The Search for Joshua's Ai

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Excerpt The sites of Joshua’s Ai, Beth Aven and Bethel, are chronologically and geographically linked by Josh 7:2 and related passages. Joshua’s Ai is commonly thought to be located at et-Tell and Bethel at Beitin. Assuming these two identifications to be correct, no viable location for Beth Aven has been suggested. A detailed review of the geographical and archaeological data pertaining to et-Tell and Beitin reveals that et-Tell does not meet the biblical requirements for Joshua’s Ai, and Beitin does not meet the biblical and extrabiblical requirements for Bethel. Based on present evidence, the only combination that meets the complex matrix of biblical and extrabiblical requirements for the three sites is to locate Bethel at el-Bira, Beth Aven at Beitin, and Joshua’s Ai at the newly excavated site of Khirbet el-Maqatir... Continue reading

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This article was first published in the book: Critical Issues in Early Israelite History. Copyright (c) 2008 Eisenbrauns, Inc. Posted with permission. Available from Eisenbrauns publishers. To purchase this book from Eisenbrauns, click on the cover graphic to the left.

Dedicated to Dr. David Livingston.

Abstract: The sites of Joshua’s Ai, Beth Aven and Bethel, are chronologically and geographically linked by Josh 7:2 and related passages. Joshua’s Ai is commonly thought to be located at et-Tell and Bethel at Beitin. Assuming these two
identifications to be correct, no viable location for Beth Aven has been suggested. A detailed review of the geographical and archaeological data pertaining to et-Tell and Beitin reveals that et-Tell does not meet the biblical requirements for Joshua’s Ai, and Beitin does not meet the biblical and extrabiblical requirements for Bethel. Based on present evidence, the only combination that meets the complex matrix of biblical and extrabiblical requirements for the three sites is to locate Bethel at el-Bira, Beth Aven at Beitin, and Joshua’s Ai at the newly excavated site of Khirbet el-Maqatir.

Open this PDF file to read the rest of this extensive research on Joshua's Ai.

The Search for Joshuas Ai.pdf (1.34 mb)

Search for Joshua's Ai references MS Word.doc (70.00 kb)

Note: Although ABR founder Dr. David Livingston and Dr. Bryant Wood have drawn different conclusions on the location of Joshua's Ai, Dr. Wood has recognized the extremely important contributions made by Dr. Livingston over the past 40 years with respect to this important subject by dedicating this article to him.

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5/16/2009 10:56 PM #

Dear Mr. Crisler,

Thanks for contacting us at ABR.

I am not sure I understand your comments. First, we are not saying Jericho is a different site than has been understood. We are saying the evidence from Jericho supports the Biblical account. Dr. Wood's work has been meticulous and exhaustive. John Garstang dated Jericho to the time the Bible records the destruction. The pottery, and many other pieces of data fit the Biblical account. Kathleen Kenyon's own excavations uncovered massive amounts of pottery from circa 1400 BC. She never published any detailed pottery analysis, nor did she base her dating on the actual evidence. She based her dating on an argument from silence: the abscence of Cypriote bychromeware. An argument from silence is not scientific.

See here: http://www.biblearchaeology.org/faq.aspx#Faq4

Second, ABR has been researching the issues regarding Ai for 40 years. Dr. Wood's article summarizes the historical study of Ai and his own research, including our own excavations to deal with the issues.

An argument that this is a "non-starter" is fallacious, as your reasoning is based on majority opinion and the opinions of esteemed authority figures, hardly a scientific answer to our work. Majority opinions are irrelevant in determining the truth or falsity of a proposition, historical or otherwise. Unfortunately, most of the scholars have never actually dealt with the evidence and the data. Ai has been misidentified for decades. We are merely trying to show that the identification requires correction, and we have produced evidence to support that position.

The 3 research articles above show we have done our homework.


I hope this is helpful to you.

Blessings,

ABR - 5/16/2009 10:56:56 PM

5/16/2009 11:05 PM #

This is a non-starter.  Jericho and Ai are fairly well identified in the archaeology of Palestine.  Trying to switch these two cities out for other sites is highly questionable.  There are other alternatives.

Vern Crisler - 5/16/2009 11:05:27 PM

5/18/2009 6:42 AM #

Mr. Crisler,

Thanks again for your comments. Have you actually read the articles and evidence from Jericho that fits the Biblical account and dating? It becomes difficult to carry on a discussion when you just make sweeping statements that are unsupported in any way. (realizing you cannot be exhaustive, of course).

Pertaining to Jericho, review this article again, and then demonstrate how the pottery found in the destruction layer by Garstang and Kenyon is not LB pottery. Then, show how the pottery's dating does not synchronize with all other pottery dated from the late 15th century BC from all over Palestine. Please, show us your expertise on Syro-Palestinian pottery from the Late Bronze age, which was the subject of Dr. Wood's Ph.D. thesis.

www.biblearchaeology.org/.../...ical-Evidence.aspx

Why do you accept the proclamations of esteemed authority figures on the issue of Ai? Have you wrestled with the Biblical text, the history of the incorrect identification of et-Tell as Ai, the problems with that identification, and the decades of archaeological research conducted by ABR with respect to this issue? Have you read the excavation reports published by Dr. Wood in the Israel Exploration Journal? Have you exegeted the Hebrew text in the Ai narrative? If the answer to all these questions is yes, have you published an article on the subject to provide an alternative viewpoint on the subject?

