The Search For ʾAi -- By: Wilbur Fields

Journal: Bible and Spade (Second Run)
Volume: BSPADE 06:3 (Summer 1993)
Article: The Search For ʾAi
Author: Wilbur Fields

The Search For ʾAi

Wilbur Fields

Professor, Ozark Christian College

Joplin, MO

Aerial view of Khirbet Nisya. Size of the site is about 7 acres. El-Bireh (ancient Bethel?) is beyond the mountain off upper right hand corner.

I have been involved off and on since 1972 in the search for the town of ʾAi. Since 1981, I have worked eight seasons with Dr. David P. Livingston of Ephrata, PA, in his excavations at Khirbet Nisya in Israel, ten miles north of Jerusalem. Livingston feels that Nisya is the actual location of ʾAi, the second city destroyed by Joshua. I agree with this view.

The name ʾAi is pronounced Eye in Hebrew and in Spanish. The Hebrew word has the same consonants as a word meaning heap of ruins. In the Old Testament the word always has the articles, “The ʾAi.”

ʾAi was captured by Joshua just after he took Jericho. The story of this conquest is told in the book of Joshua, chapters 7 and 8. The capture of ʾAi was unique in two respects: First, Israel suffered a defeat in their initial attack on the town. And second, the Israelites captured the city by using troops hidden in ambush behind the city.

The location of ʾAi has been uncertain for centuries. In 1838, the American geographer, Edward Robinson, located some ruins at a place called Beitin, twelve miles north of Jerusalem. Robinson decided that this was the location of the Biblical town of Bethel. Both the Bible and other sources indicate that ʾAi was close to Bethel. About three km SE of Beitin is a huge 27-acre mound known as et-Tell, meaning The Mound, or tell. This mound of et-Tell, or one of the tiny mounds near it, has come to be generally accepted as the location of ʾAi.

The most common things found in archaeological digs are potsherds, broken pieces of pottery. I am very pleased to report to you that the ages of the potsherds found at Khirbet Nisya correspond closely to the very periods when

the Bible says that ʾAi was being lived in. For example, we have found MANY potsherds from the Middle Bronze II period, the Canaanite age of about 1950–1550 BC. This was the period near when Abraham camped by ʾAi (

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