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Midian was a land bordered by the Arabah between Moab and Elat and by the Gulf of Aqaba and the Red Sea. Its East had no borders.


In Bible history, Midian was where Moses spent the 40 years between the time that he fled Egypt after killing an Egyptian who had been beating an Israelite,[1] and his return for leading the Israelites.[2] During those years, he married Zipporah, the daughter of Jethro, the priest of Midian. Exodus 3:1 implies that God's appearance in the burning bush at Mount Horeb occurred in Midian. As the Bible asserts, in later years the Midianites were often oppressive and hostile to the Israelites, at least partly as God's punishment for their idolatry.[3] By the time of the Judges, the Midianites, led by two princes Oreb (Hebrew: עֹרֵב, Orev) and Zeeb (Hebrew: זְאֵב, Z'ev) were raiding Israel with the use of swift camels, until they were decisively defeated by Gideon.[4] Today, the former territory of Midian is located in what is now a small area of western Saudi Arabia, southern Jordan, southern Israel and the Sinai.

Midian spaned from Mount Horhab located at Elat at the head of the Gulf of Aqaba North to Moab sharing a border with Edom which runs up the Arabah through Petra to the Dead Sea. Midian contains the land to the southeast of that border as far south as Jokuban and as far east as the Crystal Plateau containing much of northwestern Saudi Arabia[5]

In the Book of Genesis, Midian was the son of Abraham and his last wife Keturah whom he married after the death of his old wife Sarah.[6] Midian's five sons, Ephah, Epher, Enoch, Abida,[7] and Eldaah, were the progenitors of the Midianites.[8] The term "Midian", which may be derived from the Semitic root word for judgment, denotes also the nation of the Midianites; the plural form occurring only in Genesis 37:28,36 and Numbers 25:17, 31:2. In Genesis Midian is described as having been to the east of Canaan; Abraham sends the sons of his concubines, including Midian, eastward.[9]

Its geographic location is anchored in Exodus by the statement that Moses led the flocks of Jethro, the priest of Midian, to Mount Horeb Exodus 3:1) and by the fact that Moses met up with Jethro in Midian while the sons of Israel were at Mount Horab after crossing the Red Sea and Voyaging up the Gulf of Aqaba to Elat.

  • 9. Dophkah Nu. 33:12-13 "Dophkah" from the semitic root for Adonis, a Phoenician emporia at Elat Egyptiam suburb of modern Elat
  • 10. Alush Nu. 33:13-14 the summit of Horeb where the water flowed from the rock Mt Horab at modern Elat and where Moses met up with Jethro
  • 11. Rephidim Ex. 17:1, 19:2; Nu. 33:14-15 near Mt. Horab at Elat Place of rhe First Contact with the Amalek and Rephidim of the Negev, Edom, and Canaan
  • 12. Sinai Wilderness Ex. 19:1-2; Nu. 10:12, 33:15-16 The campsites near Elat A dozen sites with Egyptian artifacts have been found at Timnah near Elat
  • 13. Kibroth-Hattaavah Taberah Nu. 11:1, Nu. 11:35, 33:16-17 lit. Graves of Longing or Graves of Lust The burials of those who fought the Amalek at Horab

The remainder of the stations of the Exodus circumnavigate Edom heading north up the border of Edom with the Sinai to the brook of Egypt, then East to Moab and the Dead Sea, then south through Petra to Elat and back to Canaan.

The Midianites dwelt in the Arabah bordering the Negev occupied by Edom and Northwestern Saudi Arabia up as far as Moab which is modern Jordan.[10] Midian is likewise described as in the vicinity of Moab: the Midianites were beaten by the Edomite king Hadad ben Bedad "in the field of Moab",[11] and in the account of Balaam it is said that the elders of both Moab and Midian called upon him to curse Israel.[12]


In the time of Midian the languages of western Arabia were Afroasiatic Beja, Cushitic, Berber and Omotic [13] rather than semitic. The writing originated in Arabia and did not come from outside, except along the Seir where othere cultures diffused semitic languages into Arabia the language was not western semitic, Canaanite, Akkadian or Egyptian but rather an Arabian language written in Thamudic script (wasums) developed from rock art.[14] The language at Elat was Egyptian and in Edom was Canaanite c 1450 BC

