For other uses, see Midian (disambiguation).

Midian (/ˈmɪdiən/; Hebrew: מִדְיָן), Madyan (Arabic: مَـدْيَـن), or Madiam (Greek: Μαδιάμ)[1] is a geographical place and the Midianites a people mentioned in the Torah and Qur’an. Scholars generally consider it to have been located in the "northwest Arabian Peninsula, on the east shore of the Gulf of Aqaba on the Red Sea",[2] and have long associated it with the region of Modiana reported in that same area by Ptolemy.[3]

According to Genesis, the Midianites were the descendants of Midian, who was a son of Abraham and his wife Keturah: "… again Abraham took a wife, and her name was Keturah. And she bare him Zimran, and Jokshan, and Medan, and Midian, and Ishbak, and Shuah" (Genesis 25:1–2, King James Version).[4] The Midianites are also thought to be related to the Qenites (or Kenites), since the terms are used interchangeably in the Hebrew Bible. Moses' brother-in-law or father-in-law was a Qenite.[5]

Some scholars have claimed that Midian was not a geographical area but a league of tribes.[6][7]

Midianite religion

The Midianites through their apparent religio-political connection with the Moabites[8] are thought to have worshipped a multitude of gods,[9] including Baal-peor and the Queen of Heaven, Ashteroth. The Midianites may have worshiped Yahweh,[10] the god whom according to the Bible Moses encountered at the burning bush at the far end of Midian's wilderness.[11] It is uncertain, however, which deities the Midianites worshiped.

An Egyptian temple of Hathor at Timna continued to be used during the Midianite occupation of the site (terminal Late Bronze Age / Early Iron Age); the Midianites transformed the Hathor mining temple into a desert tent-shrine. In addition to the discovery of post-holes, large quantities of red and yellow decayed cloth with beads woven into it, along with numerous copper rings/wire used to suspend the curtains, were found all along walls 1 and 3 of the shrine. Beno Rothenberg,[12] the excavator of the site, suggested that the Midianites were making offerings to Hathor, especially since a large amount of Midianite votive vessels (25%) were discovered in the shrine. However, whether Hathor or some other deity was the object of devotion during this period is difficult to ascertain. A small bronze snake with gilded head was also discovered in the naos of the Timna mining shrine, along with a hoard of metal objects that included a small bronze figurine of a bearded male god, which according to Rothenberg was Midianite in origin. Michael Homan[13] points out that the Midianite tent-shrine at Timna is one of the closest parallels to the biblical Tabernacle.

Midianite pottery

Midianite pottery, also called Qurayyah Painted Ware (QPW), is found at numerous sites stretching from the southern Levant to NW Saudi Arabia, the Hejaz; Qurayyah in NW Saudi Arabia is thought to be its original location of manufacture.[14] The pottery is bichrome / polychrome style and it dates as early as the 13th century B.C.; its many geometric, human, and animal motifs are painted in browns and dark reds on a pinkish-tan slip. "Midianite" pottery is found in its largest quantities at metallurgical sites in the southern Levant, especially Timna.[15] Because of the Mycenaean motifs on Midianite pottery, some scholars including George Mendenhall,[16] Peter Parr,[17] and Beno Rothenberg[18] have suggested that the Midianites were originally Sea Peoples who migrated from the Aegean region and imposed themselves on a pre-existing Semitic stratum. The question of the origin of the Midianites still remains open.

A Land or a League?

Some scholars have suggested that 'Midian' does not refer to a geographical area or a specific tribe, but to a confederation or 'league' of tribes brought together as a collective worship purposes. Paul Haupt first made this suggestion in 1909,[19] describing Midian as a 'cultic collective' (Kultgenossenschaft) or an 'amphictyony', meaning 'an association (Bund) of different tribes in the vicinity of a sanctuary'. Elath, on the northern tip of the Gulf of Aqaba was suggested as the location of the first shrine, with a second sanctuary located at Kadesh.

