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Bible Encyclopedias

1911 Encyclopedia Britannica

Midian (Bible)

MIDIAN (properly Madyan, so Sept.), in the Bible, one of the peoples of North Arabia whom the Hebrews recognized as distant kinsmen, representing them as sons of Abraham's wife Keturah ("incense"). Thus the sons of Keturah are the "incense-men," not indeed inhabitants of the far south incense-land, but presumably the tribes whose caravans brought the incense to Palestine and the Mediterranean ports. So the Midianites appear in connexion with the gold and incense trade from Yemen (Isa. lx. 6), and with the trade between Egypt and Syria (Gen. xxxvii. 28, 36). They appear also as warriors invading Canaan from the eastern desert, and ravaging the land as similar tribes have done in all ages when Palestine lacked a strong government (see Gideon). Again, they are described as peaceful shepherds, and the pastures of the Midianites, or of the branch of Midian to which Moses's father-in-law (Jethro or Reuel, or Hobab) belonged, lay near Mount Horeb (Exod. iii. 1). The Kenites who had friendly relations with Israel, and are represented in Judg. i. 16, iv. 11, as the kin of Moses's father-in-law, appear to have been but one fraction of Midian which took a separate course from their early relations to Israel.' Balaam, according to one version of the story, was a Midianite (Num. xxii. seq.) and his association with Moab has been connected with the statement in Gen. xxxvi. 35, that the Edomite king Hadad defeated Midian in the land of Moab; (see Balaam, Edom).

1 The admixture of Midianite elements in Judah and the other border tribes of Israel is confirmed by a comparison of the names of the Midianite clans in Gen. xxv. 4 with the Hebrew genealogies (1 Chron. ii. 46, Ephah; iv. 17, Epher; Gen. xlvi. 9, Hanoch). Epher is also associated with `Ofr near Hanakiya (Hanoch), three days north from Medina, also with Apparu a Bedouin locality mentioned by Assur-bani-pal. Ephah is probably the Hayapa transported by Sargon to Beth-Omri (Samaria).

A place Midian is mentioned in i Kings xi. 18, apparently between Edom and Paran, and in later times the name lingered in the district east of the Gulf of `Akaba, where Eusebius knows a city Madiam in the country of the Saracens and Ptolemy (vi. 7) places Modiana. Still later Madyan was a station on the pilgrim route from Egypt to Mecca, the second beyond Aila (Elath). Here in the middle ages was shown the well from which Moses watered the flocks of Sho'aib (Jethro), and the place is still known as "the caves of Sho`aib." It has considerable ruins, which have been described by Sir R. Burton (Land of Midian, 1879).

This district which has on its east Taima, a centre of civilization in the 5th century B.C., and on its south-east El-`01d whose existence as a seat of culture is possibly even older, is identified by some scholars with the Musran of the Minaean (south Arabian) inscriptions, on which see Sabaeans, Yemen. That this part of north-west Arabia had frequent intercourse with Palestine appears certain from its commercial relations with Gaza; and the association of the Midianite Jethro with early Hebrew legislation, as also the possibility that Mizraim ("Egypt") in the OId Testament should be taken in some cases to refer to this district, have an important bearing upon several Old Testament questions. See Mizraim.

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Bibliography Information
Chisholm, Hugh, General Editor. Entry for 'Midian (Bible)'. 1911 Encyclopedia Britanica. 1910.

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