I’ve been enjoying Richard Hess’ nice little commentary on Joshua in the Tyndale OT Commentary series. It is scholarly, readable, to the point, and level-headed – all things that I appreciate in commentaries. For one example, while studying Joshua 6 and the tumbling walls of Jericho, most scholars will rightly note that the archaeological proof of huge crumbled walls is scarce in/around Tell es-Sultan (most likely the location of biblical Jericho). To summarize a massive debate, it is difficult to correlate Joshua 6 to archaeological findings. I think Hess handles this nicely. Here are some points he makes (found on pages 150-152).
1) “The Biblical text does not describe Jericho as a major city, unlike a site such as Gibeon (Josh. 10.2) or Hazor (11.10).” In fact, Hess points out, some scholars say that the “walls” were sort of like large fences that went from outer house to outer house. Towns like Jericho may have been “protected by outer walls adjoining belts of houses.” This explains Rahab’s house as well.
2) “The ‘king’ (Heb. melek) of Jericho may have been the local leader. The term is used to describe leaders of towns and villages throughout the book of Joshua. It appears in the fourteenth-century Amarna letters from Canaan (ma-lik) where it is paralleled with the term for a commissioner appointed by Pharaoh to oversee a region or town.” This term ‘king’ by itself “says nothing about the size of the ‘city.'” In other words, Jericho could have been a smaller settlement with a mayor-like leader.
3) “The concern of the text to emphasize the victory of Joshua and Israel under God’s direction may have led readers to confuse the stress upon the miraculous victory that God brought about with an emphasis upon the size of the obstacle to that victory.”
I think these are fair explanations, even if they don’t answer all the questions. One of my study Bibles (that I won in a contest) says that Jericho’s walls were up to 25 feet high and 20 feet thick, and that to the Canaanites Jericho was invincible – a symbol of military power. I don’t think that’s the route we should take since we don’t really have biblical or archeological evidence for it. We may have to re-write a few Sunday School lesson books (and study Bible notes), but I think Hess is right here – let’s not make Jericho into something it probably wasn’t.
I’ll write more about other Joshua commentaries I’ve been using as I preach through Joshua, but this one by Hess is certainly worth having, and it’s one of the less expensive ones.