Gibeah, Gibeath

After the readings have been ascertained, and Geba (q.v.) and Gibeon (q.v.) set aside—there are several places called Gibeah.

1. First, a Gibeah is listed with the cities in the hill country of Judah (Josh 15:57). It is identified with el Jab’ah, c. ten m. NW of Beit Immar. It is not mentioned elsewhere in Scripture—unless it is identical with the home of Micaiah, the mother of Abijah, king of Judah (2 Chron 13:2).

2. Another Gibeah, located in the hills of Ephraim, belonged to Phinehas, grandson of Aaron, and provided the burial place of Eleazar the priest (Josh 24:33). The site is of no importance in the Bible, but it was known to Josephus (Jos. Antiq. V. i. 29). Its location is unknown.

3. The Gibeah of 1 Samuel 10:10 is distinguished as “Gibeah of God” (RSV Gibeathelohim in 1 Sam 10:5). Though some have identified it with Ram Allah, and others with Gibeah of Saul, it is prob. Geba. Ram Allah is too far N to fit Saul’s itinerary as described here, and he apparently reached Gibeah-elohim before arriving at home (cf. Simons, 669, 670).

4. Finally, there is the Gibeah of Benjamin (1 Sam 13:15), or Gibeah of Saul (11:4), which was first identified with Tell el Fûl by a German, Cross, in 1843. This identification was confirmed by W. F. Albright by excavation in 1922-1923. By far the most important city by this name in the Biblical account, it first comes into prominence in the Book of Judges.

A Levite from the hill country of Ephraim, returning N from Bethlehem, hesitated to spend the night in Jebus (Jerusalem) because it was still controlled by the Jebusites. He preferred to press on to Gibeah of Benjamin. When he arrived in Gibeah, no one invited him into his house in spite of the fact that he had his own provisions with him. Finally, a man from Ephraim who lived in Gibeah came along and offered hospitality, but soon the men of the city surrounded his house and demanded that the traveler be surrendered to them for homosexual abuse. To avert this, the Levite thrust his concubine out to the mob. After raping her all night, the revelers released her at dawn. The Levite took her home, dismembered her body, and sent pieces of her throughout the land of Israel, calling for vengeance on the barbarous inhabitants of Gibeah. When the whole tribe of Benjamin defended the culprits, a bloody intertribal war broke out; over 40,000 Israelites and 25,000 Benjaminites died. Apparently, the Israelites felt more than vindicated by this “victory,” for they then proceeded to murder all the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead except for 400 young virgins, to obtain wives for the 600 Benjaminite survivors of Gibeah (Judg 19-21). As this did not provide enough girls for 600 men, they conspired with the Benjaminites to abduct women from the annual religious feast at Shiloh.

The obvious parallels with the story of Lot’s heavenly messengers in Sodom add to the impression that this city was the very paradigm of evil. (Hosea picked up this connotation in Hos 9:9 and again in 10:9.) If it could be shown that the author of this account actually knew the story of Sodom, he should be credited with an unusual subtlety of style because he nowhere makes the parallel explicit. Nor should it go unnoticed that a later inhabitant of Gibeah, Saul, son of Kish, hacked up a yoke of oxen and sent the pieces throughout Israel as a call to war to free Jabesh-gilead from a siege conducted by Nahash the Ammonite (1 Sam 11:7). Imagine the psychological impact on the Israelite warrior upon the receipt of a piece of gory meat from Gibeah of Benjamin!

At first reading, the story in Judges appears almost as a propaganda piece written to discredit Saul’s claims to the throne, but the fact that Saul killed his own oxen in his bid to rescue the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead, the same city that was massacred to provide wives for the earlier people of Gibeah, goes far to offset any propaganda value that the story might have. In fact, Saul could now be seen as the man from Gibeah who undid an earlier wrong. Later, when Saul became king, Gibeah remained his chief residence (1 Sam 10:26; 15:34; 23:19). The fortress of the city was destroyed for the second time (the first time having been in the battle to avenge the Levite) either during Saul’s lifetime or at the time of his death, possibly during the same battle that cost him his life. The fact that the carbonized remains of the wood used in the construction of Saul’s fortress are of cypress and pine indicates that the territory of Benjamin still supported coniferous forests at this period. The fortress was rebuilt almost immediately on the same plan but fell into disuse shortly after David succeeded in reuniting the country.

When Albright first excavated the site, he thought that the next fortification, a watchtower, was built by Asa (1 Kings 15:22, reading Gibeah instead of Geba), but when he returned to the site ten years later, the absence of Iron II pottery convinced him that this fortress must date from the late 9th or early 8th cent. The use of almond indicates the loss of the earlier conifers. This tower was destroyed later in the 8th cent. possibly in the Syro-Ephraimite War, or by Tiglath-pileser III or Sennacherib (cf. Isa 10:29). It was rebuilt in the 7th cent. and destroyed once more, this time presumably by Nebuchadnezzar in 597 or 586 b.c.

After several centuries, the tower was built again, and this time a village grew up on the eastern slope of the hill which lasted about a cent. and a half until its destruction in or about the time of the war between Ptolemy V and Antiochus III. Still, the site retained its attractiveness, and Josephus wrote of a village there in Rom. times—a village that finally came to an end with the destruction of Jerusalem and the dispersion of the Jews in a.d. 70 (Jos. War V. ii. 1). This village is of particular interest because a stone manger dating from approximately the time of the birth of Christ was found there, and it is possible that the Savior’s first bed was a similar structure.

Bibliography W. F. Albright: Excavations and Results at Tell el-Fûl (Gibeah of Saul), AASOR, iv (1922-1923); W. F. Albright, “A New Campaign of Excavation at Gibeah of Saul,” BASOR, 52 (1933), 6-12; L. A. Sinclair, An Archaeological Study of Gibeah (Tell el-Fûl), AASOR, xxxiv-xxxv (1954-1956), 5-52, plates 1-35; J. Simons: The Geographical and Topographical Texts of the Old Testament (1959), §§ 669, 670 passim.