Jericho Destruction in the Bronze Age: A Prehistoric Arson?

Archaeological analyses of Jericho generally agree on the manner in which the city met its end, including a widespread fire,

Fires that devastated entire cities have occurred not only in recent centuries, but there are concrete possibilities that even thousands of years ago some cities suffered devastating fires, as in the case of the biblical city of Jericho.

A 2023 publication by Titus Kennedy (The Bronze Age Destruction of Jericho, Archaeology, and the Book of Joshua) summarizes the results of research carried out by major archaeological missions on this topic.

Aerial view of the archaeological area of Jericho (Fullo88 at Italian Wikipedia, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

The ancient city of Jericho, situated at the archaeological site of Tell es-Sultan, approximately 5 miles west of the Jordan River on the northwest edge of modern Jericho, is commonly linked to the biblical city of Jericho and its destruction narrative in the book of Joshua.

Various archaeological teams and investigations have consistently confirmed Tell es-Sultan as the location of Jericho and have revealed the fiery destruction of a fortified city.

However, disagreements among archaeologists persist regarding the timing of the fall of the Bronze Age city and its connection to the Joshua narrative. Differing excavation methods, durations, and conclusions further contribute to the century-long debate.

Despite discrepancies in the interpretation of data, including the precise date of destruction and abandonment, there is general consensus among archaeological analyses of Jericho on certain aspects, such as the manner of the city’s demise.

Assessment of chronological data from different artefacts and radiocarbon samples suggests that the destruction likely occurred around 1400 BC.

The archaeological evidence is in line with Joshua’s account, which details the collapse of the mud brick wall around the city, resembling an earthquake rather than a specific entry point, and an intentional fire throughout the city. Actually, grain bins remained intact immediately after the spring harvest.

The subsequent abandonment of Jericho, except for a briefly occupied residence, corresponds with the narratives in the books of Joshua, Judges, and Kings.

Consequently, archaeological findings at Jericho seem to support a destruction of the final Bronze Age city around 1400 BC, consistent with the account in the book of Joshua.

The use of fire investigation techniques is a branch of fire science. More information can be found in the Elsevier publication by Harding Mary-Jane, Harrison Karl, Icove David (link to an external site): Applying archaeology to fire investigation techniques: A review.