Wednesday, 4 June 2014

The Search for Joshua's Ai at Khirbet el-Maqatir

By Petra van der Zande. 
"Archeology is a science in which progress can be measured by the advances made backward into the past."  James B. Pritchard.
For years, scholars and archeologists presumed Et-Tell (about 15 km North East of Jerusalem) to be the city of Ai. However, because no evidence was found to correlate this place with the Bible, secular scholars concluded the Bible was wrong and Joshua 7 and 8 were just a folk story.
The Associates for Biblical Research (ABR) didn't agree with this thesis. Committed to explore the ancient biblical world through archaeology, the archeological findings of this ministry frequently provide direct support for Scriptural accounts. When the Bible comes alive, study of the Scriptures is more interesting and meaningful.
A.B.R. sponsors and supports excavations in areas of which secular scholars claim that archeology does not line up with the Biblical accounts. The reason ABR digs at this particular site (Ai) is because they believe that not Et-Tell, but Khirbet el-Maqatir (KeM) is the site of Old Testament Ai as we find in Joshua 7 and 8.
Khirbet el-Maqatir, covering about 10 acres, is a series of low ruin piles above bedrock.
(An acre is the amount of land that could be plouged in one day with a yoke of oxen.)
It is located east of road no. 60, near Deir Dibwan, in Samaria (the West Bank).

Tell or Khirbet
"Tell" (or "tall" in Arabic) is an artificial mound consisting of layers of human occupation."Khirbet" (Arabic) means a low ruin.
It is always a joy to welcome Mrs. Janet and Dr. Eugene Merrill to Jerusalem Baptist Church. By their presence we know it is 'dig-time' again. As the excavation is only for two weeks at a time, this year I was determined to learn more about their exciting discoveries.
Dr. Eugene H. Merrill, served as Square Supervisor at the KeM excavations since 1996. The Distinguished Professor of O.T. studies at Dallas Theoogical Seminary published many articles and books. He is one of the most well-known and exceptional OT scholars in the Church today.
Mrs. Janet Merrill, with an MA in Jewish Studies, has accompanied her husband on many a KeM excavation. She volunteers as a ceramic typologist. 
Even though I didn't go to the excavation itself, I had the privilege to see the post-dig discoveries, meet some of the professional staff and the volunteers.

On Thursday, May 29, 2014, I had the privilege to interview Dr. Bryant Wood, the Archeological  Director Emeritus of the Khirbet el-Maqatir Excavations at Yad haShmonah, where the group stayed. 
Dr. Bryant G. Wood, Archeological Director Emeritus of the Khirbet el-Maqatir Excavations and Dig ceramic typologist. He founded the KeM excavations in 1995 and directed the Dig through 2013. He earned many University degrees and participated in numerous digs in the area. Dr. Wood is a specialist in Canaanite pottery of the Late Bronze Age.

Finishing up the second week of the two-week dig, Dr. Wood told me about the second Egyptian Scarab they found the previous week. Pottery finds are always subject to interpretation, critique and argumentation. Scarabs however, are rare and can be closely dated. This find was dated around 1600 B.C., the time of the beginning of the fortress mentioned in the book of Joshua. The other scarab, found during last year's dig, was dated about 200 years later- the end period of the fortress. Both finds were like book ends of an important Biblical period. The latest scarab may have been used by the last king of Ai, before the Israelites destroyed the city. The longitudinally drilled hole meant it was most likely worn as a necklace or attached to a ring. 
Scarab (from the French word scarabée = ‘beetle')Through their inscriptions and typology, these popular Egyptian amulets are an important source of information for archeologist and historians of the Ancient world.
Scarabs are favorite finds for archeologists, because, like coins, they can be dated rather accurately.In Ancient Egypt amulets in the form of scarab beetles were popular. They revered the dung beetle which they related to the sun god. From the middle Bronze Age, other ancient peoples of the Mediterranean and the Middle East imported scarabs from Egypt and also produced scarabs in Egyptian or local styles, especially in the Levant. 
Due to the archeological and biblical significance of the scarab, Christianity Today named it the #1 biblical archeology discovery of 2013.

This 12th season (2014) focused on an area of the 2nd Temple period town (between 2 BC – 69 AD), after which the town ceased to exist. They uncovered a building and part of a remarkably well preserved street, marking it as one of the best preserved towns of the period.
Leen Ritmeyer (archeological architect) plotted the outline of the city for future excavations.  Being a fortified town, they reasoned that Ai would have had a large tower, which was found on the north side. According to Amichai Mazar, a well-known local archeologist, this was the largest tower of this time period ever to have been found in Israel.
The ABR team works closely with the Israel Antiquity Authorities (IAA) who provide the dig permit and if needed, specialists, e.g. for dating the scarab. The IAA will publish an article about this year's scarab, while Dr. Wood will write about about last year's find.

The team of 2014
Each (independent) dig is funded by the volunteers who make up the work force. They pay for the dig equipment, the lodgings, travel, etc. Because each excavating season funds itself it is not necessary to raise lots of funds.

