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An Arabian tribe mentioned in Scripture

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Madianites (in A. V. MIDIANITES), an Arabian tribe: Heb. MDYNYM Sept. Madienaioi and Madianeitai, Lat. Madianitm). Comparison of Gen., xxxvi, 35, with xxxvii, 28, 36 proves that the Biblical authors employ indifferently the simple form Madian (Heb. MDYN Sept. Madian, Lat. Madian) instead of the tribal plural. The collective Median appears in Judges, vi-viii, and seems to have been subsequently preferred (cf. Is., ix, 3; x, 26; Ps. lxxxiii, 10). In 1 Kings, xi, 18, and Hab., iii, 7, for example, if Median denotes a country, it is by transposition of the name of the people, which was not the primitive usage. By a specious, but inconclusive, argument, P. Haupt (“Midian and Sinai” in “Zeitachrift der Deutschen morgenlandischen Gesellschaft”, lxiii, 1909, p. 506) has even recently sought to prove that Median was an abstract term denoting a religious association such as the Greeks called an Amphictyony (amphiktuonia). The term Madianites must, in that case, have been used somewhat as we say Mussulmans.

The Madianites were introduced into history in the texts of Gen., xxv, 1-4 and I Chron., i, 32 sq. which assign as their ancestor an eponym called Madian, the son of Abraham by Qetourah (D.V. Cetura), which signifies “incense” or conveys the idea of incense and aromatics (cf. Dent., xxxiii, 10). Of the five other sons which Abraham had by Cetura the only other one who can now be identified is Shuah (D.V. Sue). For a long time Delitzsch had suggested a connection between this name and that of Suhu, a country, mentioned in the Assyrian documents (“Wo lag das Para-dies”, Leipzig, 1881, 297 sq.), which is the desert region between the Euphrates and Syria (see Ed. Meyer “Die Israeliter and ihre Nachbarstamme”, Halle, 1906, 314.—Dadan, too, may probably be considered as a geographical name in the region of Teima). The continuation of the genealogy settles its character and permits a better identification of the Madianites: Magian must have had five sons, Epha, Epher, Hanok, Abida, and Eldah. The last two are used as proper names in the Sabeo-Minean inscriptions, but are otherwise unknown. The first three, which occur in later Israelitish genealogies (see Num., xxvi, 5; I Chron., ii, 47; iv, 17), have been rightly compared with local and ethnological designations in southern Arabia (see the more important citations from Arabian authors collected in Dillmann, “Die Genesis erklart”, 6th ed., Leipzig, 1892, 308 sq.). For Epha in particular there is the valuable witness of the Assyrian texts. The annals of Tiglath-Pileser (D. V. Theglathphalasar); (d. 727 B.C.) mention among the tribes of Teima and Saba a tribe called Hayapa which is philologically the equivalent of the Hebrew `YPH (cf. Schrader, “Die Keilenschriften and das A. T.”, 3rd ed., Berlin, 1903, 58).—It may be inferred from these indications that the genealogy of Madian is a literary process by which the Bible connects with the history of the Hebrew people the Arabian tribes of the regions which we now call Nejd and Jauf. Madianites is, then, to be regarded as the generic name of an immense tribe divided into several clans of which we know at least some of the names.

This notion established, there will be scarcely any difficulty in tracing through sacred history the role played by the Madianites, without having recourse, as has too often been done, to alleged contradictions in the sources. Some of these—e.g., Gen., xxxvii, 28, 36 (cf. Is., 1x, 6)—represent them as merchants engaged chiefly in the transportation of aromatics by their camel caravans. Others—e.g., Ex., ii, 15 sq.; iii, 1—depict them as shepherds, but somewhat sedentary. In one place (v. g., Ex., xviii, 7-12, and Judges, i, 16; see the commentaries of Moore, Lagrange, etc., for the exact reading) the Madianites in general, or the special clan of the Qenites (D.V. Cinites), appear as the friends and allies of Israel; in another (v. g., Judges, vi-viii, and Num., xxv, xxxii) they are irreconcilable enemies; Hab., iii, 7, manifestly localizes them in southern Arabia; by parallel with KVSN which designates a country of eastern Kash, most certainly distinct from Ethiopian Nubia. (This distinction, first established by Glaser, then by Winckler and Hommel, has been discussed by Lagrange in “Les inscriptions du sud de l’Arabie et l’exegese biblique” in “Revue Biblique”, 1902, 269 sqq. Ed. Meyer, who denies the distinction, in “Die Israeliten”, 315 sqq., does not bring forward any solid argument against it.) Num., xxii, 4, and especially Gen., xxxvi, 35, place them beyond contradiction in almost immediate relation with Moab, so that Winckler (“Geschichte Israels in Einzeldarstellungen”, I, Leipzig, 1895, 47 sqq.) as-signs to them as habitat, according to the most ancient tradition, the country later occupied by the Moabites.

