GILGAL (gĭl'găl, Heb. Gilgāl, circle of stones). The first camp of Israel after they had crossed the Jordan (Josh.4.19-Josh.4.20). While they were camped there, Joshua restored the Hebrew rite of circumcision in response to God’s promise to “roll away the reproach of Egypt” (Josh.5.2-Josh.5.9). The town that grew up was near the northern border of Judah (Josh.15.7). Most authorities agree that this is the town included in the judicial circuit of Samuel (1Sam.7.16). The memorial altar of stones erected there became a pagan shrine of later years against which Hosea (1Sam.4.15) and Amos (1Sam.4.4) warned the people. According to Josephus, Gilgal was about ten miles (seventeen km.) from the Jordan and two miles (three km.) or more from Jericho.

Samuel sent Saul to Gilgal to be confirmed as king over Israel (1Sam.11.15). There Saul later grew restless because of Samuel’s delay in coming and offended the Lord by presuming to act as priest and make his own sacrifice (1Sam.13.1-1Sam.13.10). Judah gathered at Gilgal to meet David when he returned from defeating the rebels under Absalom (2Sam.19.1-2Sam.19.43).

Gilgal is not mentioned in the NT, and its location is not known. The town from which Elijah ascended to heaven was not this Gilgal (2Kgs.2.1). Gilgal furnished singers who had part in the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem (Neh.12.27-Neh.12.43). A large pool has been located at modern Jiljuliyeh, which may mark the site. Some authorities disagree with the idea that Gilgal near Jericho was the city in Samuel’s circuit, and others claim that the Gilgal mentioned by Hosea and Amos was another city near Shechem.——JDF

GILGAL gĭl’ găl (גִּלְגָּ֔ל, [only Joshua 5:9 and 12:23 omit the article], LXX Γάλγαλα, meaning the circle). The name of several towns of uncertain location, the most important was Joshua’s encampment near the Jordan which later became a religious center.

The Gilgals of the Bible.

To fit all the references to Gilgal in the Bible into one locale is impossible; from two to six separate cities bearing the same name have been suggested. The fact that Gilgal is a common and easily explained name makes a multiplicity of the same name more likely. The word prob. has reference to a circle of stones, although no etymology is given. There is a play on the word whose root is the same as the verb “roll” (Josh 5:9). Usually the name is preceded by a definite article, as were many names that were evidently made from common nouns.

The Gilgal near Jericho.

The Gilgal near Jericho is generally accepted as the place against which the prophets Hosea and Amos preached. Hosea 9:15 states, “Every evil of theirs is in Gilgal; there I began to hate them.” Later Hosea indicated that it was a place of sacrifice (Hos 12:11). Both Hosea and Amos connect Gilgal closely with Bethel, assuming that “Beth-aven” (4:15) is a sarcastic alteration of the real name (Amos 4:4; 5:5). On the other hand, because of Gilgal’s close connection with Bethel, many scholars think that the Gilgal mentioned in Hosea and Amos is different from the Gilgal near Jericho. Perhaps it should be connected with the one of 2 Kings 2:1 (see below under par. “b.”), which most consider a separate town bearing the same name.

The Gilgal of Elijah and Elisha.

This town seems more distinct from the one near the Jordan. The narrative of 2 Kings 2:1-4 indicates the route of the two prophets as “from Gilgal” (v. 1) “down to Bethel” (v. 2), and “to Jericho” (v. 4). Although the matter of “down to Bethel” can be explained as being the chronicler’s perspective, such a route would indicate that Bethel was between Gilgal and Jericho, which would exclude the Gilgal near the Jordan. Since this reference connects Gilgal so closely with Bethel, perhaps the modern town of Jiljiliah, seven m. N of Bethel, is the site. At this Gilgal, Elisha threw herbs in the pot of death and made the stew harmless. There are no immediate contextual hints concerning the location of this town.

The Gilgal in Galilee.

“The king of Goiim in Galilee” is on a list of conquered monarchs (Josh 12:23). This reflects the LXX (Γει̂ τη̂ς Γαλιλαίας). The KJV trs. the MT more accurately, “the king of the nations of Gilgal.” No certain identification of this Gilgal is known, but because the other places before and after it in the list are in the N, most historians suggest that it is located between the Mediterranean and Galilee, N of Samaria.

