The Lost City of Gilgal
by Professor Vendyl Jones
A city from Israel's past may play an important role in their future.
The wall we found at Gilgal is over one and a half kilometers in length (5,130 feet), but while it is eleven meters wide (36 feet) it is only half a meter high, a most unusual measurement for a wall. Why would Joshua build such a wall? Would such a wall keep out an enemy? Would a knee-high structure keep livestock in or out? Could such a wall keep in even a rabbit? Why use such odd measurements? What was walled out and what was walled in?
When the Children of Israel first arrived at Mount Sinai they erected a "hig-bal" or geder (wall) "round about" to make a makhitzah (barrier of separation) between the congregation and the Holy Mount. Later, the same type of wall or geder was made to surround the Tabernacle.
The geder that surrounded the Mishkan was a barrier to keep people out of the holy place. It was a makhitzah or barrier of separation for the benefit of those who might otherwise unintentionally stray onto holy ground. In Exodus 19:12 the Torah explains: "And thou shalt set bounds unto the people round about, saying, take heed to yourselves that you go not up to the mount, nor touch the borders of it. Whosoever toucheth the mount shall surely be put to death: there shall not be a hand touch it, but that he shall surely be stoned or shot through; whether it be man or beast, it shall not live".
Kelly Huckaby stands next to the wall at Gilgal
In Numbers 1:51-52 the people of Israel were told, "...when the Tabernacle is to be pitched, the Levites shall set it up: and the stranger that comes nigh shall be put to death. And the children of Israel shall pitch their tents, every man by his own [tribal] camp, and every man by his own standard, throughout their hosts. But the Levites shall pitch [their tents] round about the tabernacle of testimony, that their be no wrath upon the congregation of the children of Israel [from accidental encroachment]: and the Levites shall keep the charge [Guard] the tabernacle of testimony [Ark]."
Of particular interest is the discoveries that resulted from the low-level infrared remote sensing. Not only were we able to locate Gilgal and the site of the Mishkan, but in several areas, the latest imagery reveals numerous other Makhitz-ot (walls of separation between the 12 tribes) as well as a pattern of horizontal, vertical and diagonal lines. Is this an infrared signature that indicates where the tents were erected and the layout of the streets between the tents? According to the ground control analysis, the campsite encompassed an area of over 52 square kilometers. The electronic "fingerprint" from the Israelites' fourteen-year presence at Gilgal had indeed been indelibly etched on the subterranean landscape just as we expected.
Also visible on the infrared imagery are the walls of what appears to be a fortress with a freshwater spring near the northeastern corner. Prior to Joshua's conquest of the Land, there was a "King of Gilgal" who was referred to as "the King of 31 Nations" (Joshua 12:23). This could well have been his fortress. However, even after Yehoshua (Joshua) camped at Gilgal with the children of Israel, Eliyahu's (Elijah's) School of the prophets was at Gilgal. Perhaps it was both.
We began a preliminary review of the American Landsat, the French Spot and the Russian Radar satellite's remote sensing data for the Agan Gilgal and Emeq' Achor area. Working with Dr. Arnon Karnieli at his research laboratory in the Negev, it was there that we saw, for the first time, the anomaly that would later prove to be the Geder or wall surrounding the Mishkan. This wall was not visible on regular aerial photography but the satellite imagery clearly revealed a rectangular anomaly beneath the surface.
We were excited by the sight of this anomaly. It was obviously man made, but at the same time we were a little disconcerted because we expected to see the electronic signature of the imprint left by the Mishkan itself. The size of the outside court of the Tabernacle was 50 x 100 cubits or about 75 x 150 feet, but the wall that was displayed on the computer from the data was nearly 1000 feet wide and over a half kilometer long (560 meters x 300 meters), obviously much too large. It was not until Dr. Karnieli transmitted the imagery to Arlington and we had the opportunity to examine it more carefully that we were able to form our hypothesis about a "Geder" or wall.
Within a matter of weeks we had confirmed that the images were those of an Early Bronze (3100-2200 BCE) to Middle Bronze (2200-1550 BCE) wall dating from the time of Yehoshua (Joshua). Of course, before we could find the wall, it was necessary to pinpoint its exact location on the map. Our team went to the remote sensing facility at Sede-Boker to pinpoint the precise location of the structure and we proceeded to make plans to conduct the initial exploration.
The site we found was near the Jordanian border and surrounded on the better part of two sides by at least two mine fields. The area was also under martial law and a military high-security zone. Fortunately, my friends in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and Tel Aviv High Command were able to assist with the sensitive task of obtaining the proper clearance and orders were issued for a permit.
Are these unusual walls the remains of the camp of Israel?
Since the area with the makhitzot (barriers of separation) is over 52 square kilometers in size and since there is simply no other circular basin large enough to accommodate an encamped population of 6 million or more Israelites, is there any doubt as to the actual location of Gilgal?
