Midianites in the bible

The Midianites, as described in biblical texts, played a significant role in the narrative of the ancient Near East:

  • Location and Lifestyle: The Midianites were nomadic, primarily inhabiting areas in northeast Arabia and southern Syria. They were known as traveling merchants and raiders, indicating a lifestyle that involved trade and possibly conflict.
  • Biblical Mention: In the Hebrew Bible, they are mentioned in various contexts. They were first referenced in the Book of Genesis as descendants of Abraham and his concubine Keturah.
  • Interaction with Israelites: In the Book of Judges, the Midianites allied with the Canaanites against the Israelites. In the Book of Numbers, they are depicted as leading the Israelites into the worship of the Canaanite deity Baal Peor. This act of seduction is said to have resulted in God sending a plague upon the Israelites.
  • Defeat by Gideon: The Midianites’ conflict with the Israelites culminated in their defeat at the hands of Gideon, a major judge in Israelite history. This victory is depicted as a significant moment for the Israelites in their struggle against surrounding peoples.

Who were the Midianites in the bible

The Midianites, as described in historical and biblical accounts, have a rich and complex background.


Geographical Location

The Midianites were located south and east of Palestine, primarily in the desert region north of the Arabian Peninsula.


Biblical Accounts

The most detailed and significant descriptions of the Midianites are found in the Bible. Midian, as per Genesis 25:1-2, was the fourth son of Abraham and his concubine Keturah.

Abraham sent his sons by Keturah, including Midian, to the east with gifts, intending to distinguish the lineage of Isaac.


Arab Accounts and Lineage

According to Arab historian El Makreezee in his work «Khitat,» the Midianites are the descendants of Midian, son of Abraham, and Kantoora, daughter of Joktan (Yuktan), a Canaanite. The city of Medyen (or Midian) is identified as the dwelling place of the people of Shu’eyb.


Connection with Moses

Shu’eyb, identified with Medyen, is often equated with Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses in the Bible. This connection, however, is subject to varying interpretations and some scholars deny this identification.


In the time of Joseph

The biblical narratives often intertwine the identities and activities of different groups, such as the Midianites and Ishmaelites, leading to some complexity in understanding their relationship:

Association with Ishmaelites

In the time of Joseph, as described in the Book of Genesis, the Midianites were closely associated with the Ishmaelites. This association is particularly noted in the story of Joseph being sold into slavery, where Midianite traders are mentioned within an Ishmaelite caravan (Genesis 37:25, 27, 28, 36).


Shared Ancestry

Both the Midianites and Ishmaelites are considered descendants of Abraham. The Midianites descended from Midian, a son of Abraham and Keturah, while the Ishmaelites descended from Ishmael, a son of Abraham and Hagar.


Terminology and Identity

In Judges 8:24, the Midianites are referred to as Ishmaelites, which suggests that the term «Ishmaelite» may have been used broadly to describe certain traders or groups, regardless of their precise lineage. This usage is similar to how the term «Canaanite» came to be associated with merchants, indicating a shift from ethnic identification to a description of occupation or lifestyle.


Cultural and Trade Connections:

The overlap in terms between these groups could also reflect their cultural and trade connections. As nomadic or semi-nomadic groups, their paths might have crossed frequently, leading to joint ventures in trade and possibly intermarriage, further blurring the lines of distinction.


What were the midianites known for

The Midianites, as described in historical and biblical records, were a significant group in the ancient Near East, known for various activities and cultural practices.

Traveling Merchants

As nomads, the Midianites were extensive travelers, engaging in trade across the Middle East. They played a crucial role in the regional economy, known for their caravan trade expertise.


Apart from trading, the Midianites engaged in raiding activities. They were skilled horsemen and archers, often plundering caravans and neighboring settlements.


Worship of Baal:

The Midianites were polytheistic, worshipping multiple gods and goddesses, including Baal, a deity associated with rain and fertility. This religious practice was in stark contrast to the monotheistic beliefs of the Israelites, leading to conflicts.


Connection to the Israelites:

Their interactions with the Israelites varied from being allies, as mentioned in Genesis, to adversaries in the Book of Judges, where they


Significance in the Bible

The Midianites are frequently mentioned in the Hebrew Bible, often serving as a contrast to the Israelites and highlighting the latter’s divine calling and moral superiority.


Archaeological Findings

Archaeological evidence points to the Midianites being a well-organized and prosperous society. They were skilled in various crafts, producing goods like jewelry, pottery, and textiles. The presence of impressive fortifications indicates their military strength and strategic capabilities.


The land of Midian where midianites live

Moses in Midian:

After fleeing Egypt for killing an Egyptian taskmaster, Moses took refuge in the land of Midian (Exodus 2:15). He worked as a shepherd for Jethro, a priest of Midian, and married his daughter.

It was in Midian, at Mount Horeb in the Sinai Peninsula, where Moses received his divine call to lead the Israelites out of Egyptian captivity (Exodus 3:11).


Geographical Location of Midian

Historically and according to Arabian and Greek sources, the land of Midian was located on the Arabian side of the Gulf of Aqaba.

