Term Paper: Biblical Archaeology - Jericho

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[. . .] Garstang was evaluating the 1550 BCE dates that Sellin et al. had put forth for the destroyed layer at Tell-es-Sultan. Garstang noted the presence of Greek pottery shards (imported from Mycenae) throughout sites in Canaan in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries BCE were not matched by any similar finds in Jericho. Garstang assumed therefore that the city must have been devastated by an earthquake sometime before 1400 BCE at the time when the Israelites were invading Canaan, and thus the falling walls were interpreted as a sign of Yahweh's favor, and with some embellishment followed the Biblical account quite closely. Eric Cline refers to Garstang's initial report as "the most famous faux pas in the history of biblical archaeology" (41). Cline also notes that, to a certain degree, Garstang may have been playing up to the financial patron who was funding the 1931-1936 excavations at Tell-es-Sultan, because even to this day such ideological questions leave (in Cline's words) "archaeologists warning darkly that religious or political motivations on the part of the sponsors may unduly influence interpretation of the data, much as Sir Charles Marston's sponsorship of John Garstang's excavations at Jericho may have played a role in Garstang's fateful ascription of the destruction of the city to Joshua." (58). In any case, Albright's selection of Garstang to continue excavation at Jericho had now resulted in a dead end, and it remained to Garstang to appoint a successor to re-assess the evidence which he had announced, prematurely in the eyes of professional archaeologists, validated the Biblical chronology.

Garstang's choice of successor for the excavation of the Jericho site was Kathleen Kenyon, who had pioneered a new method of excavation (the Kenyon-Wheeler method of "vertical excavation"), who then used her own methodology at Tell-es-Sultan from 1952 to 1958. Kenyon's findings have now become the basis for the standard historical account, and the datings, employed in analyzing the site. Eissfeldt in the Cambridge Ancient History (1975) gives the summary of how Biblical evidence was interpreted after Kenyon's excavation:

…[W]e must…consider certain narratives concerned not so much with specific events as with striking phenomena of the later period explained as deriving from the past; these stories are aetiological in purpose. Good examples of this type are the stories of the capture of Jericho, the stoning of Achan, and the battle against 'Ai, in Joshua vi-viii. The first explains the deserted condition of Jericho as it was found by the Israelites advancing west of Jordan. That the city had once been a Canaanite stronghold was shown by the impressive ruins of the walls. The explanation given was, that Yahweh had caused these walls to fall before the Israelites. The second story undertakes to answer the question of the origin of a remarkable heap of stones near Jericho, and why this neighbourhood was called the valley of Achor. The third gives an explanation of the ruins of the place called then hd-'Ai, as it is now called Et-Tell, situated about two miles south-east of Bethel. In the last case, the impression given by the narrative itself is of an aetiological saga, and that is confirmed by archaeology. Excavations have proved that 'Ai was inhabited till about 2000 B.C. And was fortified, but was then deserted and remained so until about the end of the second millennium B.C. There was, then, no fortress that Joshua could have destroyed. (546)

In other words, the interpretation had gone (in a matter of decades) from Garstang's insistence on the factual nature of the Biblical account to an interpretation of the account of the walls as being fundamentally "aetiological," a story to explain the city which was uninhabited by the time of the Israelite migration into Canaan. So it is worth examining in more detail what Kenyon was able to establish.

