I recently returned from my 9th season of excavation at Khirbet el-Maqatir in Israel’s West Bank. Located 10 miles north of Jerusalem, we call this dig “The Search for Joshua’s Ai at Khirbet el-Maqatir.”
While a “tell” (Arabic; although sometimes “tall” as in neighboring Jordan) is an artificial mound consisting of layers of human occupation, a “khirbet” (Arabic) is a low ruin. Our site is series of low ruin piles directly above bedrock spread over an area of about 10 acres.
This year’s focus was three different time periods in three different parts of our site.
1.) The 4th-6th century AD Byzantine monastery on the rise to the northwest
2.) The 2nd century BC through 2nd century AD Hellenistic/Roman settlement on the low rise to the northeast
3.) Our major focus, and the reason for choosing Khirbet el-Maqatir in the first place, the 15th century BC fortress of Ai from Joshua’s time in the saddle between these other two sets of ruins
Directed and sponsored by the Associates for Biblical Research, all 9 seasons have been under the direction of Dr. Bryant Wood. Unfortunately, for the first time since we began excavating at Khirbet el-Maqatir, Dr. Wood was not in the field with us. I have been with him since he first stepped on the site in 1994, and have participated with him for every dig season since. Consequently, it was my responsibility to lead the team in his absence.
Because of the general unrest throughout the Middle East this spring – and we were digging in the West Bank – I asked lots of folks back home to pray for me and the whole dig team. This year, if anything went wrong, I was responsible! While I really wasn’t concerned about physical danger to our team, I knew there was the potential for lots of complications which could positively or negatively affect the outcome of our work.
Well, stuff did happen. But God miraculously watched over all the people, places and things related to our work. Of course, the whole dig team understood that the boss wasn’t there and everyone went above and beyond in helping make things work. So, with all the good help and serious prayer support back home, I am happy to report that we had some wonderful excavation results.
Our major interest in Khirbet el-Maqatir is the fortress of Ai from Joshua’s time. That time period is also my special area of interest, as well. So no one was more disappointed than I that we did not find any architecture associated with Joshua’s Ai, although we continued to find lots of pottery from that period.
What we did find was lots of interesting architecture from the Hasmonean (2nd-1st century BC), Roman (1st century BC- 3rd century AD) and Byzantine (4th-6th century AD) periods. Admittedly, I have been known to suggest that this stuff is just modern history and not that interesting! But this year’s finds from these periods actually turned out to be pretty special – even to me.
In three of our squares this season, we hoped to identify remains of city walls or interior structures from Joshua’s time, but went to bedrock without finding any architecture of significance. In the other nine squares, we found interesting material related to these later periods of occupation – including a bunch of coins (at least two minted by rulers mentioned in the New Testament ), as well as a pretty interesting house from New Testament times.
I do want to say how grateful I was for all the prayer support while we were there. At some difficult moments, I could almost sense a supernatural guidance and empowerment to do what needed to be done. As we say here at Helping Up Mission, “God is good – all the time.” And I might also add “everywhere!”
One day at a time,
Pastor Gary Byers
Spiritual Life Director