During the time of Joshua, the Israelites, after the miraculous crossing of the Jordan River, made their first encampment “on the eastern edge of Jericho” in a place that would later be called “Gilgal”. The name “Gilgal” (likely meaning “circle of stones” in Hebrew) was given based on God’s pronouncement in Joshua 5:9:
Then the LORD said to Joshua, “Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from
you.” So the place has been called Gilgal to this day.
It is here where Joshua was commanded to place 12 stones as a lasting memorial of the Jordan River crossing, and to commemorate the renewal of the covenant between God and His chosen people. The Tabernacle erected there stood for 14 years. It is Gilgal where King Saul would be anointed, and it is the same place where he would ultimately be rejected by God for his disobedience (1 Samuel 15:10-35).
King David would pass through Gilgal on his return to Jerusalem to retake the throne from his late son, Absalom, escorted by the tribes of Judah and Benjamin. (2 Samuel 19:15)
But Gilgal is more than just a single physical location—it is quite possibly a reference to stone structures used as a place of community and renewal. Mentioned 39 times in the Bible, the actual physical location of Gilgal remains a mystery, but modern archaeologists have located gilgal structures across the Jordan River Valley and in the foothills of the Samaritan Mountains. Artifacts found at these sites date to the early Israelite period, and even more curiously, the stone rings are formed in the shape of a footprint or a sandal. Researchers believe these oddly shaped structures connect to an ancient custom that marries the idea of walking the land by foot with the legal possession or inheritance of that land.
Instances of this custom are peppered throughout the biblical text, even as early as Genesis 13:17, where God instructs Abram to “Arise, walk about the land through its length and breadth; for I will give it to you.”
The most notable of these gilgalim can be found at Bedhat esh-Sha’ab, located in the Jordan Valley, approximately two miles northwest of the Damiyeh Bridge, just across the Jordan River. This site is considered to be the original site where the Israelites encamped after crossing the Jordan and setting foot in the Promised Land.
While you can visit the site, there are efforts underway to build an education center adjacent to the location.