Midian (/ˈmɪdiən/; Hebrew: מִדְיָן), Madyan (Arabic: مَـدْيَـن), or Madiam (Greek: Μαδιάμ)[1] is a geographical place mentioned in the Torah and Qur’an. William G. Dever states that biblical Midian was in the "northwest Arabian Peninsula, on the east shore of the Gulf of Aqaba on the Red Sea", an area which he notes was "never extensively settled until the 8th–7th century B.C."[2]

According to the Book of Genesis, the Midianites were the descendants of Midian, who was a son of Abraham and his wife Keturah: "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).[3]

Some scholars have suggested that Midian was not a geographical area but a league of tribes.[4][5]

Land or tribal league?

Some scholars have suggested that 'Midian' does not refer to geographic places or a specific tribe, but to a confederation or 'league' of tribes brought together as a collective for worship purposes. Paul Haupt first made this suggestion in 1909,[6] 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,[7] 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...'[8]


It is uncertain which deities the Midianites worshipped. Through their apparent religio-political connection with the Moabites[9] they are thought to have worshipped a multitude, including Baal-peor and the Queen of Heaven, Ashteroth. According to Karel van der Toorn, "By the 14th century BC, before the cult of Yahweh had reached Israel, groups of Edomite and Midianites worshipped Yahweh as their god." [10]

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 two walls of the shrine. Beno Rothenberg,[11] the excavator of the site, suggested that the Midianites were making offerings to Hathor, especially since a large number 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[12] observes that the Midianite tent-shrine at Timna is one of the closest parallels to the biblical Tabernacle.

In the Bible

  1. Midian was the son of Abraham [13]
  2. Joseph was sold by the Midianites who came across him and they sold him to the Ishmaelites [14]
  3. Midian was where Moses spent forty years in voluntary exile after killing an Egyptian.[15]
  4. Moses married Zipporah the daughter of Jethro, the priest of Midian [16] (also known as Reuel).
  5. Jethro advised Moses on establishing a system of delegated legal decision-making [17]
  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 [18]
  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.[19] 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.[20] 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,[21] and similarly Moses in Deuteronomy directed that the Israelites should not harass the Moabites.[22]
  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).[23]
  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 Solomon, passed through Midian and Paran while fleeing from Edom to Egypt.[24]
  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 ʾaṣḥabu l-ʾaykah (Arabic: أصـحـابُ الأيـكـة, "Companions of the Wood").[25][26][27][28]

Surah 9 (Al-Tawbah), verse 70 says "Has not the story reached them of those before them? – The people of Nūḥ (Noah), ʿĀd 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-ʾAʿrāf) 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 the prophet Shuʿaib to repent of using false weights and measures and lying in wait along the road. But they rejected Shuʿayb, 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."[29] A number of scholars have proposed that the biblical description of devouring fire on Mount Sinai refers to an erupting volcano in the land of biblical Midian identified as Hala-'l Badr in northwestern Saudi Arabia.


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.[30] The pottery is bichrome / polychrome style and it dates as early as the 13th century BC; 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.[31] Because of the Mycenaean motifs on Midianite pottery, some scholars including George Mendenhall,[32] Peter Parr,[33] and Beno Rothenberg[34] 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.

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. http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Genesis%2025:1-2&version=KJV
  4. William J. Dumbrell, Midian: A Land or a League?, Vetus Testamentum, Vol. 25, Fasc. 2, No. 2a. Jubilee Number (May, 1975), pp. 323–37
  5. Bromiley Geoffrey W. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1996. ISBN 978-0-8028-3783-7. p. 350.
  6. 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
  7. The Incident at Beth Baal Peor, The Tenth Generation, 1973
  8. William J. Dumbrell, Midian: A Land or a League?, Vetus Testamentum, Vol. 25, Fasc. 2, No. 2a. Jubilee Number (May, 1975), p. 32
  9. Numbers 22:4, 7
  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. Beno Rothenberg, Timna: Valley of the Biblical Copper Mines (London: Thames and Hudson, 1972).
  12. 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
  13. Genesis 25:1–2
  14. Genesis 37:28
  15. Exodus 2:11–15
  16. Exodus 2:21
  17. Exodus 18
  18. Numbers 10:29–31
  19. Numbers 25:6–8, 14–15
  20. Numbers 25:17 and Numbers 31:1
  21. Pulpit Commentary and Gill's Exposition of the Bible, http://biblehub.com/numbers/25-17.htm accessed 1 July 2015
  22. Deuteronomy 2:9
  23. "Bible Gateway passage: Numbers 31 – New International Version". Bible Gateway. Retrieved 2017-08-14.
  24. 1 Kings 11:17–18
  25. Quran %3Averse%3D78 15 :78–79
  26. Quran %3Averse%3D176 26 :176–189
  27. Quran %3Averse%3D13 38 :13–15
  28. Quran %3Averse%3D12 50 :12–14
  29. Ali, Abdullah Yusuf. [chrome-extension://klbibkeccnjlkjkiokjodocebajanakg/suspended.html#uri=https://archive.org/stream/TheHolyQuranEnglishTranslationoftheMeaningandCommentary/The%20Holy%20Quran%20-%20Abdullah%20Yusuf%20Ali%20IFTA_djvu.txt The Holy Quran – English Translation of the Meaning and Commentary] Check |url= value (help). King Fahd Holy Qur-an Printing Complex. Retrieved 4 March 2017.
  30. 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.
  31. 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.
  32. 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. 137–45
  33. 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. 213–18.
  34. 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.

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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