GILGAL (gihl' gal) Place name meaning, “circle,” and probably referring to a circle of stones or a circular altar. Such a circle of stones could be found almost anywhere in Palestine and led easily to naming towns “Gilgal.” The many references to Gilgal in the Old Testament cannot thus be definitely connected to the same town, since several different Gilgals may well have existed.
1. Gilgal is most closely associated with Joshua, but the number of Gilgals involved continues an unsolved question. After crossing the Jordan, Joshua established the first camp at Gilgal (Joshua 4:19). There Joshua took twelve stones from the bed of the river to set up a memorial for the miraculous crossing. Gilgal, the first foothold on Palestinian soil, became Israel's first worship place, where they were circumcised and observed the Passover. There God appeared to Joshua and affirmed his mission (Joshua 5:1). This Gilgal apparently became Israel's military base of operations (Joshua 9:6; Joshua 10:6; Joshua 14:6), though some scholars would identify this with a Gilgal farther north near Shechem. Joshua set up Gilgal as the border between Judah and Benjamin (Joshua 15:7; compare Joshua 18:17), though many Bible students think the border town must be south of the original camp. Ehud, the judge, passed Gilgal in his mission to slay the king of Moab (Judges 3:19,Judges 3:26). David passed through Gilgal as he fled from Absalom (2 Samuel 19:15,2 Samuel 19:40). This Gilgal is often located at modern khirbet Mefjir, a little more than a mile east of Jericho. Others would locate it at khirbet en-Nitleh, two miles southeast of Jericho. Still others remain baffled at finding a location. The boundary town is often seen as khan el-Ahmar or ‘Araq ed-Deir. The military camp is at times located at tell Jiljulieh east of Shechem but without archaeological support. This could be the same Gilgal of Deuteronomy 11:30, if Joshua's original town is not meant. Gilgal was also one of the three places where Samuel annually held circuit court (1 Samuel 7:16). This could be near tell Jiljulieh or at Joshua's first landing place near the Jordan. Saul was both crowned and rejected as king at Gilgal (1 Samuel 11:14-15; 1 Samuel 13:14-15). Gilgal established itself as a major place of worship for Israel with ancient traditions. However, it also permitted worship associated with other gods and became the object of prophetic judgment (Hosea 4:15; Amos 4:4; Amos 5:5).
2. Elijah and Elisha were associated closely with Gilgal. At one time Elisha made his headquarters there (2 Kings 4:38), where Elijah was taken up into heaven (2 Kings 2:1). This was apparently tell Jiljulieh about three miles southeast of Shiloh, though it could still be Joshua's original Gilgal.
3. Gilgal of the nations is mentioned as a royal city near Dor (Joshua 12:23). The earliest Greek translation reads this as “kings of the nations in Galilee,” which many scholars think is the original reading, a copyist of the Hebrew text using the word “Gilgal” since it had become familiar in the earlier chapters of Joshua. If the Hebrew Gilgal is original, its location is not known. See Beth-gilgal; Elisha; Joshua; Samuel; Saul.
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.