In the parts of the Arabian peninsula fronting on the Persian Gulf, there are both Ubaid and Harrapan linguistic influences. Some, like S. Rao, have posited the theory that proto Indo Europeean languages developed in the trade of the Jemdet Nasr period between Lothal in Melluha, Makkan in Oman and Dilmun in the Eastern Region with the Sumerian cities on the Euphrates.[15] Trade links with the coast went inland as far as Hawtah and then continued both North to Yabrin and south to Wadi ad Wasr which then went on to Yemen and from there ran west up the mountains of the Red Sea to Midian. Midians southern bound would have been Taif just south of Mecca in the mountains. The coastal region from Yanbu up to Medinna was engaged in the Red Sea trade with Egypt bringing up Frankincense and Myhhr from the bab al mandab and bringing down copper from Elat.[16]

During the Exodus and the period of the Judges

In Exodus, the land of Midian is introduced as the place to which Moses flees when running away from Pharaoh. There, he encountered Reuel or Jethro, a Midianite priest, who later became Moses' father-in-law (Exodus 2). Toward the close of the forty years' wandering of the children of Israel in the wilderness, the Midianites ally with the Moabites against the Israelites, in asking Balaam the son of Beor to curse the Israelites (Numbers 22); however, Balaam was prohibited to do so, and prophesied future greatness for Israel (Numbers 24). Subsequently, Israelites coexisted peacefully with Moabites and Midianites (Numbers 25). However, Israel suffered a plague which was blamed on Israelite participation in the local religion and sexual immorality. For this reason, according to the Torah, Moses was ordered by God to punish the Midianites. He dispatched against them an army of 12,000 men, under Phinehas the priest; this force defeated the Midianites and slew all their males, including their five kings, Evi, Rekem, Zur, Hur, and Reba. These five kings may have been the rulers of the five clans descended from their eponymous folk-ancestor's sons.

It may be noted that these five princes of Midian are called by Joshua[17] the vassals of Sihon, the Amorite king of Heshbon. It is possible that Sihon had previously conquered Midian and made it a vassal, and that after his death the Midianites recovered their independence. The Israelite soldiers set on fire all the cities and fortresses of the Midianites, carried the women and children into captivity, and seized their cattle and goods. God later ordered Moses to have the Israelites slay every Midianite male child and every woman, however, the soldiers spared the female virgins, who were then given to the Israelite soldiers.[18] It appears from the same account that the Midianites were rich in cattle and gold. The narrative shows that each of the five Midianite tribes was governed by its own king, but that all acted together against a common enemy; that while a part of each tribe dwelt in cities and fortresses in the vicinity of Moab, another part led a nomadic life, living in tents and apparently remote from the seat of the war.

The Biblical account of the battle between the Midianites and Gideon[19] asserts that the Israelites suffered at the hands of the Midianites for a space of seven years.[20] The Midianites seem to have been then a powerful and independent nation; they allied themselves with the Amalekites and the Kedemites, and they oppressed the Israelites so severely that many were obliged to seek refuge in caves and strongholds; Midianite raiders destroyed crops and reduced them to extreme poverty.[21] The allied army of Midianites and Amalekites encamped in the valley of Jezreel[22] after having crossed the Jordan. Gideon with his army encamped by the fountain of Harod, the Midianite army being to the north of him. With 300 men Gideon succeeded in surprising and routing them, and they fled homeward across the Jordan in confusion.[23] A point worth noting is that here only two Midianite kings, Zebah and Zalmunna, and two princes (or generals - Hebrew: שַׂר), Oreb and Zeeb, are mentioned.[24] This would show that only two tribes bore the name "Midianites," while the remaining three probably were merged with other tribes, including perhaps partly with the Israelites. Midian is stated to have been "subdued before the children of Israel, so that they lifted up their heads no more."[25] In fact, aside from allusions to this victory,[26] Midian is not mentioned again in sacred history except in Judith 2:26, where the term "Midianites" seems to be a mistake for "Arabians."

The people of Midian are also mentioned extensively in the Qur'an, where the name appears in Arabic as Madyan. Jethro is honoured in Islam as the Prophet Shoaib, and a mosque is located by a site believed to be his tomb in an area called Wadi Shuib, near the Jordanian city of Mahis.

According to the Hebrew Bible, Midian (Hebrew: מִדְיָן‎, Standard Midyan Tiberian Miḏyān; "Strife; judgment") was the fourth son of Abraham, the patriarch of the Israelites, and Keturah, his second wife. (Gen 25:2-6 and 1Chronicles 1:32). Midian had five brothers, Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Ishbak, and Shuah. (Genesis 25:1-6) Abraham sent his sons by Keturah to live in the east, far from his son Isaac. Midian was the father of Ephah, Epher, Hanoch, Abida, and Eldaah.

