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Tel Ai: Et-Tell & Khirbet el-Maqatir

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Places of Interest

Tel Ai: Et-Tell & Khirbet el-Maqatir




1. Ai is in the hill country of the Samaria region about 14 miles (22 km.) west of Jericho and about 10 miles (17 km.) north of Jerusalem.


2. Two locations close by to one another provide overwhelming evidence as to the location of Tel Ai. The first location, which is the oldest excavation site, is called Et-Tell. The second, and most recent excavation site, is called Khirbet el-Maqatir (Khirbet means ruins in Hebrew). It is the view of that both places are the same biblical Ai. Ai was a large city and had at least 12,000 inhabitants (Josh. 8:25). Because both sites are almost adjacent to one another, it appears that both belong to the same city of Ai and are just different parts of the city.


3. Both places are undeveloped sites, and no fees are charged to visit them. Et-Tell is located to the north of the modern town of Dayr Dibwan, and Khirbet el-Maqatir is located just west of Dayr Dibwan. 


Historical Background


1. Ai was the second town Joshua and the Israelites conquered after they entered the Promised Land.


2. It was a small town compared to Jericho, but because of sin among one person, Joshua and the Israelites had a hard time conquering this city and were taught a major lesson of how God feels about sin in the midst of His people.


3. Khirbet el-Maqatir is also the believed place of the New Testament town of Ephraim. This is significant because after Christ raised Lazarus from the dead, He and His disciples came here to stay awhile.


John 11:54: Jesus therefore no longer walked openly among the Jews, but went from there to the region near the wilderness, to a town called Ephraim, and there he stayed with the disciples.


4. There has been some dispute regarding the location of Ai, with the believed place being Et-Tell for many years. However, in 1995, excavations at Khirbet el-Maqatir were begun by Bryant Wood and sponsored by the Associates of Biblical Research (ABR). They excavated much of the site and made substantial discoveries, all indicating this site as the biblical Ai. ABR deserves the bulk of the credit for the excavations and discoveries at this site. However, as mentioned, we believe both sites of Et-Tell and Khirbet el-Maqatir are part of biblical Ai.


5. Byzantine monks built a large monastery at Khirbet el-Maqatir in the 4th century AD. Normally, churches were built at significant holy sites to preserve and commemorate them. This helps confirm this site as Ai. 


6. The earliest reports by Edward Robinson in 1838 show that the local people thought Khirbet el-Maqatir was Ai. It’s likely that the Byzantine monastery helped preserve the memory of this location.


7. Evidence shows that Khirbet el-Maqatir was occupied and destroyed by fire during the time of Joshua, matching the biblical account. Ash layers have been discovered here supporting destruction by fire.


8. The Bible states that when Joshua arrived at Ai with his army, he stood in front of Ai on its north side (Joshua 8:11). In 1995, Associates for Biblical Research discovered the remains of a gate on the north side of the city wall. This matches the biblical account for the layout of biblical Ai. 


9. At Khirbet el-Maqatir, a Canaanite border fortress was discovered that shows evidence of being destroyed by military action in around 1406 BC. This matches the exact time of the destruction of Ai in the Bible. The rough outline of the walls of the fortress has been marked out and small sections have been excavated. 


10. Many pieces of pottery and artifacts dating to the time of Joshua have been uncovered at both sites. Among these are two Egyptian scarabs (small seals that look like coins).


11. The geography of the land in the area fits the locations of Khirbet el-Maqatir and Et-Tell perfectly.


12. Khirbet el-Maqatir and Et-Tell are on one of the highest mountains to the east of Bethel.


Places of Interest at Et-Tell


1. Temple

2. Sacred Stones

3. Northern Gate

4. Tower

5. Building area of Ai that was covered with stones 28 feet (8.53 m.) high. This matches the biblical account in Joshua 8:29.

Places of Interest at Khirbet el-Maqatir


1. City Towers


2. City Gate

3. City Walls


4. Ash remains from the destruction of Ai.

5. Byzantine church and monastery.

6. Mikveh

7. Dwellings

8. Silos


9. Cisterns


General Places of Interest Around Ai


1. City of Bethel


2. Bethel Site of Abraham and Jacob


3. Bethel High Place of Worship – Currently named Khalom Ya'akov Antiquities Site.


4. Jericho


Ai in the Bible


1. Close by to Ai, Abram (Abraham) built an altar to the Lord.
Genesis 12:7-8: The Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your descendants I will give this land.” So he built an altar there to the Lord who had appeared to him. 8 Then he proceeded from there to the mountain on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; and there he built an altar to the Lord and called upon the name of the Lord.


2. Before conquering Jericho, God gave strict orders that the Israelites were not to take any items from it. It was for the Lord as a kind of “First Fruits Offering” because it was the first city the Israelites conquered in the Promised Land.
Joshua 6:17-19: The city shall be under the ban, it and all that is in it belongs to the Lord; only Rahab the harlot and all who are with her in the house shall live, because she hid the messengers whom we sent. 18 But as for you, only keep yourselves from the things under the ban, so that you do not covet them and take some of the things under the ban, and make the camp of Israel accursed and bring trouble on it. 19 But all the silver and gold and articles of bronze and iron are holy to the Lord; they shall go into the treasury of the Lord.”


