Biblical Israel: Gilead

Gilead was the center of Israelite population in Transjordan (east of the Jordan River). The tribes of Reuben and Gad, and half of the tribe of Manasseh remained east of the Jordan River and did not settle in the lands west of the Jordan.

Within the Bible, the isolation of these tribes from the tribes west of the Jordan is felt within the stories. They found themselves often threatened from desert marauders and rival kingdoms east of the Jordan. The story of the judge, Jephthah, who delivered Israel from the Ammonites, took place in Gilead (Judges 11:29-33). Saul’s first victory, the deliverance of Jabesh-Gilead, also occurred in Gilead (1 Samuel 11:1-11).

Gilead also served as a land of refuge and asylum for Israelites from west of the Jordan River; for example, when David had to leave Jerusalem because of the rebellion led by his son Absalom, he fled to Mahanaim, which is in Gilead (2 Samuel 17:21-22). So too, the remaining family of Saul and his supporters fled to Gilead after Saul’s death on Mount Gilboa (2 Samuel 2:8).

The land of Gilead is a mountainous area in the central Transjordan. The limestone hills reach altitudes of over 3000 feet in some areas. The Jabbok River (Genesis 32) divides Gilead into two sections. The tribal division of land among the tribes east of the Jordan River followed the contours of the land created by the Jabbok.

Its elevation allows it to receive excellent rainfall during the winter months and dew in the summer. The area also has a number of springs that provide water. This also meant that forests grew on the mountains of Gilead (Jeremiah 22:6; Zechariah 10:10). Grapes also grew well in Gilead.

The most important highway, which ran north-south, known as the King’s Highway ran through Gilead. This roadway went from the Gulf of Eilat to Damascus where it met the international coastal highway that connected Egypt with Mesopotamia. Gilead’s strategic location on this road brought wealth to the people that lived in Gilead.

Marc Turnage is President/CEO of Biblical Expeditions. He is an authority on ancient Judaism and Christian origins. He has published widely for both academic and popular audiences. His most recent book, Windows into the Bible, was named by Outreach Magazine as one of its top 100 Christian living resources. Marc is a widely sought-after speaker and a gifted teacher. He has been guiding groups to the lands of the Bible—Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, Greece, and Italy—for over twenty years.

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