I’m going to get straight to the point of this post: there were never any walls around Jericho. The Bible was most likely wrong. The story in Josh. 6—of the walls of Jericho falling down after the Israelites marched around the city with the Ark of the Covenant—is likely totally fictional. Let’s find out why.
Recently, I posted about the famous story of Jericho in the Old Testament: I mentioned a pesky verse in an otherwise interesting story of the Israelites conquering of Jericho with their new charismatic leader Joshua. The point of that post was to indicate that there was a rather disgusting verse that should give us pause when reading the Bible—a verse where the Israelites proudly murder many innocent men, women and children in the city. What moral outrage spurred by that post should, at any rate, be tempered by another fact: most likely none of it ever happened.
Although, to be fair, it would be very difficult to disprove that the Israelites didn’t massacre any innocents in and around Jericho—just as it would be difficult to prove that they did. But what is easier to prove, however, is whether the walls of Jericho ever did come crumbling down. Or, to better put it, whether Jericho ever actually had any walls to begin with.
After extensive archeological investigation, it seems that Jericho did not walls at the time of the Israelite conquest. The archeologist Kathleen Kenyon, along with Sir Mortimer Wheeler, conducted a detailed look into the history of Jericho and its investigations. Prior archeologists, she felt, hadn’t done their job. So, between 1952 and 1958, Kenyon and Wheeler gave Jericho another examination.
Scholar James Kugel writes about their findings:
What Kenyon found was that, while the city of Jericho had been an important center at an earlier point in its history, by the Late Bronze age (ca. 1200 BCE, the approximate time of [the events in Joshua 6], Jericho was a poor, and poorly defended, little settlement.
No data, then, Kenyon or any others have found, supports the idea that, at the time of Joshua, Jericho was a fortified, walled city. In fact, it may have even been abandoned by the time the Israelites came through. (This would obviously disprove that there were any innocents killed whatsoever at the site, of course.) Jericho, Kugel reports, wasn’t resettled until 700 years after Joshua was living, when it was fortified again.
Kugel concludes: “Perhaps it was this later reality, scholars say, that inspired the picture of Jericho’s might walls…” Whatever it was, it most likely was not reality that “inspired” the story.