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MIDIANI´TAE (Μαδιανῖται), the descendants of Midian, one of the sons of Abraham by Keturah, whom the patriarch is said to have sent away during his lifetime “eastward, unto the east country” (Gen. 25.2, 6), and whom we subsequently find reckoned among “the children of the east.” (Judg. 6.3.) In the third generation after Abraham they were a distinct people, trading between Gilead and Egypt; but are associated with, or confounded with, another Arab family, the Ishmaelites. (Gen. 38.25, 28, 36.)

The Midianites were probably a Bedawi tribe, and their situation may be pretty accurately determined, by the following notices, to the territory afterwards occupied by the NABATAEI to the south and east of Palaestine. Moses fed the sheep of Jethro, a priest of Midian, in the peninsula of Mount Sinai, and about Mount Horeb (Exod. 3.1); subsequently Jethro came to his son-in-law from the land of Midian, while Israel was encamped in the vicinity of Horeb (18.2, &c.); and Moses was glad to avail himself of his local knowledge while traversing the desert to the north of the peninsula. (Numb. 10.29--32). The close alliance between the Midianites and the Moabites, to oppose the progress of Israel, indicates the proximity of the two peoples; and the hostility of the former proves that the alliance of Moses with one of their family did not conciliate the national feeling. (Numb. 22.4, 7, 25.31.8--12 ; Josh. 13.21.)

The Midianites continued the bitter enemies of the Israelites throughout the period of the Judges, when. in concert with “the Amalekites and the children of the east,” they invaded simultaneously, and in countless numbers, the southern frontier towards Gaza and the trans-Jordanic tribes in Gilead and Bashan (Judg. vi. vii.), from whence they extended their ravages to the west, and north as far as the confines of Naphthali and Asher. After their signal defeat by Gideon, they disappear from the records of history, but their slaughter became proverbial. (Psalm 83.9; Isaiah, 9.4, 10.26.)

The country of the Midianites, however, had still a traditionary recollection; and subsequent notices, consistently with the foregoing, place them between Edom and Paran, which bordered on Egypt (1 Kings, 11.17, 18), in the country afterwards comprehended under the name of Idumaea, and still later assigned to the SARACENI Indeed Josephus (J. AJ 4.7.1) asserts that Petra, the capital of Arabia (i.e. Idumaea), was called by the natives Arecemé (Ἀρεκεμή), from the Midianitish king Rekem, one of the five slain by Moses. (Numb. 31.8.) Eusebius and St. Jerome mention a city Madian, so named after one of the sons of Abraham by Keturah, situated beyond Arabia (i. e. Idumaea) to the south, in the desert of the Saracens, by the Red Sea, from which the district was called; and another city of the same name near the Arnon and Areopolis; the ruins of which only existed in their days. (Onomast. s. v.; comp. Hieron. Comm. ad Jes. lx. and Ezech. xxv.)

The situation of these two cities would define the limits of the territory of the Midianites in their most palmy days. The former of these two cities is doubtless that mentioned by Josephus (J. AJ 2.11.1) under the name of Madiene (Μαδιηνή), situated at the Red Sea, and is properly identified by Reland as the modern Midyan (the Madian of Abulfeda), identical with the Modiana of Ptolemy. (Reland, Palaestina, pp. 98--100.) It is situated about half-way down the eastern coast of the Elanitic gulf. (Forster, Geog. of Arabia, vol. ii. p. 116 ; and see the references in his index under Midian.)


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  • Cross-references from this page (2):
    • Flavius Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, 4.7.1
    • Flavius Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, 2.11.1
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