Later writers have questioned the identified sanctuary locations but supported the thesis of a Midianite league. George Mendenhall suggested that the Midianites were a non-Semitic confederate group,[20] and William Dumbrell maintained the same case:

"We believe that Haupt's proposal is to be adopted, and that Midian, rather than depicting a land, is a general term for an amorphous league of the Late Bronze Age, of wide geographical range, who, after a series of reverses, the most prominent of which are recorded in Judges 6-7, largely disappeared from the historical scene...'[21]

Biblical references

  1. Midian was the son of Abraham [22]
  2. Joseph was sold by the Midianites who came across him and they sold him to the Ishmaelites [23]
  3. Midian was where Moses spent forty years in voluntary exile after murdering an Egyptian.[24]
  4. Moses married Zipporah the daughter of Jethro, the priest of Midian [25] (also known as Reuel).
  5. Jethro advised Moses on establishing a system of delegated legal decision-making [26]
  6. Moses asked Hobab, the son of Reuel the Midianite, to accompany the Israelites travelling towards the promised land because of his local knowledge, although Hobab preferred to return to his homeland [27]
  7. Cozbi, daughter of the Midianite chief Zur, was speared by Phinehas together with Zimri. Zimri was the son of a Simeonite chief, while Cozbi was a Midianite woman taken into his family by Zimri.[28] The Midianite women's seductions of Israelites to their idol Baal-Peor (or Baal-phegor) is described as the cause of offense to God, even though the Midianites were racially akin to the Israelites as descendants of Abraham, and Moses' own wife Zipporah was Midianite. Ignoring this, at least one modern day movement has interpreted this story as a prohibition against miscegenation.
  8. Soon after, Yahweh instructed Moses to collect an army and destroy Midian.[29] Some commentators, for example the Pulpit Commentary and Gill's Exposition of the Bible, have noted that God's command focused on attacking the Midianites and not the Moabites,[30] and similarly Moses in Deuteronomy directed that the Israelites should not harass the Moabites.[31]
  9. The Israelites killed every Midianite male, including Zur and four other named chiefs, and brought back the women and children as prisoners of war
  10. Moses condemned the Midianite women as the cause of the enmity between the Israelites and the Midianites, and ordered every woman who had slept with a man to be killed (Numbers 31:17), but 32,000 girls who have never slept with a man were kept as slaves (Book of Numbers 31:35).
  11. Israel was oppressed by Midian for seven years during the time of the Judges (Judges 6:1-6). Gideon was called by God to deliver Israel from Midian's armies (Judges 6:7-9). He killed the Midianite princes Oreb and Zeeb, then pursued their kings Zebah and Zalmunna as far as Karkor, slaying them as well.
  12. Hadad the Edomite, opposing King Soloman, passed through Midian and Paran while fleeing from Edom to Egypt.[32]
  13. Isaiah (60:6) speaks of camels from Midian and Ephah coming to "cover your land," along with the gold and frankincense from Sheba. This passage, taken by the Gospel of Matthew as a foreshadowing of the Magi's gifts to the infant Jesus, has been incorporated into the Christmas liturgy.

In the Qur’an

The people of Midian are mentioned extensively in the Arabic Qur’an. The word 'Madyan' appears 10 times in it. The people are also called "As-habul-Aykah" (Arabic: أصـحـابُ الأيـكـة, "Companions of the Wood").[33][34][35][36]

Surah 9, verse 70 says "Has not the story reached them of those before them? - The people of Nuh (Noah), 'Ad, and Thamud, the people of Ibrahim (Abraham), the dwellers [literally, comrades] of Madyan (Midian) and the cities overthrown [i.e. the people to whom Lūt (Lot) preached], to them came their Messengers with clear proofs. So it was not Allah who wronged them, but they used to wrong themselves."

In Surah 7 (Al-A`rāf) Madyan is mentioned as one of several peoples who were warned by prophets to repent lest judgment fall on them. The story of Madyan is the last, coming after that of Lot preaching to his people (referring to the destruction of the Cities of the Plain). Madyan was warned by Shu‘aib to repent of using false weights and measures and lying in wait along the road. But they rejected Shu`ayb, and consequently were destroyed by a tremor (rajfa, v. 91). Abdullah Yusuf Ali in his commentary (1934) writes, "The fate of the Madyan people is described in the same terms as that of the Thamūd in verse 78 above. An earthquake seized them by night, and they were buried in their own homes, no longer to vex Allah's earth. But a supplementary detail is mentioned in [Qur'an] 26:189, 'the punishment of a day of overshadowing gloom,' which may be understood to mean a shower of ashes and cinders accompanying a volcanic eruption. Thus a day of terror drove them into their homes, and the earthquake finished them." (The volcano Hala-'l Badr is in Madyan.)

