There is no story in the Conquest narrative more impressive than the battle of the invading Israelites against the mighty fortified city of Jericho, with its large population and massive protecting walls (see Joshua chapter 6). Unfortunately, archaeologists who have excavated the site of Jericho have discovered that the description of the great battle cannot be brought into harmony with the realities of history.
In the story, the city of Jericho is so massive and powerful that the 40,000 Israelite warriors cannot simply attack it head-on. God gives them a miraculous victory by devising a plan to cause the walls to fall, ruining the powerful fortifications and giving the invaders direct access to the large city and its many inhabitants.
Modern excavations have shown that the story is almost certainly a legend without historical basis. The first truly scientific archaeological examination of the site was undertaken by Kathleen Kenyon in the 1950s, and her findings have been corroborated since. Archaeologists now know that there was indeed an inhabited site at ancient Jericho from prehistoric times (going back to the Neolithic period). The site was inhabited on and off periodically throughout history – until today. But there was no walled city there – let alone a very large and heavily fortified city – at the end of the thirteenth century, when the Battle of Jericho allegedly took place. At the time, Jericho was a sparsely populated little place, and there were no walls around the city at all.
Judging from the archaeological record, the biblical stories of Rahab the prostitute, the spies who scouted out the land, the attack of the Israelites, the miraculous fall of the walls, the slaughter of all the inhabitants – all of it appears to be the stuff of legend and not an account of real history as it actually happened.
The Bible: A Historical and Literary Introduction by renowned biblical scholar and New York Times bestselling author Dr Bart D. Ehrman, p. 97.