Ramoth (in) Gilead (Deuteronomy 4)

Illustration: the river Jabbok

Ramoth in Gilead, one of three cities of refuge set apart for the Transjordanian tribes, was apportioned to the tribe of Gad (Deuteronomy 4:43, Joshua 20:8, 21:38, 1 Chronicles 6:80) and later given as a Levitical city to the sons of Merari (Joshua 21:34-38). As a city of refuge, Ramoth was no doubt easily accessible, perhaps located along the King’s Highway (cf. Numbers 20:17, 21:22, Deuteronomy 2:27). This city became a focus of conflict between Syria and the northern kingdom of the divided Israel during the reigns of Ahab, Joram and Jehu (ca. 874-814 B.C.).

The Hebrew Ramoth means “heights” or “knolls”. Gilead is an elevated region extending between Heshbon and Bashan, divided by the Jabbok River (above picture) and heavily wooded during the Biblical period. The status of Ramoth in Gilead during this period of the conquest is not directly indicated, but other cities in the same region are referred to as havvoth (“tent villages”, Numbers 32:41, 1 Kings 4:13). Perhaps Ramoth at this stage of its history was an unfortified population centre.

The site of Ramoth in Gilead has not been firmly identified, but the location most commonly accepted, Tell Ramith, seems too far north to be part of the inheritance of the tribe of Gad. Paul Lapp’s excavations of the site during the 1940’s revealed Iron Age II fortifications (1000-800 B.C.), and the bedrock level there dates from the period of Solomon. Other site suggestions include locations south of the Jabbok River. If Ramoth in Gilead was essentially a tent village during the conquest period, there is little hope that surviving archaeological remains will be sufficient to make identification certain.

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