Gibeah (Judges 19)

Bilderesultat for Gibeah

Illustration: Remains of Saul’s palace at Gibeah

The name Gibeah (“hill”) indicates several different locations in the Old Testament. The Gibeah of Judges 19-21, however, first mentioned in this passage, and then throughout the Old Testament, is specifically associated with the tribe of Benjamin. This particular Gibeah was destroyed by the rest of the Israelites during the period of the judges (Judges 20:40). Gibeah was apparently inhabited again some time later; king Saul came from this city (1 Samuel 10:26). Saul in fact fought the Philistines in the region and seems to have made Gibeah his base of operations (1 Samuel 15:34, 22:6, 23:19). Later we read that David chose three of his thirty mighty men from this city (2 Samuel 23:29, 1 Chronicles 12:3).

Centuries later the prophet Hosea cited ancient Gibeah as an example of wickedness (Hosea 9:9, 10:9). Hosea seems to have been referring to the events of Judges 19-20, illustrating the profound impact of this terrible episode on the psyche of the nation. Gibeah became known as a place of corruption and judgement, not unlike Sodom and Gomorrah.

Despite the frequency of Biblical references to Gibeah, its location has been a source of intense dispute among scholars. The debate is focused on whether Gibeah was near modern Jeba or at the impressive Tell el-Ful, which is located on the watershed highway slightly more than 4,8 km north of Jerusalem.

W.F. Albright excavated at Tell el-Ful in 1922-23 and again in 1933. He found traces of an Iron Age village that had been destroyed, as well as the remains of a strong fortress that had been built some time after. The stronghold measured approximately 34 m by 52 m and was constructed of lagre, uncut stones that had been joined in a fairly crude fashion. The walls were nearly 1,5 m thick. Albright dated the village construction layer to the twelfth century B.C. and the stronghold to the late eleventh century B.C. The sequence of these remains matches the Biblical chronology: destruction during the period of the judges and fortification during the life of Saul.

Paul Lapp led a salvage operation in 1964, just before king Hussein of Jordan levelled Tell el-Ful in order to build a palace (the area was at this time under Jordan’s control). Lapp concluded that the first period of habitation should be dated approximately 1200-1150 B.C., while the fortress should be assigned to the period of approximately 1025-950 B.C. These more precise dates still coincide with the Old Testament accounts. Lapp’s study of the pottery record confirmed a gap in habitation between the earlier village and the fortress. We would expect to see such a lull following the large-scale destruction described in Judges 20. Lapp also uncovered evidence of significant later Iron Age settlements on the site. The conclusions by Albright and Lapp in favour of the identification of Tell el-Ful as Gibeah are still excepted by the majority of shcolars.

A vocal minority, however, argues that Jeba is a better candidate for ancient Gibeah. One argument is that Tell el-Ful is located on a hill above a large plain; it is therefore unlikely that its inhabitants would have been ambushed by hidden Israelite warriors, as Judges 20:29 describes. This scenario is more plausible in the hilly, canyon-filled region of Jeba.

The question remains open. The destruction of Tell el-Ful was a substantial setback, ans sufficient archaeological work has not yet been done at Jeba. At this point we can confirm that the habitation pattern at Tell el-Ful matches the Biblical chronology, while such a fit has yet to be demonstrated at Jeba.


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