MOAB, MOABITES mō’ ăb (מﯴאָ֖ב, מּﯴאָב׃֙ LXX Μωαβ; מﯴאָבִ֖י, מֹּ֣אָבִ֔י, or בְּנֵי מﯴאָב). A Trans-Jordanian state with its inhabitants, lying E of the Dead Sea and occupying the plateau between the Wadis Arnon and Zered. At certain periods the N boundary reached beyond the Wadi Arnon, and while the S extremities of Moab were never recorded, they prob. were marked by the Wadi el-Ḥesa.
1. Name and origin. The ancestor of the Moabites was Moab, the son of Lot by incestuous union with his eldest daughter (
2. Topography. The principal inhabited area of Moab was the plateau situated immediately E of the Dead Sea and about 4,300 ft. above the level of the Dead Sea. The core of Moab was located between the Wadi Arnon and the Wadi Zered, although during periods of national strength the extreme N to S extent of the country was a little over sixty m. in length. When the Moabites were weak, however, this distance was cut down to about one-half. The E to W extent of the terrain was some twenty-five m., though not all of this area could be cultivated, due to the presence of deep transverse gorges and portions of arid land to the E bordering on the desert.
The coastal regions of Moab contained several fertile lowland areas, particularly in the SW corner of the country and to the N of the Wadi Arnon. To the E of the coastal area were the Moabite highlands, which contained numerous fertile valleys and tablelands lying both N and S of the Wadi Arnon. Conditions in these areas were excellent for viticulture, agriculture, and the grazing of herds and flocks. During times when Moab was densely occupied, every available part of the land was cultivated, including some of the steep hillsides of the wadis. The raising of sheep was a major occupation in antiquity, with the flocks moving E to the Syrian desert during the lush spring season and returning W in the long hot summer. The inhabited regions of Moab were well watered by rainfall, particularly in the W region of the highlands, but to the E the rainfall average declined rapidly, making for a marked transition from cultivated terrain to desert land. All the wadis were in flood during the rainy winter season but became dry during the hot summer, when the people depended upon a few perennial springs and reservoirs or cisterns of water. Permanent springs were formed when the rain fell on the highland areas, filtered through the limestone to the solid layers of hard underlying rock, and flowed W along underground channels to the western slopes, or erupted in the valleys of the highlands. Despite these important natural reserves, the land of Moab was by no means amply supplied with water.
The most important river to the S, the Wadi el-Ḥesa, prob. formed the boundary between Moab and Edom, taking its rise from the latter. This wadi has frequently been identified with the “Brook Zered,” which divided the desert from the cultivated land. There is some doubt about this, however, since the Israelites camped at ’Iye-abarim in the desert E of Moab, and went from there to the valley of Zered. Since this was the last site prior to the crossing of the Wadi Arnon, it presents certain difficulties for the identification of the “Brook Zered” with the Wadi el-Ḥesa. For much of its length the wadi flows through a deep gorge, which became much shallower at its E end.
The ideal N border of Moab, which actually was seldom realized, stretched E from the Wadi Heshban and Khirbet er-Rufaiseh, about five m. N of the Dead Sea. At times the N boundary of Moab extended as far as the Wadi Nimrin, the N limit of a rich and well-watered area known as the Plains of Moab, which extended S for about eight m. to the Dead Sea. This territory was apparently occupied by the Moabites early in their political history, since it had already acquired its designation when the Amorite raider Sihon occupied Moabite territory S to the Wadi Arnon. However, at most periods of Moabite history this latter chasm frequently formed the N boundary for practical purposes.
