Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Using the Principle of Undesignedness to Corroborate Biblical History: The Conquest of Jericho

In previous articles, I have written about the principle of undesignedness, and how we can use it to corroborate Biblical history. Philosopher Dr. Lydia McGrew recently published a whole book on undesigned coincidences in the New Testament (which you can and should purchase here), re-vitalizing an old 18th and 19th Century argument, originated by the famed Christian philosopher William Paley, and by J.J. Blunt.

There are also plenty of examples of undesigned coincidences in the Old Testament Scriptures, corroborating the historical veracity of the events in question. I have written on a few of them already (see here, here and here).

It did not escape my notice that Paul Williams posted a blog article at his website quoting from Raymond Brown's Responses to 101 Questions on the Bible. In the quoted section, Brown calls into question the destruction of Jericho executed by Joshua. In particular, it is asserted that while "in the initial excavations of Jericho, the uncovering of walls violently destroyed confirmed for many the biblical account of Joshua's destruction of the walls", more recent techniques "have dated the immense destroyed walls to a period much earlier than Joshua and seem to indicate that Jericho was not even occupied at Joshua's time." For a thorough discussion and examination of this claim, I refer readers to this excellent article, which makes the case that the date put forward originally by Biblical archaeologist John Garstang in the 1930's (approx. 1400 B.C.E., in harmony with the Biblical narrative) is to be preferred over Kathleen Kenyon's dating (approx. 1550 B.C.E.).

In this article, however, I want to offer a different approach, and argue once again from coincidence without design (readers unfamiliar with the argument from undesign should go back and read my earlier articles). Let's look at Joshua 3:14-17:
14 So when the people set out from their tents to pass over the Jordan with the priests bearing the ark of the covenant before the people, 15 and as soon as those bearing the ark had come as far as the Jordan, and the feet of the priests bearing the ark were dipped in the brink of the water (now the Jordan overflows all its banks throughout the time of harvest), 16 the waters coming down from above stood and rose up in a heap very far away, at Adam, the city that is beside Zarethan, and those flowing down toward the Sea of the Arabah, the Salt Sea, were completely cut off. And the people passed over opposite Jericho. 17 Now the priests bearing the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood firmly on dry ground in the midst of the Jordan, and all Israel was passing over on dry ground until all the nation finished passing over the Jordan.
At what time of year did this event take place? Verse 15 tells us that "the feet of the priests bearing the ark were dipped in the brink of the water", the reason given being that "the Jordan overflows all its banks throughout the time of harvest". It is clear that it is the barley harvest that is being alluded to here -- not the later wheat harvest, since in Joshua 4:19, we are told "The people came up out of the Jordan on the tenth day of the first month, and they encamped at Gilgal on the east border of Jericho." That is, four days before the Passover, at which time fell the barley-harvest.

Now, flip over to the account of the ten plagues of Egypt, narrated in Exodus 9. I want to draw your attention to the plague of hail, and in particular to an incidental comment in verses 31-32:
31 The flax and the barley were struck down, for the barley was in the ear and the flax was in bud. 32 But the wheat and the emmer were not struck down, for they are late in coming up.
Therefore, it seems apparent from this text that flax and barley were crops which ripened at the same approximate time in Egypt. Since Canaan's climate was essentially the same as that of Egypt, it is reasonable to suppose that this was also the case in the land of Canaan.

Here is where it gets interesting. Let us now flip back from Joshua 3 two chapters to arrive at Joshua 1, in which we are told that Joshua sent two spies into the land of Jericho -- spies who, as we learn in chapter 2, were hidden by the Canaanite prostitute Rahab in her own house. We read that, when the king sent to Rahab to ask for the spies who had been sent to spy out the land, who had come to her house, she lies and says she does not know where the men went. In Joshua 2:6, we are told that "she had brought them up to the roof and hid them with the stalks of flax that she had laid in order on the roof." Presumably these stalks of flax had just been cut down and had been spread on the roof of her house to season.

The mention of the stalks of flax here is very incidental. And yet it makes perfect sense, in view of our inference that the crossing of the Jordan took place at the Barley harvest, which we saw from a completely unrelated text in Exodus 9 coincided with the ripening of flax.

Just one more example of the remarkable undesigned coincidences that interweave throughout the Scriptures. In future articles, we will continue to explore yet further cases of coincidence without design throughout the Bible.

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