What is…

Hebrew: עַי —transliteration: Ay, Ayya or Ayyath

This is the name of two biblical cities which appears 39 times in Scripture.

  1. Ai, one of the ancient royal cities of the Canaanites

    Joshua Burns the Town of Ai
    “Joshua Burns the Town of Ai,” Illustration by Gustave Doré, La Grande Bible de Tours (1866).

    See: Joshua 10:1; Genesis 12:8; 13:3

    It was the scene of Joshua’s defeat, and afterwards of his victory.

    Then Joshua tore his clothes and fell to the ground on his face before the ark of the Lord until the evening, both he and the elders of Israel; and they put dust on their heads. And Joshua said, “Oh, Lord God! Why did You ever bring this people across the Jordan, only to hand us over to the Amorites, to eliminate us? …O Lord, what can I say since Israel has turned their back before their enemies? For the Canaanites and all the inhabitants of the land will hear about it, and they will surround us and eliminate our name from the earth. And what will You do for Your great name?”

    So the Lord said to Joshua, “Stand up! Why is it that you have fallen on your face? Israel has sinned, and they have also violated My covenant which I commanded them. And they have even taken some of the things designated for destruction, and have both stolen and kept it a secret. …” —Joshua 7:6-11 excerpts

    Ai was the second Canaanite city taken by Israel (Joshua 7:2-5; 8:1-29)—the first being Jericho. Ai was later rebuilt and inhabited by the Benjamites (Ezra 2:28; Nehemiah 7:32; 11:31). It lay to the east of Bethel, “beside Bethaven.”

    This Ai is also mentioned in Joshua 9:3; 10:1-2; 12:9, and Jeremiah 49:3.

    Khirbet El-Maqatir. Photo © BiblePlaces.com. Licensed.
    Aerial view of Khirbet El-Maqatir in Israel, the location of the Ai destroyed by Joshua
    Photo © BiblePlaces—a ChristianAnswers Contributing Specialist.

    Archaeologists of the Associates for Biblical Research (ABR), a Christian Answers team member, have spent many years in trying to determine the site of this ancient city, as well as Bethel. The Bethel/Ai Project is central to the Associates for Biblical Research’s work on the Israelite Conquest of Canaan. A major scholarly battle developed over the identification of the biblical cities of Ai and Bethel. Dr. David Livingston, founder and former director of the Associates for Biblical Research, pioneered research in this area.

    Khirbet el-Maqatir, Israel —satellite view

    ABR has excavated Khirbet el-Maqatir as a possible candidate. The site is located 10 miles north of Jerusalem. Excavations since 1995 have revealed a city gate and wall system and many evidences that match this 15th-century B.C. Canaanite fortress that Joshua destroyed.

    Khirbet el-Maqatir matches the following requirements for the correct location of Ai:

    • The site must have been occupied and fortified at the time of Israel’s conquest of Canaan (Joshua 7:5; 8:29)
    • It must be in the vicinity of Bethel (Joshua 12:9).
    • To the east of Bethel (Joshua 7:2)
    • Adjacent to Beth-aven (Joshua 7:2)
    • There must be a gate on the north side of the city (Joshua 8:11).
    • A hill of military significance must exist north of the city (Joshua 8:11).
    • There must be a shallow valley north of the city (Joshua 8:13-14).
    • Must be a suitable ambush site between Bethel and Ai (Joshua 8:9; 8:12)
    • It must be smaller than the Canaanite city of Gibeon (Joshua 10:2).
    • It must have been destroyed by a military force at the time of Joshua, and there must be evidence of destruction by fire (Joshua 8:19; 8:28).
    • There should be some evidence of women at the site, not exclusively men (Joshua 8:25).

    Researcher Gary Byers of ABR reported in 2011,

    …we found pottery [at Khirbet el-Maqatir] from the time of Joshua (15th century BC) in almost every square—even one beneath the foundation of the monastery—this season we did not reach architecture from the fortress in any of the squares we excavated. As in previous seasons, some of the 15th century BC pottery was ‘refired.’ That means, subsequent to its manufacture, it had been subjected to a second very intense heating which baked it to a metallic hardness. This is powerful evidence for the burning of Ai as described in Joshua 8:28.

    Streaming video— 
    “A Brief History of Joshua’s Ai at Khirbet el-Maqatir, Israel”
    Archaeologist Dr. Scott Stripling describes the history of the site of Khirbet el-Maqatir, about 10 miles north of Jerusalem. Identified by ABR as the city of Ai recorded in Joshua 7-8, the site also has revealed evidence from the Canaanite period (ca. 1500), the Judges era, and the Hasmonean period. There also was a significant New Testament town located here, which could be Ephraim mentioned in John 11:53-54. Later, the Byzantines built a church and monastery on the summit of the site, possibly to commemorate the battle of Ai in Joshua’s day.
    Video by Associates for Biblical Research (ABR), a Christian Answers Team Member
    length: 4½ minutes

    More information:

  2. Ai, a city in the Ammonite territory

    See: Jeremiah 49:3

    Some have thought that the proper reading of the word is “Ar” (Isaiah 15:1 NASB).

More information

Article Version: July 16, 2021