What was the function of the walls of Jericho?

What was the function of the walls of Jericho?

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The walls of old Jericho have been dated to around 8000bc. This is thousands of years before the nascent civilisations of Babylon and Egypt built similar fortifications and thousands of years before organised warfare made such walls useful for defence.

Walls thirteen feet thick with a watchtower and a moat are simply unnecessary to keep out the random raiding parties which characterised warfare in this era. Which rather raises the question of what they were for?

The current Wikipedia page ponders this and posits answers around the old chestnuts of a ritual or ceremonial function

Ran Barkai argued that the structure was used to create awe and inspiration to convince people into a harder way of life with the development of agriculture and social hierarchies.

But unless I've missed something, this seems extremely unlikely. The wall included a ditch or moat excavated, at what must have been a vast cost in labour, out of solid bedrock. Given this addition, it is hard to believe that the purpose of the wall was not primarily defensive.

But what on earth could the ancient inhabitants of the city have needed such impenetrable fortifications against in the Neolithic era?

The short answer (unfortunately but unsurprisingly) is that we can't be sure. However, the currently most accepted theory would appear to be that the walls were for flood control, but there are other views and there is no clear consensus. The tower, on the other hand, has been associated with the summer solstice, among other things.


The most likely explanation would seem to be the walls were to protect the city against floods (for example, Haviland et al, 2007, in Evolution and Prehistory: The Human Challenge), whereas previously it was proposed that they had a defensive purpose (Kenyon, 1957). Steven Mithen, in After the Ice: A Global Human History, 20,000-5000 BC (2006), also lends more credence to the flood theory than the defensive one for the walls.1

This more recent interpretation is also noted by Muth et al in Ancient Fortifications: A Compendium of Theory and Practice (2016)

The first known fortifications built around a settlement appear at Jericho during the Pre-Pottery Neolithic A, around 8000 B.C.9 The nature of the walls is debated, however,and it has been convincingly argued that they were intended to protect the settlement against seasonal flooding.10 Evidence indicates that the military threshold for a protective wall was not crossed in the 8th millennium.11

The sources given above are:

  • 9 O. Bar-Yosef, The Walls of Jericho. An Alternative Interpretation, Current Anthropology 27, 1986, 157-162.
  • 10 K. M. Kenyon, Excavations at Jericho, The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland 84, 1954, 103-110.
  • 11 W. J. Hamblin, Warfare in the Ancient Near East to 1600 BC. Holy Warriors at the Dawn of History (London 2006). Note: The use here of Hamblin's 'military threshold' is taken somewhat out of context as he does not rule out local threats (see below).

Bar-Yosef, who cites over 30 sources, concludes that

Given all the available data, it seems that a plausible alternative interpretation for the Neolithic walls of Jericho is that they were built in stages as a defense system against floods and mudflows. The PPNA inhabitants of Jericho chose to live near a copious spring on a sloping plain which was subject to mudflows and sheetwash. Their response was to build a wall and then, when necessary, dig a ditch. The necessity for better protection on the western side would explain the varying thickness of the wall, which during Stages IV-VI was ca. 3.5 m in the west but remained only 1.4-1.6 m in the north and the south.

The varying thickness of the walls could suggest their purpose was anti-flood rather than defensive. Also, during the later PPNB period the wall was not maintained to the same potential defensive effectiveness. Changes in the likelihood of floods seems a reasonable explanation for this. Nonetheless, whether the flash floods would have been severe enough to require such thick walls (as well as ditches to drain away the water) can only be speculated on.

There are, though, dissenting views which argue that the wall was to defend against a human threat. Hamblin, while accepting that there was "a lack of serious and sustained military threat in the early Neolithic" says:

The appearance of such massive fortifications a thousand years before fortification in other regions has led some to question their purpose, claiming the walls were designed to protect the community from flash floods out of the wadis to the west. However, it seems dubious that protection from flash floods would require such a massive four-meter-high wall - indeed the ditch alone should have proved sufficient for flood control. The stronger interpretation is that the wall and tower had a military purpose… It is likely that the Neolithic fortress of Jericho was built in response to a very specific, local, but ongoing threat.

As with the flood theory, there is much speculation here. Hamblin's inclusion of the tower doesn't make much sense given it's positioning in relation to the wall (its defensive use is limited).

Others, though, have cast doubt on both the flood and defense theories. Ronen and Adler (2001) have argued that it was a defense against evil spirits (also referenced here), but this doesn't really explain the ditch. Barkai and Liran (2008), while clearly agreeing with Bar-Yosef's critique of the defense theory, do not endorse the flood theory either (though nor do they refute it, their focus being on the tower rather than the wall).

Finally (concerning the wall), several sources state the above theories without clearly committing themselves to any one. Both Alan H. Simmons' The Neolithic Revolution in the Near East (2007) and The Archaeology of Syria (Akkermans & Schwartz, 2003) cite weaknesses in the defense theory, but without clearly endorsing the flood theory.


On the tower, Bar-Yosef notes that

The later history of Near Eastern fortifications seems to rule out its use as part of a fortress.

but he comes to no certain conclusion as to it's purpose:

The archaeological remains indicate that the tower was a special structure and perhaps held a special place within the settlement.

He goes on to say that:

The presence of the storage facilities attached to it in its early days may hint that it was publicly owned or at the service of the community. It is quite possible that it was also a place or a center for ritual activities.

So, yes, that 'old chestnut' ritual crops up again but, in the absence of any firm evidence, this is hardly surprising. Archaeologists Ran Barkai and Roy Liran, after looking at the surrounding environment and analyzing the architectural design have concluded that

the tower is in fact inherently aligned to celestial and geographical elements, and that the ancient Neolithic builders used it as a link between them, their town, and the universe.

Archaeologist K. Kris Hirst, citing Barkai and Liran, writes:

The stairs at the top of the tower open up facing to the east, and on what would have been midsummer solstice 10,000 years ago, the viewer could watch the sun set above Mt. Quruntul in the Judean mountains. The peak of Mount Quruntul rose 350 m (1150 ft) higher than Jericho, and it is conical in shape. Barkai and Liran (2008) have argued that the conical shape of the tower was built to mimic that of Quruntul.

