The Israelites conquer Jericho and Ai

Josh 5:13-6:27  Shortly after crossing the River Jordan, the Israelites launch their attack on the Canaanite city of Jericho in April in c.1406BC (see 2 on Map 48). The Israelite soldiers march round the city for six days - together with the Levites carrying the Ark of the Covenant and the priests blowing their trumpets (see Numbers 10:1-10). On the seventh day, Jericho falls and is burnt to the ground.


The remains of Jericho at Tell es sultan (Fullo88)

The site of Ancient Jericho at Tell es-Sultan  (Fullo88)



Jericho (the ‘city of palm trees’) is one of the oldest cities in the world. Remains of the earliest settlement at the base of the ancient ‘tell’ outside the modern city have been dated to around 8000BC. The city has been fought over many times, and a long-repeated pattern of conquest, abandonment and re-building has led to numerous settlements of different ages buried one under another on the mound that can be seen today.

Jericho is situated on the floor of the Jordan Valley, some 880 feet / 270 metres below sea level. It has lush vegetation in an otherwise dry and arid area. It is an oasis surrounded by desert, watered by a spring – the Ein es Sultan – that never runs dry.

Visitors can still see the remains of ancient Jericho at Tel es-Sultan, the settlement mound just outside the modern city. This mound – which was excavated by Dame Kathleen Kenyon in 1952 - is made up of the remains of many layers of civilisation resulting from the repeated destruction and re-settlement of the city over many centuries. Kenyon found remains of a glacis (a slippery, sloping mound built at the foot of a city wall) and remains of the fallen city wall in the ditch at the foot of this glacis. These remains, and up to a metre of ash and debris, dating from the Late Bronze Age (around 1400BC) are now believed to have resulted from the razing of the city following the capture by the Israelites under Joshua.

The archaeology shows that the city was then abandoned for several centuries. The Bible agrees that Jericho was abandoned after its destruction by Joshua in c.1406BC, and later records that the city was rebuilt by Hiel of Bethel in c.850BC during the reign of King Ahab of Israel (see 1 Kings 16:34).


Remains of Anceient Jericho

Remains of Ancient Jericho at Tell es-Sultan  (Abraham Sobkowski)


Josh 7:1-2  Joshua sends men from the camp at Jericho to spy on the Canaanite city of Ai, east of Bethel, near Bethaven (meaning ‘house of iniquity’) (see 3 on Map 48).

Josh 7:3-12  The first Israelite attack on Ai fails because of Achan's sin (see Joshua 7:11).

Josh 7:13-26 The Israelites repent of their sin and Achan is stoned to death in the Valley of Achor (meaning ‘valley of trouble’).

Josh 8:1-27  The defenders are then lured away from Ai, and the city is attacked and captured by a force of Israelites who have hidden close by.

Josh 8:28-29  Joshua burns the city of Ai (meaning a ‘heap’ or ‘ruin’) and makes it devastated heap of ruins. The site of Ai is uncertain, but it may be at Tell et-Tel or, more likely, at nearby Khirbet el-Maqatir which was destroyed in the Late Bronze Age, c.1400BC.



Ai (a ‘heap’ or 'ruin') was destroyed by the Israelites under Joshua during the first year of the conquest of Canaan (see Joshua 7:1 - 8:29).

The initial direct attack on the well-defended hilltop city failed - the failure being attributed to the sin of Achan (who had disobeyed God by keeping for himself a beautiful Babylonian coat, two kilogrammes of silver and some gold that had been plundered from Jericho) (Joshua 7:21).

Resorting to the strategy of guerilla warfare, which was better suited to the training and equipment of the Israelites, the defenders of Ai were lured away from the city by the ruse of a feigned retreat, and then ambushed by a detachment of Israelite soldiers hidden in a deep valley to the west of Ai (Joshua 8:9). The city was then taken and torched, becoming a ruined heap of stones until it was re-settled some years later (Joshua 8:3-19).

The exact site of Ai is uncertain. Joshua 7:2 describes the location as "near Beth Aven, east of Bethel". For many years, Ai was thought to be situated at Tell et-Tel, some 2.5 km / 1.5 miles south east of the modern town of Beitin (traditionally identified as the site of Bethel). Extensive excavations in the 1960s, however, failed to discover any evidence of occupation or destruction at the time of the Israelite conquest of Canaan.

Attention then turned to Khirbet el-Maqatir, another abandoned settlement site about 1 km / 0.6 mile west of Tell et-Tel. Here, more recent archaeological excavations (1995-2013) have revealed evidence of destruction of the city by fire in the Late Bronze Age (c.1400BC) as well as pottery fragments from the late 15th century BC and an Egyptian scarab also dating from the time of Joshua. Joshua's main army may have camped overnight in the shallow valley of the Wadi el-Gayeh to the north of Khirbet el-Maqatir (Joshua 8:11), while a smaller contingent of soldiers forming the ambush hid in the steep sided Wadi Sheban to the west of Khirbet el-Maqatir "between Bethel and Ai" (Joshua 8:9).

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