Kenyon's chronology matched up fundamentally with that established before Garstang, which dated the destroyed site at Tell-es-Sultan to about 1550 BCE. Garstang's pottery evidence Kenyon was able to reinterpret by demonstrating a similar absence of shards dating from the period prior to the one that Garstang had proposed for Biblical Jericho, i.e., between 1550 and 1400 BCE. This suggests that while Garstang was right to look for an absence of pottery shards to demonstrate a lack of habitation, he had only focused on the imported Mycenean pottery without considering the earlier Late Bronze layer -- in fact, Kenyon suggested that the destruction of the city walls (quite possibly by an earthquake as Garstang had suggested, she does not necessarily dispute that hypothesis) could be dated even earlier, and had been misidentified by Garstang as belonging to the Tell-es-Sultan's City IV layer of 1400 BCE, and may have been destroyed as far back as 2400 BCE, a full millennium in advance of the events narrated in the Biblical account. Moreover, as Laughlin points out, "Kenyon…reported that in some places the walls were repaired a total of seventeen times," indicating a much longer cycle of destruction and re-population than had inititally been suggested (50). Kenyon's superior method of excavation has been verified by additional scientific methods of analysis that were not available to her in the 1950s and 1960s. For example, Herz and Garrison offered in 2007 the results of carbon-14 isotope dating methods to determine number of years before present (BP) which could be determined from artifacts capable of undergoing radiocarbon dating from differing levels: these found an age of Jericho's Pre-Pottery levels between "8540 ± 65 years BP" (for level B) and "9582 ± 89 years BP" (for level A) -- the Natufian period of settlement at Jericho was estimated at "11,090± 90 years BP" (Herz and Garrison 93). Yet this has not stopped the attempts on the part of those with an interest in establishing some literal truth to the Old Testament -- in this light we may consider Roger Henry's 2003 Synchronized Chronology: Rethinking Middle East Antiquity, which now attempts to make the case for Biblical literalism while decrying the evidence from Jericho as having improperly cast doubt on the attempt to treat Biblical evidence seriously. Instead Henry merely notes that "Jericho is perhaps as good an example as any of the difficulty in pinning down the exact date of a destruction or fortification level" because of the severe erosion at the site" concluding that "earthquakes, erosion and conquests all contributed to the jigsaw puzzle that is Jericho's walls" (40). He concludes that "unfortunately" Kenyon has rendered Jericho useless for those intent on proving Biblical chronology as accurate at this late date, and instead those who still insist on the value of the Bible must ignore Jericho and instead "examine a site that offers a specific event with unmistakable remains" (41). Otherwise, the shift represented in archaeology between Garstang and Kenyon at Jericho is accurately represented by Laughlin. Noting that the previous scholarly approach in which "older syntheses rested primarily upon data extracted from the major tells of Palestine, such as Jericho" had now been largely abandoned, in the wake of Kenyon analysis of a site like Tell-es-Sultan has shifted from attempting to square itself with the Biblical account, and (in Laughlin's words):

the older political/historical paradigm has been replaced with a more holistic approach that allows for newer ways of understanding the past through models drawn from anthropology and the social sciences. The end result has been a large increase of data relative to everything from settlement patterns to political, social and economic stratification; gender role identification; environmental relationships; trade patterns; land use; and other questions. While these newer approaches need to be used with proper caution, it can only be expected that the information base will continue to expand as more sites are discovered and/or excavated. (39-40).

Of course one irony here is that interpretations of the historical evidence at Jericho do not cease to become themselves a phenomenon best interpreted in light of their own historicism. As an example, I may give Burroughs' 2005 study on Climate Change in Prehistory, with climate change, and calls for the shift towards a more "green" society, suitably modish topics at present. Here, Burroughs gives credit to an otherwise obscure 1986 interpretation by Bar-Yosef, that "the best known of all early defensive structures -- the walls of Jericho -- may have originally been built as flood defences" (273). Elsewhere Burroughs complains about the "standard…presentation of…Jericho as being the 'oldest city'," largely because he wishes to make the case for studying smaller settlements with more continuous habitation as perhaps telling us about the effects of early climate change on the Biblical Near East (195). Yet he is unable to resist a rather flimsily-evidenced suggestion by Bar-Yosef which makes Jericho an emblem of an ideology derived from Al Gore rather than the Pentateuch. Nonetheless this interpretation is gaining currency, and indeed Ian Shaw reinterprets Kenyon's original evidence from pottery at Tell-es-Sultan to find that "in common with the rest of the Levant, the stratigraphy" at Jericho "indicates a gap of about 500 years between the end of the Aceramic Neolithic… [END OF PREVIEW]

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