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Midian is generally thought to have been a land in northwest Arabia on the east shore of the Gulf of Aqabamarker although some have argued that it was not a specific geographical area but a league of tribes derived from a common ancestry in Abraham's son Midian by Keturah.


Midian ( , Standard Madyan Tiberian ; "Strife; judgment") was, according to Hebrew sources, the fourth son of Abraham, the patriarch of the Israelites, and Keturah whom he wed after the death of Sarah. His other brothers were Zimran, Jokshan, Shuah, Medanmarker and Ishbak.

Josephus writes of the brothers that "Abraham contrived to settle them in colonies; and they took possession of Troglodytis, and the country of Arabia the Happy, as far as it reaches to the Red Sea."

Midian was the father of Ephah, Epher, Hanoch, Abida, and Eldaah. which were to become the five tribes of the Midianites.

Location and lifestyle

Archaeology grants us with a spread of 'Midianite wares' ranging from Iraq, Jordan, Arabia to the Negev desert in southern Israel, presenting us with a spread population not just limited to the domains of Edom. Yet their own lands cannot be easily defined, but available evidence indicates that it must have extended from the eastern shores of the Sinai peninsula to the deserts east of the Gulf of Aqabah, Edom and Moab.

This race of tent-dwellers were led by five kings, each representing one of Midian's five son, of which the tribe of Epher seems to have been the wealthiest, typified by the copious trade in camels and dromedaries.. The story of Joseph also presents them as unscrupulous traders, willing to sell their second or third half cousin into slavery.
N.B. Midian would have been Joseph's great uncle, therefore Midian's sons would have been Joseph's second cousins


The Midianites through their apparent religio-political connection with the Moabites are thought to have worshipped a multitude of gods, including Baal-peor and the Queen of Heaven, Ashteroth. 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 Qur'an attributes the Midianites destruction to their failure to heed to the worship of Allah.

Military history


The writing originated in Arabia and did not come from outside, except along the Seir where other 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. 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 European 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.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.

Other Biblical references

  1. Midian was where Moses spent the forty years in voluntary exile after murdering the Egyptian
    1. Moses married Zipporah the daughter of Jethro, the priest of Midian
  2. Moab and Midian collude for Israel's destruction
  3. Peace between Israel, Moab and Midian
  4. War between Israel and Midian
    1. Israel slays the five kings and all the males of Midian
    2. Israel executes the young boys and women who were not virgins
    3. Israel takes captive 32,000 virgin girls

It may be noted that these five princes of Midian are called by Joshua 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 fire to all the cities and fortresses of the Midianites, took the women and children into captivity, and seized their cattle and goods. Moses ordered the Israelite commanders to slay every Midianite male child and every woman, but to keep the female virgins alive. These virgins were then divided amongst the twelve tribes along with the other "booty."

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 asserts that the Israelites suffered at the hands of the Midianites for a space of seven years. 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. The allied army of Midianites and Amalekites encamped in the valley of Jezreelmarker 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. 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. 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." In fact, aside from allusions to this victory, 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. It is suggested by some Muslim scholars that Jethro is the Prophet Shoaib however there is no textual evidence in any Islamic sources that prove Moses and the prophet Shuiab ever met and there is more reason to believe otherwise.

See also


  1. Dever, William G. Who were the Early Israelites and Where Did They Come From? William B Eerdmans Publishing Co (24 May 2006) ISBN: 978-0802844163 p.34
  2. Bromiley Geoffrey W . The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1996 ISBN:978-0802837837 p.350
  3. Josephus, Flavius, Antiquities, 1.15.1
  4. In this case the word is applied to the cave dwelling peoples of the Rift Valley
  5. R. V. "Abida"
  6. Seventh-day Adventist Bible Dictionary, Midian, Review & Herald Publishing Association (Washington D.C., USA) 1960
  7. ; ;
  8. Qur'an, Al-Araf, 7:85
  9. Qur'an, Hud, 11:84,95
  10. Dr. Muhammed Abdul Nayeem, p 167
  11. Shaika Haya Ali Al Khalifa and Michael Rice,
  12. Tale of the Shipwrecked Sailor 12th dynasty Egyptian
  13. Joshua 13:21
  14. Numbers 31:2–18
  15. Numbers 31:25–47
  16. Judges 6-8
  17. Judges 6:1
  18. Judges 6:1–6
  19. Judges 6:33
  20. Judges 7:1–24
  21. Judges 7:25 – 8:21
  22. Judges 8:28
  23. Psalms 83:10,12; Isaiah 9:4, 10:26; Habakkuk 3:7

Further reading

  • Clines, David and John Sawyer, eds. "Midian, Moab and Edom: The History and Archaeology of Late Bronze and Iron Age Jordan and North-West Arabia". Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, Supplement Series, No. 24. Sheffield Academic Press, 1983.

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