Location of Biblical Bethel and Ai Reconsidered -- By: David Livingston

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 33:1 (Nov 1970)
Article: Location of Biblical Bethel and Ai Reconsidered
Author: David Livingston


Location of Biblical Bethel and Ai Reconsidered

David Livingston

For over a century most scholars have been agreed that the village of Beitin, north of Jerusalem, is the site of biblical Bethel. A large quantity of literature has been published based on this assumption. W. F. Albright and James L. Kelso have excavated there intermittently through the years, beginning in the 1930’s. The result is that it has become (probably) unanimously agreed that Beitin is Bethel. Reports of the digs have been published in various journals. But the scholarly world has welcomed the definitive publication of the results recently in The Excavation of Bethel.1

With such careful and painstaking work, much of it basic to an understanding of Palestinian archaeology and history, it hardly seems possible that Beitin may not actually be Bethel after all. Nevertheless, that is what we propose.2

Before beginning, we do well to remind ourselves of the basic importance of this biblical city, mentioned more often in Scripture than any other site except Jerusalem. Its proper location is absolutely essential. Dr. Albright says, “(Bethel) is regarded by all topographers of competence as one of the cornerstones of ancient Palestinian topography.”3

Among important considerations, Bethel was on the border between Israel and Judah. So strategically located was it that Jeroboam built his southern temple there to intercept worshippers traveling to the temple in Jerusalem. just as important as the events which took place there is the fact that Bethel is the geographical key to locating many other

cities in Benjamin and southern Ephraim which are still clouded in uncertainty. Probably the one of chief interest is Ai, which is not yet absolutely identified.

Confusion over an early or late Conquest date may be settled by finding Ai. There is textual evidence for the burning of only three cities by Joshua: Jericho (Josh 6:24), Ai (Josh 8:28), and Hazor (Josh 11:13). (This seems to have been ignored by archaeologists ready to date the conquest by destruction levels found all over Palestine.) Hazor has evidence for both early and late dates.4 Kathleen Kenyon’s excavations at Jericho are indecisive respecting the Conquest, while John Garstang, on the basis of his own findings, held out for an early date to his dying day. Thus...

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