1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Moab

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MOAB, the name of an ancient people of Palestine who inhabited a district E. of the Jordan and the Dead Sea, lying N. of Edom and S. of Ammon (q.v.) and the Israelite Transjordanic districts. There is little material for its earlier history outside the Old Testament, and the various references in the latter are often of disputed reference and date. The national traditions of Israel recognize a close relationship between Moab and Ammon, “sons” of Lot, and the “brothers” Esau (Edom) and Jacob (Israel), and Moab is represented as already a powerful people when Israel fled from Egypt (Exod. xv. 15). The detailed narratives, however, give conflicting views of the exodus and the conquest of Palestine. It was supposed that Moab, having expelled the aboriginal giants, was in turn displaced by the Amorite king Sihon, who forced Moab south of the Arnon (Wadi Mojib, a natural boundary) and drove Ammon beyond the Jabbok. The Israelites at Kadesh, almost at the gate of the promised land, incurred the wrath of Yahweh, and, deterred by a defeat at Hormah from pursuing their journey northwards, were obliged to choose another route (Num. xiv. 40-45; contrast xxi. 1-3). (See Exodus, The.) Messengers to Edom were repulsed (Num. xx. 14-18), or Israel was met by Edom with force (v. 19 seq.); consequently a great detour was made from Kadesh round by the south of Edom (Num. xiv. 25, xxi. 4; Judges xi. 18). At length the people safely reached Pisgah in Moab (Num. xxi. 16-20; cf. Deut. iii. 27, xxxiv. 1), or, according to another view, passed outside Moab until they reached the border of Sihon’s kingdom (Num. xxi. 13, 26; Judges xi. 17 seq.). There are other details in Deut. ii., and the late list in Num. xxxiii. even seems to assume that the journey was made from Kadesh across the northern end of Edom. Apparently no fixed or distinct tradition existed regarding the journeys, and it extremely probable that some of the most characteristic features belong to much later periods than the latter half of the second millennium B.C., the age to which they are ascribed (e.g. the poem on the fall of Heshbon, Num. xxi. 27-30).

The account of Balaam (q.v.), the son of Beor, the soothsayer, of the children of Ammon (xxii. 5, some MSS.), or of Aram or of Edom (see Cheyne, Ency. Bib., col. 3685 and below), is noteworthy for the prophecies of Israel’s future supremacy; but he is passed over in the historical sketch, Deut. ii.; and even the allusion, ibid. xxiii. 4 seq., belongs to a context which on independent grounds appears to be a later insertion. Israel’s idolatry in Moab is supplemented by a later story of the vengeance upon Midian (xxv. 6-18,18, xxxi.). In Joshua xiii. 21 the latter is associated with both Sihon and Balaam, and in some obscure manner Midian and Moab are connected in Num. xxii. 4-7 (cf. xxv. 18, xxxi. 8). An Edomite list of kings includes Bela (cf. Bil'am, i.e. Balaam), son of Beor, and states that a Hadad, son of Bedad, smote Midian in the field of Moab (Gen, xxxvi. 32, 35); these events, assigned to an early age, have been connected with the appearance of Moabite power west of the Jordan in the days of the “judge” Ehud (q.v.). However, all that is recorded in Num. xxii. sqq., together with various legal and other matter, now severs the accounts of the Israelite occupation of east Jordan (Num. xxi. 33-35, xxxii. 39-42). For full details see G. B. Gray, “Numbers” (Internat. Critical Comment.).

Although Moab and Ammon were “brothers,” their history was usually associated with that of Judah and Israel respectively, and naturally depended to a considerable extent upon these two and their mutual relations. Jephthah, one of the Israelite “judges,” delivered Gilead from Ammon, who resumed the attack under its king Nahash, only to be repulsed by Saul. Ehud (q.v.) of Benjamin or Ephraim freed Israel from the Moabite oppression. To the first great kings, Saul and David, are ascribed conquests over Moab, Ammon and Edom. The Judaean David, for his part, sought to cultivate friendly relations with Ammon, and tradition connects him closely with Moab. His son Solomon contracted marriages with women of both states (i Kings xi. 5, 7), thus introducing into Jerusalem cults which were not put down until almost at the close of the monarchy (2 Kings xxiii. 13). In the 9th century B.C. the two states appear in more historical surroundings, and the discovery of a lengthy Moabite inscription has thrown valuable light upon contemporary conditions.

