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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible

Midian, Mtdianites

MIDIAN, MTDIANITES. A nomadic tribe or group of tribes, said by an early genealogy ( Genesis 25:2 ) to be descended from Abraham by Keturah, of which the Kenites (wh. see) were a part. They lived in ancient times in northern Arabia, but vanished at an early date from history.

According to E [Note: Elohist.] they were traders, who sold Joseph into Egypt (Genesis 37:28; Genesis 37:36 ). They roamed about Sinai ( Exodus 3:1 ff., Habakkuk 3:7 ). Jethro (E [Note: Elohist.] ) or Hobab (J [Note: Jahwist.] ), Moses’ father-in-law, was their priest. As Jethro is also said to be a Kenite ( Judges 1:16 ), probably the Kenites were a part of the Midianites. They were afterwards absorbed by the tribe of Judah ( Judges 1:16 , 1 Samuel 15:6 ). The Prophetic source (J [Note: Jahwist.] ) also shows that in an early form of the narrative it was Midian, not Moab, that was said to have hired Balaam to curse Israel (cf. Numbers 22:4; Numbers 22:7 ). If this is so, it was a different branch of Midianites from the Kenites. The same source informs us ( Genesis 36:35 ) that a king of Edom smote Midian in the field of Moab. The references point to an activity of Midian in this region of which we have no other trace.

The next we hear of the Midianites is in the period of the Judges, when they invaded the territory of central Palestine in hordes, and were put to rout by Gideon and his three hundred men (Judges 6:1-40; Judges 7:1-25; Judges 8:1-35 ). These Midianites seem to have lived to the east of Palestine, and to have gained access to the west Jordan lands through the valley of the Jabbok. This corresponds with the statement of Genesis 25:6 (JE [Note: Jewish Encyclopedia.] ), that the sons of Abraham by Keturah, of whom Midian was one, lived to the eastward. At the time of Gideon the Midianites were led by two chiefs, whose names J [Note: Jahwist.] preserves as Zebah and Zalmunna ( Judges 8:18 ), while E [Note: Elohist.] calls them Oreb and Zeeb ( Judges 7:25 ). Gideon so completely ruined the power of the Midianites that his victory was long remembered (cf. Isaiah 9:4; Isaiah 10:26 , Psalms 83:9 ). From this blow the tribe never recovered, and disappears from history.

According to a late Priestly passage (Numbers 31:2-18 ), Moses is said to have gained a great victory over the Midianites. Perhaps, as some scholars think, this is a later version of the victory of Gideon. Possibly it is another version of the victory of the king of Edom.

The genealogy given in Genesis 25:1-4 calls Ephah a son of Midian. Isaiah 60:6 ff. mentions both Midian and Ephah in connexion with Kedar. Tiglath-pileser iii. ( KIB [Note: IB Keilinschriftliche Bibliothek.] ii. 21) mentions a Khayapa in connexion with Taima, which Delitzsch ( Parodies , 304) identifies with Ephah. This would correspond with the location given in the genealogy.

Ptolemy ( Geog . vi. 7) mentions a place, Modiana , on the coast of Arabia, which is probably the same as Madyan on the Haj road to Mecca. Nöldeke ( EBi [Note: Encyclopædia Biblica.] iii. col. 3081) thinks that the name has survived from an old habitat of the Midianites.

George A. Barton.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Midian, Mtdianites'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hdb/m/midian-mtdianites.html. 1909.

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