900s. In the 1930s, British archaeologist John Garstang excavated at Jericho for several seasons. Garstang found local Canaanite pottery from the time of Joshua and evidence for a massive destruction of the city by a fierce fire which left ash deposits up to 3 ft thick. In addition to this, he discovered Egyptian scarabs in pit tombs outside of Jericho that also indicated the city was occupied down into the Late Bronze I period. This included a rare scarab of the much maligned Hatshepsut (ca. 1506/4-1488 BC), and a rare seal from the reign of Thutmosis III (1506-1452 BC). Garstang concluded that the evidence was consistent with an Israelite attack on the city around 1400 BC, the biblical date for the Conquest.

In the 1950s, Garstang’s colleague Kathleen Kenyon continued excavations at Jericho. Kenyon concluded that Jericho was not destroyed at the time of Joshua, but 150 years earlier, around 1550 BC. Kenyon’s date for the destruction of Jericho was not based on hard evidence that she uncovered in the destruction layer on the southwest slope or from her excavation trenches; rather, her date was primarily derived from the absence of a particular kind

Henry B. Smith Jr.

The author standing at the base of the stone retaining wall on the southern end of Jericho. During the time of Joshua, there was a mudbrick wall about 20 ft high on top of this stone wall. At the bottom of the wall, the Italian excavations found remains of the fallen mudbrick walls, just as Kenyon and the Germans had found. The Italians discovered that this stone wall cut right through several houses, indicating that the wall was built after the houses. The pottery found in the houses indicates they were occupied up until the transition between the MB and LB periods (ca. 1500 BC), further disproving Kenyon’s dating. In the background, one can still see the remnants of Kenyon’s south trench, which was continued in the 1990s by the University of Rome.

of imported pottery from the island of Cyprus in the Mediterranean Se...

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