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Gibeah (meaning ‘hill’) was a city in the hill country just to the north of Jerusalem. Situated alongside the main road from Bethlehem to Shechem (see Judges 19:10-15), the site of ancient Gibeah has been identified as Tel el-Ful 3 miles / 5 km north of Jerusalem, and next to the modern Israeli settlement at Pisgat Ze’ev. After the conquest of Canaan by the Israelites in c.1406 BC, Gibeah was allocated to the tribe of Benjamin (see Joshua 18:28).
Subsequently, Gibeah became the site of what might be regarded as the only ‘civil war’ in the history of Israel. The story of the Levite and his concubine (see Judges 19:1-30) may seem strange to modern ears, but in the days of the ‘Judges’, it was quite common for a man to have a ‘concubine’ as well as a wife. A concubine had the legal status of a marriage partner, but had less esteem than a wife and was treated more like a servant. When the Levite’s concubine was gang-raped and left for dead on the doorstep of his overnight host at Gibeah, the other Israelite tribes decided to bring the unrepentant men of Gibeah to account for this atrocious crime. In the ensuing Battle of Gibeah, most of the tribe of Benjamin were wiped out – which resulted in the Benjaminites subsequently being the smallest of the twelve tribes (see 1 Samuel 9:21).
Israel’s first king, Saul, came from Gibeah, and ruled from here during his brief two-year reign (see 1 Samuel 10:26 & 13:1 where the ‘Tanakh’ – the original Hebrew Bible - says “two years”). Saul set up his royal court at Gibeah, and this is where David came to play his harp to soothe the troubled monarch (see 1 Samuel 16:14-23). It was also where David was given Saul’s daughter Michal in marriage shortly after he killed the Philistine champion, Goliath of Gath (see 1 Samuel 18:27).
Saul’s royal residence at Gibeah was abandoned after David became king of the re-united Israel and Judah in c.1004 BC, but the city was subsequently re-settled. The prophet Isaiah records that the people of Gibeah fled when the Assyrian king Sennacherib attacked Jerusalem in 702 BC (see Isaiah 10:29 & 2 Kings 18:17).
The Jewish historian Josephus records that the Roman 10th legion camped at Gibeah before their final assault on Jerusalem in 70AD. More recently, King Hussein of Jordan began building a West Bank royal palace here in the 1960s – the shell of which was abandoned after Israel occupied the area during the Six-Day War of 1967 and built the modern Israeli settlement of Pisgat Ze’ev.
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