This Jerusalem Post article (2011), citing an interview with Barkai, adds:

Barkai said architecture designed to awe and inspire, and without any obviously functional purpose, isn't unique to the megalithic period. Even today, governments erect monuments like the Arc de Triomphe to influence public opinion and enhance their standing.

1 The page on which Mithen discusses the defensive vs. the flood theory aren't visible on Google books so here it is:

Kenyon assumed that these had been constructed to defend the town from attack, a seemingly irresistible conclusion, given Jericho's biblical associations. It wasn't until 1986 that Ofer Bar-Yosef asked some obvious questions: who were the enemies of Jericho? Why was the wall not rebuilt after it had become buried by house debris and refuse after no more than two hundred years? Why are there no other fortified sites of the same date in western Asia?

Bar-Yosef concluded that the walls had been for defense but not against an invading army - the enemy was flood water and mud-flows.7 Jericho was in perpetual danger as increased rainfall and vegetation clearance destabilized sediments on the Palestinian hills that could then be carried to the edge of the village by the nearby wadis. By the time the village rubbish had buried the walls, the level of human settlement had literally been raised up by the accumulation of collapsed houses and human debris. This had removed the threats of flood water and mud-flow. A wall was simply no longer required.

Acknowledgement: Mazura for the lead provided by his comment on Barkai and Liran.

There may be a slight possibility that one purpose of the walls of Jericho was protection against elephants.

Asian elephants are normally shy and tend to hide from humans. However, there are examples of elephants who react in a very human manner to various human attacks and aggression.

Specifically there have been elephants so angered by humans that they have hunted down and killed humans.

The now extinct Syrian subspecies of Asian elephant was the largest subspecies of Asian elephant.

So possibly one reason for building the first wall of Jericho was defense against one or a group of vengeance-crazed elephants seeking to kill every human they could catch.

The tower might have been a watch tower to look for approaching elephants and sound the alarm to warn people to head for the safety of the walls and perhaps to send out warriors to chase away the elephants.

Another possible reason to build the wall might have been defense against migrating herds of large animals that perhaps had migration route through the area. A migrating heard of aurochs that stampeded would be very dangerous, and the walls of Jericho would have been a sufficient defense against an aurochs stampede.

When we invented agriculture and cities about 8000 years ago, and some towns grew a food surplus, this attracted disgruntled attention from other less successful towns causing wars for food, demanding defensive walls and fortifications with watchtowers. This has parallels in the animal kingdom where they compete for food.

Sources and references : The City in History forming part of the lecture courses in architecture in the United Kingdom that I attended 1968 - 1981

Norman Chang, London, Member of the Royal Institute of British Architects ( RIBA )

Though I studied this at school 1961-68, there are varying opinions specifically on Jericho, the third link below has some of these views

Principal investigations political interest in Levant / foreign affairs with Ottomans / Suez. Conflicting views on how walls were built and when, but Jericho built in an oasis with water / grain stores / food surplus but prone to flooding of Jordan. (1) British interests in Levant 1713-79 M. Talbot (3) Russian interest 1843 - 48. (4) The British : Levantine Consuls 1856 - 76 Gordon Iseminger. To establish authenticity of Bible. British Royal Engineers 1868 Charles Warren. German Expedition 1907- 9. Garstang Expedition 1930. Kenyon 1952 -58. Italian Palestinian 1997 - 2015 London: British School of Archaeology in Jerusalem.



What is the significance of Jericho in the Bible?

Jericho is believed to be one of the oldest cities in the world. In the Bible, Jericho is best known as the location of an astonishing miracle God performed. Jericho was the first city conquered by Israel after crossing the Jordan River and occupying the Promised Land (Joshua 5:13&mdash6:23).

Jericho’s location was key to its significance. The city was situated in the lower Jordan Valley, just west of the Jordan River and about ten miles northwest of the Dead Sea. It sat in the broadest part of the Jordan plain more than 800 feet below sea level and nearly 3,500 feet below Jerusalem, which was only 17 miles away. This geographical detail explains why Jesus said in His parable that the good Samaritan “went down from Jerusalem to Jericho” (Luke 10:30).

In dramatic contrast to its desert surroundings, Jericho thrived as a fertile, spring-fed oasis. In the Old Testament, it was often called the “City of Palms” for its abundance of palm trees (Deuteronomy 34:3 Judges 1:16 3:13 2 Chronicles 28:15). Strategically located as a border city, ancient Jericho controlled important migration routes between the north and south, and the east and west. Eventually, the town became part of the allotment of the tribe of Benjamin (Joshua 18:12, 21).

After the death of Moses, God selected Joshua, son of Nun, to lead the people of Israel. Under the Lord’s direction, they entered Canaan and began to take possession of the land. The first city standing in Israel’s way was Jericho, a secure fortress with high, formidable walls. Joshua sent spies to investigate the city. Rahab the harlot, knowing that Israel’s God was going to overthrow Jericho, hid the spies and later helped them escape (Joshua 2).

Before the battle of Jericho, God gave Joshua specific instructions for the men of war to march in silence around the city once each day for six days. The priests were to walk with them, blowing ram’s horns and carrying the ark of the covenant as a sign of God’s presence among them. On the seventh day, they were to march around the city seven times. At the appropriate signal, the priests were to blow their trumpets, and the people were to give a mighty shout. They did exactly as Joshua commanded, and on the seventh day the walls of Jericho crumbled. The soldiers went in and took the city, destroying it completely. Only Rahab and her family were spared.

As the first city to fall in the conquest of Canaan, the whole of it was devoted to the Lord (Joshua 6:17). The people of Israel were to take no spoils of war Joshua gave a clear command that “all the silver and gold and the articles of bronze and iron are sacred to the Lord and must go into his treasury” (verse 19). In this way, Jericho was a “tithe” to the Lord who gave them the victory. God’s people were to honor Him with the firstfruits of the conquest. Achan violated this order and brought ruin on himself and his family.

