The Arabic name Khirbet et-Tell (literally, “the ruin of the tell”) is sometimes used to support the identification of the site as Biblical Ai. The Arabic name, it is claimed, is a translation of the Hebrew ha-‘Ai, which supposedly also refers to “the ruin,” especially as the Hebrew name always appears with the definite article, ha-‘Ai. On philological grounds, however, any connection between the Hebrew name and the Arabic name for the site is to be rejected. The Arabic term tell refers to a hill or mound on which there is a ruin, as distinguished from khirbaµ which refers to a deserted ruin, not necessarily on an elevated area.

Ha-‘Ai is commonly associated with the Hebrew words ‘iy, ‘iyyiµm, ‘iyyiµn, “ruin(s)” (Jeremiah 26:18, Micah 1:6, 3:12, Psalms 79:1), which are to be connected with ‘awwaµ, “ruin” in Ezekiel 21:32 and derived from ‘-w-h whose etymological cognate is Arabic ‘-w-y, ‘awaµ, “to bend.” This association, however, is incorrect. The Septuagint (LXX) renders the city name in Genesis 12:8 and 13:3 and throughout Joshua as Aggai. In Jeremiah 49:3 (=LXX 30:19) Gai with a Greek gamma is used for the Hebrew letter ‘ayin. In Biblical Hebrew, however, this letter was polyphonous, indicating two distinct sounds. Its rendering in Greek by gamma indicates that it was pronounced as a ghayin, gŒ, as in the name of the Philistine city ‘zh, Greek Gazza, Arabic gŒazza, and English “Gaza.” Thus, if an etymon is to be sought, the first phoneme must correspond to an Arabic gŒ and not to an Arabic . Arabic gŒ-y-y (to hoist [a standard]) and gŒaµyat (extreme limit, utmost extremity) suggest that the Hebrew name gŒay refers to some topographical feature characteristic of the site. Accordingly, there is no demonstrated connection between the Arabic name of the site and Biblical ha‘ay.

Furthermore, the Arabic name is not unique. Six other sites with the name et-Tell occur in the areas of Jenin, Nablus (two sites), Jerusalem, Ramleh, and the Golan Heights (J. M. Grintz, “Ai Which Is Beside Beth-Aven: A Reexamination of the Identity of ‘Ai,” Biblica 42 [1961], p. 208; C. Epstein and S. Gutman, “The Golan,” in M. Kochavi, ed., Judea, Samaria, and The Golan: Archaeological Survey 1967–68 [Jerusalem, 1972], p. 276). Similarly, in addition to the Canaanite and later Israelite site being discussed in this paper, an Ammonite city called Ai (‘ay, in Hebrew, without the definite article) is mentioned in Jeremiah 49:3.