The Problem of Jericho’s Walls that Never Fell.
The Joshua 6 narrative of the conquest of Jericho has caused biblical inerrantists some problems. Essentially the Bible claims that Jericho city had walls that fell when the Israelites, under the command of Joshua, invaded it (6:20). However, this is an issue for the inerrantist since he holds that the Bible cannot err in matters of historical recollection. According to Christian Old Testament scholar Peter Enns “the overwhelmingly dominant scholarly position is that the city of Jericho was at most a small settlement and without walls during the time of Joshua” (1). Similarly Douglas Knight and Amy-Jill Levine concede that “Archaeologists have long tested the evidence for the sweeping military campaign portrayed in the book of Joshua, and their results are not encouraging for a Late Bronze Age setting [thirteenth century BC]” (2). These views are certainly not baseless. In her respected and accepted work Digging Up Jericho Kathleen Kenyon found that not only did Jericho never have any walls when Israel was said to have invaded it but that it was also unoccupied during the Late Bronze Age during which the biblical story allegedly happened (4), though subsequent excavations have shown evidence of minimal occupation at best. Thus Enns realizes “That Jericho in the Late Bronze Period was a small, unwalled settlement is not seriously contested by archaeologists as a whole” (5). Christian scholar Thom Starks likewise chimes that “the complete lack of evidence makes it [the biblical conquest of Jericho] highly unlikely” (6).
Inerrantists Respond and My Response to Inerrantists.
Inerrantists, however, have tried very hard to deny this widely accepted fact. Outside of a minority of inerrantist Christian scholars no mainstream scholar believes that the Joshua narrative is recounting accurate history in its invasion of Jericho. In other words, inerrantists, in order to preserve their theological doctrine of inerrancy, paddle upstream against informed consensus. This is also coupled with a heavy dose of blind faith. Consider the words of inerrantist scholar Albert Mohler who, in retrospection of the Jericho issue, responds saying that “I do not allow any line of evidence from outside the Bible to nullify to the slightest degree the truthfulness of any text in all that the text asserts and claims” (7). This stunning admission, and obvious case of fundamentalist Christian dogmatism, comes after Mohler concedes that “modern scholars dispute the biblical account,” (8) and that he is “not qualified to render any adequate archaeological argument” since he is not an archaeologist (9). Let us attempt a translation of Mohler’s statement; essentially he is saying that “No matter how compelling and persuasive the evidence is against my belief that the Bible is infallible and therefore cannot err, I will always ignore the evidence that does not correspond or support this belief no matter how persuasive and conclusive it is.” In other words, even though Mohler is “not qualified” as an archaeologist, he will dispute all the informed conclusions that professional archaeologists come to that do not support his inerrantist view.
Another inerrantist by the name of Kevin Vanhoozer is less dogmatic; he writes that “it remains possible that the Joshua story will yet be validated, and they point to past incidents in which this type of revision has occurred in support of the biblical narratives” (10). We could charitably grant Vanhoozer that much. But again, it is no more than a dogmatic attempt to preserve inerrancy in the face of persuasive counter evidence. Considering Vanhoozer’s line of thinking why can’t one then grant Muslims the possibility that evidence supporting their theological conviction, namely that Jesus was never crucified, will turn up and “validate” such a view? Obviously Vanhoozer would say that the evidence for Jesus death by crucifixion is persuasive and that it is extremely unlikely that an authoritative 1st century piece of evidence will turn up countering this view. Enns captures this line of thinking quite well, “This line of argument is a common rhetorical strategy among inerrantists: if the archaeological evidence does not make the biblical view absolutely impossible, the biblical account remains historically possible and therefore should be given the benefit of the doubt, and external evidence should be interpreted generously to support that conclusion” (11).
How Do I See This?
The persuasive evidence clearly undermines biblical inerrancy. But no matter how persuasive this counter evidence is Christians like Mohler and Vanhoozer will still remain inerrantists. I concur with Christian scholar Walter Brueggemann; Brueggemann explains the academy’s general view is that “The historical evidence for such a conquest is, in current judgment, quite problematic” (12). So, these voices considered, inerrantists cannot escape this dilemma by appealing to hidden anti-Christian bias in the academy since it is notably Christian scholars themselves affirming this issue. I don’t doubt the consensus view either. I also don’t think that for the Bible to be God’s inspired word it has to get historical and scientific claims wholly correct without a single error. If that is the presupposition we impose on the text then the Bible falls flat with a loud thud. In many cases we are dealing with ancients who existed in a time where pre-scientific concepts and beliefs were commonplace. We are also dealing with biblical authors who were clearly remodelling historical tradition many centuries after the purported event took place. It is not unreasonable to conclude that they made mistakes. The merits of the Bible and the Christian faith are well grounded elsewhere beyond the controlling presuppositions of biblical inerrancy.
1. Enns, P. 2013. “Inerrancy, However Defined, Does Not Described What the Bible Does” in Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy. p. 123 (Scribd ebook format)
2. Knight, D. & Levine, A. 2011. The Meaning of the Bible: What the Jewish Scriptures and Christian Old Testament Can Teach Us. p. 20.
3. Miram, D. 2008. Digging Up the Holy Land. p. 11.
4. Kenyon, K. 1957. Digging Up Jericho: The Results of the Jericho Excavations 1952–1956. p. 256-265.
5. Enns, P. 2013. “Responses” in Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy. p. 36 (Scribd ebook format)
6. Stark, T. 2011. The Human Faces of God. Location 4350 (Amazon ebook format).
7. Mohler, A. 2013. “When the Bible Speaks, God Speaks: The Classic Doctrine of Biblical Inerrancy” in Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy. p. 51 (Scribd ebook format)
8. Mohler, A. 2013. Ibid. p. 48
9. Mohler, A. 2013. Ibid. p. 63.
10. Vanhoozer. K. 2013. “Recasting Inerrancy: The Bible As Witness To Missional Plurality” in Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy. p. 393 (Scribd ebook format).
11. Enns, P. 2013. “Responses.” p. 125 (Scribd ebook format)
12. Brueggemann, W. 2003. An Introduction to the Old Testament. p. 141.