After the destruction of Jericho, Joshua placed a curse on anyone who might rebuild the city (Joshua 6:26). Jericho remained unoccupied until the time of the prophets Elijah and Elisha, about 500 years later. Then Joshua’s word was fulfilled when Hiel of Bethel rebuilt the city, at the cost of the lives of two of his sons (1 Kings 16:34).

Jericho is mentioned briefly in the book of Judges, which says that Jericho served as a provincial outpost for Eglon the King of Moab who held Israel under tribute for 18 years (Judges 3:13). In 1 Chronicles 19:5, King David sent word for his mistreated delegates to remain in Jericho until their beards regrew. In 2 Kings 2:4&ndash18, Jericho appears to have been the home of a “school of the prophets.”

Also reported at Jericho was Elisha’s miraculous purifying of a spring (2 Kings 2:19&ndash22). During the reign of Ahaz, a group of prisoners was spared, clothed, fed, and cared for at Jericho (2 Chronicles 28:15). The final Old Testament mention of events in Jericho was the capture of King Zedekiah after fleeing the Chaldean army (2 Kings 25:2&ndash7 Jeremiah 39:5 52:8).

Ezra 2:34 and Nehemiah 7:36 report that the number of Jericho’s inhabitants after the return from exile under Zerubbabel was 345. These “son of Jericho” participated in the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem.

Jericho played a minor role in the ministry of Jesus. The Lord healed two blind men near the city of Jericho (Matthew 20:29&ndash34). He also encountered Zacchaeus, a chief tax collector, while passing through Jericho (Luke 19:1&ndash10). When Jesus dined in the home of Zacchaeus, He was probably visiting one of the finest houses in Jericho. The gospels seem to indicate that Jericho, an affluent city in Christ’s day, had many beggars (Matthew 20:29&ndash34 Mark 10:46&ndash52 Luke 18:35&ndash43).

The Jericho of New Testament times was built by Herod more than a mile to the south of the Old Testament location, at the mouth of the Wadi Qilt. Today, the modern city of Jericho includes both sites.

The Walls of Jericho

Alabama’s Forever Wild Program purchased the 12,500-acre Alabama section of the property from The Nature Conservancy. It is now known as the Skyline Wildlife Management Area and is open for public access. The protected area encompasses the headwaters of the globally significant Paint Rock River.

In 2006, The Nature Conservancy also transferred the 8,900-acre Tennessee tract to the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) to be the Bear Hollow Mountain Wildlife Management Area. The State Natural Areas Program of the Tennessee Department of Environment & Conservation co-manages 750 acres of the Walls of Jericho and its surrounding creek basin within the Bear Hollow Wildlife Management Area. The Walls of Jericho site is designated as a Tennessee State Natural Area. The entire 8,900-acre area is open for public access.

Historical Background

The Walls of Jericho area was originally owned by the Texas oil magnate Harry Lee Carter, who acquired 60,000 acres in Franklin County, Tenn., and Jackson County, Ala., in the 1940s.

For years, up until 1977 when the Walls of Jericho were closed to the public, the Tennessee property had been open to the public for recreational use and managed by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency. Now, this special place is once again open to the public.

The Carter Lands region lies in the heart of the Southern Cumberlands and totals 60,000 acres.

About the Walls of Jericho

The Walls of Jericho tract links large, protected, intact forestlands within the Southern Cumberlands, for a total of more than 50,000 acres of protected lands.

Nearby protected areas include Franklin State Forest, Carter Caves State Natural Area, University of the South at Sewanee, The Nature Conservancy’s David Carter tract, Skyline Wildlife Management Area.

This project protects the headwaters of the Paint Rock River.

Work on this property is a joint effort between the Tennessee and Alabama chapters of The Nature Conservancy and the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

The Southern Cumberlands and the Paint Rock River

Jackson County, Ala., has the highest concentration of caves of any county in the United States. This area is the epicenter of the rare Tennessee cave salamander.

The upper Paint Rock River watershed, including the Walls of Jericho area, is one of the few intact large functional landscapes remaining in the Southeast.

The Paint Rock River is home to 100 species of fish and about 45 mussel species:

  • Five globally imperiled mussels and 12 globally rare mussels are found in the Paint Rock River and its tributaries.
  • Two of the mussel species (pale lilliput and Alabama lampshell) are found nowhere else in the world, and one fish species (palezone shiner) is confined to the Paint Rock River and one stream in Kentucky.
  • Three globally imperiled fish (sawfin shiner, blotchside logperch and snail darter) occur in the Paint Rock River.

The area provides important habitat for migratory songbirds, such as the cerulean warbler, and for non-migratory birds, such as ruffed grouse.

The plastered skulls of Jericho

Jericho (also called Tell es-Sultan) is a city with an incredibly rich history located in Palestine, near the Jordan River in the West Bank, some 55 kilometres from Jerusalem. It represents one of the oldest inhabited cities on the planet. Archaeologists have unearthed the remains of more than 20 successive settlements in Jericho, the first of which dates back to around 10,000 BC.

Jericho was a popular camping ground for Natufian hunter-gatherer groups. However, during the Younger Dryas period of cold and drought, permanent habitation of any one location was not possible. By around 9,600 BC, the droughts and cold had come to an end, making it possible for Natufian groups to extend the duration of their stay, eventually leading to the first year round habitation and permanent settlement. A new culture based on agriculture and sedentary dwelling emerged characterised by small circular houses built of clay and stray bricks, cultivation of cereals, and burials of the dead within the floors of buildings.

The Neolithic period is important because it is when we first find good evidence for religious and cultural practices, particularly those relating to burial customs. In Jericho, as well as placing the deceased under the floors of homes, the people also engaged in another unique mortuary practice. In some cases their skulls were removed and covered with plaster in order to create very life-like faces, complete with shells inset for eyes and paint to imitate hair and moustaches. The flesh and jawbones were removed from the skulls in order to model the plaster over the bone and the physical traits of the faces seem specific to individuals, suggesting that these decorated skulls were portraits of the deceased. The subtle modelling used to create the life-like flesh is impressive in itself, but even more so given the very early date of these artefacts. Evidence suggests that the skulls were then displayed or stored with other plaster skulls.

