gilgal located between Bethel and Ai

Created by pastorbuddy on 3/10/2009



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. Who put Sodom and Gomorrah at the south end of the sea, and who put Gilgal northeast of Jericho? 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.
How do we correctly establish the real places that are mentioned in ancient texts, especially after such traditions have become accepted? To pinpoint the actual location of any given site it is important to recognize that such locations are nothing more than geographic points on a map. If you need to establish the true position of some long-lost ancient city, then its coordinates must be plotted using specific, accurate references to known geographic ground references (control points) or other absolute points of reference. These in turn must be derived from legitimate textual sources that are at least contemporary with respect to the city that is being researched.. Using even the most basic logic, these control points can be applied to the geography and the geology in order to ascertain with reasonable degrees of certainty the actual, or at least the approximate, locations of these areas. A physical examination can be, and in some cases has been used to confirm what should have been obvious all along.
Lot’s Position Between Bethel and Ai
An important control point is Mount Ba’al Hatzor, 3336 feet above sea level. Geographically, it is located between Bethel and Ai. The place of the altar of Abram was on top of Mount Ba’al Hatzor. In Genesis 13 Abram gave Lot a choice of going to the left hand (north), or to the right hand (south). Lot chose neither. From that site upon Mount Ba’al Hatzor, Lot could see the north end of the Vale of Siddim and the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, 35 kilometers (22 miles) to the southeast. Lot gazed down at the kikar (circle) or the plain of the Jordan, only a mile below. Having journeyed east from Ba’al Hatzor, he cast his tent toward Sodom. Lot could see Sodom and Gomorrah from Ba’al Hatzor. Today, one can see Ba’al Hatzor from the “north” end of the Dead Sea. However, neither can the south end of the Dead Sea can be seen from Ba’al Hatzor nor Ba’al Hatzor be seen from the south end. How then could the monks place Sodom and Gomorrah incorrectly at the south end of the Dead Sea?
The Vale of Siddim
The canyon and the area to the south of Sodom and Gomorrah would of course eventually fill with water and become what is today called the Dead Sea. At the time it was referred to as the “Vale of Siddim” and rather than being filled with water, the fourteenth chapter of Genesis, verse 10, indicates that this small canyon was full of slime pits. Perhaps these slime pits were the source of the asphalt which floated on the surface and caused the Greeks to call it Asphalus Sea.
Genesis 14:2 adds that: “…Five kings made war… All these were joined together in the Veil of Siddim which is the salt sea.” Did these five kings make war under water? Of course not! They joined together in the canyon called the “Veil of Siddim,” before it filled with water and became the salt (or Dead) sea. More importantly, in terms of our analysis of ground control points, it becomes a geological point of reference. It does so by virtue of the fact that the Dead Sea is very deep at the north end where there is a deep underwater canyon and extremely shallow at the south end. It logically follows that the Veil of Siddim was at the North end, and thus, so were Sodom and Gomorrah. Moreover, when combined with the first point of reference the correct map coordinates become that much more certain.
The Kikar
The two previously mentioned perspectives of Sodom and Gomorrah also establish a description of the Kikar Jordan. A kikar is a circular geographical feature — the word itself means a circle like a traffic circle or disk. Geographically, a circular basin or mesa can be referred to as a kikar. The phrase “The Plains of Jordan” is actually “Kikar Jordan” in Hebrew. It was, and still is a circular basin west of the Jordan River that makes a circular curve eastward a few kilometers north of the Dead Sea. The circular bend curves back to the west just before the River Jordan empties into the sea, the result being an almost perfect circular basin.
The Mountain of Lot
This circle just mentioned is itself contained within a series of concentric circles that increase in size and ground elevation as they expand outward. The outermost circle is a large flat basin that is approximately as wide as the Dead Sea itself. When the angels of HaShem led Lot and his family out of Sodom by the hand (at the north end of the sea) they was warned not stop in this kikar, or the circle, but to “flee unto the mountain.” However, in Genesis 19:19, Lot pleaded that he would not have to climb that mountain. Instead, he asked if he could take refuge in a certain city to the north of the kikar. That city was called “Tzo’ar” and was also referred to (among the five cities of the plains) as “Bela.”
From the texts, the geography of the area, and the existing archaeological evidence of the area in the form of tels or mounds, there is sufficient evidence to suggest that what is traditionally referred to and shown on today’s maps as Tel Gilgal is actually the city of Tzo’ar on the north perimeter of the circle over which Lot fled.
The Unusual Lack of Vegetation
What about biological evidence? When HaShem destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19:24-25, it says that he destroyed all the vegetation in the kikar and that even the earth was destroyed. That specific area, within the circle that is to the immediate north of the Dead Sea is to this day totally barren and desolate. There simply is no vegetation there! Moreover, the soil analysis performed by Ya ‘acov Arkin confirms that this particular soil is unique. It is not salty enough to prevent vegetation, but there is something about the soil that prevents germination!
