Testing the Factuality of the Conquest of Ai Narrative in the Book of Joshua: Part Four

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Excerpt The problem addressed in this article is the arbitration among the three alternative views of the conquest of Ai narrative summarized in Part One. This is accomplished by testing the correspondence between the narrative in question and the material time-space context it purports to represent. Part Four is the conclusion of this series. Continue reading

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Application of the Predicate Criterial Screen to Kh. Nisya

There are a few artifacts that have been unearthed at Kh. Nisya that suggest some occupation during LB I. Moreover, the size of the site satisfies the screen parameter of being less than 7 acres. However, there is absolutely no evidence that the site was fortified during the LBA [Livingston (1999: 13-20)]. Hence, the site of Kh. Nisya satisfies two of the three predicate criterial screen parameters. Because it fails to satisfy all three, it is not a viable candidate for Joshua’s Ai.

Livingston’s hypothesis. According to Livingston (1999: 15), the topography surrounding the site of Kh. Nisya perfectly matches the biblical requirements. While there is a valley to the west of the site for the 30E primary ambush force to lie in wait, the head of that valley is adjacent to the spring at El Bireh, which Livingston (1970, 1971, 1994) identifies as the location of ancient Bethel. Moreover, the ingress of the ambush force would have been visible from the site of Kh. Nisya itself. While there is a high ridge to the north of the site with a shallow intervening valley, there is no suitable place for the playing out of the feigned retreat maneuver in accordance with Joshua 8:14-17 because the deep and steep-sided Wadi Sheban lies immediately beyond the ridge in question to the east. 21

Application of the Predicate Criterial Screen to Kh. el-Maqatir

According to Wood (2000a, 2000b, 2000c), evidence of LB I occupation at Kh. el-Maqatir is abundant, the area of the site satisfies the screen parameter of being smaller than 7 acres, and the LB I fortification system is truly impressive, especially along the north face where the foundations of the gate have been exposed. Accordingly, of the three candidate sites, only Kh. el-Maqatir unequivocally satisfies all three predicate criterial screen parameters, and therefore it is subjected to the detailed analysis in the following section.

APPLICATION OF THE FULL CRITERIAL SCREEN TO KH. EL-MAQATIR

The formulation of engagement scenario models for the first and second battles of Ai provides the framework in which the empirical correspondence between the biblical text and the archaeological, geographical, and topographical contexts of the site of Kh. el-Maqatir can be tested. 22 The test is actually carried out by subjecting Kh. el-Maqatir and its context to the rigors of the remaining 11 parameters of the 14-parameter criterial screen of Table 3. The results of applying the full 14-parameter criterial screen of Table 3 to Kh. el-Maqatir are summarized in Table 4.

Criterial Screen Analysis

In the following paragraphs, the satisfaction of each of the criterial screen parameters is addressed, and, to the extent possible, the associated probability defined in Table 3 is evaluated. All of the estimated probability values are listed in Table 4. For each of the criterial screen parameters, the associated probability is intended to reflect the likelihood that the satisfaction of that parameter could occur accidentally; in other words, at a randomly selected site in the Benjamin hill country. Thus, the product of the 14 probability values represents the likelihood that the confluence of satisfaction of all 14 parameters of the screen is the result of a random event; in other words, akin to 14 consecutive coin tosses producing 14 heads. This, in fact, is the probability that Kh. el-Maqatir is not Joshua’s Ai.

Preliminary discussion of the selection of probabilities. While there are available data to support the estimation of probabilities for a number of criterial screen parameters, the rigorous estimation of probabilities for others would have required archaeological, geographical, and topographical data that has been inaccessible since September 2000 due to the serious state of unrest in Israel. In particular, access to the region of the Benjamin hill country defined in Figure 1 for continuing archaeological and topographical research has been prevented. However, in every case, a probability value is selected based upon available data, but not necessarily with the rigor that this aspect of the analysis deserves.

Site located in the Benjamin hill country and destroyed in the first half of LB IIA. An abundance of ceramic artifacts diagnostic to LB I have been unearthed at Kh. el-Maqatir. A total of 6 Benjamin hill country sites have been considered at one time or another as candidates for Joshua’s Ai.23 Of these, only Kh. el-Maqatir manifests substantial LB I occupation. On this basis, P1 is estimated to be 1/6 = 0.1667.