a. Biblical. The main sources relating to the Moabites are unfortunately not Moabite in origin, but comprised records from neighboring peoples with whom the Moabites were often at war. However, such information is sufficiently objective in character to be used with confidence in the reconstruction of Moabite history and life. The primary source for such a task is the OT, and although the historiographic concerns of the various authors were different in character from those of writers in other times and cultures, their descriptions of events in Moabite history were decidedly objective, and therefore reliable. The Israelite feeling of disdain toward the Moabites seems reflected in the narrative describing their incestuous origin (
The Book of Judges recorded that Eglon, king of Moab, invaded Canaan as far as Jericho and subjugated the Israelites for eighteen years before being assassinated by Ehud the Benjamite (
Toward the end of the reign of Ahab of Israel (874/3-853 b.c.) the Moabites once again began to break free. In an attempt to regain control of the situation Jehoram, the son of Ahab, enlisted the help of Jehoshaphat, king of Judah and ruler of Edom, but the campaign proved abortive (
A brief narrative (
b. Non-Biblical. Purely Moabite sources have come to light through archeological investigations, though nothing of importance has been uncovered which in any way compares with the finding of the stele of King Mesha at Dhiban (Dibon) in 1868. This black basalt inscr., the celebrated Moabite Stone, measuring almost four ft. high and two ft. wide, was made to commemorate the revolt of Mesha against Israel, and his subsequent rebuilding of many important towns (
Another fragmentary inscr. coming from the earlier part of the same cent. was also recovered from Dhiban and published in 1952. It was first thought to have been part of the Mesha stele, but further study showed that it prob. was part of a larger and different inscr. originally. The fragment is too small to throw any light on Moabite history, but its very existence shows that the Mesha stele was no isolated phenomenon in 9th cent. b.c. Moab.
A monument discovered in 1930 about fifteen m. N of Kir-hareseth and known as the Balu’ah stele has also survived from ancient Moab, though in badly weathered form. The first photographs of this stele were published in 1932, showing on the upper part an almost completely indecipherable inscr. of four lines in extent. Underneath this material were three figures depicted in relief. The inscr. has been assigned tentatively to the Early Bronze Age by Albright, though this date was reduced by over a millennium by Drioton, who placed it in the 12th cent. b.c. However, the indecipherable nature of the inscr. makes any attempt at dating unreliable. From a supposed correspondence with the Linear B script, Alt thought that the stele had been erected originally by the Emites migrating from W Pal., who were subsequently conquered by early Moabite settlers and absorbed into the native population. This suggestion, however, is purely speculative in nature.
c. Cuneiform texts. Some of the Assyrian kings came into contact with the Moabites during their forays in the land of Amurru, and these encounters were recorded in the Assyrian royal inscrs. Of interest is the fact that, while the latter were sparse when compared with OT references to the Moabites, they contained more names of Moabite rulers than the OT narratives, and this during a period when the OT took little notice of Moabite history. One such source was recovered during the excavations at Nimrud, comprising letters dealing with affairs in Syria and Pal. Of these, a diplomatic communication written during the last third of the 8th cent. b.c. had reference to an attack upon Moab by a marauding tribe, prob. Bedouin in nature. Another document from the same period spoke of Palestinian emissaries journeying to Nimrud with tribute. Other Moabite relations with Assyria were mentioned in the annals of Ashurbanipal, Sennacherib and Esarhaddon.
Egyptian sources for Moabite history are almost negligible, since there was no sedentary occupation of Moab when Egyp. influence in Pal. was at its height. However, the name Dibon (tpn) occurred on the city list of Thutmose III in the temple of Amun at Karnak. From the list itself the place was located in the area of Upper Retenu, and can thus be identified with Tell Dibbin. The name Moab has been thought to be present on the list of Rameses II in the temple of Luxor, and other Moabite designations have been recognized on ostraca, graffiti and papyrus fragments recovered from Saqqara in 1926.
Moab was mentioned occasionally in non-canonical Jewish literary sources such as the Heb. text of
a. Pre-Biblical. The most obvious pre-Biblical remains in Moab are the menhirs (large erect stones sometimes found in rows or circles) and the dolmens (stone chambers made from massive slabs of rock and frequently buried under a mound of earth or stones). Such monuments occur throughout Trans-Jordan, and the Moabite examples come from the Neolithic period (6000-4500 b.c.).