No Circle or Tel at the South End of the Sea
At the south end of the sea there is no circular kikar, nor is there any tel that could possibly be identified as Tzo’ar as there is at the north end of the sea. Furthermore, there is no evidence of any trade route (ancient road) or city having existed at the south end of the sea. At the north, we find an ancient cobblestone road (as there must be per the biblical texts). At the south end there is only the flat valley at the base of the mountain formation.
The Topography of the Jordan River
Another point of reference can be derived from Joshua 4:19, which states that “…the people [of Israel] came up out of Jordan on the tenth day of the first month and encamped at Gilgal on the east border of Jericho.” The topography of that area indicates that the crossing was at, or near, or just south of what is today called Wadi Kelt (Ma’ale Adummim). How do we know?
In that same chapter Joshua is directed to take 12 stones from the riverbed (one for each tribe) and to replace them with 12 other stones. The text of Joshua 4:3 and following says: “… And they took the 12 stones which they took out of the Jordan and Joshua set them up at Gilgal.”
The only place where stones are present on the bottom of the Jordan is the portion that is just north of the Dead Sea. Why? Because rivers or wadis intersect with the river at or below this point. During the rainy season stones and other rubble are washed down from the mountains. The part of the river that is north of Wadi Kelt is nothing more than a mud bog — totally devoid of stones because there are no wadis flowing into the Jordan River for several kilometers above that area.
Physiological Evidence?
There is even a physiological point of reference! The next day (after setting the stones) Joshua circumcised all the men who were born in the wilderness who had not yet been circumcised. That means that on the 11th, 12th and 13th day of the month most of the men of Israel would have been “just slightly” incapacitated. On the 14th day of the month they celebrated Passover at Gilgal. If they were unable to travel, then how did they get there in time for Passover? It would have been impossible for them to travel the 18 miles from what is today the Adam Bridge down to Gilgal in their incapacitated condition, unless of course, their wives offered to give them piggy back rides…Oops! That wouldn’t work either! If they were already south of the Wadi Kelt then Gilgal would have been no farther than one hour by foot.
The Banks of the Jordan
Is there any additional geological proof? The entire 18 miles from the Adam Bridge to the intersection of the Jordan River with the Wadi Kelt is marked by a steep embankment on either or both sides, making it impossible for 5-6 million people with livestock to cross anywhere between these two points. This forbidding terrain makes it impossible for Joshua to have led the nation across at the Adam location as some traditions hold. The only practical crossing point south of the Adam Bridge would have been near or below the Wadi Kelt, just north of the Dead Sea where there are no steep banks on either side of the river; where we coincidentally find the mysterious one cubit high walls twenty-two cubits wide in the center of the circular basin.
A Large Cemetery
Joshua commanded the children of Reuven, Gad and 1/2 of the tribe of to arm themselves and form an advance guard to destroy the seven Cannanite armies that had mustered their forces at the place of the crossing. In Joshua chapter 4, verses 13-14, it says that “…about 40,000 [men] prepared for war [and] passed over before HaShem to do battle in the kikar Jericho (Plains of Jericho). On that day the L-rd magnified Joshua in the sight of all Israel; and they feared him as they feared Moses, all the days of his life.”
Until recently there was no hard evidence to suggest that a battle occurred in this area. However, during the last 10 days of our first month in Israel (March 1994), our first efforts were devoted to the area east of Jericho and just to the south of the Wadi Kelt. We found, stretched across the entire front of the kikar Jericho, a massive cemetery with more than 200,000 graves. The cemetery spreads through the entire area from the Jordan River all the way across the kikar to the south of the Greek Orthodox Monastery of Jeshorymos or Deir Hajla and continues west to the wadi near the Jerusalem-Jericho Road. The size of the cemetery would seem to verify that some sort of titanic battle took place at this spot. The Arabs know the massive graves are there and call it Graves of the Jews.
With the exception of the battle between the seven Cannanite nations and the three tribes mentioned, there is no other reference to a battle in this area. Having reasonably established the age of the graves, logic would seem to support the presumption that this is one more point of reference.
Achan in the Valley of Achor
In Joshua 7, verses 24-26, the Hebrew text says that Joshua and the people of Israel “…brought Achan and his family up from Gilgal to the Valley of Achor.” The Valley of Achor lies between the sea and the mountain cliffs from the spring of Ein Feshka or Ein Tzuqim northward along the sea to Wadi Kelt. This is west and south of Gilgal.
Anyone who has been to this area knows that Jericho is north of Ma’ale Adummim, so it certainly could not be opposite the “Gilgal” that is on today’s maps. The real Gilgal was south of the wadi. In the Hebrew it says: “…and the border went up toward debir from the Valley of Achor, and so northward, turning toward Gilgal which is opposite [or east] of the ascent of Ma’ale Adummim.” If the ascent of the wadi is south of Jericho and Gilgal is opposite this southern point, then it cannot very well be north of Jericho, can it?
How much plainer can it get? The Gilgal on the today’s maps is obviously incorrect.

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