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The Gilgal associated with Joshua
The main mention of Gilgal is when the Book of Joshua states that the Israelites first encamped there after having crossed the Jordan River (Joshua 4:19 - 5:12). In the narrative, after setting up camp, Joshua orders the Israelites to take twelve stones from the river, one for each tribe, and place them there in memory. Some modern scholars have argued that this is an aetiological myth created by the author of Joshua to explain away what is in reality a 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 location this occurred as Gibeath Haaraloth; some English translations of the Bible identify "Gibeath Haaraloth" as the name of the place. However, since the place is elsewhere identified as still being Gilgal, and since "Gibeath Haaraloth" means "hill of foreskins", some scholars think this is simply a description, and some translations provide a translation rather than a transliteration of it as a proper name.
The narrative continues by stating that the place was named Gilgal in memory of the reproach of Egypt being removed by this act of mass circumcision. Although "Gilgal" is phonetically similar to "gallothi", meaning "I have removed" in Hebrew, some believe that it is more likely that "Gilgal" means "circle of standing stones", and refers to the stone circle that was there.
Some textual scholars[who?] see the circumcision explanation, and the twelve stones explanation, as having come from different source texts; the circumcision explanation being a way to explain how the location was regarded as religiously important in local culture, without mentioning the presence of a religious monument (the stone circle) whose existence might have offended the author's religious sensibilities. It is considered by some that this stone circle was the (unnamed) religious sanctuary that was severely condemned by the Book of Amos (Amos 4:4, 5:5) and Book of Hosea (Hosea 4:15).
This Gilgal is said to have been "on the eastern border of Jericho" (Joshua 4:19). It has been identified with Khirbet en-Nitleh, but today scholars regard Khirbet El Mafjir as the more probable identification. Khirbet El Mafjir is located 2 km northeast of ancient Jericho.
A "Gilgal" is also mentioned in a list of places to divide the land under the leadership of Joshua (Joshua 15:7). There are scholars[who?] who believe that this is not the same location as the one where the Israelites had encamped. Some scholars[who?] believe that this may be the result of a scribal error, and instead should really refer to Galilee. It may also have been the place marked by the modern village Jiljulieh, southwest of Antipatris, and northeast of Joppa. But another Gilgal, under the slightly different form of Kilkilieh, lies about two miles east of Antipatris.
The Gilgal mentioned by Deuteronomy
It may have been the Gilgal of Elijah and Elisha, or yet another Gilgal, that is mentioned in Deuteronomy 11:29-30 as having Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal in front of it. Its location is significant since it helps fix the position of these religiously significant hills.
The Gilgal associated with Samuel
A place named Gilgal is mentioned by 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 simply be 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.
The Gilgal associated with Elijah and Elisha
In the Books of Kings, a "Gilgal" is mentioned that was said to have been home to a group of prophets. The text states that Elijah and Elisha came from here when they went down to Bethel from Gilgal (2 Kings 2:1-2); 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" literally means "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 to the one involved with Joshua; it has been identified with the village Jiljilia, about 11 km 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.
- Dror Eydar, In the footsteps of ancient Israelite kings, September 18, 2013