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Possibly Biblical Gilgal. The site enclosed by a wall on this long, oval hill overlooking the Wadi Far'ah is known to the Arabs as el 'Unuq (the necklace). Zertal suggests that it may be the Gilgal mentioned in Deuteronomy 11:30 as a reference point for the location of Mt. Ebal and Mt. Gerizim. Apparently unnoticed by archaeologists until examined by the author in 1985, the site features a nearly 6-foot-wide wall of unworked stones enclosing an area measuring 800 feet by 500 feet. A possible inner wall divides the enclosure into a one-third portion in the northern (far) end and a two-thirds portion in the southern (near) end. One of the site's most intriguing features, which the author hopes to excavate some day, is a stone pile positioned on the long axis in the southern portion. The ribbon of greenery behind the hill marks the course of the fertile Wadi Far'ah, which links the sites of Shechem, Mt. Ebal and Tell Far'ah North (Tirzah) to the Jordan River.

The name "Gilgal" was not originally a specific place-name, but rather a term for a fortified camp. El 'Unuq appears to be just that. Although the site lacks permanent living quarters, it contains considerable pottery, the earliest of which dates to the 13th and 12th centuries B.C.E. and closely resembles pottery from the altar the author excavated on Mt. Ebal. In addition, the monumental size of el 'Unuq's enclosure wall suggests a fortification. This evidence supports the identification of el 'Unuq as a fortified camp from the early Iron I period, the period of Israel's earliest history in Canaan.

. Professor Benjamin Mazar of the Hebrew University has further elaborated this idea. He identified the valley of Succoth at the point where the Jabbok River enters the Jordan—exactly opposite Wadi Far'ah—as a vital area in the patriarchal narratives and showed how this same area played a central role in early Israelite history.4


According to the Jericho tradition, however, the important site of Gilgal was in the neighborhood of Jericho: "The people came up from the Jordan ... and encamped at Gilgal on the eastern border of Jericho" (Joshua 4:19), where Joshua set up 12 stones to commemorate the Jordan crossing.

Sellin knew, however, of another Gilgal, a northern Gilgal, a rival to the famous Gilgal of Jericho. (Hence, the title of Sellin's book, Gilgal.) In Deuteronomy 11:30, after describing how the blessings should be pronounced on Mt. Gerizim and the curses on Mt. Ebal, the text locates these two well-known mountains in these words:

"Are they [Gerizim and Ebal] not on the other side [of the] Jordan, by the way where the sun goes down [west], in the land of the Canaanites that dwell in the country over against Gilgal, besides ... Moreh."

Apparently there were two Gilgals (and more), a northern one and a southern one (and others). It has long been recognized that "Gilgal" is not a specific location, but a type of fortified camp.


Sellin's ideas did not attract much attention and were soon buried together with thousands of other such suggestions. I came back to Sellin's book, however, as I tried to understand an unusual site discovered when we were surveying the southern side of the Wadi Far'ah, a major valley that leads from Shechem, Mt. Ebal and Tirzah to the Jordan River.

I vividly remember when we first saw this unusual site; it was a clear autumn day in 1985 when we came upon a large enclosure encircled by a wall nearly 6 feet wide. The enclosure is located on a long, oval hill. To the north, deep down, is the gorge of the Wadi Far'ah, surrounded by its 1,000-foot-high cliffs; to the east and west are steep slopes. Only on the south is the hill connected by a saddle to the surrounding area.

The oval enclosure measures approximately 800 feet in the longer direction and nearly 500 feet in the shorter direction. Its wall was built of unworked stones, similar to but slightly smaller than those found in the altar we had previously discovered on Mt. Ebal.j The Arabs call this enclosure el 'Unuq (OO-nook), the necklace, because of its shape. As with almost all of the discoveries in this area, we were apparently the first professional archaeologists to visit the site; not only was there no reference to it in the recent literature, but even the half-legendary explorers Claude Conder and Lord H. H. Kitchener did not mention it in their famous British survey of the 1870s.5


The enclosure of el 'Unuq is a large fortified camp, probably empty inside except for a dividing wall, some structures near the wall and an isolated stone pile. We could discern the main gate on the south side and an additional small opening on the west side. The inner wall subdivided the place into two unequal areas, two-thirds on the south and one-third on the north; the few simple stone structures are concentrated near the southwestern side. An especially interesting feature is the stone pile, located on the long axis of the southern part of the oval-shaped enclosure. What did this pile of stones cover? Without excavating it, no one can tell. Our guess is that it simply hid something of a special character. But it could be something else as well. (The excavation of the site is one of our principal future goals, once we find a source of funding, the lack of which being the main obstacle all along the way.)

Returning to the enclosure: It is probably not a village, town or settlement. It seems not to have had any permanent living quarters inside. It was not used for keeping sheep nor for other agricultural purposes; the fortification wall is much too monumental for that. Yet the fact that people somehow lived there was clear after we found considerable pottery. The earliest pottery repertoire dated to the 13th and 12th centuries B.C.E., nearly identical to the pottery found at the Mt. Ebal site (stratum 2) we had excavated earlier.6

It seems evident that this oval enclosure was some kind of a camp from the early Iron Age I period, that is, from the period of Israel's earliest history in Canaan. But can we be more specific?

It has become fashionable in the last decade or so, especially among a group of scholars who regard themselves as "Syro-Palestinian" archaeologists,k to ignore and even to shun the Bible. The reasons for this inclination are various—from sociological to personal and political.

After years of archaeological research, however, I believe it is impossible to explore Israel's origins without the Bible. At the same time, the research should be as objective as possible. The Bible should be used cautiously and critically. But again and again we have seen the historical value of the Bible. Again and again we have seen that an accurate memory has been preserved in its transmuted narratives, waiting to be unearthed and exposed by archaeological fieldwork and critical mind-work.

With these cautionary considerations in mind, we turned in our research to the Bible. In Deuteronomy 11:30 is the famous geographical guide to this area that I have already quoted. Moses is instructing the Israelites as to what they should do when they cross into the Promised Land. They are to pronounce the blessings on Mt. Gerizim and the curses on Mt. Ebal. Then the Biblical text locates these two mountains "over against Gilgal" (Deuteronomy 11:30).


This description refers to the west side of the Jordan. From the heights of Gilead, the sun sets in the west, beyond the pass through the Wadi Far'ah.

"Over against Gilgal." Could this enclosure of el 'Unuq, only four miles from Mt. Ebal and Shechem, be the northern Gilgal referred to in this famous verse? I immediately thought of Sellin's almost forgotten, but now seemingly prescient little book and its ideas.

Of course, we cannot be sure this enclosure is the northern Gilgal referred to in Deuteronomy 11:30, but there is no site with better credentials. Indeed, there is no other known candidate for this Gilgal at all!

This identification is buttressed by the etymology of Gilgal. In the opinion of most scholars, the Biblical Gilgal refers to a roundish, fortified site with cultic characteristics, a camp or a place where the people prepared for their campaigns.7 But we would like to do more than identify this site. It is part of a larger picture. It must be understood in conjunction with the altar we excavated on Mt. Ebal, and both must be understood in the larger context of our survey.

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By Steve Rudd: Contact the author for comments, input or corrections.


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