Small site with area less than 7 acres. The estimated area of the LB I fortress that existed at Kh. el-Maqatir is 3.1 acres, 24 which is believed to be accurate to within ± 62%. To calculate a probability for this parameter, the MB II sites listed in Table 7, Judea Sites, of Broshni & Gophna (1986: 82) are analyzed. Both Bethel (i.e., Beitin) and Gibeon are included in this table. Of the 44 entries in the table, 8 are cemeteries, leaving 36 occupied sites. Of these, 8 are equal to or larger than the threshold value of 7 acres. On this basis, P2 is estimated to be (36-8)/36 = 0.7778.

Fortified site with wall and gate. Very substantial LB I fortification walls have been unearthed at Kh. el-Maqatir. In fact the foundation of the wall on the north face of the fortress is an impressive 4 meters thick. Based upon a customary 3-to-1 height-to-width ratio, this translates to a mudbrick superstructure that would have risen to a height of 12 meters (i.e., approximately 40 feet). Hansen (2000: 80-172) presents a comprehensive analysis of the fortification status of LBA sites in Palestine. In particular, on page 171 of Hansen’s work, a summative table is presented, on page 172 a map identifying the location of the sites is presented, and on pages 80-166 an analysis of all the sites is set forth. Of the sites examined, 13 are situated in the central hill country, and of these 13, 10 were fortified during the LBA. On this basis, P3 is estimated to be 10/13 = 0.7692.

Table 4. The Result of Applying the Criterial Screen to Kh. el-Maqatir: The Probability That Kh. el-Maqatir Is Not Joshua’s Ai (click to enlarge)

Gate facing north to northeast. The foundations of a chambered gate have been exposed on the north side of Kh. el-Maqatir.25 Sealed loci adjacent to the gate foundation stones date to LB I. On the assumption that the direction in which city gates face is uniformly distributed over a range of 0-360E, the value of P4 is estimated to be 45E/360E = 0.125.

High ridge to north within 2 kilometers and intervening shallow valley within 1 kilometer of the site. The summit of Jebel Abu Ammar, the highest point in the local area, is 1.4 kilometers due north of the gate of Kh. el- Maqatir.26 The valley in question is the mouth of the Wadi el-Gayeh, lying immediately east of the modern village of Beitin.27 It is broad and shallow north of Kh. el-Maqatir, lying within 0.8 kilometer of the site. How should one go about estimating the probability, P5, associated with this parameter? The most logical approach, given the available data, is to employ the three candidate sites for Joshua’s Ai as representative of Benjamin hill country sites in general. While all three have high ridges to the north of them, only Kh. Nisya and Kh. El Maqatir have shallow intervening valleys. On this basis, P5 is evaluated as 2/3 = 0.6667.

Ambush hiding place approximately southwest within 3 kilometers of the site. The probable location of the primary ambush force encampment has been determined by means of ground surveys of the Wadi Sheban. 28 It is located 2.6 kilometers south-southwest of the gate structure. It can reasonably be assumed that most sites in the Benjamin hill country would be characterized by an ambush hiding place within 3 kilometers. Furthermore, it can reasonably be assumed that the direction in which an ambush hiding place would be located relative to a randomly selected site is uniformly distributed over a range of 0-360E. Therefore, the value of P6 is estimated to be 45E/360E = 0.125.

Suitable location for the feigned retreat maneuver to north or northeast within 3 kilometers of the site. The location in question lies 2.2 kilometers east-northeast of Kh. el-Maqatir and commands an unobstructed view of the Jordan Valley. 29 The probability of finding such a location nearby a randomly selected site in the Benjamin hill country is judged to be no greater than 45E/360E = 0.125. Accordingly, P7 is evaluated as 0.125.

Viable egress route with descent and shebarim within 3 kilometers of the site. With respect to Kh. el-Maqatir, two candidate egress routes have been defined, 30 both of which are characterized by a descent and shebarim. In the case of the first option, the shebarim formation lies 2.8 kilometers southeast of the site, and in the case of the second option, it lies approximately 2 kilometers east of the site. As was done with P5, the three candidate sites for Joshua’s Ai are regarded as a representative microcosm of randomly selected Benjamin hill country sites within the tract depicted in Figure 1. In the case of both Kh. Nisya and Kh. el-Maqatir, viable egress routes characterized by descents and shebarim formations exist within 3 kilometers.

However, in the case of et-Tell, egress back toward Jericho from the north side of the site would have required a precipitous descent down the steep walls of the Wadi el-Gayeh, which is not regarded as particularly viable, either for the defending Canaanite force or for the fleeing Israelites. Hence, P8 is evaluated as 2/3 = 0.6667.

