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Ed is the name of an altar, or the place where an altar is located, according to some English translations of the Bible. In the biblical account (Joshua 22:34), the altar in question is said to have been built by the tribes east of the Jordan; this construction supposedly concerned the other tribes who felt that there should only be one altar, but the eastern tribes are said to have built it only as a testimony to their faith, and not as a working altar. The eastern tribes named the altar appropriately to fit this, and Ed means witness in Hebrew.

However, the original text does not actually name the altar Ed, the name of the altar is not actually mentioned at all by either the masoretic text or the Septuagint. As other translations acknowledge, the text is corrupted at this point and reads only ... [they] named the altar, because ... witness ..., leading textual scholars to suspect that the name of the altar must have been dropped by a copyist, either deliberately (due to it perhaps being inconvenient) or unintentionally. August Dillmann [1] suggests Gal-'ed, i.e. Galeed, as in Genesis 31:47 which describes a location at which a mound of stones was built to be a witness to a pact between Jacob and Laban; should this be the case, there would be two conflicting explanations given for the name of Galeed, perhaps explaining why in one of the explanations a scribe accidentally failed to copy the name itself.

According to the biblical narrative, the naming happened once Joshua had completed the conquest of canaan, and the eastern tribes and western tribes parted ways to take possession of the territories respectively assigned to them. Since a growing majority of archaeologists believe that the conquest never happened, and that the Israelites simply emerged from a subculture within Canaanite society, most critical scholars view the earlier narrative (the one involving Jacob and Laban) to be more accurate an explanation for Galeed and the stone construction that was there, with the author of Joshua having taken an earlier tradition about the placename and worked it into the conquest narrative [2].

As ordinarily translated, the narrative explains the name of the altar (whatever it was) as a witness to the position that Yahweh is God (sometimes rendered The Lord is God); however, it is also accurate to translate the position as explaining that Yahweh is El. This latter rendering, if it reflects the original intent, suggests the narrative was written when some groups believed Yahweh and El were distinct, as hinted at in some of the older Psalms, particularly Psalm 82 (in which El is portrayed as chairing an assembly of deities, and assigning Yahweh to the Israelites).

  1. ^ Dillman Joshua ad loc
  2. ^ Israel Finkelstein, The Bible Unearthed




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