More than sixty plaster skulls have been found at six sites around the area of the Levant, usually dated to 7,000 – 6,000 BC, but some go back as far as 8,000 BC. One such skull was excavated in the 1930s by John Garstang at Jericho, along with five other plastered skulls, and is currently in the Royal Ontario Museum. Similar skulls were discovered by Kathleen Kenyon in the 1950s. Other sites where plastered skulls were excavated include Ain Ghazal and Amman, Jordan, and Tell Ramad, Syria. Most of the plastered skulls were from adult males, but some belonged to women and children.

The traditional interpretation for the mortuary practice is that the skulls offered a means of preserving and worshiping ancestors. Some experts maintain that there is a religious aspect to the practice reflecting a belief that life continues after death through the preservation of the individual characteristics of the deceased. However, it is possible that the skulls are not so much religious objects but rather powerful images made to remember and commemorate loved ones. Another theory is the skulls were used as substitutes for the deceased to help ward off the return of the dead.

Although we may never know their true purpose, the Jericho skulls provide evidence of the earliest arts, and possibly religious practices, ever to be found in the region.

"The Battle of Jericho" Arranged by Moses Hogan: The History and Lyrics

The Old Testament book of Joshua, chapter 6, records the amazing account of the Israelite army overthrowing the city of Jericho. This fascinating story shows how keeping the commandments lead to the fulfillment of God’s promises.

In the biblical account, we learn that God spoke to Joshua and told him to march around the city with his army once every day for six days. On the seventh day, God told him to march around the city seven times while the priests blew their ram’s horn trumpets. At the sound of the trumpets, Joshua told the people to shout, as God had commanded them to do. When they shouted “with a great shout” (verse 20), the walls fell down, and Joshua’s army took the city.

It is believed that slaves composed the song in the early 19th century, and it was first recorded by Harrod’s Jubilee Singers in 1922. Moses Hogan, a composer and arranger who was acclaimed for his arrangements of African-American spirituals, arranged the Choir’s rendition in the video below. Many of his arrangements have been used by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, including “I Want Jesus to Walk With Me,” “Old Time Religion,” and “Ev’ry Time I Feel the Spirit.” Watch the Mormon Tabernacle Choir performing the hauntingly beautiful a cappella spiritual “The Battle of Jericho.”

The Battle of Jericho (Lyrics)

Joshua fit the battle, the battle of Jericho

Joshua fit the battle, the battle of Jericho

Joshua fit the battle of Jericho, Jericho, Jericho

Joshua fit the battle of Jericho and the walls come tumbling down

Joshua fit the battle, the battle of Jericho

Joshua fit the battle, the battle of Jericho

Joshua fit the battle of Jericho, Jericho, Jericho

Joshua fit the battle of Jericho and the walls come tumbling down

Joshua fit the battle, the battle of Jericho

Joshua fit the battle, the battle of Jericho

Talk about your kings of Gideon,

Talk about your men of Saul

But none like good old Joshua

And the battle of Jericho.

That morning Joshua fit the battle of Jericho, Jericho, Jericho

Joshua fit the battle of Jericho and the walls come tumbling down

Joshua fit the battle, the battle of Jericho

Joshua fit the battle, the battle of Jericho

Right up to the walls of Jericho

He marched with spear in hand,

"Go blow that ram horn," Joshua cried,

"Cause the battle am in my hand."

God almighty then the lamb ram sheep horn begins to blow,

And the trumpets began to sound,

And Joshua commanded the children to shout!

And the walls come a tumbling down.

Oh Lord, you know that Joshua fit the battle, the battle of Jericho

Joshua fit the battle, the battle of Jericho

Joshua fit the battle, the battle of Jericho

The walls come tumbling down

Oh Lord, you know that Joshua fit the battle, the battle of Jericho

Joshua fit the battle, the battle of Jericho

Joshua fit the battle, the battle of Jericho

The walls come tumbling down

Follow us for more insights on songs and performances by the Choir:

Article by Jack Wellman

Jack Wellman is Pastor of the Mulvane Brethren church in Mulvane Kansas. Jack is also the Senior Writer at What Christians Want To Know whose mission is to equip, encourage, and energize Christians and to address questions about the believer&rsquos daily walk with God and the Bible. You can follow Jack on Google Plus or check out his book Blind Chance or Intelligent Design available on Amazon

Kenyon, K.M. 1957 Digging Up Jericho. London: Ernest Benn. 1981 Excavations at Jericho, Vol. 3. London: British School of Archaeology in Jerusalem.

Sellin, E., and Watzinger, C. 1973 Jericho die Ergebnisse der Ausgrabungen. Osnabrück: Otto Zeller, reprint of 1913 edition.

What was the function of the walls of Jericho? - History

During the conquest of Jericho, have you ever wondered why God told Joshua and Israel to do so many unusual things? Why march around six times? And why seven times on the last day? Why march in a certain order? Why keep quiet, then shout to make the walls fall down? And so on.

Various explanations have been offered. We have a new suggestion. We do not say it is the answer. But it may be provoke some thought.

Jehovah Verses the Gods of Canaan

Our proposed explanation is this. All of Israel's actions were commanded by Jehovah as a travesty, a mockery of a ritual or pageant known to the Canaanites living in Jericho. It possibly was related to the marriage festival of a "divine" king, or had some connection with an annual fertility festival. If so, it should have occurred at the turn of the year - in the spring, possibly April, just when the overthrow of Jericho took place.

The Bible is not a synthesis of other religions. It is in controversy with them. This was the battle of Jericho! And it was not just men fighting men. It was a spiritual battle. There was spiritual wickedness in heavenly places and the "Lord of Hosts" had come to be the Leader (Joshua 5:14).