This inscription, now in the Louvre, was found at Dhībān, the biblical Dībōn, in 1868 by the Rev. F. Klein, a representative of the Church Missionary Society stationed at Jerusalem. It contains a record of the successes gained by the Moabite king Mesha against Israel.[1] Omri (q.v.) had previously seized a number of Moabite cities north of the Arnon, and for forty years the Moabite national god Chemosh was angry with his land. At length he roused Mesha; and Moab, which had evidently retreated southwards towards Edom, now began to take reprisals. “The men of Gad had dwelt in the land of ʽAtaroth from of old; and the king of Israel built ʽAtaroth for himself.” Mesha took the city, slew its people in honour of Chemosh, and dragged before the god the altar-hearth (or the priests ?) of D-v-d-h (apparently a divine name, but curiously similar to David). Next Chemosh roused Mesha against the city of Nebo. It fell with its thousands, for the king had “devoted” it to the deity ʽAshtar-Chemosh. Yahweh had been worshipped there, and his . . . (? vessels, or perhaps the same doubtful word as above) were dragged before the victorious Chemosh. With the help of these and other victories (at Jahaz, Aroer, &c.), Moab recovered its territory, fortified its cities, supplied them with cisterns, and Mesha built a great sanctuary to his god. The inscription enumerates many places known elsewhere (Isa. xv.; Jer. xlviii.), but although it mentions the “men of Gad,” makes no allusion to the Israelite tribe Reuben, whose seat lay in the district (Num. xxxii.; Josh. xiii. 15-23; see Reuben). The revolt will have followed Ahab’s death (see 2 Kings i. i) and apparently led to the unsuccessful attempt by Jehoram to recover the lost ground (ibid. iii.).

The story of Jehoram in 2 Kings iii. now gives prominence to Elisha, his wonders, his hostility to the ruling dynasty and his regard for the aged Jehoshaphat of Judah. Following other synchronisms, the Septuagint (Lucian's recension) names Ahaziah of Judah; from 2 Kings i. 17, the reigning king could only have been Jehoram's namesake. The king of Edom appears as an ally of Israel and Judah (contrast i Kings xxii. 47; 2 Kings viii. 20), and hostile to Moab (comp. above, and the obscure allusion in Amos ii. 1-2). But the king of Moab's attempt to break through unto him suggests that in the original story (there are several signs of revision) Moab and Edom were in alliance. In this case the object of Jehoram's march round the south of the Dead Sea was to drive a wedge between them, and the result hints at an Israelite disaster. Singularly enough, Jehoram of Judah suffered some defeat from Edom at Zair, an unknown name for which Ewald suggested (the Moabite) Zoar (2 Kings viii. 21; see Jehoram).

Moab thus retained its independence, even harrying Israel with marauding bands (2 Kings xiii. 20), while Ammon was perpetrating cruelties upon Gilead (Am. i. 13 sqq.). But under Jeroboam II. (q.v.) Israelite territory was extended to the Wadi of the ʽArabah or wilderness (probably south end of the Dead Sea), and again Moab suffered. If Isa. xv. seq. is to be referred to this age, its people fled southwards and appealed for protection to the overlord of Edom (see Uzziah). During the Assyrian supremacy, its king Salamannu (probably not the Shalman of Hos. x. 14) paid tribute to Tiglath-Pileser IV., but joined the short-lived revolt with Judah and Philistia in 71 i. When Sennacherib besieged Jerusalem in 701, Kamus(Chemosh)-nadab also submitted, and subsequently both Esarhaddon and Assurbani-pal mention the Moabite king Musuri ("the Egyptian," but cf. Mizraim) among their tributaries. In fact, during the reign of Assur-bani-pal Moab played the vassal's part in helping to repulse the invasion of the Nabayati and nomads of Kedar, a movement which made itself felt from Edom nearly as far as Damascus. It had its root in the revolt of Samas-sumyukin (Shamash-shun-ukin) of Babylonia, and coming at a time immediately preceding the disintegration of the Assyrian Empire, may have had most important consequences for Judah and the east of the Jordan.[2] (See Palestine: History.)

Moab shares with Ammon and Edom in the general obscurity which overhangs later events. If it made inroads upon Judah (2 Kings xxiv. 2), it joined the coalition against Babylonia (Jer. xxvii. 3); if it is condemned for its untimely joy at the fall of Jerusalem (Isa. xxv. 9 seq.; Jer. xlviii.; Ezek. xxv. 8-Ii; Zeph. ii. 8-Io), it had offered a harbour to fugitive Jews (Jer. xl. ii). The dates of the most significant passages are unfortunately uncertain. If Sanballat the Horonite was really a native of the Moabite Horonaim, he finds an appropriate place by the side of Tobiah the Ammonite and Gashmu the Arabian among the strenuous opponents of Nehemiah. Still later we find Moab part of the province of Arabia in the hands of fresh tribes from the Arabian desert (Jos. Ant. xiii. 13, 5); and, with the loss of its former independent power, the name survives merely as a type (Dan. xi. 45). (See Jews; Nabataeans.)

