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The Oxford Encyclopedia of Archaeology in the Near East What is This? Provides comprehensive coverage of the history and scope of archaeology in the Near East.

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region named in the Hebrew Bible, located on the rocky, and in those days forested, parts of the eastern side of the Jordan River and the Dead Sea, roughly between the Arnon River (Wadi el-Mujib) in the south and the Yarmuk River in the north. The Jabbok River (Nahr ez-Zerqa) divides the area in two: “half the Gilead” is used to cite both (Dt.3:12; Jos. 12:2–5). The inhabitants are called Gileadites (Nm.26:30, 36:1; 1 Chr. 7:17) and belonged to the Israelite tribes of Reuben, Gad, and half of Manasseh. Machir, a son of Manasseh, is the “father of Gilead” (Jos. 17:1). The word-stem gl῾d is to be found in Ugaritic (Gordon, Texts 170 and 301), but the geographic connection is not well defined. In Akkadian, ga-al'a-⌜a⌝-(za) (III R 10.2; K 2649) is bordering Aram, possibly Ramoth Gilead, during the reign of Tiglath-Pileser III. The name Gilead is certainly preserved in the Arabic Khirbet Ǧel῾ad (or Jel῾ad), a site in the area of es-Salt.

Culturally, Gilead is related to Cisjordan. There is evidence of homo sapiens in the area about two million years ago (at Abu el-Khas, Wadi Ḥammeh, and Pella). The prehistoric finds are comparable with those at ῾Ubeidiya for the Early Paleolithic period. In Mesolithic times, nomadic hunters became sedentary and food producing and were influenced by the Natufian culture.

In the Pottery Neolithic period (5500–4500 BCE), climatic conditions changed in Palestine. Transjordan gradually dried out and became desertic and settlers moved to new agricultural communities. They built circular, and then later, rectangular, houses arranged in communities, such as at ῾Ain Ghazal in Amman. In their burial practices they prepared the skulls of the dead with plaster and shells as at Jericho. The following period, the Chalcolithic (4000–3200 BCE), is substantiated at Teleilat el-Ghassul and in the Golan. Ghassul is then a fortified village with dwellings clustered around courtyards measuring 15 × 5 m, made of hand-modeled, sun-dried mud bricks. Of special interest are the buildings' geometric wall paintings in white, black, red, and brown.

The beginning of city life appears in the Early Bronze Age (3200–2100 BCE). On the Bab edh-Dhra῾ plain and in Khirbet Iskander, Pella, and Khirbet ez-Zeraqun, fortified cities with irrigation systems were founded. More than 200,000 graves have been discovered at Bab edh-Dhra῾, and at Zeraqun a cultic area with the same layout as the one at contemporary Megiddo was found. Parts of central and northern Gilead were populated in the Middle Bronze Age (1900–1550 BCE), during which time Pella was heavily fortified. The Late Bronze Age (1550–1200 BCE) has been regarded as a dark age in Transjordan. However, at Irbid and Tell el-Fukhar prosperous towns existed with defense walls built with large boulders and cobble chinking. Temple architecture is known from Umm ed-Dananir and Amman, and there was a citadel at Lehun in the south.

The transitional period into the Iron Age is represented at Tell el-Fukhar, which was then transformed into an unfortified settlement on large stone pavements. Remains of pillared buildings and sherds of collar-rim jars belong to this period. In the Iron Age (1200–600 BCE), according to the Bible, many dramatic events took place in Gilead: King Saul rescued Jabesh Gilead (1 Sm. 11), and his son Ishba῾al governed his kingdom from Maḥanaim (2 Sm.2:8), a town at Wadi Zerqa, in an area densely settled throughout the period; King David besieged his son Absalom in the forest of Ephraim (2 Sm. 18:6); and King Solomon cast the pillars for the Jerusalem Temple in the Jordan Valley (1 Kgs. 18:6). There are, however, no Iron II A-B remains at Tell el-Fukhar. Surveys in the Ḥesban and Madaba regions show that there was an agricultural expansion throughout the Iron Age, using land belonging to the former LB towns along the King's Highway. The “balm of Gilead” was famous (Jer. 8:22; 46:11). Inscriptions in Moabite, Ammonite, and Aramaic dialects are found at Dibon/Dhiban (the Mesha Stone) at Tell Deir ῾Alla (the Balaam texts), Amman (the Siran bottle), and Tell el-Mazar and Tell es-Sa῾idiyeh (ostraca).

The Persian period is represented by a square building at Tell es-Sa῾idiyeh in the Jordan Valley. The same architectural style appears in the Hellenistic period at some sites. At ῾Iraq el-Amir the Tobiad Hyrcanus built a fortress he called Tyros, and there is evidence of a Hellenistic villa at Tell el-Fukhar. Gilead may not have been ruled by the Nabateans, whose culture straddled the Hellenistic and Roman periods, but their main caravan roads passed it. During the Roman period some towns of the Decapolis were situated in Gilead (Gadara, Pella, and perhaps Tell el-Ḥuṣn). Well-built bridges and roads can still be seen, and the Via Nova Trajana was not far away. Many graffiti written in Safaitic script have been found, especially to the east. In the Byzantine period, the population increased and the towns prospered. Gadara's mosaics and the churches in the Madaba region with their mosaic floors and original motifs (including the mosaic map of ancient Palestine) reflect their great wealth.

The Crusaders seem not to have been interested in Gilead. However, in the Ayyubid period (1174–1263 CE), castles were built at Rabadh and es-Salt. Iron was mined and smelted at Mugharat el-Warda.

[Many of the sites mentioned are the subject of independent entries.]


  • Boling, Robert G. The Early Biblical Community in Transjordan. Sheffield, 1988.
  • Hadidi, Adnan, and Ghazi Bisheh, eds. Studies in the History and Archaeology of Jordan. 4 vols. Amman, 1982–1992.
  • Homès-Fredericq, Denys, and J. Basil Hennessy, eds. Archaeology of Jordan. 2 vols. Louvain, 1986–1989.
  • Homès-Fredericq, Denys, and H. J. Franken, eds. Pottery and Potters, Past and Present: 7000 Years of Ceramic Art in Jordan. Tübingen, 1986.
  • McGovern, Patrick E. The Late Bronze and Early Iron Ages of Central Transjordan: The Baq῾ah Valley Project, 1977–1981. University Museum, Monograph 65. Philadelphia, 1986.
  • Ottosson, Magnus. Gilead: Tradition and History. Lund, 1969.
  • Specific citations of original texts and inscriptions refer to the following works: C. H. Gordon, Ugaritic Textbook: Grammar, Texts in Transliteration, Cuneiform Selections, Glossary, Indices (Analecta Orientalia, 38; Rome, 1965); III R 10.2 refers to H. C. Rawlinson, The Cuneiform Inscriptions of Western Asia (London, 1870), vol. 3, pl. 10, no. 2; K 2649 refers to Cuneiform Texts from Babylonian Tablets in the British Museum (London, 1918), pt. 35, pl. 39, K 2649, rev. 1. 3.

Magnus Ottosson

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