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The Bible uses the name Gilead in a number of ways, all of them in relation to the territory that Israel occupied east of the Jordan River. This area was a large tableland, broken by rivers that ran through deep gorges. (For details of trans-Jordan in general see PALESTINE, sub-heading ‘Jordan Valley and Dead Sea’.)

Geographically, Gilead was the region between the Yarmuk River (southern boundary of the land once known as Bashan) and the northern tip of the Dead Sea (Deuteronomy 3:10). The Jabbok River divided this territory approximately in halves. The eastern part of the tribe of Manasseh lived in the northern half, and the tribe of Gad in the southern half (Deuteronomy 3:12-13). The Bible may refer to either half as Gilead. It calls the northern half (Manasseh) Gilead in Joshua 17:1; Joshua 17:6 and half-Gilead in Joshua 13:29-31. It calls the southern half (Gad) Gilead in Joshua 13:24-25 and half-Gilead in Joshua 12:2. It mentions the two halves together in Deuteronomy 3:12-13.

The Bible speaks of Gilead in yet another sense, and that is to refer to the whole of the former Amorite territory that Israel’s two and a half eastern tribes occupied. This area included the land of Bashan in the far north and the tribal area of Reuben in the far south. Its southern border was the Arnon River, which divided Reuben from neighbouring Moab (Judges 10:8; Judges 20:1; 2 Kings 15:29; see BASHAN; MOAB).

Gilead, like the rest of the area east of Jordan, had large open plains that were good for raising sheep and cattle. The region was also good for growing fruit and grain, and had hilly areas of forest (Numbers 32:1; Numbers 32:26; Numbers 32:36; Jeremiah 22:6; Jeremiah 50:19). It was famous for its balm, which people believed had healing properties and which they therefore used extensively in making medicines (Jeremiah 8:22; Jeremiah 46:11; Jeremiah 51:8).

Chief towns of Gilead that feature in the Old Testament story are Jabesh-gilead (Judges 21:8-12; 1 Samuel 11:1; 1 Samuel 31:8-13), Mahanaim (Genesis 32:1-2; Joshua 21:38; 2 Samuel 2:29; 2 Samuel 17:24), Ramoth-gilead (Joshua 21:38; 1 Kings 22:3-4; 2 Kings 8:28; 2 Kings 9:1-3), Succoth (Genesis 33:17; Joshua 13:27; Judges 8:4-16) and Penuel (Genesis 32:31; Judges 8:4-17; 1 Kings 12:25).

In New Testament times the former land of Gilead fell partly within the Decapolis and partly within Perea. Towns of the region that feature in the New Testament story are Gadara, Gerasa and Bethany-beyond-Jordan (Matthew 4:25; Matthew 8:28; Mark 5:1; Mark 7:31; John 1:28; see DECAPOLIS; PEREA).

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Bibliography Information
Fleming, Don. Entry for 'Gilead'. Bridgeway Bible Dictionary. 2004.

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