Lastly, the conventional chronology, in many places, fits the Biblical chronology very well. We have excellent synchronisms from all over the ANE. We accept the Biblical chronology as the final authority, and we accept conventional chronology anywhere it does not conflict with Biblical revelation, which is infallible. Here is a great study on the issue of chronology during the Divided Kingdom:

www.biblearchaeology.org/.../...OT-Chronology.aspx

If you are unwilling to provide any substantiation for these sweeping generalizations and appeals to human authorities, then I think it may be fruitless to continue this dialogue. What we are presenting here is not some wild-eyed attempt to defend the Scriptures. It is a well studied, well thought out exposition and presentation of archaeology as a tool in the defense of the Christian faith and the historicity of the Bible.

Blessings,

Henry Smith

ABR - 5/18/2009 6:42:00 AM

5/18/2009 8:18 AM #

Bryant, the Late Bronze age level at Jericho doesn't provide a shred of evidence for a conquest at the LBA level. Kenyon had to explain the lack of evidence away.

It's true that some (probably many) biblical sites have been misidentified, but archaeologists do not take seriously the idea that Ai is one of those.

It seems to me that the attempt to shore up the Bible with conventional archaeology is a Procrustean bed, but sometimes it seems I'm just talking to a brick wall when I point this out.

Best wishes,

Vern

Vern Crisler - 5/18/2009 8:18:09 AM

3/23/2011 8:30 PM #

I have absolutely no problems with Bryant Wood's general interpretation of the evidence. Indeed, I find it to be, by far, the most likely interpretation, eliminating the problem of the four-acre Iron II Bethel, placing an unambiguous mountain (instead of a ridge) between Bethel and Ai, and creating new opportunities for archeological exploration in and around el-Bireh. The only unnecessary interpretation of the evidence I find is the placing of Iron II and Persian Ai at Khirbet Nisya. The Benjamin survey (davelivingston.com/images/14-1-ramallah-map.jpg, davelivingston.com/benjsurvey.htm) clearly allows us to identify the Iron II and Persian settlements of Ai with Sites 205 and 204, respectively. Khirbet Nisya is probably Zemaraim. The site-shift from et-Tell to Khirbet Maqatir in the early 2nd millennium BC is, however, quite possible and likely, but not really necessary.

E. Harding - 3/23/2011 8:30:58 PM

2/25/2012 10:21 AM #

HOw do you reconcile the statement in Joshua that 12,000 people were killed in Ai when Kirbet al-Maqatir is only 3 acres in size, meaning that at the very most you could have 600 people living there?

Jeff Martin - 2/25/2012 10:21:19 AM

2/27/2012 4:44 PM #

Dear Jeff,

Thanks for your excellent question which you posted on the ABR website.

One of the interpretive challenges associated with numbers in the Old Testament is our understanding of the Hebrew word "eleph" אֶ֤לֶף.

From Dr. Bryant Wood:

"At the heart of the issue is the meaning of the Hebrew word eleph.  It is usually translated “thousand,” but has a complex semantic history.  The word is etymologically connected with “head of cattle,” like the letter aleph, implying that the term was originally applied to the village or population unit in a pastoral-agricultural society.  From that it came to mean the quota supplied by one village or “clan” (Hebrew Mišpasha) for the military muster (Malamat 1967: 135).  Originally the contingent was quite small, five to fourteen men in the quota lists of Numbers 1 and 26, as shown by Mendenhall (1958).  Finally the word became a technical term for a military unit of considerable size, which together with the use of the same word for the number 1,000 has tended to obscure its broader semantic range.  See also Humphreys 1998 and 2000."

Humphreys, Colin J.
1998  The Number of People in the Exodus from Egypt: Decoding the Very Large Numbers in Numbers I and XXVI.  Vetus Testamentum 48: 196–213.

2000  The Numbers in the Exodus from Egypt: A Further Appraisal. Vetus Testamentum 50: 323–28.

Mendenhall, George E.
1958 The Census Lists of Numbers 1 and 26.  Journal of Biblical Literature 77: 52–66.


For example, Joshua 7:4 says that 3 "elephs" went up to fight at Ai. The English translation reads 3000. Joshua 7:5 reads: "and the men of Ai killed about thirty-six of their men and chased them before the gate as far as Shebarim and struck them at the descent. And the hearts of the people melted and became as water." A battle where 36 men die when one has 3,000 troops can hardly be considered a major setback, and certainly should not cause the heart of the people to "melt". Joshua's subsequent lament to the LORD supports the notion that the casualty rate was very high. But if 3,000 is used, this is a KIA rate of a little more than 1%, which would be considered a very low casualty rate in just about any military context, and hardly reason for Joshua to lament. 3 "elephs" must be a considerably lower number than 3,000.

After Achan's sin was discovered and repentance took place, Joshua then took 30 "elephs" to attack Ai once again (8:3), where "eleph" is again translated as 1000. It is again used in 8:12, translated as 5,000. The verse to which you are referring (8:25), states that 12 "elephs" of people from Ai died in battle.

Based on the complex semantic history of eleph, the context of Joshua 7-8, and the geographical and archaeological parameters dictated by Scripture, it is highly likely that "eleph" should not be translated as "1,000". It is likely a much smaller number, at least here in Joshua 7-8, and a variety of other places in the Hebrew Bible.

There are still a number of unresolved difficulties pertaining to the use and translation of this term, which requires a rather ambitious and long research project that ABR hopes to tackle in the future.

I hope you find this helpful. THanks so much for your interest in the ABR ministry.

Blessings,

ABR - 2/27/2012 4:44:05 PM

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