Did Jericho’s walls come tumbling down?
After joining other archaeologists in dig
on West Bank, Ephraim pastor
says evidence confirms Bible
By Suzanne Dean
EPHRAIM—An African-American spiritual says:
“Joshua fought the battle of Jericho, Jericho, Jericho
Joshua fought the battle of Jericho
And the walls came tumbling down.”
Those lines are more than a song, according to Chip Thompson, director of the Solid Rock Ministry, a Christian organization in Ephraim that works with Snow College students. He says the song is backed up by archaeology.
In recent years, besides directing the student-oriented ministry, Thompson has branched into Biblical archaeology. He participated in digs in the West Bank west of Israel in 2018 and most recently in November 2019.
The phenomenon of city walls being reduced to rubble is found not just in Jericho, but in cities around Jericho that were destroyed about the same time as Jericho, Thompson says.
In his digs, most notably last fall in Ai, a city mentioned by name in the Bible, “everything perfectly matched the Biblical account” in Joshua Chapters 7 and 8, he says.
One of the fathers of Biblical archaeology is John Garstang of Great Britain, who excavated Jericho itself between 1930-36. Garstang said his evidence showed destruction of the city had occurred about 1400 BC, which is consistent with the biblical account of Joshua leading Israelite soldiers through the area.
In 1948, the nation of Israel was established. At the time, the Palestinians lived in part of what is now the West Bank; and they still control most of the West Bank.
According to Thompson, the Palestinians shut down honest archaeology. They took the position that cities in the Jericho area had been destroyed much earlier than 1400 BC. Their political agenda seemed to be debunking any evidence that Israelites, led by Joshua or anybody else, had ever lived in the area.
“Until now, they wouldn’t allow Biblically based people in the West Bank,” Thompson says.
Going back many years, Thompson has been friends with Joel Kramer, once pastor of a church in Brigham City, now a video journalist, nature photographer and archaeologist living in Amman, Jordan.
Since 2010, Thompson has led annual tours of the Holy Land. During the tours, he has reconnected with Kramer. Kramer introduced him to Titus Kennedy, an American who has a doctorate in archaeology from the University of South Africa.
Kennedy and his associates were the “first group of Christians to be allowed to pull a permit for excavation in the West Bank since 1948,” Thompson said.
In 2016, Kennedy did a “general survey” in the central West Bank to understand “the lay of the land,” including where buried settlements might exist.
In 2018, Thompson helped Kennedy with an excavation of a site called Beth Aven, about 12 miles from Jericho and a quarter-mile from Ai.
The Canaanites who lived in Beth Aven were pagans who practiced human sacrifice. Thompson says people excavating Beth Aven found a jar they believed was a burial jar for a baby, possibly one that had been sacrificed.
Fifty feet from the jar, excavators found a bedrock floor with mud brick that had collapsed onto the floor.
Based on archaeological evidence, they concluded the site had been destroyed “at the same time as Ai.”
Then last fall, with Titus Kennedy as chief archaeologist, about 40 people excavated Ai itself.
“For the most part, the city had lain in ruins with no occupation up to this day,” Thompson says.
The workers, most of who were faculty members or students from the University of South Africa, divided the site into five squares, each 15 feet by 15 feet.
They found the main city wall pretty quickly, Thompson said. They dug down 3 feet and found the inside of the wall.
As they dug deeper, he says, they found evidence of burning, which would have happened as Joshua and his Israelite soldiers moved through. They also found pottery characteristic of the late Bronze Age, which would have been the early 1400s BC.
Under the burned layer, they found 3 feet of rubble from walls of structures being knocked down. That’s consistent with the Bible account, which says Joshua and his forces turned the city into a heap of rubble.
“We did five squares and found what we expected in every square,” Thompson says. “There’s a very clear burned layer over the whole city that matches the Biblical timeframe of the late Bronze Age dating to about 1400 BC.”
They moved to the lower part of the city, and as they dug down, they found a dwelling. That shows, Thompson says, that hundreds of years after Joshua, the Israelites built an Iron Age city “right on top of the Canaanite city.”
Archaeology is hard work because “all you’re doing is digging and moving dirt,” Thompson says. But there’s camaraderie because you’re working with other people.
The dig at Ai was very rewarding, he says, “because what we found agreed with John Garstang’s excavations.”
There had been a long-running controversy between Garstang’s hypotheses and views of another archeologist named Joseph Callaway, who claimed settlements in the area predated the time of Joshua in the Bible.
“We resolved the controversy,” Thompson says.