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Zelah, from the Hebrew name pronounced tseh-lah, was a town in the tribal territory of Benjamin (see map below, also Bible Places), not far from Jerusalem and Jericho. It was probably the birthplace of King Saul, and definitely where Saul was reburied by King David after Saul was killed in battle with the Philistines. Saul's beheaded, partially-cremated body was at first buried at Jabesh-Gilead, which was located east of the Jordan River.


Israelite Tribal Lands After the Israelites crossed the Jordan River into their promised land, Zelah was among the towns allocated to the tribe of Benjamin:

"And the lot of the tribe of the children of Benjamin came up according to their families: and the coast of their lot came forth between the children of Judah and the children of Joseph ... Now the cities of the tribe of the children of Benjamin according to their families were Jericho, and Bethhoglah, and the valley of Keziz. And Betharabah, and Zemaraim, and Bethel, And Avim, and Parah, and Ophrah, And Chepharhaammonai, and Ophni, and Gaba; twelve cities with their villages: Gibeon, and Ramah, and Beeroth, And Mizpeh, and Chephirah, and Mozah, And Rekem, and Irpeel, and Taralah, And Zelah, Eleph, and Jebusi, which is Jerusalem, Gibeath, and Kirjath; fourteen cities with their villages. This is the inheritance of the children of Benjamin according to their families" (Joshua 18:11,21-28 KJV)

After Saul died in battle against the Philistines, his body was abused, first by beheading, and then by being hung for public display. The body of Saul and his sons were then burned, and the bones were buried in Jabesh, also known as Jabeshgilead, or Jabesh-gilead (as in Jabesh in Gilead).

"And it came to pass on the morrow, when the Philistines came to strip the slain, that they found Saul and his three sons fallen in Mount Gilboa. And they cut off his head, and stripped off his armour, and sent into the land of the Philistines round about, to publish it in the house of their idols, and among the people. And they put his armour in the house of Ashtaroth: and they fastened his body to the wall of Bethshan."

"And when the inhabitants of Jabeshgilead heard of that which the Philistines had done to Saul; All the valiant men arose, and went all night, and took the body of Saul and the bodies of his sons from the wall of Bethshan, and came to Jabesh, and burnt them there. And they took their bones, and buried them under a tree at Jabesh, and fasted seven days." (1 Samuel 31:8-13 KJV)

King Saul was a Benjamite (i.e. Israel's first human king was of the tribe of Benjamin; he was replaced by King David who was of the tribe of Judah - see also Children of Jacob), possibly born in Zelah, since his father Kish was buried there. That was the probable reason that King David, out of respect for a fallen king (even though Saul had become a bitter enemy of David, and tried to kill David numerous times) and Saul's son Jonathan (who had been a very close friend of David) had Saul's bones removed from Jabesh-gilead and reburied in his father's sepulchre at Zelah:

"And David went and took the bones of Saul and the bones of Jonathan his son from the men of Jabeshgilead, which had stolen them from the street of Bethshan, where the Philistines had hanged them, when the Philistines had slain Saul in Gilboa: And he brought up from thence the bones of Saul and the bones of Jonathan his son; and they gathered the bones of them that were hanged. And the bones of Saul and Jonathan his son buried they in the country of Benjamin in Zelah, in the sepulchre of Kish his father: and they performed all that the king commanded. And after that God was entreated for the land." (2 Samuel 21:12-14 KJV)

Fact Finder: Who was King Saul? Who was Jonathan?
See Saul and Jonathan

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