For other uses, see Midian (disambiguation).

Midian (Hebrew: מִדְיָן‎), Madyan (Arabic: مدين‎), or Madiam (Greek: Μαδιάμ, Μαδιανίτης for a Midianite) is a geographical place and a people mentioned in the Bible and in the Qur'an. William G. Dever suggests it was located in the "northwest Arabian Peninsula, on the east shore of the Gulf of Aqaba on the Red Sea (the "Hejaz"). "[1] Some scholars believe it to be somewhere in or around Sudan[2] as the Bible does not make direct mention of its location.[3][4]

Some scholars say it was not a geographical area but a league of tribes.[5] Midian also appears as a son of Abraham.[6]

The modern Hebrew pronunciation, "Midyan", is the result of a normal vowel shift changing an "a" sound to an "i" sound (compare Miryam in Hebrew versus Mariam in Greek or Maryam in Arabic).


The Midianites were the descendants of Midian, who was a son of Abraham through his wife Keturah: ". . . again 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)[7]

The Midianites through their apparent religio-political connection with the Moabites[8] are thought to have worshipped a multitude of gods,[9] including Baal-peor and the Queen of Heaven, Ashteroth. An Egyptian temple of Hathor at Timna continued to be used during the Midianite occupation of the site. However, whether Hathor or some other deity was the object of devotion during this period is impossible to ascertain.

Biblical references

  1. Joseph is sold by his brothers to Midianites[10]
  2. Midian was where Moses spent forty years in voluntary exile after murdering an Egyptian[11]
  3. Moses married Zipporah the daughter of Jethro, the priest of Midian[12]
  4. God instructs Moses to collect an army and destroy Midian.[13] The Israelites kill every Midianite male and every woman who has slept with a man (Book of Numbers 31:17), but share out 32000 girls who have never slept with a man as plunder (Book of Numbers 31:33).
  5. Israel is oppressed by Midian during the time of the Judges. Gideon is called by God to deliver Israel from Midian's armies.[14]
  6. Cozbi, daughter of Zur, was killed together with Zimri. Zimri was the son of a Simeonite chief, while Cozbi was a Midianite woman taken into his family by Zimri in defiance of the law.[15]
  7. 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 also mentioned extensively ‍(10 times) in the Qur'an, where the name appears in Arabic as Madyan. Sura 9, verse 70 says "Has not the story reached them of those before them? - The people of Nuh (Noah), 'Ad, 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 Sura 7 (Al-A`rāf) 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 Shu'aib to repent of using false weights and measures and lying in wait along the road. But they rejected Shu`ayb, 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." (The volcano Hala-'l Badr is in Madyan.)

See also


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.

External links

  • Singer, Isidore and M. Seligsohn. "Jewish Encyclopedia. Funk and Wagnalls, 1901–1906, which cites to:
  • Archaeology of Timna
  • Another Timna archaeology site
  • Richard Burton's account of his travels in "The Land of Midian"

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