Gilgal (Hebrew: גִּלְגָּל Gilgāl, "stone circle") is the name of one or more places in the Hebrew Bible. Gilgal is mentioned 39 times, in particular in the Book of Joshua, as the place where the Israelites camped after crossing the Jordan River (Joshua 4:19 - 5:12).
In the biblical narrative, Joshua orders the Israelites on the 10th of the Hebrew month Nisan, to take twelve stones from the river, one for each tribe, and place them there in memory. Israel Finkelstein claims this is an etiological myth created by the author of the Book of Joshua to explain the neolithic stone circle.
According to the biblical narrative, Joshua then orders the Israelites who had been born during the Exodus to be circumcised. The Bible refers to the place where this occurred as Givat Ha'aralot. Some scholars speculate that the stone circle was the (unnamed) religious sanctuary that was condemned in the Book of Amos (Amos 4:4, 5:5) and Book of Hosea (Hosea 4:15).
Gilgal is said to have been "on the eastern border of Jericho" (Joshua 4:19). "Gilgal" is also mentioned in a list of places to divide the land under the leadership of Joshua (Joshua 15:7). It may also have been the place marked by the modern village Jiljulieh, southwest of Antipatris and northeast of Jaffa. But another Gilgal, under the slightly different form of Kilkilieh, lies about two miles east of Antipatris.
A place named Gilgal is mentioned in the Books of Samuel as having been included in Samuel's annual circuit, and as the location where he offered sacrifices after Saul was anointed as king, and where he renewed Saul's kingship together with the people (1 Samuel chapters 7 and 11). Again it is possible for this to yet another "circle of standing stones"  (or the same one as mentioned in relation to Elijah and Elisha, as Bethel is on the circuit with Gilgal, and other assumed locations show Gilgal to be far further away than the other two locations), and significant that it is treated as a holy place by the biblical text, rather than as a heathen one.
Gilgal is the place where Samuel hewed King Agag in pieces as Saul refused to obey the Word of the Lord and utterly destroy the Amalekites, and on his return to Jerusalem after the death of his son Absalom, King David travels to Gilgal. From there he is escorted to Jerusalem by the tribes of Judah and Benjamin.
In the Books of Kings, "Gilgal" is mentioned as the home of a company of prophets. The text states that Elijah and Elisha came from Gilgal to Bethel, and then onward to Jericho and to the Jordan, suggesting that the place was in the vicinity of Bethel, and hence in a mountainous region, which is somewhat different from the place associated with Joshua. Since "Gilgal" means a "circle of standing stones", it is quite plausible for there to have been more than one place named Gilgal, and although there are dissenting opinions, it is commonly held to be a different place from the one involved with Joshua; it has been identified with the village Jaljulia, about 11 kilometres (6.8 mi) north of Bethel. It is significant that the Books of Kings treat it as a place of holiness, suggesting that stone circles still had a positive religious value at the time the source text of the passages in question was written, rather than having been condemned as heathen by religious reforms.
|Wikisource has the text of the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica article Gilgal.|