The name Gilgal in the Bible
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; NOBSE Study Bible Name List mentions two, and Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names goes straight for the payload, the famous Gilgal of Joshua, and disregards the others.
This famous Gilgal is 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 lesser known Gilgals 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).
- A border city of Judah between Jericho and Jerusalem (Joshua 15:17).
Etymology of the name Gilgal
The name Gilgal comes from the Hebrew verb גלל (galal), meaning to roll. After Joshua had 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). Note that the name Gilgal is spelled the same as the nouns galgal and gilgal that were derived of the verb galal:
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. NOBSE Study Bible Name List says A Circle, A Wheel, and Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names, contrary as ever, reads Liberty, Rolling Away.