Divine Kingship and Religion

First, a little background. The kings of the ancient near east were tyrannical god-kings. (See Who Were the Sons of God?). "A tyrant was roughly what we would call a dictator, a man who obtained sole power in the state . . . (He) is not necessarily a wicked ruler, but he is an autocrat . . ." (A. Andrewes, The Greek Tyrants, NY: Harper, 1963, p. 7).

In every place the sons of Ham went, "divine kingship" was established. In Mesopotamia, Cush (or Kish) was the founder in Egypt, Mizraim. In Canaan, named for one of Ham's sons, it follows that "divine" kings controlled the city-states. On an unpublished Kinglist from Ugarit, described by Virolleaud, each of the kings is designated as il, "the god" (A. Rainey, Biblical Archaeologist Reader #3, p. 92). And, as Rainey points out, legendary king Keret is also called bn il, "son of god."

Like Melchizedek, the kings named in the Ugaritic epics represented their people before the deity in a priestly ministry and represented the divine will to the people as ruler of the state. (C. Pfeiffer, Ras Shamra and the Bible, Grand Rapids: Baker, 1962, p. 38.)

In those kingdoms, religion was the "opiate of the people." It was used by rulers to bind the people's highest loyalties to themselves. So there was plenty of pomp and circumstance, special feast days and rituals during the year to support the religio-politico systems they controlled. One might expect religious feasts and processionals to be performed in Canaan, to some extent at least, as they were in Egypt and Mesopotamia, although very little Canaanite literature has been found to confirm this.

Legend of King Keret

With the discovery of Ugaritic literature at Ras Shamra (in northern Syria) in the late 1920's, we have texts which may be background material for an explanation of the unusual activities in Jericho's conquest. The Legend of Keret (which was found in Ugarit, north of the Land of Canaan) narrates the marriage of a "divine" king. He is repeatedly referred to as bn il, "Son of El," or "Son of God."

Scholars are divided about evenly whether or not this legend was dramatized with religious ritual. There is a good possibility it was with precedents of religious drama in connection with legends in Egypt and Mesopotamia. (That the king in Ugarit exercised distinctively priestly functions and was the chief cult official, see D.M.L. Urie, "Officials of the Cult at Ugarit," Palestine Exploration Quarterly, 1948, pp. 42-47. For Babylonian ritual action descriptions which accompanied drama see Ancient Near Eastern Texts, pp. 331-2. For ritual describing circumambulation of the seat of government in Egypt, see T. Gaster, The New Golden Bough, NY: Mentor Books, 1964, p. 180, n. 55.)

The Keret legend itself may, or may not, have been in use in Jericho at the time it was overthrown. We only mean to use the epic of Keret as an example of the type of activity which might have been going on in Jericho when the Israelites arrived.

Canaanite Religion Similar Everywhere

Stelae from the Canaanite period found in Area C at Hazor. On center stela two hands are upraised toward a moon inside a crescent, indicating the moon was worshipped there.

But Ugarit is a long way from Jericho (approximately 500 miles). Would religious festivals in both places be the same, or similar? Apparently so. W. F. Albright maintains that artifacts, language, religion, and customs were the same from Ugarit (just below modern Turkey) to Southern Palestine (Archaeology and the Religion of Israel, 71-72, 114-118). He says, "There is not the slightest reason to doubt the existence of a uniform higher culture throughout western and southern Syria as well as Palestine, during this whole period" (Jahweh and the Gods of Canaan, NY: Doubleday, 1968, p. 115).

Others concur with Albright (see John Gray, The Canaanites, pp. 127-28). E. Kautzsch in Gesenius' Hebrew Grammer says, "'Canaanite' is the native name, common both to the Canaanitish tribes in Palestine and to those who dwelt at the foot of the Lebanon and on the Syrian coast, whom we call Phoenicians, while they call themselves 'canaan' on their coins. The people of Carthage [in N. Africa] also call themselves so" (p.10, n. 4). The Phoenician cities of Tyre and Sidon were Canaanite. They used the Canaanite language. So we see that "Canaan" was larger than Palestine, and everywhere Canaanite culture extended, the religio-politico system might be expected to be similar.

We have an example of religious ritual connected with the "divine kingship" system much closer to Jericho than Ugarit is. In Tyre, at a little later time (ca. 1000 BC but also probably before), the king went through the dramatic Enthronement Ritual on New Year's Day each year. The ritual lasted probably eight days. New Year's Day was the greatest day of the year. In the Tyrian Enthronement Ritual on that day, the king of Tyre acted out the resurrection of the god Melcart by going with his retinue of priests and officials to a place east of the city. Then at sunrise, in the first moments of the New Year, he came with majestic procession, attended by hosts of worshippers, through the eastern portal of the temple and ascended the sacred throne. "In all this the king played the role of the god. The king was the god and the god was the king. And having played this role once . . . the king remained ever thereafter a divine being, a god, a god in human form, 'Epiphanes'" (J. Morgenstern, Journal of Biblical Literature LXXX: 69. See also J. M. in Vetus Testamentum 10:152-157.) That the king of Tyre considered himself a god is clearly pointed out in Ezekiel: "Son of man, say unto the prince of Tyrus, Thus saith the Lord God Because thine heart is lifted up, and thou hast said, I am a God, I sit in the seat of God, in the midst of the seas yet thou art a man, and not God . . ." (Ezekiel 28:2).

We want to emphasize, though, that there is no evidence whatever that an enthronement ritual (if there actually was one in Canaan) was ever copied in Israel. There was absolutely no concept of "divine kingship" in Israel at any time, although some scholars attempt to transpose that system on Israel.

Even at Ugarit an actual ritual text was found which improves the possibility of establishing parallels between Keret and the fall of Jericho. A. Rainey describes this text in Biblical Archaeologist Reader #3 ( p. 92), "References in ritual texts suggest that the king played some role in formal worship . . . The king is mentioned on a list of offerings to various gods on certain days which seem to have been accompanied by some chant or song . . . At the end of another such list he appears again, apparently to don a ritual costume and visit the dwelling (?) of the gods:

Unfortunately, although large libraries of clay tablets have been found all over the near east, not a trace of a library has yet been found in Palestine. Only scattered tablets and portions of tablets have been found here and there. So, for the time being, the most we can know about the practices of Canaanite religion in the Promised Land will be learned from cult images and objects archaeologists find and from Canaanite religious and ritual texts found outside modern Israel.