It is evidently a matter for Biblical criticism to examine the particular point of view of the various accounts in which the Madianites occur, and to explain, for instance, why Madianites and Ishmaelites are employed in apparent equivalence in Gen., xxxvii, 25, 28, and Judges, viii, 24, 26. For the rest, much light is shed on the history of this ancient and powerful tribe by analogies with what we know concerning the great Arabian tribes, their constitution, their division, their habitat, their relations with the neighboring tribes or sedentary peoples. As we find them in the Pentateuch the Madianites were an important tribe in which were gathered the chief clans inhabiting Southern Arabia. The area wherein these nomads moved with their flocks stretched towards the west, probably to the frontiers of Egypt, and towards the north, without well-defined limits to the plateaus east of the Dead Sea and towards Hauran. (Compare the modern tribe—much less important, it is true—of the Haweitate.) It was with them that Moses sought refuge when he was fleeing from Egypt (Ex., ii, 15), as did the Egyptian officer in the well-known account of Sinouhit. His welcome to the tribe and the alliance which subsequently resulted therefrom, when Moses and his people were marching towards Sinai, are like common occurrences in the history of modern tribes. But the Madianites were not all, nor exclusively, shepherds. Masters of the eastern desert, if not also of the fertile countries of southern Arabia, they at least monopolized the traffic between Arabia and the Aramean countries, on the north, or Egypt, on the west. Their commercial caravans brought them into contact with the regions of culture, and thus, as always happens with nomads, the spectacle of the prosperity of more settled peoples aroused their covetousness and tempted them to make raids. When Israel was forming its political and religious organizations at Mount Sinai, it was in peaceful contact with one of the Madianite clans, the Cinites. (One considerable school in recent times has even undertaken to prove that the religion of Israel, and especially the worship of Jahve, was borrowed from the Cinites. Lagrange has shown, in “Revue Biblique”, 1903, 382 sqq., that this assumep tion is without foundation.) It has even been established that a portion of this clan united its fortunes with those of Israel and followed it to Chanaan (cf. Num., xxiv, 21 sq.; Judges, i, 16; iv, 11, 17; v, 24; I Sam., xv, 6 sq.). However, other Madianite clans scattered through the eastern desert were at the same time covetously watching the confines of the Aramean country. They were called upon by the Moabites to oppose the passage of Israel (Num., xxii, sqq.). As to these “Mountains of the east”, (Hdrere Qedem) of Num., xxiii, 7, whence was brought the Madianite diviner Balaam, cf. “the east country” of Gen., xxv, 7, to which Abraham relegated the offspring of his concubine Cetura; cf. also the modern linguistic usage of the Arabs, to whom “the East” (Sherq) indicates the entire desert region where the Bedouin tribes wander, between Syria and Mesopotamia, to the north, and between the Gulf of Akabah and the Persian Gulf to the south.

Nothing is to be concluded from this momentary alliance between the Moabites and a portion of the Madianites, either ‘with regard to a very definite habitat of the great tribe on the confines of Moab, or with regard to a contradiction with other Biblical accounts. In the time of Gedeon, perhaps two centuries after the events in Moab, the eastern Madianites penetrated the fertile regions where Israel was for a long time settled. This was much more in the nature of a foray than of a conquest of the soil. But the Madianite chieftains had exasperated Gedeon by slaying his brothers. The vengeance taken was in conformity with the law of the times, which is to this day the Arabian law. Gedeon, as conqueror, exterminated the tribe after having slain its leaders (Judges, viii). From this time the tribe disappeared almost entirely from the history of Israel and seems never to have regained much of its importance. The installation of the eastern Israelitish tribes forced these Madianites back into the desert; the surviving clans fell back towards the south, to Arabia, which had been their cradle, and where some portions of the tribe had never ceased to dwell. This was their center in the time of Isaias (lx, 6), probably also in the time of Habacuc (iii, 7; about 600 B.C.); here, at any rate, all the Assyrian documents of Theglathphalasar (745-27) and Sargon (722-05) make mention of one of their clans. However, the conflict between the South-Arabian tribes increased, and new waves of population, flowing northwards to the regions of culture were to absorb the remains of the ancient decayed tribe. According to the testimony of Greek geographers and, later, of Arabian authors, the Madianites would seem to have taken up their permanent abode on the borders of the Gulf of Akabah, since there existed there a town called Modiana (Ptolemy, “Geogr.” VI, vii, 2; but according to Flavius, Josephus, and Eusebius, Madiane), whose ruins have been described by the explorer Rappel and, more recently, by Sir R. Burton (“The Gold Mines of Midian” and “The Land of Midian revisited”, London, 1878 and 1879), now known as MCIghair Shuaib, not far from the abandoned harbor of Maqna, on the eastern shore of the Gulf of Akabah. If, as there is every reason to believe, it was the Madianites whom Procopius had in mind under the somewhat distorted name of Maaddenoi (Persian War; I, xix; ed. Niebuhr, Bonn, 1833, p. 100), the tribe still existed exactly in the region mentioned under the reign of Justinian. But this document shows us in a manner the death-throes of the tribe which was then dependent on the Himyarites and doubtless was soon rendered wholly extinct by absorption in the Islamite hordes.


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