Six Cities of Refuge are set up

Josh 20:1-9  Six ‘cities of refuge’ are set up, to which a man can escape if he kills someone accidentally (see Map 49). The man must stand trial before the city’s assembly, but must not be handed over to anyone seeking to avenge the blood of a relative if he killed his victim unintentionally.

Josh 21:1-45  Forty-eight cities, with the surrounding pasture lands, are assigned to the levites (see Numbers 35:1-5) including the six ‘cities of refuge’. They include Hebron, Libnah, Debir, Beth Shemesh, Gibeon, Shechem, Gezer, Beth Horon, Golan, Kedesh in Galilee, and Ramoth in Gilead.

Gezer - Stone steles (הניאוליתי)

Stone steles at Gezer  ( האיל הניאוליתי )


The Cities of Refuge

When the ‘promised land’ of Canaan was divided up amongst the twelve tribes of Israel after the conquest in c.1406BC, the levites, who served the other tribes by their priestly functions, received no exclusive territory. Instead, they were allocated forty-eight cities and the surrounding grazing lands within the other tribal areas (see Joshua 14:3-4 & 21:1-45).

Six of these cities were also designated as ‘cities of refuge’ to which a man could escape if he killed another person accidentally (see Map 49 & Numbers 35:6-15). The six ‘cities of refuge’ were

To the west of the Jordan:

Kedesh in Galilee, in the territory of Naphtali
Shechem in the hill country of the tribe of Ephraim
Hebron (Kiriath Arba) in the territory of Judah

To the east of the Jordan:  (see also Deuteronomy 4:43)

Bezer in the territory of the tribe of Reuben
Ramoth in Gilead, in the territory of Gad
Golan in Bashan, in the territory of Manasseh

Remains at Beth Shemesh  ישי טייכר

Remains at Beth Shemesh   ( ד"ר אבישי טייכר )


Josh 22:1-8  Joshua sends the tribes of Reuben, Gad and East Manasseh home to Gilead and Bashan on the east bank of the River Jordan (see Map 49).

Josh 22:9  The eastern tribes leave the other tribes at Shiloh (see Map 49).

Josh 22:10-14  Before crossing the River Jordan they build an imposing altar at Geliloth (meaning 'circle' of stones). This may be the same site as Gilgal (also meaning a 'circle' of stones) (see Joshua 4:20).

The western tribes object that the eastern tribes have set up an alternative altar to the one at Shiloh (see Joshua 18:1) and send Phinehas – the son of Eleazar the priest – to investigate.

Josh 22:15-34  Phinehas accepts the eastern tribes’ explanation and their reassurance that they will continue to offer their sacrifices to God at the sanctuary at Shiloh. The replica altar at Geliloth is called "Proof that we believe the LORD is God" (Joshua 22:34).

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