Ai (Hebrew: עַי; meaning 'the ruin') is a biblical site first mentioned in the Book of Genesis as the place where Abraham and Lot set up a camp as they were travelling. This biblical site is primarily known for being destroyed by the Israelite's under Joshua, the first leader of Israel after Moses, and it is associated with Bethel in the Bible a number of times.
The biblical city of Ai is mentioned several times throughout the Old Testament, including the following passages.
Genesis 13:3: He went on his journeys from the Negev as far as Bethel, to the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Bethel and Ai,
Joshua 8:1: The Lord said to Joshua, “Do not be afraid or discouraged. Take the whole military force with you and go attack Ai. Look, I have handed over to you the king of Ai, his people, city, and land
Joshua 8:28: So Joshua burned Ai and made it a heap forever, a desolation until this day.
The archaeology of Ai is different from that of other biblical sites in its time, as throughout the centuries of the biblical narrative, the actual location of Ai changed. In the time of Abraham, Ai was located in the ancient site known of et-Tell. The word Ai means 'the ruin', and the word et-Tell means 'the ruin', allowing for this identification. And indeed, during the time of Abraham (Middle Bronze Age; 2000-1550 BC), et-Tell was a ruin that had been destroyed centuries earlier. However, during the time of Joshua, the toponym of Ai had changed from et-Tell to a different site named Khirbet el-Maqatir. Although the biblical geographical indicators given to us for Ai in Genesis are only consistent with et-Tell in the time of Abraham, the geographical indicators during the time of Joshua (Late Bronze Age; 1550-1200 BC) are no longer consistent with et-Tell, rather they have been identified by Bryant Wood as only compatible with Khirbet el-Maqatir. For example, the Ai of Joshua was supposed to be inhabited, however et-Tell was not inhabited during the Late Bronze Age. Joshua 10:2 says that Gibeon was "larger than Ai", however, Gibeon is about 10 acres in area, whereas et-Tell is around 20 acres in area. On the other hand, Khirbet el-Maqatir is only about 4 acres in area, making it significantly smaller than Gibeon. For these and other geographical reasons, the Ai of Abraham can be identified as et-Tell, whereas the Ai of Joshua can be identified as Khirbet el-Maqatir.
- Ai Definition
- Wood, Bryant G. "The search for Joshua’s Ai." Critical Issues in Early Israelite History 3 (2008): 205.
- Wood, Bryant G. "Khirbet-el-Maqatir, 1995-1998-Excavations and surveys-Notes and news." Israel Exploration Journal 50.1-2 (2000): 123-130.
- Peterson, Brian Neil. The Authors of the Deuteronomistic History: Locating a Tradition in Ancient Israel. Fortress Press, 2014. pg. 92, also see footnote 36.