Jericho in the Old Testament—Joshua 5:13

Jericho (Tell es-Sultan), also known as the “City of Palm Trees” (Judg. 3:13), was an oasis situated in the Jordan Valley. The Jordan River flows about four miles east of the city. Located ten miles northwest of the north end of the Dead Sea, the city of Jericho is 600-800 feet below sea level.

Many believe Jericho to be one of the oldest persistently inhabited sites on earth. Ancient settlements were always made near good water sources, fertile land for cultivation and pasture, and on easily defended hills. Jericho was a convenient location. Burial sites in Jericho have yielded pottery from as early as Neolithic times (5200–4000 BC). Tombs were cut into the rocks and were used multiple times. Some plastered human skulls have been found in tombs or buried under house floors. Although archaeological evidence shows some occupational gaps down through the ages, Jericho was rebuilt and relocated in the area many times. It was also a connecting point for the trade route between Egypt and Canaan.

Jericho had high and impenetrable walls when Joshua led Israel into Canaan (Josh. 6:5). However, excavations of Jericho have been a source of controversy in archaeological discussions. The city was assigned to Benjamin (Josh. 18:21), and it also served as a boundary for the northern tribe of Ephraim (Josh. 16:7). Elijah and Elisha frequented this place. Many scholars place Joshua’s conquest in the Late Bronze Age (ca. 1400 BC). But Jericho’s primary excavator, Kathleen Kenyon, who did not thoroughly research its domestic pottery and other evidence, dated its walls to 1500 BC. Kenyon concluded that no city existed on the site at the time of the Conquest. Archaeologists have widely accepted her conclusions. However, Bryant Wood, a pottery expert, has recently re-examined the evidence and concluded that Kenyon’s dating is inaccurate. He concurs with the Late Bronze Age dating of Kenyon’s predecessor, John Garstang.

The tell, or mound, of Old Testament Jericho, is small. Garstang’s and Kenyon’s work revealed a stone revetment wall at the base of the mound, with a plastered rampart between this and a mudbrick city wall higher on the mound and around the actual city. Garstang excavated on the southeast slope and found a residential area that he called “City IV.” Common domestic pottery and scarabs (Egyptian amulets from nearby tombs) help to date the level accurately. Garstang concluded that City IV perished in a violent conflagration. Both Kenyon and Garstang found full jars of grain in the burned areas, indicating that Jericho was not besieged—they had plenty of food. A freshwater spring inside the city walls would have given them water. Houses found backed up against the defensive walls would explain how Rahab could have let the Hebrew spies down the wall.

After conquering the city of Jericho, Joshua put a curse on whoever would try to rebuild it. The builder of this city would do so at the cost of the life of his firstborn. Also, the setting of the gates would cost the life of his youngest son (Josh. 6:26). This prophecy was fulfilled in the reign of Ahab (1 Kings 16:34). However, the lists of tribal allotments continue to count Jericho as a city, and archaeologists find evidence of occupation during this time as well. Jericho had fully settled again in the 600’s BC before the Babylonian captivity.


Rainey and Notley, The Sacred Bridge: Carta’s Atlas of the Biblical World.

Arnold and Williamson, Dictionary of the Old Testament: Historical Books, 541-544.

Wood, “Did the Israelites Conquer Jericho? A New Look at the Archaeological Evidence,” 51.