1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Gilead
GILEAD (i.e. “hard” or “rugged” a name sometimes used, both in earlier and in later writers, to denote the whole of the territory occupied by the Israelites eastward of Jordan, extending from the Arnon to the southern base of Hermon (Deut. xxxiv. 1; Judg. xx. 1; Jos. Ant. xii. 8. 3, 4). More precisely, however, it was the usual name of that picturesque hill country which is bounded on the N. by the Hieromax (Yarmuk), on the W. by the Jordan, on the S. by the Arnon, and on the E. by a line which may be said to follow the meridian of Ammān (Philadelphia or Rabbath-Ammon). It thus lies wholly within 31° 25′ and 32° 42′ N. lat. and 35° 34′ and 36° E. long., and is cut in two by the Jabbok. Excluding the narrow strip of low-lying plain along the Jordan, it has an average elevation of 2500 ft. above the Mediterranean; but, as seen from the west, the relative height is very much increased by the depression of the Jordan valley. The range from the same point of view presents a singularly uniform outline, having the appearance of an unbroken wall; in reality, however, it is traversed by a number of deep ravines (wadis), of which the most important are the Yābis, the Ajlūn, the Rājib, the Zerka (Jabbok), the Hesban, and the Zerka Ma’īn. The great mass of the Gilead range is formed of Jura limestone, the base slopes being sandstone partly covered by white marls. The eastern slopes are comparatively bare of trees; but the western are well supplied with oak, terebinth and pine. The pastures are everywhere luxuriant, and the wooded heights and winding glens, in which the tangled shrubbery is here and there broken up by open glades and flat meadows of green turf, exhibit a beauty of vegetation such as is hardly to be seen in any other district of Palestine.
The first biblical mention of “Mount Gilead” occurs in connexion with the reconcilement of Jacob and Laban (Genesis xxxi.). The composite nature of the story makes an identification of the exact site difficult, but one of the narrators (E) seems to have in mind the ridge of what is now known as Jebel Ajlūn, probably not far from Maḥneh (Mahanaim), near the head of the wadi Yābis. Some investigators incline to Sūf, or to the Jebel Kafkafa. At the period of the Israelite conquest the portion of Gilead northward of the Jabbok (Zerka) belonged to the dominions of Og, king of Bashan, while the southern half was ruled by Sihon, king of the Amorites, having been at an earlier date wrested from Moab (Numb. xxi. 24; Deut. iii. 12-16). These two sections were allotted respectively to Manasseh and to Reuben and Gad, both districts being peculiarly suited to the pastoral and nomadic character of these tribes. A somewhat wild Bedouin disposition, fostered by their surroundings, was retained by the Israelite inhabitants of Gilead to a late period of their history, and seems to be to some extent discernible in what we read alike of Jephthah, of David’s Gadites, and of the prophet Elijah. As the eastern frontier of Palestine, Gilead bore the first brunt of Syrian and Assyrian attacks.
After the close of the Old Testament history the word Gilead seldom occurs. It seems to have soon passed out of use as a precise geographical designation; for though occasionally mentioned by Apocryphal writers, by Josephus, and by Eusebius, the allusions are all vague, and show that those who made them had no definite knowledge of Gilead proper. In Josephus and the New Testament the name Peraea or πέραν τοῦ Ἰορδάνου is most frequently used; and the country is sometimes spoken of by Josephus as divided into small provinces called after the capitals in which Greek colonists had established themselves during the reign of the Seleucidae. At present Gilead south of the Jabbok alone is known by the name of Jebel Jilad (Mount Gilead), the northern portion between the Jabbok and the Yarmuk being called Jebel Ajlūn. Jebel Jilad includes Jebel Osha, and has for its capital the town of Es-Salt. The cities of Gilead expressly mentioned in the Old Testament are Ramoth, Jabesh and Jazer. The first of these has been variously identified with Es-Salt, with Reimun, with Jerash or Gerasa, with er-Remtha, and with Ṣalḥad. Opinions are also divided on the question of its identity with Mizpeh-Gilead (see Encyc. Biblica, art. “Ramoth-Gilead”). Jabesh is perhaps to be found at Meriamin, less probably at ed-Deir; Jazer, at Yajuz near Jogbehah, rather than at Sar. The city named Gilead (Judg. x. 17, xii. 7; Hos. vi. 8, xii. 11) has hardly been satisfactorily explained; perhaps the text has suffered.
The “balm” (Heb. ṣori) for which Gilead was so noted (Gen. xlvii. 11; Jer. viii. 22, xlvi. 11; Ezek. xxvii. 17), is probably to be identified with mastic (Gen. xxxvii. 25, R.V. marg.) i.e. the resin yielded by the Pistachia Lentiscus. The modern “balm of Gilead” or “Mecca balsam,” an aromatic gum produced by the Balsamodendron opobalsamum, is more likely the Hebrew mōr, which the English Bible wrongly renders “myrrh.”
See G. A. Smith, Hist. Geog. xxiv. foll. (R. A. S. M.)