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A trip of biblical proportions: Local minister travels to Israel in search of the ancient city of Ai

STERLING – Joe Puckett Jr. has been preparing his whole life for a journey like this.

Today, Puckett, of Sterling, begins a 5,000-mile journey to Israel to excavate a site that he and a group of archaeologists believe is the ancient biblical city of Ai (pronounced “eye”).

Puckett and members of Associates for Biblical Research are traveling across the world in hopes of confirming their belief that the site of Ai can actually be found at a place called Khirbet el-Maqatir.

For thousands of years, modern scholars have believed Ai is the city of et-Tell, north of Jerusalem. However, this location contradicts the description of the city in the Bible, Puckett said.

“We believe we have located Ai,” Puckett said. “We believe the site that is traditionally called Ai is not the right site. Instead, this is exactly it – an ancient ruin that nobody has really paid attention to.”

Puckett, whose only previous trip outside the U.S. has been to Canada, embarks on a 3-week journey that could change the way people view the Scripture.

It’s a pursuit he has been preparing for for years.

Puckett received his 2-year degree from the Eastern Tennessee School of Preaching & Missions in 1999. He obtained his undergraduate degree in biblical studies and human development from Lincoln Christian University in Lincoln, Ill. He also earned a second bachelor’s degree in human development from Amridge University, an online institution.

His research pertains to the history of Scripture, particularly Israel.

He still seeks a greater level of biblical knowledge today. He is pursuing a graduate degree in biblical studies with an emphasis in ancient history, also from Amridge University.

About a year ago, Puckett and his family moved from Michigan to the Sauk Valley so he could join the staff of the nondenominational Church of Christ in Sterling. He has been working full time for the ministry for the past 12 years.

“This is important because the deeper the archaeologists dig, the more one finds the historicity of the Bible is confirmed,” Puckett wrote in a letter. “We do not need archaeology to prove our faith. But archaeology can shed light on the background and context of the biblical record.”

Puckett said there is a lot of excitement surrounding the trip among scholars of biblical studies. In academia, however, there is a divide.

Some believe the site already has been found and the Bible is wrong; others say the new site is creating a lot of interest.

“There is controversy around the ancient city of Ai,” Puckett said. “There’s been a lot of skeptics and critics that have said the Bible is wrong.”

A discovery on this excavation could change that.

“If we find and can confirm through this visit that this is in fact the site, it will change history books, it will change geography books, and it will correct the notion that this other site, called et-Tell, is Ai,” he said.

Puckett is scheduled to return home June 6.

To find out more

To learn more about Joe Puckett Jr., visit online.

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