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MEDEBA (mĕd'ē-ba, Heb. mêdhevā’, uncertain). A city lying high in the grazing section of Moab east of the Jordan. It was first referred to in Num.21.30. It is part of the section of land assigned to the tribe of Reuben (Josh.13.9) and is remarkably level. The claim to this land was often disputed by Reubenites (who soon vanished from the scene), Ammonites, and Moabites. The Ammonites united with the Syrians in a campaign against Joab and were successfully defeated (1Chr.19.7). The biblical records together with the testimony of the Moabite Stone show that the city was constantly changing hands (cf. 1Chr.19.7 with Isa.15.2). From 1Macc.9.36-1Macc.9.42 we read how John, the son of Mattathias, was murdered by Jambri of Medeba. Jonathan and Simon avenged this death by lying in ambush in a cave and slaughtering a marriage party of the Jambri that was passing by. Josephus relates that later the city was taken by Hyrcanus after the death of Antiochus. Later on in Roman history it became the seat of one of the early bishops. Today the modern Arab village of Madeba occupies the general area, but the ruins of the old civilization are much in evidence. Some archaeological work has been carried on here. In a.d. 1896 an ancient mosaic map of Palestine was discovered and, though badly damaged, has proved to be of real value.

MEDEBA mĕd’ ə bə (Heb. מֵֽידְבָֽא, possibly water of quiet), an ancient Moabite town in Trans-Jordan located on a tableland c. sixteen m. SE of the mouth of the Jordan, six m. S of Heshbon. The modern village on the site is called Mâdabâ. The first Biblical reference to Medeba is found in a victory song over Moab (Num 21:30), where Medeba is mentioned as one of the cities taken from Moab by Sihon, king of the Amorites. After the victory of Israel over Sihon (21:21-26), Medeba was assigned to the tribe of Reuben (Josh 13:9, 16). The claim to this land often was disputed by the Reubenites, Ammonites and Moabites (cf. Denis Baly, The Geography of the Bible [1957], pp. 30, 172). The Ammonites, after the disgraceful treatment of David’s messengers, united with the Aramaeans in a campaign against Joab and Abishai before Medeba; they were successfully defeated (1 Chron 19:7). According to the Mesha Inscr. (ANET, p. 320) Medeba had belonged to Omri and Achab, but Mesha, king of Moab, captured it (Line 8) and had it rebuilt (Line 30). The prophet Isaiah names Medeba in an oracle against Moab (Isaiah 15:2). At the time of the Maccabees Medeba belonged to the Nabataeans. According to 1 Maccabees 9:36-42 John, the son of Mattathias, was murdered by a man from Medeba. John’s brothers, Jonathan and Simon, avenged their brother’s death. After the death of Antiochus the city was taken by Hyrcanus, and finally was captured by Alexander Jannaeus, although Hyrcanus II promised to restore it to Aretas, king of Arabia (cf. Jos., Antiq., 13, 5 section 4, 9 section 1; 14, 1 section 4).

In the Byzantine period Medeba was apparently a wealthy city, for several of the mosaic pavements dating from this time are still partially preserved here. Today the fame of Medeba rests upon its mosaic map of the Holy Land, dating from the late 6th cent., but first discovered in 1884 (see M. Avi-Yonah, The Madaba Mosaic Map [1954]). Unfortunately, large portions of the map were damaged or destroyed during the construction of a new church on the old site. The mosaic map was included in the pavement of this church.


D. Baly, The Geography of the Bible (1957); idem., Geographical Companion to the Bible (1963).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

The name may mean "gently flowing water," but the sense is doubtful. This city is first mentioned along with Heshbon and Dibon in an account of Israel’s conquests (Nu 21:30). It lay in the Mishor, the high pastoral land of Moab. The district in which the city stood is called the Mishor or plain of Medeba in the description of the territory assigned to Reuben (Jos 13:9), or the plain by Medeba (Jos 13:16). Here the Ammonites and their Syrian allies put the battle in array against Joab, and were signally defeated (1Ch 19:7). This must have left the place definitely in the possession of Israel. But it must have changed hands several times. It was taken by Omri, evidently from Moab; and Mesha claims to have recovered possession of it (M S, ll. 7,8,29,30). It would naturally fall to Israel under Jeroboam II; but in Isa 15:2 it is referred to as a city of Moab. It also figures in later Jewish history. John, son of Mattathias, was captured and put to death by the Jambri, a robber tribe from Medeba. This outrage was amply avenged by Jonathan and Simon, who ambushed a marriage party of the Jambri as they were bringing a noble bride from Gabbatha, slew them all and took their ornaments (1 Macc 9:36 ff; Ant, XII, i, 2, 4). Medeba was captured by Hyrcanus "not without the greatest distress of his army" (Ant., XIII, ix, 1). It was taken by Janneus from the Nabateans. Hyrcanus promised to restore it with other cities so taken to Aretas in return for help to secure him on the Judean throne (ibid., xv, 4; XIV, i, 4). Ptolemy speaks of it as a town in Arabia Petrea, between Bostra and Petra. Eusebius and Jerome knew it under its ancient name (Onomasticon, under the word). It became the seat of a bishropric, and is mentioned in the Ac of the Council of Chalcedon (451 AD), and in other ecclesiastical lists.

The ancient city is represented by the modern Madeba, a ruined site with an Arab village, crowning a low hill, some 6 miles South of Heshbon, with which it was connected by a Roman road. The ruins, which are considerable, date mainly from Christian times. The surrounding walls can be traced in practically their whole circuit. There is a large tank, now dry, measuring 108 yds. X 103 yds., and about 12 ft. in depth. In 1880 it was colonized by some Christian families from Kerak, among whom the Latins carry on mission work. In December, 1896, a most interesting mosaic was found. It proved to be a map of part of Palestine and Lower Egypt of the time of Justinian. Unfortunately it is much damaged. An account of it will be found in Palestine Exploration Fund Statement, 1897, 213 ff, 239; 1898, 85, 177 ff, 251.