Ai—Joshua 8

Ai was the second city Joshua conquered after Jericho. The first time that the Bible mentions Ai is when Abraham builds an altar between it and Bethel (Gen. 12:8; 13:3). The most extensive reference to Ai appears in Joshua 8 when the Israelites capture the place after an initial and ignominious defeat. Archaeologists have generally identified Ai with et-Tell, a site located near the ridge of Mount Ephraim, east of the present road leading to Bethel and 10 km west of Jericho. However, they argue that old Ai had been destroyed and abandoned during the twenty-fourth century BC and that it no longer existed at the time of the conquest of Canaan, thus throwing into question the reliability of the biblical account.

However, more recent research has suggested another site that may have been the Ai that the Israelites conquered. Excavations headed by Scott Stripling at a site known as Khirbet el-Maqatir have revealed a small border outpost dating from the Middle to Late Bronze Age. It and its site more closely fit the evidence contained in Joshua 7 and 8. For example, it had fortified walls (cf. Josh. 8:1, 2) and a gate facing north as implied in Joshua 8:11. The ruins show evidence of destruction by fire (cf. Josh. 8:28). Joshua 8:25 indicates the presence of women at Ai. Archaeologists found an infant burial jar with scattered infant bones, most likely of a child belonging to one of the families stationed there.

A survey of the topography around Khirbet el-Maqatir reveals many elements that echo the scenario of Ai’s capture, as described in the book of Joshua. North of the site is Jebel Abu Ammar, the highest hill in the region and a probable position where Joshua would have had his main body of soldiers camp. A shallow valley separates the hill from the fortress. The ruler of Ai would have been able to see Joshua’s decoy troops approaching. Just west of the site is the steep valley of the Wadi Sheben where the ambushers would have waited before attacking


Bible Archaeological Report, “Ai.”