John Garstang

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John Garstang at 80 years of age, July 1956

John Garstang (1876-1956) was a British archaeologist who excavated at various places in the Middle East, including Egypt, Nubia, and Asia Minor. His book Land of the Hittites[1] was an important contribution to the knowledge of the long-forgotten Hittite kingdoms. He is also well known for his archaeological excavations at Jericho.


Garstang was born at Blackburn, Lancashire, England on May 5, 1876. He studied mathematics at Jesus College, Oxford, during which time he became interested in archeology. From 1907 to 1941 he was professor of archaeological methods and practices at the University of Liverpool. He was instrumental in establishing the Liverpool Institute of Archaeology. After World War I, in which Garstang served with the Red Cross, he was appointed director of the British School of Archaeology at Jersualem. During the 1920s he made preliminary investigations of several sites in Palestine, and from 1930 to 1936 he carried out extensive excavations at Jericho, the results of which were presented in a book co-authored with his son, The Story of Jericho (Garstang and Garstang 1940). In 1947 and 1948 he was the first director of the British School of Archaeology at Ankara Turkey, and then president of the institution from 1949 until his death at Beirut, Lebanon in 1956.

Garstang's excavations at Jericho

Garstang made some preliminary investigations of Jericho and other sites in Palestine in the 1920s. By extensive consideration of historical and archaeological evidences, he determined that the Biblical story fit such facts as were known in his time as referring to the Late Bronze Age, that is, about 1400 BC.[2] The first consideration supporting this preliminary conclusion was the observation that it was only during the Late Bronze Age that large walled cities were to be found in Canaan. Prior archaeologists had already determined that this was not true after about 1400 BC. Garstang also noticed that the Canaanite cites listed in the book of Joshua found very good correspondence with the list of Canaanite cites provided in the annals of Egypt's 18th Dynasty pharaohs, "more particularly in the records covering the hundred years between the conquests of Thutmose III and the decline of the Empire under Akhenaten, 1475-1375."[3]

Garstang assumed that the Biblical texts indicated an Exodus "about 1447 B.C., so that the date of Joshua's invasion of Canaan would fall about 1407 B.C."[4] The agreement of these dates with the date derived from his archaeological and historical considerations was only an extra benefit as far as Garstang was concerned. He had not set out to verify the Biblical account found in Joshua chapter 6. Garstang did not have a high opinion of the inspiration of the Bible. In Biblical interpretation, he followed the imaginative theorizing of Julius Wellhausen, popular in his day. Wellhausen held that the Biblical histories were written at a much later date than the events described, and so the Bible was not to be trusted as an accurate historical source. Almost every one of Wellhausen's basic ideas has been found to be false by modern archaeologists, but in Garstang's time his theorizing about the late-date composition of the Biblical texts was widely adopted by liberal theologians. Some commentators hold on to Wellhausen's outdated theories even at the present time.

Garstang made these conjectures about the date of Jericho's fall in the 1920s, based on historical arguments, after only preliminary explorations at various sites in Israel. However, in the 1930s he was able to do extensive explorations at Jericho and some other cities. In these excavations, he investigated the destruction layer that marked the end of what was labeled as City IV, which he associated with Joshua's conquest. His excavations in this area exceeded greatly in scope (for City IV) those of Kathleen Kenyon who followed him. The stratigraphy of this site showed it was in agreement with the approximate 1400 date that he had earlier postulated for the end of Jericho if the descriptions of Jericho and the Canaanite situation in Joshua chapter 6 had any basis in fact. After his excavations, Garstang based his dating of the destruction to about 1400 BC on the following arguments:

  1. Comparison of pottery in the destruction level with pottery from tombs that could be dated by Egyptian scarabs (Hatshepsut, Tuthmosis III, Amenhotep III) (1934: 107–10, 113–16; 1937: 1219, 1220; 1948: 121–27). The two A III scarabs could have been placed in the cemetery by survivors who continued to make use of the cemetery after Jericho was destroyed.
  2. Scarab series on the tell and in the tombs ends with Amenhotep III (ca. 1386–1349) (1933:42; 1948:127).
  3. Lack of mention of Jericho in the Amarna Letters (mid-14th century) (1948: 126).
  4. Radical decrease in use of the cemetery after 1400 BC (1935: 63; 1948: 128–29).
  5. Lack of Mycenaean pottery which flourished in the 14th century BC, but not in the 15th century BC (1935: 65, 68; 1948: 126).

It is important to note that it was evidence from historical records, archaeology, and pottery considerations that led Garstang to think that he had found the city destroyed by Joshua. According to his own writings he did not arrive at this date by a chronological argument from the Bible. Nevertheless, he was gratified that the date he arrived at from archaeological considerations was in agreement with the chronological note in 1 Kings 6:1, which according to a chronology based on Edwin Thiele's date for the division of the kingdom, would place the Exodus in 1446 BC and the destruction of Jericho in 1406 BC. (The chronology of James Ussher places the fall of Jericho 45 years earlier, in 1451 BC, a date which some might argue is within the probability of error of Garstang's method.) Only after this evidence was evaluated did he conclude that the Biblical account was verified in many important details. This is contrary to the occasional statements of those who have not studied Garstang's writings, and who have imagined that Garstang's date for the fall of the city was derived from the Biblical account. Garstang, however, was not adjusting the data in an attempt to show that the Bible was true. Followers of Julius Wellhausen, such as Garstang, were not inclined to make statements that demonstrate that the Bible is correct in historical matters, any more than are modern skeptics who follow theories that reflect Wellhausen's anti-supernatural bias.

One place where Garstang was shown to be in error was his dating of a double city wall to the same time as Jericho City IV. The later work of Kathleen Kenyon showed that this double wall dated from a time some 1,000 years earlier. However, there was another wall, made of mud brick, which was associated with Jericho City IV. This wall would be the one encountered by Joshua.

Garstang's dating of Jericho City IV was later challenged by Kathleen Kenyon, who dated the destruction of the city to 1550 BC, long before any date that could reasonably be determined from the Biblical texts. Kenyon's dating is now usually accepted in archaeological circles. However, more recent research by archaeologist Bryant Wood has given new evidence that Garstang's dates were correct after all. See the Jericho chronology dispute article for more details.


  1. John Garstang, Land of the Hittites: An Account of Recent Discoveries and Explorations in Asia Minor, with Descriptions of the Hittite Monuments, (London: Constable, 1919); revised as The Hittite Empire (1927).
  2. Garstang 1931/1978, pp. 52-55.
  3. Ibid., p. 53.
  4. Ibid., p. 55.


  • John Garstang, Joshua-Judges, Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1978 reprint of 1931 edition.

Garstang, John, "Jericho: City and Necropolis." Annals of Archaeology and Anthropology 20 (1933), pp. 3–42, pls. 1–34.

  • John Garstang, "Jericho: City and Necropolis Fourth Report." Annals of Archaeology and Anthropology 21 (1934), pp. 99–136, pls. 13–44.
  • John Garstang, "The Fall of Bronze Age Jericho." Palestine Exploration Fund Quarterly Statement 67 (1935), pp. 61–68.
  • John Garstang and J.B.E. Garstang, The Story of Jericho, 2nd ed., 1948 (1st ed. 1940). London: Marshall, Morgan & Scott.

See also