GILEAD (gĭl'ē-ăd, Heb. gil‘ādh, rugged). The name is used to indicate Israel’s possession east of the Jordan River. Josephus so understood it (Antiq. 12.8.3). It extended from the lower end of the Sea of Galilee to the northern end of the Dead Sea, and from the Jordan eastward to the desert, a plateau of some 2,000 feet (625 m.) elevation. In the time of Moses it was a lush region with good forests, rich grazing lands, and abundant moisture. A scenic gorge of the noted brook Jabbok divided it. Jacob camped at Gilead when fleeing from Laban (Gen.31.22-Gen.31.25). Overtaken there, he made a covenant with Laban that was confirmed by a pile of stones that Jacob named Galeed, “witness heap” (Gen.31.47; see footnote). During succeeding years the name came to be applied to the entire region, which included Mount Gilead (Gen.31.25), the land of Gilead (Num.32.1), and Gilead (Gen.37.25).

When Canaan was allocated to the Israelites, Gilead fell to the Reubenites, Gadites, and to half the tribe of Manasseh (Deut.3.13). An account of the conquest of the region is found in Deut.2.1-Deut.2.37 and Deut.3.1-Deut.3.29. Moses was permitted to see the plain before his death (Deut.34.1). After the land was conquered a great altar was erected beside the Jordan so that true worship would not be forgotten (Josh.22.10).

Gilead became famous because of some of its products. Balm was exported to Tyre (Ezek.27.17); Jeremiah knew of its curative power (Jer.8.22; Jer.46.11; Jer.51.8). The Ishmaelites who bought Joseph carried balm to Egypt (Gen.37.25).——JDF

GILEAD gĭl’ ĭ əd (גִּלְעָ֖ד, meaning uncertain; Apoc., GALAAD).

A mountainous region E of the Jordan.

Often mentioned in the OT, in its broadest sense it can be applied to all of Israelite Trans-Jordan (cf. Josh 22:9ff. where it is contrasted to the Land of Canaan, i.e., Cisjordan). The term was applied to the entire central section of Israelite Trans-Jordan (2 Kings 10:33). The name is also applied to a tribe known as Gileadites, parallel to Reuben and Dan and equivalent to Gad (Judg 5:17). There was also a town called Gilead (10:17), which is prob. modern Khirbet Jel’ad.


Gilead was located in the foothills N of the Plain of Mishor. It was bounded on the W by the Jordan River, extended near the Yarmuk on the N, to the S-N branches of the Jabbok and the Arabian desert to the E, and to the Arnon on the S. Its cities included Jabesh-gilead, Mahanaim, Mizpah, Ramothgilead, and Succoth. In NT times, as a part of the kingdom of Herod the Great and his son Herod Antipas, it was known as Perea. The name is still preserved today in Jebel Jel’ad, Khirbet Jel’ad, and ’Ain Jel’ad S of the Nahr ez-Zerqā (Jabbok). The Wādi Yābis preserves the name of Jabesh in Gilead. The name Ramoth of Gilead is preserved in Tell Ramith, SW of Der’a.

Rising from the Jordan Valley on the W, 700 ft. below sea level, Gilead rises to heights of more than 3,300 ft. It is a well-watered hill country, thickly wooded (as Absalom found at the cost of his life), and is still well forested with Mediterranean pine and evergreen oak. It is also known for its grapes, olives, fruit trees, and pasture lands. It was also proverbial for the “balm of Gilead” (Jer 8:22; 46:11), an ointment with medicinal value.


During the period of the early settlement, the tribes E of the Jordan enjoyed a measure of security and did not even come to help their kinsmen W of the Jordan in their struggle with Sisera (Judg 5:17). During the time of the Judges, the Ammonites oppressed the people of Israel in Gilead as part of their attempt to expand their land. The people chose Jephthah, an outcast Gileadite and mighty warrior, as their leader to deliver them. He drove out the Ammonites and secured the land for the Israelites (Judg 11). However, a feud arose between the Ephraimites and the Gileadites because they were not called to participate in the struggle against the Ammonites. The Ephraimites were routed, and when they tried to flee back across the river, they found that the Gileadites had taken possession of all the fords. Anyone who attempted to cross was tested to see if he was an Ephraimite by asking him to say Shibboleth. If he said Sibboleth, they seized him and slew him (Judg 12).