When excavating an area that is thousands of years old, one can never be 100% sure. However, the requirements and descriptions needed to match with the city of Ai are all there. Topographically it fits the Biblical text and also the archeological requirements: the town was fortified and occupied during the time of the Israelite conquest.
Dr. Wood's conclusions were confirmed by last week's pottery and scarab finds. Both scarabs tie into Egyptian history and provide scholars with beginning and end dates of the period of the Israelite conquest and burning of the fortress as described in the Bible.
Many coins were found of different periods. E.g. Alexander Jannaeus' coins (used until 1 AD), coins with inscriptions of NT figures, governors, (e.g. Pilate), Herod the great, etc. Also coins of the three Jewish revolt periods and Byzantine period were found spread over the site. 

The following distinct phases were found at the site:
1.     MB2C (1650-1550 BC) – the Egyptian scarab which probably belonged to the Hyksos.  The first scarab was produced locally, in Canaan.
2.     1550 BC – dating of the second scarab, produced in Egypt and imported to Canaan during the reign of Thutmose III.
3.     The 200 year of occupation of the Fortress (1600-1406 BC) ended with the Israelite conquest (1406 BC).
4.     People lived here during Iron Age I, the period of the Judges (1200-1000 BC). 
5.     Hasmonean dynasty: 140-37 BC
6.     First century AD - 69 AD
7.     Byzantine period: 4th century monastery 
The Hyksos or Hycsos ("ruler(s) of the foreign countries") were important Canaanite populations who took over the eastern Nile Delta. According to traditional accounts they ruled Egypt for 108 years, until Thutmose III regained control over Egypt.
Thutmose III (considered to have been a military genius) made 16 raids in 20 years. The active expansionist ruler (also called Egypt's greatest conqueror or "the Napoleon of Egypt") captured 350 cities and conquered much of the Near East from the Euphrates to Nubia. Thanks to his scribe and army commander, much information of the account of his campaigns were kept. In 1480 BC he campaigned in Canaan and took control of the area.
When Dr. Wood began excavating the site in 1995, until 2000 no armed guards were necessary. The Intifada (Arab uprising) forced the excavations to a standstill. Between 2001 and 2008 it was too dangerous to continue, and the dig was only resumed in 2009.
At present, the IDF must give clearance for the team to excavate and there is always an armed guard present at the site. Thankfully, the team never encountered any problems. They have good relationships with the local people; Palestinian workers help at the dig, and a local family who lives close to the site (near the edge, where the church is located) stores their tools.

The last three years there is an additional winter dig during the December Christmas holiday. During the first two seasons the team worked on the monastery and church. In 2013 the team arrived just after the big snow storm. Despite the difficulties and unexpected challenges they decided to go ahead. Wading through the snow the team reached the entrance to the cave which had been discovered on the last day of the previous season. Steps hewn out in the bedrock were cleared of snow. Once inside the cave the team was able to do their work.

Records of the KeM excavation:
  • ·  The 12th season (May 2014) had 60 people excavating Khirbet el-Maqatir (Ai) - the largest group in Israel.
  • ·       The amount of coins found at the site (last year 205, and then another 112 during the 1st week of the 12th season).
  • ·       The largest Hellenistic tower was found at KeM.
  • ·       KeM excavations near the record for the most stone ware found (used during the 1st century AD for purification rituals).
  • ·       Excavating in the snow has never happened before (according to the IAA). 

"This [typology] superficially straightforward task has proved one of the most time consuming and contentious aspects of archaeological research." Doran and Hodson.
Reading pottery (typology)
Typology is classification according to their physical characteristics into classes, or types. Most archaeological typologies organize artifacts into types, but also large structures like buildings, field monuments, fortifications or roads, are equally possible. A typology helps to manage a large mass of archaeological data. Archaeologists spend a great deal of time defining ceramic 'types'. Each type distinguishes one group of pottery (whether whole vessels or potsherds) from all other groups of pottery, such that each type was produced in a singel time and place. Ideally, identification is possible with the naked eye by looking at the pottery fragments. 

In archaeology, lithic analysis is the analysis of stone tools and other chipped stone artifacts using basic scientific techniques.

In closing:
ABR's spectacular finds show the Bible is right. In the future they hope to find more evidence to prove that archeology does line up with the Bible and that the Biblical text is correct.


Further reading:

EXHIBIT: Khirbet el-Maqatir: History of a Biblical Site.
The Houston Baptist University’s Dunham Bible Museum hosts the exhibit from January 21-December 19, 2014.  The Civil Administration for Judea and Samaria has approved the loan of these artifacts.  Starting from Genesis 12-13 and moving forward in time toward Maqatir's magnificent monastery, 4,000 years of history will be on display. Special attention will be given to the Late Bronze Age fortress (the Ai of Joshua 7-8) and the Early Roman/New Testament village (perhaps Ephraim of John 11:54).