CARAVAN. A group of travelers united together for a common purpose or for mutual protection and generally equipped for a long journey, especially in desert country or through foreign and presumably hostile territory. Jacob’s “company” (Gen.32.1-Gen.32.32-Gen.33.1-Gen.33.20) is a good example of a caravan organized to carry a clan to a new home; and the host of the Amalekites whom David destroyed (1Sam.30.1-1Sam.30.20) is another caravan, organized for raiding purposes. In the trackless desert where oases were few and far between and where savage beasts and more savage men were found, it was essential to go in caravans for protection. The word does not occur in the KJV, but “company” and “troop” could often have been “caravan.”
W. F. Albright has argued convincingly for a period of intense donkey caravan activity between Egypt and SW Asia during the Middle Bronze I Age (2100-1800 b.c.). At this time dozens of seasonal settlements dotted the Negeb and Sinai trade routes, esp. along the inland Way of Shur (q.v.) from Beersheba through Kadesh-barnea to Ismailia and Suez. Wells and locally grown fodder provided for donkeys treading the flint-strewn paths. Camels could more easily traverse the sandy coastal route (“Abram the Hebrew: A New Archaeological Interpretation,” BASOR #163 [Oct., 1961], 36-54). The Ishmaelite-Midianite spice caravaneers toward the end of this period took Joseph to Egypt to sell him as a slave (Gen 37:25, 28). Whether Abraham himself, who lived for a while in the Negeb (20:1), engaged in the caravan trade is debatable (see E. A. Speiser, “The Verb SḤR in Genesis and Early Hebrew Movements,” BASOR #164 [Dec., 1961], 23-28).
When haste was essential, the more speedy camels were chosen, which could take more direct routes across deserts, in the cases of Abraham’s servant (24:10, 56, 61) and Jacob’s flight from Laban (31:17). Caravans were organized for raiding purposes (Judg 6:3-5; 1 Sam 30:1-20) as well as for trade and to carry a clan to a new home.
Solomon fortified Arad to protect the caravan route to the spice and incense lands of S Arabia (1 Kings 10:2, 15; IEJ, XII, 144). Pliny noted that a camel caravan took sixty-five days from S Arabia to Gaza Nat. Hist. XII. 32). C. M. Doughty described a huge caravan in 1876 on the Moslem pilgrimage from Damascus to Mecca, and another of 170 camels bearing 30 tons of liquid butter to Mecca (Travels in Arabia Deserta, abridged , 1-46, 294-329).
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)