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Archaeology has always seemed about as interesting as "watching cement set". The only difference being that the building materials were a bit different and much older. My first visit to an excavation site here in Israel has changed my ignorant prejudice. To be honest, the interest didn't happen as soon as I saw the site which looked to me like almost every other uninhabited hill in Israel. It came after I interviewed the leader of the excavation and went home to do some reading. Knowledge is a powerful thing.
I wouldn't have chosen to visit an archaeological site for the fun of it. In fact, I've had the opportunity in the past to visit archaeological digs and never felt the urge to join. I was assigned to cover the story. The interest grew when I realized it was located at an outpost in the West Bank just 3.8 kilometers from Ramallah. "Now there's a story," I thought to myself. Being more in touch with the events of today than those from the Bronze Age, a trip deep inside the West Bank would at least offer some excitement for the day - especially since it was the day after the Gaza Flotilla fiasco and the US Embassy issued a travel alert for Americans to stay away from these areas in case of riots.
I'm very glad to say I was completely mistaken about Biblical archeology - it is fascinating on so many levels. I learned so much from the excursion and I plan to start following archeology here in Israel. I learned that it isn't simply about identifying an old ruin, it is about authenticating the Bible and even the existence of Israel in a world more and more hostile to the idea of both. Now that's enough right there to get my blood pumping!
Dr. Bryant Woods is an archaeologist and research director with Associates for Biblical Research (ABR). He has dedicated his career to the study of archaeological and historical accounts of the conquest period of Israel. He believes he has found the Biblical site of Ai as recorded in Joshua chapter 7 and 8. What makes his discovery even more interesting and vital is that the mainstream archaeological community believes that Ai has already been uncovered at a different location. And that location has led many archaeologists to reject the Biblical account in Joshua because of conflicting evidence.
Dr. Woods is an Evangelical Christian working for ABR and is guided by the same mission and principles articulated by the archaeological organization - to "demonstrate the historical reliability and accuracy of the Scriptures with the conviction that the Bible is the Word of God and, therefore, infallible, inerrant and authoritative in its original writings".
Dr. Woods believed that if the evidence contradicts the Bible, then the search for Ai must continue. In Joshua's account, Ai was a fortress that was attacked after the Israelite victory over Jericho. The first battle against Ai was lost because of sin in the camp. Once the sin was dealt with God told Joshua he would give them the victory. Joshua split the troops in order to put one brigade in front of the fortress to lure the soldiers of Ai out of the city and he stationed another brigade to the rear to take the city by surprise once the soldiers had gone out to battle. The Israelites burned the city and left it in ruins according to the Biblical narrative.
The Ai, located at et-Tell, as identified by William F. Albright in 1924 does not show any evidence of burning or any evidence of Canaanite occupation during the late Bronze Age I period when Joshua made the conquest. Dr. Woods explains that these are recognized discrepancies but explained that the Ai of Dr. Albright matches only 3-4 of more than 12 Biblical requirements for Ai. If you want a full explanation I recommend reading a paper by Dr. Woods here.
The last 20-30 years a stirring controversy has gripped the archaeological sphere surrounding the Bible. Should it be taken as an historically accurate document or simply accepted as a fictitious collection of tales and myths? As I explain in my forthcoming article, "The implications of this split in the archaeological community have yielded significantly different approaches to research and as a result differing conclusions about historical evidence, ancient sites and finally the human narrative."
The work of Dr. Woods is challenging the growing trend toward "Biblical Minimalism" - a movement of scholars who hold that archaeological evidence does not support the biblical version of history and in fact proves to undermine it. Dr. Thomas L. Thompson published a book entitled, The Mythic Past: Biblical Archeology and the Myth of Israel. In it he writes, "We can say now with considerable confidence that the Bible is not a history of anyone's past." He goes on to conclude that "the story of the chosen and rejected Israel that it presents is a philosophical metaphor" and that the Bible is not an historical document.
The unearthed pile of rocks and rubble that I stood on have taken on new significance for me as my understanding is increasing regarding the importance of such a find. Just as specified in Joshua chapters 7 and 8, there was evidence of a fortified wall, a northern gate, pottery from the Canaanite period and a host of reddened bedrock revealing a massive fire in the past. Pieces of pottery have been "re-fired" and are now as hard as cement. The geographical information also matches each specification in the Bible.
Dr. Woods said he and his team are fighting what he called the "Third Battle for Ai." This little fortified city has once again become strategic in the fight for the Israel's inheritance in the Land. If Dr. Woods can gain recognition and acceptance for his findings it will yield a great blow to the Biblical minimalists who would argue that the Bible is a myth and the people of Israel a fabrication.
Archeology rocks! I went home and read my Bible and now I can really visualize the whole battle for Ai! It is like I am standing along side Joshua surveying the situation for the second battle for Ai. The third battle is indeed raging at Ai and across the world. I guess this little blog entry is my small contribution to the battle. Archeology demonstrates once again that God and science are not opposed. Science continues to reveals the truth of God's creation and its history for those who will closely examine the evidence.
You can read more specifics in the July issue of the Jerusalem Post Christian Edition. If anyone is interesting in joining Dr. Woods on a trip to Israel to tour and help with the excavation you can find more information at the following link. A trip is already scheduled for late May and early June of next year. I highly recommend it.
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