The sites shown on maps and traditionally accepted as Gilgal, Sodom and Gomorrah are perhaps not actual historic locations. We will explain why this is significant in terms of geology, geography, available biblical resources and other ancient texts. We will relate why the site that we found just north of the Dead Sea and east of Almog can now be positively identified as the real Gilgal.
Until this year, no one knew where the real Gilgal was located. Tradition held that it was northeast of Jericho and on today's mixed-up maps, that's where you will find it. Gilgal is not the only error. On those same confused maps, the twin cities of Sodom and Gomorrah are located at the south end of the Dead Sea.
All of these locations are traditions that have been sanctified by time. If Gilgal is to rise again, these errors must be corrected. Therein lies the problem, because to correct such errors one must first understand that they are errors and that they stem not from facts, but from tradition.
The locations just mentioned were NOT established by Israeli cartographers or Torah/Bible scholars. Rather, they were established by Byzantine monks sometime between 625 CE. and 638 CE, who had a habit (no pun intended) of locating holy places in areas that were not so "remote." Once a place has been established by tradition and its location has been incorporated into various books and maps, the information becomes a "fact" in the mind of the misinformed that is very difficult to challenge.
The sanctity and holiness of Gilgal are eternal. When Joshua arrived at Gilgal, Josh. 5:15, the Angelic Captain of the Lord's Host commanded Joshua to "remove the shoe from off his foot for the place whereon thou standeth is Holy." Gilgal was Holy before Israel camped there for fourteen years.
After fourteen years, the land was redeemed and the tribes received their inheritance and moved from Gilgal into their designated territories. The Tabernacle was moved to the center of the land at Shiloh. The Tabernacle remained in Shiloh for 369 years. After the Tabernacle had been at Shiloh for more than three centuries, the Israelites wanted a king like the other nations. They rejected the theocracy with which G-d had ruled over them since the Call of Avram. They wanted to imitate Gentile nations with a monarchy. They rejected G-d and chose man. Where did Samuel call the people to assemble? I Sam. 11:14: "Then said Samuel to the people, Come, and let us go to Gilgal, and RENEW THE KINGDOM there. And all the people went to Gilgal; and there they made Saul king before the L-rd in Gilgal;"
The Kingdom of Theocracy was ended. The Kingdom of Monarchy was begun. The kingdom was renewed at Gilgal, not Shiloh!
Saul's disobedience in the matter of Agag, King of Amalek resulted in the anointed becoming the un-anointed. When Samuel was instructed to un-anoint Saul, he called all the people to Gilgal to again RENEW THE KINGDOM (I Sam 15).
Larry Borntragger, Goshen, Indiana examines EB-3 to MB-1 Pottery found at site.
When Absalom succeeded in his coup d'etat against his father, King David and his army fled to Amman, Jordan to take asylum, the kingdom of David was officially terminated. After Joab slew Absalom, David returned from Amman to Jerusalem. However, the king summoned all the people to come up to Gilgal to RENEW THE KINGDOM ( II Sam 19:16).
The present political climate should serve to make the obvious even more obvious. The Temple Mount, Mount Zion, and the City of David with all their environs, are today in Israel's occupation, but not under Israeli occupation.
There are no conflicts to deal with at Gilgal and no one is there to contest the Jews' right to pray and worship at Gilgal. No one will be displaced when its space is once again occupied by the Holy Tabernacle of the Most High, and there is no one there to object to its presence when it is eventually recovered.
Why is Gilgal so central to Israel's future? From a practical standpoint, the real Gilgal is perceived as unimportant by Christians, Arabs and Jews. It has been forgotten. Moreover, there are no provisions concerning the real Gilgal in the present so-called peace process. Israel has a clear title to the area.
HaShem explains how He will proceed in the matter. Isaiah 1:26, "I will restore thy judges as at the first, and thy counselors as at the beginning..." Where did the nation of Israel have its beginning in the Land of Israel? Where were judges and counselors first set over them? The answer is, of course, Gilgal. Israel remained there for fourteen years. The first seven years saw the Israelites' conquest of the land and the last seven years saw the dividing of the territorial borders for each tribe. Once the allocations had been made for the inheritance of the land, then judges and counselors were set over each tribe. It was there at Gilgal that He gave them their judges and counselors and it is there at Gilgal that He will restore them!
The context of verse 26 is this very restoration of the Kingdom in the last days. HaShem explains, "only after that [i.e. when He restores their judges and counselors at Gilgal like He did in the beginning] shall Jerusalem [finally] be called the city of righteousness, the faithful city". It will all start at Gilgal!
Israel's beginning was at Gilgal. The land was divided at Gilgal. The kingdom will again become undivided or renewed at Gilgal -- nowhere else! Gilgal is the proper place to receive the Tabernacle, and its discovery. It is a necessary prelude to the return of the Tabernacle, the Ark of the Covenant and the Ashes of Purification.