Trafficable ingress routes to location. The trafficability of ingress routes to Kh. el-Maqatir has been verified by ground surveys conducted by the author and colleagues from the Kh. el-Maqatir excavation project. As was done with P5 and P8, the three candidate sites for Joshua’s Ai are regarded as a representative microcosm of randomly selected Benjamin hill country sites within the tract depicted in Figure 1. Trafficable ingress routes are available in the case of both Kh. Nisya and Kh. el-Maqatir. However, approach to et-Tell from the north is complicated by the steep walls of the Wadi el-Gayeh. Accordingly, P9 is evaluated as 2/3 = 0.6667.

Engagement scenarios viable. With respect to Kh. el-Maqatir, all aspects of the engagement scenarios for both battles are militarily viable, given the assets Joshua had at his disposal. However, such is not the case for either Kh. Nisya or et-Tell. In the case of Kh. Nisya, the ingress of the primary ambush force to its place of encampment would have been visible from enemy positions. In the case of et-Tell, an attack from the north of the site is not viable on account of the steep walls of the Wadi el-Gayeh. Hence, P10 is evaluated as 1/3 = 0.3333.

Ceramic artifacts appropriate. The LB I pottery that has been unearthed at Kh. el-Maqatir is suited to a small military outpost, including large, commercial-grade pithoi for storage of grains, water, and olive oil, and common ware for cooking and table service. For purposes of evaluating P11 , Kh. Nisya and Kh. el-Maqatir 31 are considered to be a representative microcosm of LB I sites in the Benjamin hill country. Since the pottery unearthed as Kh. el-Maqatir is representative of a small highland fortress, while that unearthed at Kh. Nisya is not, P11 is evaluated as 1/2 = 0.5.

Object artifacts appropriate. By the end of the 2000 excavation season at Kh. el-Maqatir, more than 100 slingstones and 3 gate post socket stones had been unearthed. 32 Employing the same approach to evaluating P12 as was applied to the evaluation of P11 , the probability of finding this combination of objects at a Benjamin hill country site picked at random is judged to be no greater than 1/2. Hence, P12 is evaluated as 1/2 = 0.5.

Convenient line-of-sight to Bethel. A direct line-of-sight exists from the hilltop above Kh. el-Maqatir to El Bireh, the probable location of Bethel. Moreover, at a height of 12 meters, the parapet of the wall near the westernmost extremity of the wall perimeter would have afforded line-of-sight contact with Bethel = El Bireh from the protection of the fortress. 33 In fact, this is true even if one should insist that Bethel = Beitin. However, the topography surrounding et-Tell and Kh. Nisya denies equivalent line-of-sight contact with either of the candidate locations for Bethel. On this basis, the probability of a randomly selected site in the Benjamin hill country affording a convenient and direct line-of-sight to Bethel is judged to be no greater than 1/3. Accordingly, P13 is evaluated as 1/3 = 0.3333.

Evidence of conflagration. During the 1999 excavation season at Kh. el-Maqatir, materials derived from Area G – that is, the area of the gate structure and an LB I context – were subjected to testing for remanent magnetization, which is an indication of superheating. Three of the samples manifested statistically significant levels of remanent magnetization, affording positive evidence of a conflagration in antiquity. Also during the 1999 season, an ash layer was exposed in square G24 that lies 80 meters southeast of the gate. Continued work in G24 and neighboring F24 during the 2000 excavation season revealed an extended ash layer superimposed on what appeared to be an LB I pavement. The thickness of the ash layer was 10 centimeters (= 4 inches) in some places. In square R14, which lies 17 meters west of the gate, a similar condition was uncovered, including a thin layer of ash (2 to 3 centimeters) along with clumps of burned and flaking limestone. Also during the 2000 excavation season, widespread evidence of a conflagration was uncovered in the form of superheated and calcined limestone bedrock and LB I pottery that had been subjected to superheating to the point of metallic hardness [Wood (2000c: 68-69)]. The probability of finding evidence of an LB I conflagration at a Benjamin hill country site picked at random is judged to be no greater than 1/3. Accordingly, P14 is evaluated as 1/3 = 0.3333.

Factors militating against preservation of ash layers. Militating against finding extensive ash layers at Kh. el-Maqatir is the fact that the entire site has been exposed and under cultivation for centuries. Furthermore, over most of the site, the soil depth above bedrock is no more than a meter and in many places bedrock is actually exposed. With such shallow stratification and extensive and ongoing cultivation, the probability that extensive ash deposits would be preserved in situ is remote.