Political Situation in Canaan at the Conquest

Canaan was a land of city-states, each a fortress with surrounding villages. During wars, everyone went into the fortress for defense (much as in medieval Europe). The elevated castle-fortresses were mostly small places of only a few acres. It might be postulated that the king and his retinue, with some servants, lived in the fortress the rest of the populace lived out on the land.

Where the situation is known, each city-state was ruled by a "divine" king, "son" of the patron-god of that city. He was also high priest - making the deadliest form of absolutism, a religious state. Periodical feasts and festivals were all in support of this system. So was the "art," architecture and city-planning.

God had prepared Canaan for conquest. Their very independence of each other's cities made coalitions difficult, and when they tried to unite against Israel they failed to win. After the Conquest, "Canaanite feudalism with 'lord and serf' passed away and a form of democracy with its 'first chosen from among equals' took its place. The house of the patrician disappeared and the house of the common man replaced it" (W.F. Albright, The Excavation of Bethel, p. 48).

Moon God Chief Canaanite Deity at Conquest

Astronauts have walked on the moon, and we have seen its surface on our TV sets. Yet the moon was regarded with mystery from earliest times. Clever men studied its (and other solar bodies') movements and used the knowledge as magic to control superstitious populaces (possibly the purpose of Stonehenge). Ancient cities were dedicated to moon-worship, having the moon as their patron-god. One such was Ur in Mesopotamia (with "Nanna" as patroness). Even in Mesopotamia, the moon was the chief astral deity at this time, according to Thorkild Jacobsen (The Treasures of Darkness, New Haven: Yale Press, 1976, pp. 121-7).

Early in Canaanite religion, the male moon-god, "Yerach," was the chief god of the pantheon. And the female sun-god, "Shamash," was his cohort. Later, these were changed to Baal and Ashteroth. "To judge from Canaanite place-names of the earliest period, such as Jericho and Beit-Yerach, as well as from Non-Semitic personal and place names of the 2nd millenium BC, the cult of the sun-god and moon-god (or goddess) was at its height in very early times and steadily declined thereafter" (W.F. Albright, Archaeology and the Religion of Israel, p. 92, also p. 83).

In Palestine there seem to have been two cities associated with moon worship, both "facing" east. One was Beit-Yerach ("Temple of the Moon") on the southwest shore of the Sea of Galilee. The other was Jericho with the broad Jordan valley extending eastward. The former ceased to be inhabited by ca. 2000 BC. But Jericho was a leading city in Joshua's time (1400 BC) and likely the seat of moon worship then ("Jericho" coming from yerach, the moon). If the moon was the chief of the Canaanite pantheon, it would be a very strategic city indeed!

John Gray supports this when he notes, "The worship of the Moon (Yerach) and his consort Nikkal (Mesopotamian Nin-gal) and the sun goddess (Shepesh) is attested at Ras Shamra (Ugarit) both in mythological texts and in offering-lists." And even in the Land of Israel, "The basalt figure of a seated god adjacent to a sculpture of hands upraised to a crescent and disc in the Late Bronze Age temple at Hazor probably depicts the Moon-god" (The Canaanites, p. 125).

Israel Needed New Evidence of Jehovah's Power

Why do we feel it is necessary to think of the conquest of Jericho as the overthrow of the religious system of the Canaanites, and thus a travesty of their "holy" things? Earlier, the plagues of Egypt had been lowered against the gods of Egypt (Exodus 12:12, Numbers 33:4). At the time of the Exodus the plagues demonstrated Jehovah's sovereignty over all other gods. A generation which had not witnessed those plagues now needed reassurance of Jehovah's supremacy over the gods of Canaan. (All but three men among those who had witnessed the plagues, died in the wilderness.) While in the wilderness, Israel was given explicit instructions not to serve the gods of Canaan, to make no covenants with them, and to break their images. In other words, destroy the system (Exodus 23:24, 32, 33 Deuteronomy 7:23-26). And Joshua was promised that as Jehovah had done to kings Og and Sihon, so He would do to "all the kingdoms" where he was going (Deuteronomy 3:21).

Following the fall of the Moon-City and its god-king, Israel would have confidence to go and take all the kings of Canaan. They would be "bread" for them (Numbers 14:9). Psalm 2 is a good illustration of God's purposes here in that God, in this Psalm, mocks the rebellion of the heathen. So it will be fitting for Israel to obey the Lord in a manner that will mock the highest and holiest ritual of the Canaanite year at the chief place of worship of their chief god, the Moon.

The Depravity of the Canaanites

To understand why Jehovah told Israel to wipe out the Canaanites, one needs to understand Canaanite religion and customs.

At the heart of Canaanite religion was sex in all its perversions. The land was polluted with indescribable immorality. They were hopelessly lost and incurable. To illustrate:

On the sacrifice of children:

For the incredible corruption of the gods, see Albright's Archaeology and the Religion of Israel, (pp. 76-77).

In Mitchel Dahoud's commentary on the Psalms he says,

It seems a marvel that some scholars claim the Hebrews borrowed their concept of God and religion from the Canaanites around them. When they make those claims, one wonders what they think when they read Canaanite literature. To say that Moses (or later "redactors") simply refined the tales of the Canaanites, Egyptians, and Mesopotamians seems farfetched, to say the least.

The first chapter of Romans vs. 18f. describes these early people. One might wonder why Jehovah spared them so long. If the gods to whom they "looked up" were doing these things, how low must the people have fallen? Can any man rise higher than his gods, especially when he has fabricated those gods in his own mind and described them in his literature?

The Legend of Keret and Jericho

Canaanite libation vase depicting a serpent and a dragon. Serpents were used to symbolize fertility.

