Jabesh Gilead (Judges 21)

Bilderesultat for Tell Maqlub

Illustration: Tell Maqlub (believed to have been Jabesh-Gilead)

Jabesh Gilead was located in the territory of Manasseh on the eastern side of the Jordan River. However, its exact location is unknown. Judges provides no specific information regarding the city’s precise location, surrounding topography or characteristics. Judges 21 states that its habitants were massacred by 12,000 Israelite warriors because Jabesh Gilead had not sent soldiers  for the attack on the Benjamites following the atrocity at Gibeah (Judges 19-20). Only 400 virgins were spared. These unfortunate young women were designated for the Benjamite men, since the other Israelites had sworn not to give them their own daughters as wives.

Jabesh Gilead is next mentioned  in the context of Saul. According to 1 Samuel 11, Nahash the Ammonite besieged the city and demanded, as a condition of peace, the right to gouge out the right eye of every resident. The city sent messengers to the newly anointed Saul and begged for help. Saul quickly gathered a sizable pan-Israelite force and devestated the army of Nahash. The residents of Jabesh Gilead did not forget this delivery. Later, when Saul and his sons died on Mount Gilboa, the Philistines hung their bodies on the wall of Beth Shan as trophies. The men of Jabesh Gilead travelled by night to Beth Shan, reclaimed the bodies and brought them back to Jabesh Gilead for cremation and burial (1 Samuel 31). They then mourned for Saul and fasted for seven days. When David learned of this brave action, he sent special messengers to carry a blessing to the city (2 Samuel 2:4-7).

Scholars have attempted to approximate Jabesh Gilead’s location based upon the fact that it was a night’s journey from Beth Shan. Our only other clue comes from Eusebius, a Christian historian from the fourth century A.D. If Eusebius’ information is correct, the modern hill Tell Maqlub must be the location of the Biblical Jabesh Gilead. Surface surveys have yielded pottery from Iron Age I, which suggests that its habitation history matches the Biblical chronology. The cite i only 16 km from Beth Shan, so an overnight trip to Beth Shan on foot is quite reasonable. Tell Maqlub remains unexcavated.


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