Midian's descendants, the Midianites, settled in the territory east of the Jordan (Tobit 1:14) and also much of the area east of the Dead Sea (later occupied by Ammonites, Moabites and Edomites), and southward through the desert wilderness of the Arabah. During the time of the Exodus, their territory apparently also included portions of the Sinai Peninsula. They dominated this territory from roughly the twelfth through the tenth centuries BCE.

The Kenites and Ephah

The first recorded instance of a Midianite tribe surrendering its identity by attaching itself to another people appears in Judges 1:16. In this instance, which occurred in the period of the Judges, the Kenites, descendants of Jethro the Midianite, attached themselves to the Israelites in the wilderness of Judah, south of Arad. Later, in the time of Tiglath-pileser (745-727 BCE), a tribe, called in the cuneiform inscriptions "Hayapa" and identified by Friedrich Delitzsch ("Wo Lag das Paradies?" p. 304) with the tribe of Ephah, is said to have dwelt in the northern part of the Hejaz. Isaiah 60:6 speaks of Midian and Ephah as of two distinct peoples. The second son of Midian, Epher, is identified by Knobel with the Ghifar, an Arab tribe which, in the time of Mohammed, had encampments near Medina. Traces of the Midianites existed in post-Biblical times. Ptolemy[27] mentions a place called Modiana, on the coast of Arabia; according to his statement of its position, this place may be identified with the Madyan of the Arabic geographers, in the neighborhood of 'Ain 'Una, opposite the extremity of the Sinaitic Peninsula, and now known under the name of "Magha 'ir Shu'aib" ("the caves of Shu'aib").


Archaeologists have discovered among the remains of the 13th-12th centuries BCE Egyptian mining activities in Timna valley, southern Israel, a material culture that in some aspects resembles that found in contemporary sites in the Hejaz. Particularly, a specific pottery type occurs in Timna known as "Midianite ware", which is also found in the Negev, southern Jordan and the Hejaz.


In the Bible, the Midianites are described as worshipping a multitude of gods, including Baal-peor and the Asherah. An Egyptian temple of Hathor at Timna continued to be used during the Midianite occupation of the site; however, whether Hathor or some other deity was the object of devotion during this period is impossible to ascertain.

The Midianites also seem to have been centered around a cultic site at Mount Horeb. This has led some scholars to speculate that the worship of YHWH (a name of God in Judaism) may have actually begun among the Midianites to be adapted later by the Israelites, a claim contested by many Christian scholars. Josephus, in "Antiquities Of The Jews," BK IV, Chapter VI, clearly contradicts this claim as he portrays in extensive narrative the seduction of young men of the Israelite Army, during the time of Moses, by Midianite women who enticed the Israelites through lewdness and idolatry to worship their gods in return for their remaining with them.[28] An Egyptian inscription refers to "Yhw in the land of the Shasu" as a tribe or people living in what would later become Midianite territory.

See also


  1. Exodus 2:11–15
  2. Exodus 4:18
  3. Judges 6:1
  4. Judges 6–8
  5. Dr. Muhammed Abdul Nayeem, (1990). Prehistory and Protohistory of the Arabian Peninsula. Hyderabad. ISBN.
  6. Genesis 25:1
  7. R. V. "Abida"
  8. Genesis 25:1–4; I Chronicles 1:32–33
  9. Genesis 25:6
  10. I Kings 11:18
  11. Genesis 36:35)
  12. Numbers 22:4,7
  13. Loprieno "Ancient Egyptian" p5
  14. Dr. Muhammed Abdul Nayeem, Prehistory and Protohistory of the Arabian Peninsula. Hyderabad. 1990. ISBN.  p 167
  15. Shaika Haya Ali Al Khalifa and Michael Rice, Bahrain through the Ages. 1986. ISBN 071030112-X. 
  16. Tale of the Shipwrecked Sailor 12th dynasty Egyptian
  17. Joshua 13:21
  18. Numbers 31:2–18
  19. Judges 6-8
  20. Judges 6:1
  21. Judges 6:1–6
  22. Judges 6:33
  23. Judges 7:1–24
  24. Judges 7:25 - 8:21
  25. Judges 8:28
  26. Psalms 83:10,12; Isaiah 9:4, 10:26; Habakkuk 3:7
  27. Geography" 6:7
  28. Wikisource-logo.svg "Madianites" in the 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia.


  • Cheyne and Black, Encyc. Bibl.;
  • Sir Richard Burton, The Gold Mines of Midian, London, 1878;
  • idem, The Land of Midian Revisited, ib. 1879.S.