Let us now look briefly at the Legend of Keret. It is the epic tale of a king who needs an heir to the throne. As Keret weeps in his chamber, El appears to him in a dream and gives him instructions to sacrifice, and then take an expedition to get his wife and, through her, have a son. First Keret provides a great feast for all the people. Then the expedition sets out in order: men of war first, the people following, then the trumpeters last. All are warned to keep quiet until the last day.

Two six-day intervals are recorded in the epic, with the climax on the seventh day in both periods. A tremendous noise is made at dawn on the seventh day, just before arriving at the city (Udum) of the future queen (Hurriya). Two messengers are sent to dicker with Pabel, king of Udum, for his daughter. Pabel offers silver and gold in place of her. But Keret complains that this will not help solve the problem of an heir. Finally Pabel consents, Keret gets a wife, takes her home and has a son. There is more to the epic, but this seems to be the heart of it.


Probably some interesting parallels have already been noticed between the Legend of Keret and the fall of Jericho. Now let us consider the Biblical account.

The city and king of Jericho were "given" to Joshua (6:2). The promise to Joshua had been that he would take the kings of the land, "because Jehovah, the God of Israel, fought for Israel" (Deuteronomy 3:21 7:24 Joshua 10:24-25, 42: 11:12). The complete list of the 31 kings which were defeated is found in Joshua 12:9-24.

Why is the emphasis on destroying the kings? The answer may be that to kill a "divine" king was to kill the "son of god," thus paralyzing a city's religio-political system. For Israel, it was evidence that their God was real and sovereign.

The time was the beginning of the New Year (Joshua 4:19), time for the New Year's Festival. "Ba'al was enthroned on the 14th day of Hiyan in the spring [!]" (Fisher and Knutson, Journal of Near Eastern Studies #28:166). Compare this date with the dates in Joshua and it is clear they refer to the same time. In other words, it may be possible that the Canaanites in Jericho were ready to perform, or may have just finished an annual spring ritual involving a "divine" king.

Then Israel held a great feast - the Passover! (This is, for the Israelites, a time when they celebrate God's deliverance from Egypt it has traditionally been a season of deliverance, a time for messiahs to arise and God to deliver them Jews today look to this time as a likely one for the coming of the Messiah.) Two spies were sent to see whether the city could be taken and they were sheltered by Rahab, who apparently was already a believer.

After the spies' returned, the people began to march with an order similar to that of the Legend of Keret (Joshua 6:9). Once a day for six days, seven times on the seventh. There seems to be a consensus on the part of a number of scholars that these events are too similar to be just coincidences. T. Gaster (in Myth, Legend and Custom in the Old Testament. NY: Harper and Row, 1969, p. 412) says, "The Biblical writer is modeling his account upon a ritual ceremony. . ." (his emphasis). "Keret was instructed to let six days go by before making his demands on Pabil . . . Similarly the Israelites marched around the city on each of six days before they took the city" (C. Pfeiffer, The Journal of Hebraic Studies, Vol. 1:2, 1970, p. 11). "It is apparent . . . that the Ugaritic author adopted his scheme from Mesopotamian literature, which was well known in Ugarit" (S.E. Loewenstamm, "The Seven Day Unit in Ugaritic Epic Literature," IEJ, 15:3. 123, 1965.)

All kept quiet until the last moment. Then, with trumpets, there was a great shout and the walls collapsed. The king was slaughtered with the people. What was more, God told Israel not to touch the silver and gold it was His. (It may, or may not, be coincidental that Pabel had tried to barter with it.) Aachan lost all by stealing some of it along with a Babylonian robe (adereth shinar). (Was this a priest's ceremonial garment?)

Finally, Joshua cursed Jericho saying, "Cursed be the man before (in defiance of?) the Lord, that riseth up and buildeth this city of Jericho: he shall lay the foundation thereof in his firstborn, and in his youngest son shall he set up the gates of it." Hiel foolishly disobeyed and the curse was fulfilled (1 Kings 16:34). Was he trying to revive divine kingship?

To summarize some of the parallels:

Joshua 6: Keret A
1. No one went out or came in lines 111-113
2. King and mighty men "given" to Joshua
9. Men of war first 86-88
All the people 85-104
Trumpets 92-93
10. No noise until the last day 116, 119-120
14. Six day march 106-108
15. Early on the seventh day 118
Seven times on seventh day 114-115 (two seven day periods mentioned)
16. Shout 119-122 (Engnell: "sham fight," p. 168)
19. Gold and silver are "devoted" 126-127,138-139
25. Rahab saved (Israel "got" a woman) 142-153
She became mother of a king 152-153
She had saved the two messengers 124-125,136


Parallels between the Legend of Keret and the Jericho story seem so remarkable that we wonder if this may suggest an explanation for the unusual actions at Jericho. That is, that the Israelites were mocking the chief god of Canaan at the height of Jericho's most important annual religious rituals.

One final parallel may be the most interesting of all. It confirms the unity of Old and New Covenants (the Tanakh and the B'rit Hadasha). This parallel is the salvation of Rahab. She had hidden the spies, and in that sense one could say they "got" her. When Jericho fell, Rahab was saved and, later, through her, Israel got a son - for Rahab was the ancestor of King David. Even more, David's son was Messiah. Much later Rahab's name appears in Jesus' genealogy (Matthew 1:5). The name "Jesus" (the same name as Joshua who fought this battle at Jericho and led this mockery of the Canaanite pageant), means "Jehovah Who Saves." Once again a Messiah, a Son of God, arises out of Passover through Rahab and later makes the New Covenant (B'rit Hadashah) at Passover.

The Lord will not be mocked! He had promised to send his "Angel" before the Israelites (Exodus 23:20,23 33:2). And He did. As "Prince of the Lord of Hosts" (Joshua 5:13-15), He gave total victory to those who trusted Him. He admits no rivals - Jericho FELL! He made it clear that all other gods are nothing more than figments of man's imagination. Ignoring Him, or refusing to surrender to and serve Him, will inevitably lead to judgment and destruction.

Jericho and Jesus

Jericho was one of the places that Jesus made a point to visit on his trips to Jerusalem. His last journey to the region before his trial and execution was no different.