During the Early Bronze IV to Middle Bronze I era (c. 2200-1900 b.c.), there was a high level of sedentary occupation throughout Trans-Jordan, and Moab itself was intensively settled. The inhabitants protected themselves by building fortified cities along the caravan routes which crossed Trans-Jordan from N to S. Indications of firmly established agricultural settlements point to an advanced level of civilization. While the cultivation of crops often was carried on outside fortified sites, some fields of ten acres in area were walled in for purposes of defense. Cultivated lands generally were located near a spring or stream so as to insure a reasonably continuous water supply, and this careful use of land was in evidence throughout the sedentary periods in Moab. The pottery of the early settlers was a rough, handmade variety, of a character with its counterparts in contemporary W Pal.
In the period under study there was a well-established trading route through Moab, and when the army of Chedorlaomer traveled down this road as far as El-paran in Edom (
b. Biblical. The end of the Late Bronze Age witnessed a settling-down of the nomadic populace, along with the rise of the historic kingdoms of Edom, Ammon and Moab, and the “Amorite” regimes of Sihon and Og. Moab was mentioned in the topographical lists of Ramses II at Luxor, while in the OT Moab was placed in parallel form to the “sons of Sheth,” the latter perhaps being an archaic tribal name and the Heb. form of the Egyp. Shutu (š-w-t-w), the Amarna Age designation of an area of Pal. perhaps roughly equivalent to later Ammon and Moab.
The descent and settlement of the Moabites has not been preserved in any detail, for OT references simply described the final establishing of the Trans-Jordanian peoples as an event already accomplished by the time of their first contact with the Israelites. Nothing can be deduced from the etymology of the name Moab regarding their descent, though the fact that they were connected genealogically with the Ammonites (
The absence of Moab from the names mentioned in
The Iron Age inhabitants of Moab defended their country by means of a strong chain of border forts. At the point where the plateau descended to the Wadi el-Ḥesa there were a number of fortified sites which protected the entrance of the King’s Highway into S Moab. The pass, some seventeen m. E of the place where the Wadi el-Ḥesa emptied into the Dead Sea, was important for purposes of trade and general communication, as well as being close to the fertile area watered by the springs of Aineh. One of the principal fortresses, el-Medeiyineh, was located on an almost impregnable hill, and was rectangular in form. It commanded a strategic position on the King’s Highway, since the latter had to skirt the fortress as it wound to the top of the plateau. Before gaining the high land the Highway was protected by a second fort, el-Akuzeh, built on a rocky outcrop overlooking the ancient caravan route. The strong walled fortress of Dhubab was located in the SW corner of the country, somewhat below the edge of the plateau. The fort known as Medinet er-Ras was located separately on a hill further N and on the plateau proper, and had an outer defensive wall some six and a half ft. thick. This complex formed an important bastion in the defense of SW Moab, and was linked with those which guarded the descent to the Dead Sea on the W border of Moab. Because of the way in which the E border merged with the desert, it was particularly important for strong defensive fortifications to be established there. The S extremity of the border was protected by the fortress of Mahaiy, a rectangular structure over 500 yards long, and between 100 and 250 yards wide. It was erected on the top of a steep hill which commanded a clear view of the desert areas to the N and NE, and controlled access to the slope leading to the Wadi el-Ḥesa. So strategic was the position of this fort that no large marauding band could enter Moab from the SE without coming into con tact with it.
To the N of Mahaiy, and frequently within sight of one another, were constructed numerous defensive positions reaching N along the entire E border of Moab. Some of these strong points were of major proportions, while others were in the nature of blockhouses designed to supplement the larger structures. A great many hills in the area still carry the remains of fortresses or watchtowers, most of which were built in the Iron Age. In the region of the Wadi Arnon the Moabites constructed several powerful fortresses in rather inaccessible and inhospitable terrain, and these doubtless needed to be provisioned from outside sources.
