Is there a geographical error in 2 Kings 2:2?


by Shawn Brasseaux

Second Kings chapter 2 opens with: “[1] And it came to pass, when the LORD would take up Elijah into heaven by a whirlwind, that Elijah went with Elisha from Gilgal. [2] And Elijah said unto Elisha, Tarry here, I pray thee; for the LORD hath sent me to Bethel. And Elisha said unto him, As the LORD liveth, and as thy soul liveth, I will not leave thee. So they went down to Bethel.”

Gilgal is situated in the (low-lying) Jordan River Valley, just north of the Dead Sea. Prophets Elijah and Elisha leave Gilgal and “went down to Bethel” (verse 2). However, as any Bible atlas shows, Bethel is in mountainous terrain—some 3,000 feet higher than Gilgal! Is there is a problem with the Bible text here? No.

There is a second Gilgal, also known as Jiljilia (or modern Jiljulieh). It is roughly halfway (4 miles or 6 kilometers, either way) between Bethel and Shiloh. (It is northwest of the Gilgal located in the Jordan floodplain.) Jiljilia is likely the Gilgal of 2 Kings 2:2 and 4:38. It was at a higher elevation than Bethel, so the Scriptures are correct in saying “went down to Bethel” from Gilgal. The Gilgal of the Jordan River is something else entirely, as leaving there would have required going up to Bethel.

Friends, it is always important that we keep the following in mind when critiquing the Bible’s geographic data. Locations today cannot always be identified with absolute precision—especially ancient places and names. Physical landscapes changing because of natural forces, names being revised due to cultural influences, and so on, are factors in complicating the pinpointing of exact locations. Even in Bible days, multiple locations shared one name (as in Gilgal), and one location had several names (specific, regional, colloquial, former, latter, et cetera). If we are going to be honest with the Bible, we should give it the benefit of the doubt. Rather than immediately dismissing a verse as wrong, we should research it. Without fail, we will see we are wrong because we had limited knowledge of the situation. The problem does not lie in the Scripture; the problem lies in us!

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Also see:
» Is the King James word “borrow” a mistranslation in Exodus 3:22?
» Is Israel “cast away,” or not? Has Israel “fallen,” or not?
» Does the Bible contain a contradiction about Solomon’s molten sea?