Answering The Atheist
April 4, 2004 / Volume 4, Issue 14
THE ATHEIST'S COMPLAINT:
Did the city of Ai exist after Joshua destroyed it? Joshua 8:28 says that it was never rebuilt after Joshua destroyed it. However, Nehemiah 7:32 says that it existed in the time of the Babylonian captivity. Is there a contradiction?
Did the city exist after Joshua destroyed it? Sure it did. Nehemiah says so.
I imagine the trouble the questioner has with Joshua 8:28 is the word "forever". This word, translated from the Hebrew owlam does not necessarily mean without end. In fact, it often indicates a long duration, or things that are of old or ancient.
The land of Canaan was promised to Israel as an "everlasting (owlam) possession", but it is universally acknowledged that they did not possess the land continually, nor do the people of Israel possess the promised territory today. But, they did keep possession of it for a lengthy duration (owlam).
Exodus 21:6 speaks of the servant who has his ear pierced by his master at the doorpost as being a servant "forever" before his master. Are we to assume that even after his decease he remains his master's servant? Is his devotion to his earthly master an eternal responsibility? No, it is simply meant to indicate a long time, in fact, the remainder of his life.
How long was "forever" (owlam) to be with regard to Ai? Well, at least to some time beyond the writing of the book of Joshua, for the writer speaks of Ai as "...a desolation to this day." That is not today (ie. April 4, 2004). That is to the day on which these words had been penned. Many, many years later, in the time of the Babylonian captivity, Ai had been rebuilt and then existed. Forever (ie. a long time) had passed – and this duration being complete, Ai was rebuilt.
There is no contradiction.
This article is a response to Skeptic's Annotated Bible