3. God gave the Israelites a miraculous victory over Jericho. After marching around the city one time each day for six days, and seven times the seventh day, God caused the walls to fall by the shout of His people.
Joshua 6:20: So the people shouted, and priests blew the trumpets; and when the people heard the sound of the trumpet, the people shouted with a great shout and the wall fell down flat, so that the people went up into the city, every man straight ahead, and they took the city.


4. Achan disobeyed God’s orders and took forbidden items from Jericho.
Joshua 7:1: But the sons of Israel acted unfaithfully in regard to the things under the ban, for Achan, the son of Carmi, the son of Zabdi, the son of Zerah, from the tribe of Judah, took some of the things under the ban, therefore the anger of the Lord burned against the sons of Israel.


It’s interesting that God held all of Israel guilty for the sin of one person. It appears He wanted to show them that they were a family and community, and what affects one person affects everyone. 


5. After seeing a miraculous victory over Jericho, the Israelites then proceeded to Ai, thinking they would take it with ease. However, God was angry over Achan’s sin and decided to teach the whole nation of Israel a big life lesson.
Joshua 7:2-5: Now Joshua sent men from Jericho to Ai, which is near Beth-aven, east of Bethel, and said to them, "Go up and spy out the land.” So the men went up and spied out Ai. 3 They returned to Joshua and said to him, “Do not let all the people go up; only about two or three thousand men need go up to Ai; do not make all the people toil up there, for they are few.” 4 So about three thousand men from the people went up there, but they fled from the men of Ai. 5 The men of Ai struck down about thirty-six of their men, and pursued them from the gate as far as Shebarim and struck them down on the descent, so the hearts of the people melted and became as water.


6. God spoke to Joshua and revealed the problem.
Joshua 7:10-13: So the Lord said to Joshua, “Rise up! Why is it that you have fallen on your face? 11 Israel has sinned, and they have also transgressed My covenant which I commanded them. And they have even taken some of the things under the ban and have both stolen and deceived. Moreover, they have also put them among their own things. 12 Therefore the sons of Israel cannot stand before their enemies; they turn their backs before their enemies, for they have become accursed. I will not be with you anymore unless you destroy the things under the ban from your midst. 13 Rise up! Consecrate the people and say, ‘Consecrate yourselves for tomorrow, for thus the Lord, the God of Israel, has said, “There are things under the ban in your midst, O Israel. You cannot stand before your enemies until you have removed the things under the ban from your midst.”


7. Achan’s sin is dealt with, and the Israelites are cleansed.
Joshua 7:22-26: So Joshua sent messengers, and they ran to the tent; and behold, it was concealed in his tent with the silver underneath it. 23 They took them from inside the tent and brought them to Joshua and to all the sons of Israel, and they poured them out before the Lord. 24 Then Joshua and all Israel with him, took Achan the son of Zerah, the silver, the mantle, the bar of gold, his sons, his daughters, his oxen, his donkeys, his sheep, his tent and all that belonged to him; and they brought them up to the valley of Achor. 25 Joshua said, “Why have you troubled us? The Lord will trouble you this day.” And all Israel stoned them with stones; and they burned them with fire after they had stoned them with stones. 26 They raised over him a great heap of stones that stands to this day, and the Lord turned from the fierceness of His anger. 


8. The Israelites easily conquer Ai and burn it with fire.
Joshua 8:11–12: And all the fighting men who were with him went up and drew near before the city and encamped on the north side of Ai, with a ravine between them and Ai. 12 He took about 5,000 men and set them in ambush between Bethel and Ai, to the west of the city.


Joshua 8:14–17: And as soon as the king of Ai saw this, he and all his people, the men of the city, hurried and went out early to the appointed place toward the Arabah to meet Israel in battle. But he did not know that there was an ambush against him behind the city. 15 And Joshua and all Israel pretended to be beaten before them and fled in the direction of the wilderness. 16 So all the people who were in the city were called together to pursue them, and as they pursued Joshua they were drawn away from the city. 17 Not a man was left in Ai or Bethel who did not go out after Israel. They left the city open and pursued Israel.


Joshua 8:19–21: And the men in the ambush rose quickly out of their place, and as soon as he had stretched out his hand, they ran and entered the city and captured it. And they hurried to set the city on fire. 20 So when the men of Ai looked back, behold, the smoke of the city went up to heaven, and they had no power to flee this way or that, for the people who fled to the wilderness turned back against the pursuers. 21 And when Joshua and all Israel saw that the ambush had captured the city, and that the smoke of the city went up, then they turned back and struck down the men of Ai.


Faith Lesson from Ai


1. Sin is a serious thing in the life of a believer or church.


2. Our sin not only affects us but others around us as well.


3. If there is unconfessed sin in our lives, God will likely allow us to be defeated.


4. If our hearts are right before God, He will give us victory.

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