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Meaning and etymology of the Hebrew name Gilgal

Gilgal Gilgal

There is a bit of a disagreement about how many separate Gilgals are named in the Bible. BDB Theological Dictionary and HAW Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament list five; NOBS Study Bible Name List mentions two, and Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names goes straight to the payload, the famous Gilgal of Joshua, and disregards the others.

Some of the lesser known Gilgals (which may or may not overlap) are a town near Shechem (Deuteronomy 11:30), which BDB Theological Dictionary says is the same as the town of Elijah and Elisha, which is near Bethel (2 Kings 2:1, 4:38); a place somewhere in the valley of Lebanon (Joshua 12:23); and a border city of Judah between Jericho and Jerusalem (Joshua 15:17).

Most famous is the Gilgal where Israel was circumcised (Joshua 5). This is remarkable because Israel had just crossed the Jordan into enemy terrain. With the river in his back, Joshua incapacitated his entire army in obedience to God. Gilgal remained the city out of which Joshua conducted his campaigns.

The name Gilgal comes from the Hebrew verb galal (galal), meaning to roll some object on, upon, away (even whirl or dazzle). In a figurative sense it is used in ideas like to roll oneself onto the Lord, meaning to put one's trust in Him (Psalm 22:8) or to commit oneself to Him (Psalm 37:5, Proverbs 16:3).
When this verb is used for physically rolling something away or somewhere else, the object is usually stones (Genesis 29:3, Joshua 10:18).

After Joshua circumcised Israel, God said that He had rolled away the reproach of Egypt, and the place where He had done this was called Gilgal ever since (Joshua 5:9).

The derived nouns gal (gal) and gal (gel) mean heap, wave, dung. These fragments doubled yields a noun which is identical to the name Gilgal: Gilgal (gilgal), meaning wheel or a rolling thing (Isaiah 17:13) or whirlwind (Psalm 77:18).

Other derivations of note are:
•  The noun gulla (gulla), meaning spring or basin (Joshua 15:19, Zechariah 4:2).
• The noun galal (galal), meaning dung (1 Kings 14:10).
• The noun galil (galil), meaning a turning or folding (1 Kings 6:34).
• The noun gillul (gillul), meaning idols (Ezekiel 22:3, 1 Kings 15:12).
• The noun gulgoleth (gulgoleth), meaning skull, head (2 Kings 9:35, Judges 9:53). Note that the noun panim (panim), meaning face, comes from the verb pana (pana), meaning to turn.

For a meaning of the name Gilgal, HAW Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament gingerly reads A Circle Of Stones (?) (Their question mark); BDB Theological Dictionary renders (Sacred) Circle Of Stones. NOBS Study Bible Name List says A Circle, A Wheel, and Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names, contrary as ever, reads Liberty, Rolling Away.

Also see the names Gilead and Galeed.



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