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Jabesh Gilead

It is probable that the stream Wady-Yabish received its name from the city. Al-Dair (ed Dair) is now thought to be the probable site of the ancient city. It was ten miles (seventeen km.) east of the Jordan and about twenty-five miles (forty-two km.) south of the Sea of Galilee.——JDF

JABESH-GILEAD jā’ bĭsh gĭl’ ĭ əd (יָבֵ֥שׁ גִּלְעָֽד, LXX Ιαβις Γαλααδ, dry place of Gilead). A city in N Trans-Jordan, which Saul saved from Nahash the Ammonite.

The Biblical data.

The first mention of Jabesh-gilead comes at the end of a long story beginning in Judges 19 and continuing to the end of Judges 21. Briefly told, a Levite and a concubine, after spending some time with her folks in Bethlehem, made their way N. They stopped for the night in Gibeah where an old man entertained them. In the course of the night the Levite yielded to the sadistic cravings of the men of Gibeah and gave to them his concubine. In the morning she was dead on the doorstep, so the Levite dismembered her and sent the parts around the country. This started an intertribal war between Benjamin (of which Gibeah was a part) and the other eleven. The battle was indecisive for a while, but finally the Benjaminites were defeated and almost completely annihilated.

Chapter 21 then records that no one from Jabesh-gilead had fought against Benjamin, so the Israelites went and slaughtered all but 400 eligible virgins in Jabesh-gilead and these were given to 400 surviving soldiers of Benjamin for wives. The 200 others were given permission to seize girls as they danced at the annual Shiloh festival (Judg 21:23). Apparently the town of Jabesh was repopulated by neighboring Gileadites.

The next episode centering on Jabesh is recorded in 1 Samuel 11, where the Ammonite Nahash attacked the town. The only peace treaty acceptable to Nahash was that he gouge out one eye from each man of Jabesh. During the week of deliberations they requested help from Saul, the newly crowned king. He mustered the forces of Israel at Bezek, marched all night, attacked Nahash early in the morning, and by noon had the enemy scattered. Because of this, Saul gained the allegiance of Jabesh-gilead and all Trans-jordan.

The Jabesh-gileadites showed their devotion to Saul by giving him an honorable burial when, after his and Jonathan’s defeat and death on Mt. Gilboa, their decapitated bodies were hung on the wall of Beth-shan. The valorous gesture involved an all-night walk and a crossing of the Jordan by the men of Jabesh-gilead (1 Sam 31:8-13; 1 Chron 10:8-12).

When David came to power, one of the first things he did was to commend, congratulate, and bless the brave men of Jabesh-gilead for what they had done for Saul (2 Sam 2:4-6). Later, David had the bones of Saul and Jonathan removed from Jabesh-gilead and buried in the land of Benjamin with Kish, Saul’s father (2 Sam 21:10-14).

The location of Jabesh-gilead.

Wadi Yabis, which enters the Jordan from the E about twenty-five m. S of the Sea of Galilee, bears the same name as this ancient town. One might well expect to find Jabesh-gilead on this river. Since the usually correct Onamasticon of Eusebius locates it c. six m. S of Pella (Tabaqat Fahil), the double mounds of Tell el-Meqbereh and Tell Abu Kharaz seem to be correct. Both of these have produced surface pottery of the period of Saul and stand near enough to the Jordan—in fact, on the edge of the valley itself—to fit well the story of the recovery of Saul and Jonathan’s bodies.

Formerly Tell el-Maqlub, farther up the Wadi Yabis, was a good candidate for Jabeshgilead, but because of its more easterly position it makes the Beth-shan incident almost beyond possibility. It might be a better candidate for Elisha’s home town of Abel-me-holah (1 Kings 19:16).


N. Glueck, The River Jordan (1946), 159-169; AASOR, XXV-XXVIII, Pt. I (1951), 211-223.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

A city East of the Jordan, in the deliverance of which from Nahash the Ammonite Saul’s military prowess was first displayed (1Sa 11:1 ). At an earlier time the inhabitants failed to share with their brethren in taking vengeance upon Benjamin. This laxity was terribly punished, only 400 virgins being spared alive, who afterward became wives to the Benjamites (Jud 21). The gratitude of the inhabitants to Saul was affectingly proved after the disaster to that monarch on Gilboa (1Sa 31). David, hearing of their deed, sent an approving message, and sought to win their loyalty to himself (2Sa 2:4 ). Robinson (Biblical Researches, III, 39) thought it might be represented by ed-Deir, about 6 miles from Pella (Fachil), on the southern bank of Wady Yabis. The distance from Pella agrees with the statement of Eusebius, Onomasticon (s.v.). Others (Oliphant, Land of Gilead, 277 f; Merrill, East of Jordan, 430, etc.) would identify it with the ruins of Meriamin, about 3 miles Southeast of Pella, on the North of Wady Yabis. The site remains in doubt; but the ancient name still lingers in that of the valley, the stream from which enters the Jordan fully 9 miles Southeast of Beisan.