The Byzantine Church of Khirbet el-Maqatir -- By: Todd Bolen

Journal: Bible and Spade (Second Run)
Volume: BSPADE 12:3 (Summer 1999)
Article: The Byzantine Church of Khirbet el-Maqatir
Author: Todd Bolen


The Byzantine Church of Khirbet el-Maqatir

Todd Bolen

The monastery sits on the highest part of Khirbet el-Maqatir, while the Bronze Age fortress was located lower down on the southeastern slope. Was the monastery founded to commorate the Israelite defeat of Ai? Excavations by Master’s College, IBEX, may provide the answer.

While a church at Khirbet el-Maqatir north of Jerusalem has long been identified, only recently did it become known that the site included a full monastery. Todd Bolen of The Master’s College, IBEX (Israel Bible Extension), is one of the supervisors of the excavation of the Late Byzantine complex.

Most scholars today believe the Biblical city of Ai is to be identified with the ruins of et-Tell, 10 mi north of Jerusalem. Even though et-Tell’s most recent excavator, Joseph Callaway (1968: 315), acknowledged no archaeological evidence from the time of Joshua, he still felt compelled to equate et-Tell with Ai because he found no other candidates for Ai in the region.

Unfortunately, Callaway’s conclusion has been used by many scholars to reject the historicity of both the Ai story and Israel’s military invasion of Canaan. Yet, his identification of et-Tell as Ai was based upon the lack of alternative sites that met the criteria. He surveyed dozens of sites in the area but completely missed the only site with a tradition identifying it as Ai—Khirbet el-Maqatir (Robinson and Smith 1841: 126). Because Kh. el-Maqatir has both Late Bronze Age architecture and pottery visible on the surface, only 0.7 mi due west of et-Tell, it is surprising that modern excavators have paid the site almost no attention. The Associates for Biblical Research began excavations here in 1995, under the direction of Dr. Bryant Wood.

The Earliest Tradition

All scholars regard the work of Edward Robinson in 1838 as paramount in historical geography. His travels throughout the Holy Land before the sites were filled with tourists and students in search of anything Biblical, allowed Robinson to learn the local traditions prior to the introduction of outside ideas. Therefore, when Robinson asked the locals about Ai, a Greek priest in the nearby village of Taibye pointed him to Kh. el-Maqatir. Others also held this identification in this village (Robinson and Smith 1841: 126). Thus, the only recorded local tradition for the location of Ai prior to Western influence is at Kh. el-Maqatir!

Yet, Robinson summarily dismissed this equation. He wrote, “There never was anything here but a church; and Ai must have been further off from Bethel” (Robinson and Smith 1841: 126). That only a church occupied this site has been shown i...

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