Biblical Archaeology Review 32:3, May/June 2006

Archaeological Views: Question Authority!

By Michael D. Coogan

Beware of an argument based on “authority.” In the interrelated disciplines of Biblical archaeology and Biblical studies, as well as in contemporary social debates, the argument from authority is often used to make a weak argument. Don’t accept it without looking behind (or under) it.

For example, the Bible says that under Joshua’s leadership Jericho fell to the Israelites (Joshua 6). In the 1930s the British archaeologist Sir John Garstang, excavating at Tell es-Sultan (“Old Testament Jericho”), asserted that he had found evidence for Joshua’s destruction of Jericho in the ruins of the city’s fortifications, which he dated to about 1400 B.C.E. So, he concluded, the Bible was right:

In a word, in all material details and in date the fall of Jericho took place as described in the Biblical narrative...The link with Joshua and the Israelites is only circumstantial but it seems to be solid and without a flaw.1

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