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Genesis 31:47-48 reads as follows:

וַיִּקְרָא-לוֹ לָבָן, יְגַר שָׂהֲדוּתָא; וְיַעֲקֹב, קָרָא לוֹ גַּלְעֵד. מח וַיֹּאמֶר לָבָן, הַגַּל הַזֶּה עֵד בֵּינִי וּבֵינְךָ הַיּוֹם; עַל-כֵּן קָרָא-שְׁמוֹ, גַּלְעֵד

This is how the NLT translates:

To commemorate the event, Laban called the place Jegar-sahadutha (which means “witness pile” in Aramaic), and Jacob called it Galeed (which means “witness pile” in Hebrew).

48Then Laban declared, “This pile of stones will stand as a witness to remind us of the covenant we have made today.” This explains why it was called Galeed—“Witness Pile.”

This translation is kinda clumsy but is the best way to explain the full meaning of this verse to a non-Hebrew speaker. In any case, the text here is clearly trying to explain the origin of Hebrew geographic location names and connecting them with Jacob and Laban. This is evident from the verse that follows as well:

It was also called Mizpah, c because he said, “May the Lord keep watch between you and me when we are away from each other.

Now we know this story took place in Gilead (גִלְעָד), as verse 23 tells us, which also happens to be close to Mitzpah. So it's only natural that the text here will give us the origin of this name, by linking the name Gilead (גִלְעָד) with Jacob's witness pile of stones which he called Galeed (גַלְעֵד). So we would expect the verse to read thus:

וַיִקְרָא-לוֹ לָבָן, יְגַר שָׂהֲדוּתָא; וְיַעֲקֹב, קָרָא לוֹ גַּלְעֵד. מח וַיֹּאמֶר לָבָן, הַגַּל הַזֶּה עֵד בֵּינִי וּבֵינְךָ הַיּוֹם; עַל-כֵּן קָרָא-שְׁמוֹ גִּלְעָד

Or in English:

To commemorate the event, Laban called the place Jegar-sahadutha (which means “witness pile” in Aramaic), and Jacob called it Galeed (which means “witness pile” in Hebrew).

48Then Laban declared, “This pile of stones will stand as a witness to remind us of the covenant we have made today.” This explains why it was called Gilead.

Since the only geographical location we know by this name is Gilead not Galeed, this is what we would expect the verse to say in conclusion: though Jacob had named it Galeed (גַלְעֵד) this name later evolved and came to be known as Gilead (גִלְעָד), i.e., the Gilead region that the biblical audience was well familiar with. But instead the nekudot added by the masoretes renders it גַלְעֵד not גִלְעָד, and the LXX agrees, so now we have the same name Galeed (גַלְעֵד) at the end of verse 48, which really doesn't make sense, because that name is unknown to us and the biblical audience. Furthermore, it doesn't fully explain the etymology of the Gilead name (known to the biblical audience). Can anyone explain why this is so? Is there a reason for this change, and does the conventional reading make sense in context?

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    The fact that something is unknown to us does not make it either impossible nor nonsensical. The premise is a non sequitur.
    – Dottard
    Nov 30 '20 at 19:43
  • @Dottard how would the bible-era scholar understand this? "That's why it's called Galeed"? what is Galeed? he has never heard of such a place. To the reader it's kinda non-sensical. Besides, if the text would say that, that's one thing, but it's this way only because its vocalized this way, this problem is easily fixed if we read it: Gilead. That's why I'm asking what made the masoretes read it this way. Very sensible question.
    – Bach
    Nov 30 '20 at 19:54
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    We do not know how the locals understood this. It is quite possible that there was another place called Galeed or similar. Further, ancient spelling was not entirely uniform, and thus, there might have been some variation in spelling or pronunciation as well.
    – Dottard
    Nov 30 '20 at 19:58
  • @Dottard if you could prove that, that would be an acceptable answer. I was actually thinking that this may reflect an older pronunciation of the city Gilead, but to my knowledge there is no biblical evidence to support that.
    – Bach
    Nov 30 '20 at 20:02
  • "Gal-ed" (גַּלְעֵֽד) = 'Witness Pile' appears to be the original pronunciation of the compound word based on its meaning - instead of "Gil-ad" (גִּלְעָד֙) = 'Rejoice, eternity!' which loses the pun associated with "Mizpah" (מִּצְפָּה֙). Nov 30 '20 at 20:51
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This place is called גִּלְעָד everywhere else in Tanakh; it is only called גַּלְעֵד here. The word גַּלְעֵד can be broken into two words גַּל (pile) and עֵד (witness) which are both used in the passage. The word גִּלְעָד cannot be split in the same way. Thus the author is likely using גַּלְעֵד as the etymology for the word גִּלְעָד. Next, note that only the narrator uses the term גִּלְעָד, whereas both people in the event use the word גַּלְעֵד. Thus it is likely that, according to the author, in the time period of the events, it was originally called גַּלְעֵד, but over time the name linguistically evolved into גִּלְעָד, as it was called by the time the author wrote the book.

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  • So are you suggesting that at the time the author wrote this text the city was still called by the ancient name Galeed? This would mean that this part of the text is significantly older than the rest of the chapter and of Genesis as a whole (since the narrator already uses the familiar term Gilead), since nowhere in the bible besides for here does this archaic form of Gilead come up.
    – Bach
    Dec 1 '20 at 1:19
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    I am suggesting that by the time the author wrote this text, it was called with the name Gilead; however, he is saying that this name used to be Galeed to explain the etymology.
    – aefrrs
    Dec 1 '20 at 2:12
  • This is a text from Genesis and the niqqud was not used in the original text. So there has to be a recent explanation for the differences. Or if this verbal difference was maintained orally (which I highly doubt) then it was also known where this place was geographically and if it coincided or not. Or maybe it was the same place and someone is trying to misidentify it. Aug 23 at 23:16

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