The border defenses of N Moab are less pronounced in character because of the rather fluid nature of the border itself. In any event, most of the major centers in the interior were strongly fortified, so that an invader from the N would be faced with the prospect of having to reduce them one by one in order to gain access to central Moab. The Iron Age population was dense, and all available land was tilled by the inhabitants. Whereas Early Bronze Age settlers had been forced to rely for their water upon the few springs or perennial streams in the country, the Iron Age inhabitants had mastered the technique of making water-tight cisterns by using a plaster compound of slaked lime. They were thus much more independent of natural sources of water, and were able to locate their settlements in strategic positions such as on hilltops. The cisterns which they built often were hewn out of the natural rock, and could be situated either on the hillside near the settlement or located close to the buildings themselves. A great number of these reservoirs have survived to the present, and have been cataloged by archeologists. Early Iron Age pottery in Trans-Jordan exhibited sufficient peculiarities to mark it out from contemporaneous W Palestinian forms. This situation has been attributed in part to Syrian influences, with the Moabite pottery showing high artistic and technical skill in manufacture. From the available evidence it would appear that contemporary Moabite culture was well advanced, and by no means inferior to that of W Pal.
By assimilating with the Emites and other indigenous elements, the Moabites had developed into a powerful nation by the 13th cent. b.c. The Israelites seem to have encountered them at the first stage of the Iron Age kingdom, shortly after an Amorite king named Sihon had defeated a Moabite ruler (
The Israelite itinerary through Trans-Jordan is far from easy to establish, but it would seem that the Hebrews had detoured round Edom and camped at Oboth (
During the Judges period Moabite power increased, and Eglon invaded Canaan as far N as Jericho, subjugating the local populace for eighteen years. This action was reinforced when Eglon made an alliance with Amalekite and Ammonite groups, and deliverance for Israel only came with the work of Ehud (
In the early monarchy the Moabites sought to exploit the temporary weakening of the Heb. forces resulting from the defeat of Nahash the Ammonite by Saul at Jabesh-gilead, a site little more than thirty m. N of N Moab. Accordingly the Moabites gained control of territory N of the Wadi Arnon, which resulted in Israel waging a defensive campaign against Moab, Ammon, Edom, and the king of Zobah in the NE (
Prior to becoming king of Israel, David had friendly contacts with Moab (
An important period of Moabite history began shortly after the division of the united monarchy. Early in the 9th cent. b.c. Moab seems to have tried to regain its holdings N of the Wadi Arnon. Only when Omri came to the throne (885/4-874/3 b.c.) was Israel able to reassert control of the disputed territory, and that, according to the Moabite Stone, because Chemosh “was angry with his land.” The “forty years” of Moabite subjection mentioned in the inscr. are meant to indicate a generation, namely from the middle of the reign of Omri (c. 879 b.c.) to the middle of that of Ahab (874/3-853 b.c.) his son. If this was the case it does not seem necessary to interpret the “son” of the Moabite Inscription as “grandson” (the reference thus being to Jehoram [852-841 b.c.], the second eldest son of Ahab, rather than to Ahab himself). Omri did not in fact conquer all the land as far S as the Wadi Arnon, since Dibon and Aroer were Moabite holdings prior to the time of Mesha.
Archeological remains have left no doubt as to the advanced nature of ancient Moabite culture. Typical Moabite pottery found S of the Wadi Arnon and elsewhere is comparable in quality and design with the best contemporary Palestinian ceramic ware. While Egyp. influence was present in the early stages of Moabite history, the land had its own skilled artisans who developed native styles. The writing on the stelae resembles the old Heb. script and was executed with considerable dexterity, testifying to the artistic abilities of the Moabite craftsmen. Although there are obvious traces of Syro-Phoen. influence upon Moabite culture, there is a sufficient degree of independence evident to warrant the conclusion that for centuries, it pursued a vigorous individual pattern of development.