On the boundary of Judah.

Among the features of the boundaries of Judah (Josh 15) is a Gilgal “which is opposite the ascent of Adummim, which is on the south side of the valley” (v. 7). Because of the context, this cannot be either the Gilgal near Jericho or any of the others suggested above. In the determination of Benjamin’s territory, which bordered on the N of Judah, is a Geliloth “which is opposite the ascent of Adummim” (Josh 18:17). The two major Gr. MSS support alternatives of this form (Josh 18:17). The names mean essentially the same thing, but Geliloth is a fem. pl. form.

Near Mt. Ebal.

Another Gilgal is referred to in Deuteronomy 11:30. Reading the v. by itself presents no problem in associating it with the Gilgal by Jericho, but the preceding v. indicates that it is near Mts. Ebal and Gerizim.

Archeology and Gilgal.

James Muilenburg has done extensive research on the location of Gilgal. His answer to the Gilgal by Jericho is the modern Khirbet el-Mefjir, located a little over one m. NE of Tell es-Sultan, or OT Jericho. This site is not without problems or competitors. A major problem is that, until recently, there was no evidence that it was a very old site. Furthermore, the remains of the sumptuous Ummayyad palace of the caliph Hisham (a.d. 724-732) are there. The strongest alternative site for Gilgal is Khirbet en-Nitleh, three m. SE of Jericho. Many Byzantine ruins cover Khirbet en-Nitleh, and this has led many to assume it is Gilgal. Apart from the Bible references to Gilgal noted above, Josephus is the best and oldest witness. He locates Gilgal fifty stadia from the ford of the Jordan (accepted by nearly all as being at al-Maghtas) and ten stadia from Jericho (Jos. Antiq. V. vi. 4). If both Muilenburg and Josephus have the same Jericho and the same ford in mind, then Gilgal can only be Khirbet el-Mefjir, because en-Nitleh is too close to the river. Muilenburg found pottery of the Iron Age in a sounding of Khirbet el-Mefjir, which sets its occupation back at least to 1000 b.c. and dispels the major source of criticism.

The discussion so far deals just with Gilgal near Jericho. The one or more Gilgals of the Bible may be connected with the modern towns of Jiljiliah, seven m. N of Bethel (2 Kings 4:38); Jidjulah, four m. N of Antipatris (Josh 12:23); and Juleijil, two and one-half m. SE of Nablus (Deut 11:30).


F. M. Abel, Géographie de la Palestine, II, (1938), 337ff.; J. Muilenburg, “The Site of Ancient Gilgal,” BASOR, 145 (Dec. 1955) 11-27.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

The article is always with the name except in Jos 5:9. There are three places to which the name is attached:

In 1874 Conder recognized the name Gilgal as surviving in Barker Jiljuilieh, a pool beside a tamarisk tree 3 miles East of old Jericho. The pool measures 100 ft. by 84, and is surrounded with a wall of roughly hewn stones. North of the pool Bliss discovered lines of masonry 300 yds. long, representing probably the foundations of an ancient monastery. South of the pool there are numerous mounds scattered over an area of one-third of a square mile, the largest being 50 feet in diameter, and 10 feet in height. On excavation some pottery and glass were found. These ruins are probably those of early Christian occupation, and according to Conder there is nothing against their marking the original site. Up to the Middle Ages the 12 stones of Joshua were referred to by tradition.

(2) According to 2Ki 2:1; 4:38, Elisha for a time made his headquarters at Gilgal, a place in the mountains not far from Bethel identified by Conder as Jiljilia, standing on a high hill on the North side of the Wady el-Jib. It is lower than Bethel, but the phrase in 2Ki 2:2, "they went down to Beth-el," may refer to their initial descent into the wady. It could not have been said that they went down from Gilgal to Bethel in the Jordan valley. The place seems to be referred to in Neb 12:29 as Beth-gilgal.

(3) Gilgal of the nations: In Jos 12:23 Gilgal is mentioned as a royal city associated with Dor, evidently upon the maritime plain. Dor is identified with Tantura, while Conder identifies this Gilgal with Jiljuilieh, 30 miles South of Dor and 4 miles North of Anti-patris.