The Ammonites continued to be a threat to the Gileadites in subsequent history. Saul’s first great military victory after becoming king was his rescue of the city of Jabesh-gilead, which was being threatened by Nahash, king of the Ammonites (1 Sam 11). After Saul’s defeat and death at the hands of the Philistines, Abner established Saul’s son Ish-bosheth as king over Gilead (2 Sam 2:8, 9). It was to Mahanaim in Gilead that David fled when Absalom rebelled against him (17:24), and it was in Gilead where the decisive battle was fought that resulted in the death of Absalom and the return of the kingdom to David (ch. 18). Gilead was included in the census made by David (2 Sam 24:6).

Elijah was from Gilead (1 Kings 17:1). During the ninth and eighth centuries, Damascus (Syria) was a constant threat to the Israelites. Amos condemned Syria for her extreme cruelty, particularly toward Gilead (Amos 1:3-5). He condemned the cruelty of the Ammonites toward innocent women of Gilead in time of war (Amos 1:13). Hosea said Gilead was a city of evildoers (Hos 6:8). Israel and Judah entered into an alliance to wrest Ramoth-gilead from the king of Syria (1 Kings 22:1-4), resulting in the death of Ahab on the battlefield. Jehu made some kind of protective alliance with Shalmaneser III (c. 837 b.c.), but it did not keep Hazael from seizing part of Israel, including Gilead (2 Kings 10:33). As a result of a conspiracy by Rezin of Syria and Pekah of Israel, Tiglathpileser III invaded the two countries in his campaign of 734-732, utterly destroying the coalition. He occupied parts of Israel, dividing the annexed territory into three provinces, named in the Assyrian lists according to their respective capitals: Megiddo (Magiddu), Dor (Du’ru), and Gilead (Gal’aza). He carried part of the population captive to Assyria (2 Kings 15:29).

In an attempt to restore the empire of David, Josiah seized the territory of the former kingdom of Israel that had been Gilead. When Babylon overran the land, no changes were made in the provincial organization established by the Assyrians. Ezekiel 47 and 48 mention the provinces of Hamath, Damascus, Hauran, and Gilead, already known from the Assyrian period. Jeremiah looked to the time of restoration of Gilead to Israel (Jer 50:19), and Obadiah foresaw its restoration to Benjamin (Obad 19). In the postexilic period Tobiah was the Persian appointed governor of the territory of Ammon which had been joined to the province of Gilead. In 163 b.c., Judas Maccabeus with his younger brother Jonathan campaigned in Gilead (Galaad) with some success, but his power was not sufficient to hold the area permanently, so he took the Israelite population to Judea that wanted to remain members of the Jerusalem religious community (1 Macc 5:9-54). Gilead in NT times was part of Perea.

The son of Machir and grandson of Manasseh.

Father of Jephthah

(Judg 11:1).

A Gadite tribe

(1 Chron 5:14).


M. Noth, The History of Israel (1960), 158, 274, 371; J. Gray, Archaeology and the Old Testament World (1962), 16; M. Noth, The Old Testament World (1966), 62; Y. Aharoni, The Land of the Bible (1967), 331, 354, 360.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

The name is explained in Ge 31:46 ff,51, as derived from Hebrew gal, "a cairn," and `edh, "witness," agreeing in meaning with the Aramaic yegharsahadhutha’. The Arabic jilead means "rough," "rugged."

(1) A city named in Ho 6:8; 12:11, possibly to be identified with Gilead near to Mizpah (Jud 10:17). If this is correct, the ancient city may be represented by the modern Jil`ad, a ruin about 5 miles North of es-Salt.

(2) A mountain named in Jud 7:3. Gideon, ordered to reduce the number of men who were with him, commanded all who were "fearful and trembling" to "return and depart from Mt. Gilead." the Revised Version, margin reads "return and go round about from Mt. Gilead." Gideon and his army lay to the South of the plain of Jezreel on the lower slopes of Gilboa. It has been suggested (Studer, Comm., at the place) that, as the Midianites lay between the men of the northern tribes and their homes, they were told to cross the Jordan, make a detour through Gilead, and thus avoid the enemy. Possibly, however, we should read Gilboa for Gilead; or part of the mountain may have borne the name of Gilead. The last suggestion is favored by the presence of a strong spring under the northern declivity of Gilboa, nearly 2 miles from Zer`in, possibly to be identified with the Well of Harod. In the modern name, `Ain Jalud, there may be an echo of the ancient Gilead.

(3) The name is applied generally to the mountain mass lying between the Yarmuk on the North, and Wady Chesban on the South; the Jordan being the boundary on the West, while on the East it marched with the desert.