Concluding remarks on the selection of probabilities. Based upon available data, values for probabilities P1 through P14 have been selected that are believed to be reasonable and generally somewhat conservative. That is, the combinatorial probability result of 5.343 x 10-7 is probably larger than the value that would result from a rigorous analysis with unrestricted access to all necessary archaeological, geographical, and topographical data concerning Benjamin hill country sites. The primary objective of this aspect of the analytical process has been to demonstrate a method for estimating a confidence factor associated with the factuality test result. This objective has been achieved. A secondary objective has been to select probability values with adequate credibility to demonstrate the high degree of confidence that can be placed in the result of the analysis. Refinement of the probability values is an important goal of future research.

Concluding remarks on the combinatorial probability result. Given the selected probabilities for the set of criterial screen parameters, the computed value for the probability of all 14 parameters being satisfied by a single site selected at random in the Benjamin hill country of Palestine is 5.343 x 10 -7, which is equivalent to only 1 chance in almost 2 million. If a randomly selected site could satisfy the criterial screen, then there would be no basis for asserting that a particular site, Kh. el-Maqatir, is Joshua’s Ai. The complement of the above probability is the confidence factor placed in the assertion that Kh. el-Maqatir is Joshua’s Ai; that is, (1 - 5.343 x 10 -7) = 0.9999994657 = 99.99994657%.

CONCLUSIONS

The result of applying the 14-parameter criterial screen of Table 3 to the archaeological, geographical, and topographical context of Kh. el-Maqatir is summarized in Table 4. In particular, evidence has been brought forward that Kh. el-Maqatir is Joshua’s Ai. Moreover, this same body of evidence demonstrates that the conquest of Ai narrative is a TNR. The strength of evidence is judged to be conclusive beyond reasonable doubt based on the probability values selected for the 14 criterial screen parameters. Accordingly, the eyewitness account view of the conquest of Ai narrative is confirmed, and the aetiological legend and pernicious myth views are both refuted by this analysis.

In addition to demonstrating a method for testing the factuality of the conquest of Ai narrative in the Book of Joshua, a method has been mapped out for calculating an associated confidence factor. The confidence factor is based upon probability values that represent the likelihood of an accidental satisfaction of the criterial screen parameters. Based upon available data, all 14 probabilities are evaluated, but not necessarily with the desired rigor in a number of cases. Thus, the more precise evaluation of some of the probabilities and the rigorous working out of the confidence factor calculation is relegated to future research. While some of the probabilities may need to be increased above their presently estimated values, such adjustments should not be expected to materially affect the overall conclusion, however. Even if the combinatorial probability result in Table 4 were to be increased by a factor of 10, the confidence factor associated with the result of this research is still virtually 100%.

Finally, this research has demonstrated the appropriate method for allowing interaction between biblical and archaeological data. With the exception of epigraphic or historiographic material, archaeological findings are inherently indeterminate; in other words, they lack the capacity to be self-determinative. Accordingly, they rely upon a determinative narrative for interpretation. Therefore, one should always proceed from the narrative to the archaeological data instead of the reverse.

Endnotes:

21. For further discussion of Livingston’s hypothesis and the topographical context of Kh. Nisya vis-a-vis the requirements of the biblical text, see Briggs (2007: 126-127).

22. For the details of the engagement scenarios, refer to Briggs (2007: 131-137) and the associated Figures 22-37.

23. In addition to the three candidate sites for Joshua’s Ai examined in this paper, the following three sites have been considered as candidates at one time or another in past research: Kh. Khaiyan, Kh. Khudriya, and Kh. Raddana. Refer to Briggs (2007: 51) for a brief summary of the archaeology of these three sites.

24. Refer to Briggs (2007: 127-128) and associated Figures 19-20 concerning the area of Kh. el-Maqatir.

25. Refer to Briggs (2007: 128) and the associated Figures 20-21 for a description of the gate complex at Kh. el-Maqatir.

26. Refer to Briggs (2007: 127-128 & 139) and the associated Figure 32 for additional detail.

27. Refer to Figures 32 and 33 with associated text in Briggs (2007: 13) for a description of the topography north of Kh. el-Maqatir.

28. Refer to Briggs (2007: 139) and the associated Figures 29-30 for a more detailed description of the probable location of the primary ambush force encampment.

29. Refer to Briggs (2007: 139) and the associated Figure 31 for a more detailed description of the plateau northeast of Kh. el-Maqatir.

30. Refer to Briggs (2007: 132) and the associated Figures 23-25 for the postulated egress scenarios associated with the first battle of Ai.

31. Refer to Briggs (2007: 140) for more detail on the ceramic artifacts unearthed at Kh. el-Maqatir.

32. Refer to Briggs (2007: 140-141) and the associated Figures 34-36 for a description of the object finds at Kh. el-Maqatir.

33. Refer to Briggs (2007: 141) and the associated Figure 37 for a discussion of the convenient line-of-sight to Bethel.

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