Jericho is about 15 miles northeast of Jerusalem near the Jordan River. It’s known as one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world. It’s also the first city that the Israelites conquered when they arrived in Canaan after their escape from Egypt some 1,400 years earlier.

Today, Jericho is located within the Palestinian territory known as the West Bank. The city’s current population is about 20,000, and the ruins of the ancient city lie among modern houses and hotels. There is even a gondola ride, right through the center of it all.

Jericho and JesusBartimaeus the Blind Beggar

At the time of Jesus, Jericho was known as an oasis city. In fact, Herod the Great built his winter palace near here because of its warm climate and fresh water springs. The Bible describes Jericho as the “City of Palm Trees.”

Since Jericho catered to the rich and powerful during the time of Jesus, homeless outcasts often lined the roads in and out of town because it was a good place to encounter the well-to-do traders and political elites.

The Gospel of Luke tells us:

As Jesus drew near to Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. And hearing a crowd going by, he inquired what this meant. They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” And he cried out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
Jesus stopped. “What do you want me to do for you?”
The blind beggar said, “Lord, let me recover my sight.”
And Jesus said to him, “Recover your sight your faith has made you well.”
And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him, glorifying God. And all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God. (Luke 18:35-43)

Slaughter at Jericho

Could the loving God of the New Testament order the complete destruction of the inhabitants of Jericho found in the Old Testament?

The massacre of the inhabitants who occupied the fortified city-outpost known as Jericho can raise many questions in the mind of the careful reader. The higher critic has claimed for many years there was a conflict between the Bible and current archaeological data and that the claimed historicity of the sacred text was merely exaggerated colorful myth. Some liberal thinkers have viewed the Jehovah of the Old Testament as a deity who required appeasement and blood sacrifice to satisfy his capricious lust, while the New Testament god, in their view, is all about love, acceptance, and toleration. Then, the atheist uses the Bible to “prove” to the Christian that the god of his scripture is a warmonger and the murderer of innocent women and children, and even if he did exist, he would remain unworthy of the worship and adoration required to satisfy his huge ego.

Even many an ardent Bible believer has felt some uneasiness at the unashamed transparency of the sacred text. Along with this comes the struggle to reconcile the relationship between a good and benevolent God and the obvious presence of evil in the world, especially as it relates to the death of women and children.

Recall the youthful gusto with which many have sung the traditional American spiritual.

Of course, in Sunday School, as we marched around the chairs and pretended to blow the ram-horns, we were definitely on the side of the “good guys.” On the other hand, Jericho and its inhabitants were the villains who deserved to lose their city, though we didn’t know why. Only much later did we come to realize there was a sober side to this deadly dance, which gave new face and fresh meaning to our childish play.

Let us consider the text as it reads in the Authorized Version of the Bible .

Try as we might, there is no way we can dodge the dilemma by laying the event at the feet of an overly zealous Joshua leading a nomadic army of marauding, misguided Israelites. Nor can we sweep it under the rug by allowing for some kind of modified divine permission or restraint, which might absolve God from any direct culpability. The fact remains it was a carefully calculated act with a specific goal in mind. Jehovah ordered it ( Deuteronomy 7:2 ), and Joshua did it ( Joshua 6:21 ).

The qualifier in this saga seems to be what is referred to in Genesis 15:16 as the “iniquity of the Amorites.” The nations that occupied Canaan had become so hideously debauched, so degenerate in custom and practice, that the judgment of God became imminent. We are told in the Mosaic account that God is preparing to act and His longsuffering is about to end.

In the larger context of the writings of Moses, the Amorites are viewed by Jehovah as representative of the whole of Palestine. Further, it was as if they had become so saturated with corruption that the very earth itself spit them out.

Recent textual discoveries in Ugarit confirm the Scripture record of centuries filled with idolatry, sodomy, bestiality, sorcery, and child sacrifice. Consequently, each generation had polluted the next with idolatry, perversion, and blood. We must not read Deuteronomy 18:9–12 with an emotionless indifference in the way that some would read yesterday’s news. Parents offered up their children to the god Molech by fire. Child sacrifice is more than an unfortunate, ancient tribal custom. It is a hideous twisted ritual conducted by men who have reprobated themselves into beasts. Then again, the customs of Canaan are not really a quantum leap from ancient religious ritual to our current indulgence of “a woman's right to choose,” are they?

The problem of Jericho is easily solved. God has revealed Himself to us in the Bible just as He is. His self-revelation to Moses (see Exodus 34: 6–7 ) is very revealing:

Can we not see that God’s disposition is showcased in His longsuffering, equity, mercy, and patience? He never acts in a knee-jerk, capricious manner. Yet at the same time God reserves the right to be God, doing as He chooses when He wills and with universal authority over His creation. Even as he pleaded for God to spare the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham declared, “ Shall not the judge of the earth do right? ” ( Genesis 18:25 ). So, the answer to the problem lies bound up in the character of God as revealed in Scripture. Is there ever a time when divine genocide is justified? The answer must be “yes,” because the judge of the whole earth always does what is right. Scripture makes it abundantly clear that in time the longsuffering of God will transform itself into judgment if the warnings are not heeded.

A.W. Tozer in The Knowledge Of The Holy says it well:

Here are words from the Apostle Paul challenging us to think Biblically about the nature and character of God. “ Behold then the goodness and severity of God. ” ( Romans 11:22 )

Plastered Skulls

Ten plastered human skulls have been recovered from the Neolithic layers at Jericho. Kenyon discovered seven in a cache deposited during the middle PPNB period, below a plastered floor. Two others were found in 1956, and a 10th in 1981.

Plastering human skulls is a ritual ancestor worship practice known from other middle PPNB sites such as 'Ain Ghazal and Kfar HaHoresh. After the individual (both males and females) died, the skull was removed and buried. Later, the PPNB shamans unearthed the skulls and modeled facial features such as chin, ears, and eyelids in plaster and placing shells in the eye sockets. Some of the skulls have as many as four layers of plaster, leaving the upper skull bare.

Watch the video: The Destruction of Jericho Biblical Stories Explained


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