1. The Land of Gilead:


3. Geology:

The geological formation is the same as that of Western Palestine, but the underlying sandstone, which does not appear West of the Jordan, forms the base slopes of the chain of Moab and Gilead, and is traceable as far as the Jabbok. It is covered in part by the more recent white marls which form the curious peaks of the foothills immediately above the Jordan valley; but reaches above them to an elevation of 1,000 ft. above the Mediterranean on the South, and forms the bed of the Buqei`a basin farther East, and 1,000 ft. higher. Above this lies the hard, impervious dolomite limestone which appears in ’the rugged hills round’ the Jabbok and in Jebel `Ajlun, rising on an average 1,500 ft. above the sandstone and forming the bed of the copious springs. It also dips toward the Jordan valley, and the water from the surface of the plateau, sinking down to the surface of their formation, bursts out of the hill slopes on the West in perennial brooks. It was from the ruggedness of this hard limestone that Gilead obtained its name. Above this again is the white chalk of the desert plateau, the same as that found in Samaria and Lower Galilee, with bands of flint or chert in contorted layers, or strewn in pebbles on the surface. Where this formation is deep the country is bare and arid, supplied by cisterns and deep wells. Thus the plateau becomes desert, while the hill slopes abound in streams and springs; and for this reason Western Gilead is a fertile country, and Eastern Gilead is a wilderness (Conder, DB, under the word).

4. Mountains:

The uplands of Gilead may be described as the crumpling of the edge of the great eastern plateau ere it plunges into the Ghor. The average height of the range is about 4,000 ft. above the Jordan valley, or 3,000 ft. above the Mediterranean. The greatest height is toward the South, where it culminates in Jebel Osh`a (3,597 ft.), to the North of es-Salt. This mountain commands a most spacious view. To the East of it lies the hollow (an old lake bottom) of el-Buqei`a, fully 1,500 ft. lower. In the North we have Jebel Hakart (3,408 ft.) W, of Reimun. Almost as high (3,430 ft.) is Jebei Kafkafah, about 12 miles to the Northeast. A striking point (2,700 ft.) fully 2 miles Northwest of `Ajlun, is crowned by Qal`at er-Rabad, whence again a view of extraordinary extent is gained.

5. Streams and Products:

The Yarmuk and the Zerqa (see Jabbok) are the main streams, but almost every valley has its perennial brook. While not so rich as the volcanic loam in the North and in and the South, the soil of Gilead amply repays the labor of the husbandman. Of flowers the most plentiful are the phlox, the cistus and the narcissus. Hawthorn, mastic and arbutus abound, while many a glen and slope is shady with shaggy oak woods, and, in the higher reaches, with pines. The streams are fringed with oleander. The monotony of the stony plateau is broken by clumps of the hardy white broom. In the lower ground are found the tamarisk and the lotus, with many a waving cane-brake. The scenery is more beautiful and picturesque than that of any other district of Palestine. The soil is not now cultivated to any great extent; but it furnishes ample pasture for many flocks and herds (So 6:5).

The Ishmaelites from Gilead (Ge 37:25) were carrying "spicery and balm and myrrh." From old time Gilead was famed for its BALM (which see). The loT, translated "myrrh" in the above passage, was probably the gum produced by the Cistus ladaniferus, a flower which still abounds in Gilead.

6. History:

At a later time the Jewish residents in Gilead were exposed to danger from their heathen neighbors. On their behalf Judas Maccabeus invaded the country and met with striking success (1 Macc 5:9 ff). Alexander Janneus, who had subdued Gilead, was forced to yield it again to the king of Arabia (Ant., XIII, xiv, 2; BJ, I, iv, 3). During the Roman period, especially in the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD, the land enjoyed great prosperity. Then were built such cities as Gadara and Gerasa, which are still imposing, even in ruins. The appearance of the Moslem armies was the signal for its decay. Attempts were made to recover it for Christianity by Baldwin I (1118 AD) and Baldwin II (1121 AD); and the Crusaders left their mark in such strong-holds as Kal`at er-Rabad and the castle at es-Salt. With the reassertion of Moslem supremacy a curtain falls over the history of the district; and only in comparatively recent times has it again become known to travelers. The surveys directed by the Palestine Exploration Fund, in so far as they have been carried out, are invaluable. North of the Jabbok are many villages, and a fair amount of cultivation. Es Salt is the only village of any importance in the South. It is famous for its raisins. Its spacious uplands, its wooded and well-watered valleys have been for centuries the pasture-land of the nomads.


Useful information will be found in Merrill, East of the Jordan; Oliphant, Land of Gilead; Thomson, LB; and especially in Conder, Heth and Moab, and in Memoirs of the Survey of Eastern Palestine


(1) A son of Machir, grandson of Manasseh (Nu 26:29,30).

(2) The father of Jephthah (Jud 11:1,2).

(3) A Gadite, the son of Michael (1Ch 5:14).