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Kadesh Barnea

CADES-BARNE. KJV Apoc. form of Kadeshbarnea.


KADESH-BARNEA kā’ dĭsh bär’ niə (קָדֵ֥שׁ בַּרְנֵֽעַ, the holy “city” of Barnea, an oasis area in the N of Sinai.


Kadesh-barnea is a term which was applied to an oasis area made by the presence of four springs: Ain Qedeis, Ain el-Qudeirat, el-Qoseimeh and el-Muweilah (reading E to W). This multiple spring area was the largest in the Negeb-Sinai district and was located approximately fifty m. SW of Beer-sheba and about fifty m. from the Mediterranean coast to the W. Earlier scholars usually applied the name Kadesh-barnea to only one of these springs. Since Ain Qedeis preserved the original Kadesh, some scholars accepted this site, but it was only a small spring. It might have been sufficient for the Tabernacle and its staff, but no more. Other scholars favored Ain el-Qudeirat since it was the largest of the springs between Suez and Beer-sheba. There were ruins of a Judean fortress at that site.

The name Kadesh, i.e. “Holy,” is a natural designation for a site with so much water in a desert area. Only the gods could have done this! Barnea is a term not yet understood. Kadesh-barnea was the junction point on the Negeb-Sinai border where the road from Beersheba forked into three tracks. The W road followed the Wadi el-’Arish to the Mediterranean. The central road continued S to Egypt and the E track soon turned S to the Gulf of Aqabah.


The first Biblical reference to the site (Gen 14:7) uses the alternate name Enmishpat. Since it was a holy place, legal problems would be settled there, thus calling the site “the spring of judgment.” This was the W terminus of the armies of Chedorlaomer and his allies who invaded Edom and Sinai for valuable copper supplies. At the time of the Exodus Moses spoke of Kadesh-barnea which was on the edge of the territory belonging to the king of Edom (Num 20:16). Archeological evidence, however, shows that the site was occupied as early as Late Chalcolithic times and the Early Bronze Age.

Abraham used Kadesh-barnea as a major supply depot on his trade road between Gerar, his Palestinian business base, and his Egyptian market (Gen 20:1). His donkey caravans found both the water and the fodder they needed. The area’s largest population in OT times was in the period of Middle Bronze I, which is the date for Abraham. Hagar’s experience at Beer-lahai-roi was near here on the road to Egypt (Gen 16:7-14).

Kadesh-barnea shared with Mt. Sinai the key historic events of the wilderness wanderings, although scholars differ concerning the exact amount of time Israel spent at Kadesh. Deuteronomy 1:19 summarizes the eleven-day journey from Mt. Horeb to Kadesh-barnea. “And we set out from Horeb, and went through all that great and terrible wilderness which you saw, on the way to the hill country of the Amorites, as the Lord our God commanded us; and we came to Kadesh-barnea.” (The same eleven-day schedule is used on that trade route today.) Kadesh-barnea became the key locale in the exodus story. The spies were sent from Kadesh-barnea (Deut 1:20ff.). The report of the returning spies (Num 13:25-14:45), Israel’s consequent revolt against Moses, and God’s rejection of that rebellious generation took place here. The passage includes a brief resumé of Israel’s defeat when the nation disobeyed God and attacked the hill country N of Kadesh-barnea.

The springs at Kadesh-barnea are also called “the waters of Meribah,” i.e. “contention” (27:14; Ezek 47:19). It was here that the Israelites complained to Moses that there was no water for the people; and it was here that Moses forgot to give God the glory for the miracle of water (Num 20:1-13). Miriam died at Kadesh (20:1), and in nearby Mt. Hor Aaron was buried (20:22-29).

Moses sent messengers from Kadesh to the king of Edom asking permission to cross his territory, but the request was denied (20:14-21). Kadesh was on the edge of Edomite territory. Edom at that time extended much farther W than many Bible readers realize. The S boundaries of the Promised Land are given in Numbers 34:1-5. Kadesh-barnea is the first site mentioned after the ascent of Akrabbim. This Kadesh is prob. Ain el-Qudeirat. Then follows Hazaraddar, which is sometimes identified with Ain Qadeis, and Azmon identified with el-Muweilah. These are all at the headwaters of the river of Egypt (Wadi el-’Arish). The same boundary is given in Joshua 15:3 but Hazar-addar became two towns instead of one.

Joshua conquered Kadesh-barnea (Josh 10:41). At Gilgal Caleb, talking to Joshua, referred to the earlier Kadesh-barnea spy episode and requested as his inheritance the hill country which had defeated Israel’s abortive entry shortly after the exodus from Egypt. Jephthah reviewed the story of Moses’ request from Kadesh to pass through Edom (Judg 11:16, 17).

Archeological material.

The Abraham period has archeological material that illuminates the Genesis story; see B. Rothenberg’s God’s Wilderness, pp. 35-56. The archeologists have found no permanent buildings from the period of the Exodus at any of the four Kadesh springs. The OT is specific, however, that the Israelites were nomads in Sinai; even their Tabernacle was a mobile building; consequently, there is little for the archeologist to discover. It is hoped, however, that further research may throw some light on this period.

The archeologist resumes the story at Kadesh-barnea by the discovery of the fort which M. Dothan has excavated. Earlier work on it had been done by Woolley and Lawrence. The earliest phase is 9th cent. b.c. or slightly earlier. The main fort dates from the 8th cent. b.c. or slightly earlier, and was used through the 6th cent. b.c. It was destroyed by Edomites. The fort was not on high ground, but in the valley alongside the stream that flows from Ain en-Qudeirat. It is a typical casemate-fortress measuring 60 x 41 meters. Each of its casemate walls is c. 1 meter thick with 4 or 5 meters of open space between them. There were eight towers, one on each corner and one near the center of each side. The upper story of the fort was brick. This site became militarily important under Jehoshaphat when he entered the Red Sea trade.

Some sherds from the Pers. period show a postexilic occupation around the spring, but the next major occupation in the whole Kadesh-barnea area was Nabataean. The last masters in the general area were the Byzantines.


C. L. Woolley and T. E. Lawrence, The Wilderness of Zin, new ed. (1936); B. Rothenberg, God’s Wilderness—Discoveries in Sinai (1961); M. Dothan, IEJ, “The Fortress of Kadesh-barnea,” vol. 15, 134ff.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)


See KADESH-BARNEA (Apocrypha).

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