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GILEAD (Heb. גִּלְעָד), the central region east of the Jordan, approximately between the river Yarmuk in the north and the northern end of the Dead Sea in the south. The name Gilead is explained in the Bible as deriving from Gal-ed, in Aramaic Yegar-Sahadutha (Gen. 31:47), and there are some scholars who relate its meaning to the Arabic Jalʿad, meaning "harsh," "rude," because of the mountainous and rocky nature of the region.

According to the Bible, Israelite Transjordan was divided in three main regions: the plain, Gilead, and the Bashan (Deut. 3:10; Josh. 20:8; II Kings 10:33). The plain is the flat height north of the Arnon which was the scene of constant battle between Israel and Moab. The Bashan is the northern part of Transjordan north of the Yarmuk, for which Israel competed with the Arameans. Gilead is the clearly Israelite section of Transjordan and, therefore, in its broad meaning, encompassed central Transjordan, on both sides of the Jabbok, from the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea (Gen. 37:25; Josh. 22:9, 15; II Sam. 2:9; II Kings 10:33; Ezek. 47:18; Amos 1:3; etc.). Different parts of the Bible mention the two halves of Gilead, north and south of the Jabbok (Deut. 3:12; Josh. 12:2, 5; 13:31).

The allotted settlements of tribes on the other side of the Jordan are described according to this geographic division: "From Aroer, which is by the valley of Arnon, and half the hill-country of Gilead, and the cities thereof, gave I unto the Reubenites and to the Gadites; and the rest of Gilead, and all Bashan, the kingdom of Og … gave I unto the half-tribe of Manasseh" (Deut. 3:12 13).

On the other hand, there are some places in the Bible from which it appears that the name Gilead designates a smaller area. Numbers 32:1 separates the land of Jazer from the territory Gilead. In Deuteronomy 3:15–16 the name Gilead includes only the northern part, between the Jabbok and the Yarmuk (though "from the Gilead to the valley of Arnon" is not separated – it is a part of the territory of the tribes of Reuben and Gad). On the other hand, "the land of Gilead" which is enumerated among the 12 regions of Solomon (I Kings 4:19) is in southern Transjordan, including the plain. In place of "the land of Gilead," however, the Septuagint reads "the land of Gad."

In light of these different descriptions several scholars have concluded that the name Gilead originally comprised a more limited area and broadened only with the continuation of Israelite settlement.

According to R. Smend, the name Gilead originally referred to ʿAjlūn, the region between the Jabbok and the Yarmuk. He bases this opinion on the names of the cities Jabesh-Gilead and Ramoth-Gilead, both of which belong to this region, and also on the genealogical lists of Manasseh which mention Gilead, the son of Machir (Num. 26:29; Josh. 17:1; see *Manasseh). R. de Vaux, on the other hand (and also M. Noth), prefers a more southerly location, between al-Ṣalt and the Jabbok, because of the present-day Jebel Jalʿad, Khirbat Jalʿad, and Khirbat Jalʿud, which preserved the name, as well as various biblical statements (especially Num. 32).

Gilead was described in the Bible as pasturage land (Num. 32:1; Jer. 50:19; Micah 7:14). It was known for its spices, among other things (Jer. 8:22; 46:11). There are iron deposits in the vicinity of the Jabbok that were exploited in early times. Archaeological research has shown that the first great settlement of Gilead flourished around the 24th–21st centuries B.C.E. During the 20th century B.C.E. there was a definite decline in the settlement of Gilead and the southern parts of Transjordan, and it seems that these areas were occupied mainly by a nomadic population. This decline was not present in the Bashan and in northern Gilead, up to the area of Bet Arbel (Irbid), around 20 mi. (30 km.) south of the Yarmuk. Heavy population of the whole Gilead and the southern regions of Transjordan was resumed around the beginning of the 13th century, with the establishment of the kingdoms of Amman, Moab, and Edom. According to biblical tradition most of the areas of Gilead were then occupied by two Amorite kings, Og king of Bashan and Sihon king of Heshbon, from whom these areas were conquered by the settling Israelite tribes (Num. 21:32; Deut. 1:4; 3:10–13; Josh. 1:12–15; 9:10; 12:1–6; Judg. 11; etc.). The southern part of Gilead was settled by the tribes of Reuben and Gad, and north of the Jabbok – the half-tribe Manasseh. The latter comprised several family units, such as Machir and the villages of Jair (I Kings 4:13), and the Gadites, too, spread southward up to the Sea of Galilee (Josh. 13:27). According to biblical tradition, the name Israel was given to Jacob at Peniel which is on the Jabbok in central Gilead (Gen. 32:29–31).

