The camp at Gilgal (Joshua 4)

Illustration: the foothills above Gilgal

After the Israelites had crossed the Jordan River, they established a camp at Gilgal (Joshua 4:19). There Joshua set up 12 stones from the river as a memorial (Joshua 4:20-24). All Israelite males born subsequent to the exodus were circumcised there (Joshua 5:2-9), and the first Passover in the promised land was celebrated (Joshua 5:10). Gilgal became the base of operations for the ensuing six years of the conquest.

Following the conquest Joshua established the primary Israelite religious centre of the time at Shiloh (Joshua 18:1). After the Philistines had destroyed Shiloh (see Jeremiah 7) the religious centre shifted back to Gilgal (1 Samuel 10:8, 11:14-15, 13:15-18, 15:10-33), where it remained until David brought the ark to Jerusalem (2 Samuel 6). Gilgal remained a prestigious religious hub in Israel, unfortunately also becoming a centre for apostasy (Hosea 12:11). During the Byzantine period a church was built at the traditional site of Gilgal. It is depicted on the Madaba map, a sixth century mosaic map of the Holy Land on the floor of Saint George’s church in Madaba, Jordan.

The Madaba map

Joshua 4:19 states that Gilgal was located “on the eastern border of Jericho”. The most likely location for the site is a cluster of small, ancient mounds about 1,6 km northeast of Jericho. This area fits the locational requirements of the Jewish historian Josephus and other ancient writers and sits on the exact spot at which the Gilgal church is depicted on the Madaba map.


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