A populous land commanding the trade routes from Arabia to Damascus, rich in agricultural and pastoral wealth, Moab, as Mesha's inscription proves, had already reached a high state of civilization by the 9th century B.C. Its language differed only dialectically from Hebrew; its ideas and religion were very closely akin to the Israelite, and it may be assumed that they shared in common many features of culture.[3] The relation of Chemosh, the national god, to his “children” (Num. xxi. 29) was that of Yahweh to Israel (see especially Judges xi. 24). He had his priests (Jer. xlviii. 7), and Mesha, perhaps himself a priest-king, receives the oracles direct or through the medium of his prophets. The practice of devoting, banning or annihilating city or community was both Moabite and Israelite (cf. above, also Deut. ii. 34, iii. 6, xx. 10-20; 2 Chron. xxv. 12, &c.), and human sacrifice, offered as an exceptional gift to Chemosh in 2 Kings iii. 27, in Israel to Molech (q.v.), was a rite once less rare. Apart from the religious cult suggested in the name Mount Nebo, there were local cults of the Baal of Peor and the Baal of Meon, and Mesha's allusion to ʽAshtar-Chemosh, a compound deity, has been taken to point to a corresponding consort whose existence might naturally be expected upon other grounds (see Astarte). The fertility of Moab, the wealth of wine and corn, the temperate climate and the enervating heat supply conditions which directed the form of cult. Natureworship, as in Israel, lay at the foundation, and the impure rites of Shittim and Baal-Peor (Num. xxxi. 16; Ps. cvi. 28) would not materially differ from practices which Israelite prophets were called upon to condemn. Much valuable evidence is to be obtained also from the survival of ancient forms of cult in Moab and east of the Jordan (e.g. sacrifices on the house roofs) and from a survey of epigraphical and other data from the Greek, Roman, and later periods, allowance being made for contamination. The whole question deserves careful investigation in the light of comparative religion.[4]

The relationship felt between Israel and the external states (Moab, Edom, and Ammon) is entirely justified. It extends intermittently throughout the history, and certain complicated features in the traditions of the southern tribes point to affinities with Moab which find a parallel in the traditions of David (see Ruth) and in the allusions to intercourse between Moab and Benjamin (1 Chron. viii. 8) or Judah (ibid. iv. 21 seq.). But the obscure historical background of the references makes it uncertain whether the exclusiveness of orthodox Judaism (Neh. xiii. 1-3; cf. Deut. xxiii. 3-6; Ezra ix. 1, 12) was imposed upon an earlier catholicity, or represented only one aspect of religious spirit, or was succeeded by a more tolerant attitude. Evidence for the last-mentioned has been found in the difficult narrative in Josh. xxii. But Israel remained a great power in religious history while Moab disappeared. It is true that Moab was continuously hard pressed by desert hordes; the exposed condition of the land is emphasized by the chains of ruined forts and castles which even the Romans were compelled to construct. The explanation of the comparative insignificance of Moab, however, is not to be found in purely topographical considerations. Nor can it be sought in political history, since Israel and Judah suffered as much from external movements as Moab itself. The explanation is to be found within Israel itself, in factors which succeeded in re-shaping existing material and in imprinting upon it a durable stamp, and these factors, as biblical tradition recognizes, are to be found in the work of the prophets.

See the articles on Moab in Hastings’s Dict. Bible (W. H. Bennett), Ency. Bib. (G. A. Smith and Wellhausen), and Hauck's Realencyklopädie (F. Buhl) with their references; also the popular description by W. Libbey and F. E. Hoskins, Jordan Valley and Petra (1905), and the very elaborate and scientific works by R. E. Brunnow and A. von Domaszewski, Die Provincia Arabia (1904–1905), and A. Musil, Arabia Petraea (1907–1908). Mention should be made of the mosaic map of Palestine found at Medaba, dating perhaps from the 5th century A.D.; for this, see A. Jacoby, Das geograph. Mosaik von M. (1905), and P. Palmer and Guthe (1906). For language and epigraphy see Nabataeans, Semitic Languages; for topography, &c., Palestine; and for the later history, Jews.  (S. A. C.) 

  1. See edition by M. Lidzbarski, Altsemitische Texte, Bd. I. (Giessen, 1907); also G. A. Cooke, North Semitic Inscr., pp. 1-14, and the articles on “Moab” in Hasting’s Dict. Bible (by W. H. Bennett), and “Mesha” in Ency. Bib. (by S. R. Driver).
  2. See G. Smith, Ashurbanipal (p. 288, cyl. A. viii. 51, B. viii. 37); L. B. Paton, Syria and Palestine, p. 269 seq.; R. F. Harper, Ass. and Bab. Lit., pp. 118 sqq.; H. Winckler, Keilinschr. u. das alte Test., 3rd ed., p. 151.
  3. Excavation alone can supplement the scanty information which the present evidence furnishes. For a representation of a Moabite warrior (-god ?), see G. Perrot and C. Chipiez, Art in Phoenicia, ii. 45 seq.
  4. See W. R. Smith, Religon of the Semites (2nd ed.), which may be supplemented be the scattered gleanings in the Clermont-Ganneau's Recueil d'archéologie orientale; and more especially by P. Antonin Jaussin's valuable monograph, Coutumes des Arabes au pays de Moab (Paris, 1908). (See also Hebrew Religion.)