See also


  1. Also Μαδιανίτης for "Midianite".
  2. Dever, William G. Who were the Early Israelites and Where Did They Come From? William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. (24 May 2006) ISBN 978-0-8028-4416-3 p.34
  3. Ptolemy, Geography vi. 7
  4. http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Genesis%2025:1-2&version=KJV
  5. 4:11&src=HE Judges 1:16, 4:11
  6. William J. Dumbrell, Midian: A Land or a League?, Vetus Testamentum, Vol. 25, Fasc. 2, No. 2a. Jubilee Number (May, 1975), pp. 323-337
  7. Bromiley Geoffrey W. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1996. ISBN 978-0-8028-3783-7. p. 350.
  8. Genesis 36:35; Numbers 22:4,7; Numbers 25:1,6
  9. Qur'an, Al-Araf, 7:85
  10. Karel van der Toorn, Family Religion in Babylonia, Ugarit, and Israel: Continuity and Change in the Forms of Religious Life (Leiden: E. J. Brill), p. 283.
  11. Exodus 3:1
  12. Beno Rothenberg, Timna: Valley of the Biblical Copper Mines (London: Thames and Hudson, 1972).
  13. Michael M. Homan, To Your Tents, O Israel!: The Terminology, Function, Form, and Symbolism of the Tents in the Bible and the Ancient Near East, Culture and History of the Ancient Near East, Vol. 12 (Brill: 2002), p. 118
  14. B. Rothenberg and J.Glass, "The Midianite Pottery," in Midian, Moab, and Edom: The History and Archaeology of the Late Bronze and Iron Age Jordan and North-West Arabia, JSOT Supplement Series 24, ed. John F.A. Sawyer and David J.A. Clines (Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1983), pp. 65–124.
  15. Tebes, "Pottery Makers and Premodern Exchange in the Fringes of Egypt: An Approximation to the Distribution of Iron Age Midianite Pottery," Buried History 43 (2007), pp. 11–26.
  16. George Mendenhall, "Qurayya and the Midianites," in Studies in the History of Arabia, Vol. 3, ed. A. R. Al-Ansary (Riyadh: King Saud University), pp. 137-145
  17. Peter J. Parr, "Further Reflections on Late Second Millennium Settlement in North West Arabia," in Retrieving the Past: Essays on Archaeologial Research and Methodology, ed. J. D. Seger (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 1996), pp. 213-218.
  18. Rothenberg, "Egyptian Chariots, Midianites from Hijaz/ Midian (Northwest Arabia) and Amalekites from the Negev in the Timna Mines: Rock drawings in the Ancient Copper Mines of the Arabah – new aspects of the region’s history II," Institute for Archaeo-Metallurgical Studies, newsletter no. 23 (2003), p. 12.
  19. Paul Haupt, Midian und Sinai, Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenländischen Gesellschaft 63, 1909, p. 56, available online in German at http://menadoc.bibliothek.uni-halle.de/dmg/periodical/pageview/55820, quoted in Dumbrell accessed 1 August 2015
  20. The Incident at Beth Baal Peor, The Tenth Generation, 1973
  21. William J. Dumbrell, Midian: A Land or a League?, Vetus Testamentum, Vol. 25, Fasc. 2, No. 2a. Jubilee Number (May, 1975), pp. 32
  22. Genesis 25:1-2
  23. Genesis 37:28
  24. Exodus 2:11-15
  25. Exodus 2:21
  26. Exodus 18
  27. Numbers 10:29-31
  28. Numbers 25:6-8,14-15
  29. Numbers 25:17 and Numbers 31:1
  30. Pulpit Commentary and Gill's Exposition of the Bible, http://biblehub.com/numbers/25-17.htm accessed 1 July 2015
  31. Deuteronomy 2:9
  32. 1 Kings 11:17-18
  33. Quran 15 :78–79
  34. Quran 26 :176–189
  35. Quran 38 :13–15
  36. Quran 50 :12–14

Further reading

External links

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