Is Kh. Nisya the Ai of the Bible? -- By: David P. Livingston

Journal: Bible and Spade (Second Run)
Volume: BSPADE 12:1 (Winter 1999)
Article: Is Kh. Nisya the Ai of the Bible?
Author: David P. Livingston


Is Kh. Nisya the Ai of the Bible?

David P. Livingston

Aerial view of Kh. Nisya in the hills of Benjamin, 8 mi north of Jerusalem.

While we were doing our research to locate Bethel at El Bireh (Livingston 1970; 1971; 1998) we went to the other side of nearby Mount et-Tawil and found an ancient site named Kh. (“ruins of”) Nisya. Local Arabs told us the name “Nisya” means “forgotten.” No one remembered what the ruins were. Although it sits on a natural rise, Nisya is not a “tell” with ancient remains in much depth. Bedrock can be seen at the surface all over the site. However, in spite of its having been quite denuded, the site was occupied almost continuously from very early times. The reasons we think it is Biblical Ai follow.

Criteria for Biblical Ai

For any site to be Biblical Ai, it must meet at least five criteria:

1) The topography (hills and valleys) must fit the Biblical description, which is quite detailed.

2) It must be smaller than Gibeon, but not so small as to be insignificant.

3) It must be properly located in relationship to other towns mentioned in Scripture.

4) It must be occupied or deserted at the times which match the Biblical chronology (i.e., occupied in these periods: Patriarchal, Conquest, Late Israelite Kingdom, and Persian).

5) It must have been fortified with walls and a gate just prior to the Israelite invasion

The Meaning of “Ai”

Before examining the topography, it will be of interest to examine the meaning of the name “Ai.” The traditional meaning of “Ai” is “ruins,” or “heap of ruins.” However, that is the only name the settlement ever had. It is doubtful that later Israelite settlers would rebuild the village and call it “the ruins” (haʿAi). The name must have an alternative meaning

Ruins of et-Tell, the site accepted by most scholars as ancient Ai. Et-Tell was occupied in the Early Bronze Age (3150-2400 BC) and Iron Age I (1200-1050 BC); it was not occupied in the Late Bronze Age (1550-1200 BC), the time of Joshua’s Conquest.

(Zevit 1983:26, 27, 32). Here are the results of research on this problem by four leading scholars:

J. Simons (1959: 270): “The word means no more than a ‘heap of stones’.”

Y. Kaufmann (1953: 77): “Ai does not mean ‘Ruin,’ but heap, a pile or piles of ...

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