The Bible records the war, during the time of the judges, between the Gileadites and Amman, under the leadership of Jephthah the Gileadite (Judg. 11), which resulted in bloody conflict between the Gileadites and the Ephraimites (ibid. 12:1–6). This period saw the weakening of the bonds between the tribes of the Gilead and western Ereẓ. Israel, as can also be seen from their nonparticipation in the war of Deborah (ibid. 5:17) and from the building of the altar by the tribes from the other side of the Jordan "over against the land of Canaan in the borders of Jordan" (Josh. 22:11).

Nevertheless, the Ammonites' attempt to conquer Jabesh-Gilead and its being saved by Saul were the direct motivations for the establishment of the Israelite monarchy (I Sam. 11). The mountainous nature of the Gilead and its broad pasture-lands helped preserve desert customs and early Israelite traditions to which prophetic vision became attached. It is not, therefore, a coincidence that this was the place of origin of Elijah the Gileadite whose spirit greatly affected the development of prophecy.

The Gileadites remained loyal to the ruling house of Israel that protected them from their neighbors in the east and plunderers from the desert. In time of trouble the Israelite kings sought refuge in Mahanaim and Penuel on the Jabbok (II Sam. 2:8; I Kings 12:25). The Gilead is mentioned as one of three places over which Abner son of Ner appointed Ish-Baal (Ish-Bosheth) son of Saul as king (II Sam. 2:8–9). In the time of Solomon Transjordan was divided into three areas (I Kings 4:13–14, 19): (1) the vicinity of Ramoth-Gilead, the village of Jair in the Gilead and the region of Argob in the Bashan, i.e., northern Gilead and the Bashan; (2) the vicinity of Mahanaim, i.e., central Gilead on both sides of the Jabbok; (3) "the land of Gad" according to the Septuagint (masoretic text, "the (southern) land of Gilead"), i.e., southern Gilead and the plain up to the Arnon River.

With the division of the kingdom Gilead remained in the area of northern Israel. However, the Bashan and the northern part of Gilead were quickly conquered by the Arameans (I Kings 22; II Kings 9:14; II Chron. 18), and Ramoth-Gilead thereafter became an area of perpetual conflict between them and Israel. The Arameans also took the opportunity to broaden their boundaries in Gilead (Amos 1:13). In around 814 B.C.E. Hazael of Aram Damascus conquered the whole land of Gilead from Israel (II Kings 10:32–33). At the beginning of the eighth century Damascus was weakened under Assyrian pressure (ibid. 13:5), and the Gilead was restored to the area of Israel (ibid. 13:25; 14:25, 28). In 733 the Gilead was conquered by Tiglath-Pileser III, king of Assyria, and many of its inhabitants were exiled to Assyria (ibid. 15:29; I Chron. 5:26). The Assyrian satrapy Galʾaza (= Gilead) was established in the place, except for the regions of southern Gilead which were occupied by the Ammonites (Jer. 49:1).

Gilead in the Persian period was included in the fifth satrapy called Abirnahara ("beyond the river," i.e., Transeuphrates) whose capital was at Damascus. During the rule of the Ptolemies the name Galaaditis (Gilead) designated a small district in Transjordan and in the Seleucid period it was the name of one of the four large eparchies into which Coele-Syria was organized (I Macc. 5:17–45).


R. de Vaux, in: RB, 47 (1938), 398ff.; idem, in: Vivre et Penser, 1 (1941), 16ff.; N. Glueck, in: AASOR, 18–19 (1939), passim; 25–28 (1951), passim; M. Noth, in: PJB, 37 (1941), 50ff.; idem, in: ZDPV, 75 (1959), 14ff.; Abel, Geog, 1–11, passim; Aharoni, Land, passim.

[Yohanan Aharoni]

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.