: the country Μοαβῖτις
), the people descended from Moab, the son of [p. 2.364]
Lot, the fruit of his incestuous connection with his eldest daughter. (Gen.
19.37.) Moses has preserved the very early history of their country in Deuteronomy (2.9--11):--“The Lord said unto me, Distress not the Moabites, neither contend with them in battle, for I will not give thee, of their land for a possession; because I have given Ar unto the children of Lot for a possession. The Emims dwelt there in times past, a people great, and many, and tall, as the Anakims.” The Moabites, having dispossessed these gigantic aborigines, held possession of their country, which was bounded on the north by the river Arnon, which separated them from the Amorites.
At an earlier period, indeed, they had extended their conquests far to the north of the Arnon, but had been forced to retire before the Amorites, to whom they had ceded their northern conquests, even before the children of Israel came into their coasts; and several fragments of the ancient war-songs relating to these times are preserved by Moses. (Numb.
The boundary question was revived subsequently, in the days of Jephthah, when the Amorites demanded the restoration of the conquests that Israel had made between the Arnon and the Jabbok south and north, and to the Jordan westward, as of right belonging to them, their title not having been invalidated by 300 years' occupation by the Israelites.
It appears from Jephthah's historical review of the facts, that the Israelites had neither invaded nor occupied any part of the territories of which Moab and Ammon were in actual possession at the period referred to; but only so much of their ancient possessions as Sihon king of the Amorites had already forced them to abandon (Judges,
11.12--28); and it is remarkable that the memorial of the occupation of the territory north of Arnon by the Moabites has been preserved, through the Mosaic records, even to this day, in the name that is popularly assigned to that remarkable mountain district east of the Dead Sea, which forms so conspicuous and remarkable a feature in the distant view from Jerusalem towards the east, still called “the mountains of Moab,” as in Deuteronomy that high table land is described as the “plains of Moab” (Deut.
29.1, 32.49); and Josephus occasionally uses the name with the same latitude, of the country north of the Arnon, describing the Moabites as still a mighty nation of Coelesyria (Ant.
1.11.5); and reckoning among the Moabite cities occupied by the Jews under Alexander Jannaeus, Chesbon (Heshbon), Medaba, Pellas, and others that lay considerably north of the Arnon (Ant.
13.15.4), although in other passages he makes that river divide the Moabites from the Amorites (Ant.
4.5.1), and describes the country of Moab as the southern limit of Peraea (Bell. Jud.
3.3.3), consistently with which notices he compares the country of the Amorites to an island, bounded by the Arnon on the S., the Jabbok on the N., and the Jordan on the E. (Ant.
It is then justly remarked by Reland (Palaestina,
p. 102), that by “the plains of Moab,” where the Israelites were encamped before they crossed the Jordan (Numb.
33.48, 49, 50), which is described as being over against Jericho, and by the “land of Moab,” in which mount Nebo is said to be situated (Deut.
32.49, comp. 34.1. 5. 6. 8), it is not to be understood as though that district was actually in possession of the Moabites at that time; but is so called because they formerly held it under their dominion. (Numb.
It may be added, that after it had been occupied by the tribes of Gad and Reuben, to whom Moses assigned it (Numb.
32.3.33--38), the Moabites again conquered it for a time, as it is clear that Eglon must have subjugated that district east of the Jordan, before he could have possessed himself of Jericho, on the west of that river. (Judges,
3.12--30.) Their long and undisturbed tenure of their own proper country is forcibly described by the prophet Jeremiah. “Moab hath been at ease from his youth, and he hath settled on his lees, and bath not been emptied from vessel to vessel, neither hath he gone into captivity: therefore his taste remained in him, and his scent is not changed” (48.11); and the enumeration of its prosperous cities, in his denunciation, indicates the populousness and richness of the country, to which the Israelites resorted when suffering from famine in their own most fruitful districts (Ruth,
1.1), and which supplied the market of Tyre with grain. (Ezek.
] The country is described by Josephus as fertile, and capable of supporting a number of men on its produce. (Ant.
This account both of its populousness and fertility is remarkably confirmed by modern travellers, and the existing monuments of its numerous cities. Thus Irby and Mangles, proceeding south from Kerek, “ascended into a country of downs, with verdure so close as to appear almost like turf, and with cornfields at intervals.” They passed many ruined sites, the names of several of which they obtained; “in short,” they add, “the whole of the fine plains in this quarter are covered with sites of towns, on every eminence or spot convenient for the construction of one; and as all the land is capable of rich cultivation, there can be little doubt that this country, now so deserted, once presented a continued picture of plenty and fertility” (Travels,
p. 371, compare under June 5, p. 456); and it is to this quarter that the Arabs referred, when they reported to Volney “that there are to the SE. of the lake Asphaltes, within three days' journey, upwards of three hundred ruined towns absolutely deserted; several have large edifices with columns.” (Ib. p. 310.)
He indeed assigns the country to “the Nabathaeans, the most potent of the Arabs and of the Idumaeans;” but the ruins are more probably to be referred to the earlier inhabitants of the country, who, we know, lived in settled habitations, while the Nabathaei were a Bedowi tribe, living for the most part in tents.
In any case the present aspect of the country furnishes a striking commentary on Jeremiah xlviii., e. g. “Joy and gladness is taken from the plentiful field, and from the land of Moab; and I have caused wine to fail from the wine-presses: none shall tread with shouting: their shouting shall be no shouting.”