The city of Midian and the surrounding areas were important for pasturage, although the fertility of the land is debated.


Interactions with Moab and Israel

During Balaam’s time, the Midianites interacted with the Moabites under King Balak, particularly concerning the threat posed by the Israelites (Numbers 22-24).

Balaam, initially sought by Balak to curse Israel, eventually sided with the Midianites but perished as a consequence.


Conflict with Israelites

In the Book of Judges, the Midianites, alongside the Amalekites, are depicted as formidable enemies of the Israelites (Judges 6-8).

They were known for their camel-riding capabilities, a significant advancement that increased their mobility in the desert.

Their raids on Israelite territory were particularly timed to destroy the harvest, likened to a devastating swarm of locusts.


Cultural Assimilation

Over time, the Midianites and Ishmaelites intermarried and roamed the northern Arabian Desert. The Midianites were eventually absorbed into the surrounding cultures, losing their distinct identity.


Archeological findings

Archaeological excavations reveal much about the Midianites—settlements, culture, and trade. Notable findings:

  • Tell el-Kheleifeh, Jordan: Midianite presence with pottery, seals, dated 1400-1200 BCE.
  • Timna, Israel: Evidence of Midianite copper smelting, dating to 1200-1000 BCE.
  • Kuntillet Ajrud, Israel: Midianite inscriptions mention gods like Baal and El.
  • Deir Alla, Jordan: Midianite influence seen in pottery and architecture.
  • Numeira, Jordan: Fortified Midianite settlement in the early Iron Age.

These findings reveal Midianite history, culture, and their role in the ancient Near East, corroborating biblical accounts.


Modern day descendants of Midianites

Scholars disagree on modern Midianite descendants. Some say they merged with locals, while others think some survive, possibly in:

  • Bedouin tribes (Arabian Peninsula): Shared region and culture hint at Midianite ancestry.
  • Pashtun people (Afghanistan/Pakistan): Linguistic links between Pashto and Midianite languages suggest a connection.
  • Ishmaelites: Mentioned in the Bible, nomadic Ishmaelites lived in Midianite territory, sparking theories of a connection.


Connection between midianites and Israel

The connection between the Midianites and the Israelites is primarily mentioned in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament), specifically in the Book of Exodus and the Book of Numbers. Here are the key points of their connection:

  • Moses’ Marriage: Moses, the prominent biblical figure who led the Israelites out of Egypt, married a Midianite woman named Zipporah. She was the daughter of Jethro (also known as Reuel), a Midianite priest. This marriage linked Moses to the Midianite people.
  • Assistance to Moses: Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, provided counsel and assistance to Moses during the Israelites’ journey in the wilderness. He advised Moses on how to organize and delegate responsibilities among the Israelites, which helped maintain order and justice among the people.
  • Conflict: There were moments of conflict between the Israelites and the Midianites. One significant event was the seduction of Israelite men by Midianite women to engage in idolatry and sexual immorality, which angered God and led to a plague among the Israelites (Numbers 25).
  • War: Later, the Israelites engaged in military conflict with the Midianites. This conflict is described in the Book of Numbers, where the Israelites, at God’s command, sought retribution against the Midianites for their role in leading the Israelites astray. This resulted in the defeat of the Midianites, including the killing of their king, Evi, and the capture of their territory.
  • Jethro’s Legacy: Despite the conflicts, Jethro’s role as a wise and supportive adviser to Moses is seen as a positive aspect of the relationship between the Midianites and the Israelites. His counsel contributed to the governance and organization of the Israelite community.


References and further reading




Biblical References

  • Genesis 25:1-6: Describes the descendants of Abraham and Keturah, including Midian.
  • Numbers 22-25: Details the seduction of the Israelites into worshipping Baal Peor and the subsequent divine retribution.
  • Judges 6-8: Chronicles the conflict between the Israelites and Midianites, culminating in Gideon’s victory over the Midianites.


Academic References

  • De Vries, S. J. (2001): «The Book of Numbers» – A comprehensive study on the Book of Numbers, which includes insights into the Midianites’ role in the seduction of Israel.
  • Smith, M. S. (1995): «The Origins of Monotheism: A Study of Biblical Belief» – Explores the development of monotheistic belief in the biblical context, including the interaction with polytheistic cultures like the Midianites.
  • Liverani, M. (2010): «The Ancient Near East: History, Society and Economy» – Provides an overview of the history and socio-economic dynamics of the ancient Near East, including the Midianites.


Archaeological References

  • Bienkowski, P. (1992): «Early Edom: The Archaeology of Jordan’s Pre-Monarchic Period» – Discusses archaeological findings relevant to understanding the Midianites and their neighbors.
  • MacDonald, M. C. A. (2011): «The Midianites and Ancient Kedar» – Reevaluates the historical and archaeological records of the Midianites and Kedarite tribes.
  • Kormyshev, G. (2017): «The Midianites: A Social and Political History» – Offers a detailed historical analysis of the Midianites from the late Bronze Age to the Early Iron IIA.