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Archaeology of Israel: Gilgal

GILGAL (Heb. גִּלְגָּל), name indicating an ancient sacred site on which a circle of large stones was erected. Gilgalim ("circles") were constructed in Canaan from very early times; the Bible mentions several places called Gilgal which were named after gilgalim in their vicinity.

(1) The best-known Gilgal is the place "on the east border of Jericho" where the Israelites encamped after crossing the Jordan. There Joshua set up the 12 stones which the Israelites had taken from the Jordan (Josh. 4:19–20). At Gilgal Pesaḥ (Passover) was celebrated and those born in the desert were circumcised. "This day have I rolled away (galloti from root galol) the reproach of Egypt from off you" is the biblical explanation given for the place-name (5:7–10). The camp at Gilgal served as a base during Joshua's wars (9:6; 10:6–9; 14:6). After the conquest of Canaan, the site continued to be sacred; in times of national crisis sacrifices were offered there; Samuel judged Israel there; and Saul was crowned king at Gilgal (I Sam. 10:8; 7:16; 11:14–15). Later its cult aroused the wrath of the prophets (Hos. 4:15; Amos 4:4; 5:5). In the period of the Second Temple it was called Beth-Gilgal and was inhabited by levites who were sons of the Temple singers (Neh. 12:29). The 12 stones in Gilgal are mentioned in the Talmud (Sot. 35b). Eusebius locates it east of Jericho (Onom. 64:24ff.). The Madaba Map shows a church, in which the stones have been embodied, east of the tell of Jericho. Khirbat al-Mafjar or Khirbet al-Athala have been suggested for its identification.

(2) Another Gilgal is perhaps referred to in the verse: "in the Arabah, over against Gilgal, beside the terebinths of Moreh" (Deut. 11:30); its location is not clear.

(3) The Gilgal from which "they went down to Beth-El" which is associated with the activities of Elisha (II Kings 2:1–2; 4:38–44) is identified by some scholars with Jaljūliya, north of Ramallah; others suggest that it is identical with Gilgal (1).

(4) The Gilgal mentioned in the description of the frontier of Judah near "the ascent of Adummim" (Josh. 15:7; but called Geliloth in Josh. 18:17) is unidentified.

(5) The Gilgal whose king Joshua defeated (Josh. 12:23; LXX – "Galilee") is also unidentified.


Sources: Maisler (Mazar), in: BJPES, 11 (1945), 35–41; S. Klein, Ereẓ ha-Galil (1946), 13; E. Sellin, Gilgal (1917); Albright, in: BASOR, 11 (1923), 7ff.; M. Noth, Das Buch Josua (19532), 32–33; Abel, Geog, 2 (1938), 336–8; Kelso, in: BASOR, 121 (1951), 6ff.; Kelso and Baramki, in: AASOR, 29–30 (1955).

[Michael Avi-Yonah]

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