5. Language. The only major inscr. in Moabite, a language closely related to Biblical Heb., is the stele of King Mesha. The forms of the letters are important to the epigraphist in illustrating the development of Canaanite scripts during the second half of the 9th cent. b.c. Grammatically, Moabitic had elements in common with Ugaritic, Phoenician, Aramaic and Arabic, while it shared with Heb. such important features as the waw consecutive, the use of the relative particle suffixes attached to nouns and verbs the accusative particle ’eṯ, and other familiar Heb. forms. Words were divided by means of points, following the pattern of the Siloam inscr. and a few others from 8th-cent. b.c. Aram. sources. The use of matres lectionis or vowel letters was the exception rather than the rule in the Mesha stele, as opposed to the orthography of some later Heb. documents such as 1QISa. Regarding the Heb. “diphthongs” ay and aw, the Moabite language contracted them to e and o respectively. Whereas in Heb. the final consonant of masculine pl. and dual forms was m, in Moabitic it was replaced by an n. Again it is difficult to tell from the Moabite Stone whether a feminine noun with a pronominal suffix is sing. or pl. in number, a distinction which is made clear in Biblical Heb.
6. Religion. As with their history and language, the religion of the Moabites reflected their relationship with the other inhabitants of ancient Pal. Again, unfortunately, just as Moabite history has had to be reconstructed largely from non-native sources, so their religious beliefs and practices have to be inferred from statements in the writings of other peoples, since there are hardly any sources dealing with Moabite religion proper. Quite obviously, therefore, the nature of their views on theological concepts such as sin, grace, immortality and the like cannot be ascertained from what is known of Moabite religion.
Much of the present information concerning their beliefs comes from an early period in the history of Moab, and largely on the strength of this evidence scholars have seen marked similarities between Moabite and Canaanite religious forms. Sacrificial procedures were mentioned in the Balaam narratives (
Pottery figurines of male deities sometimes depicted them as mounted on horseback, while female statuettes generally represented the mother goddess Astarte, and as such were similar to those from other areas of Pal. From the Iron Age artifacts found at Khirbet ’Ayin Musa, Kerak and elsewhere, the female deity, named Ashtar-Chemosh in the Mesha inscr., often was depicted as clutching some sacred object in front of her upper torso, possibly a symbol of fertility. Pottery fragments of animal figurines found by Glueck could perhaps have formed the pedestals for images of gods and goddesses. The mother goddess was worshiped in Moab in conjunction with Chemosh, and the Balu’ah stele relief may indicate that these two deities were being worshiped when Moabite tribes first entered the land. Chemosh was mentioned in the Amorite mocking song (
There are no indications of a priestly hierarchy in the cult of Chemosh, which evidently was headed by the reigning king, as illustrated by the position of Balak in seeking the help of Balaam. This situation had not changed in the time of King Mesha, who, according to the Moabite Stone, acted under the direct instructions of Chemosh, and took the lead in the rite involving the sacrifice of his eldest son. Canaanite kings generally possessed priestly authority, and the Moabite rulers were no exception to this rule. In early Moabite sacrifice, bulls and rams were offered (
As with other Near Eastern nations, the Moabites practiced the institution known as the “ban” (ḥerem), in which the spoils of war were devoted to the god of the victors. Brutality and ruthlessness in destruction were common features of Amarna age life in the Near E, and even later it was the normal practice for captured warriors to be killed, and the inhabitants of entire cities to be put to the sword. Generally speaking, such slaughter was deemed necessary for conciliating an angry god, and in this regard the Moabites were no exception. Nor did their religion survive the collapse of other pagan faiths in the ancient world.
Bibliography N. Glueck, AASOR, XIV (1933); XV (1934); XVIII-XIX (1939); XXV-XXVIII, Parts I and II (1951); idem., The Other Side of the Jordan (1940); idem., The River Jordan (1945); F. M. Abel, Géographie de la Palestine (1933), I, 278-281; F. V. Winnett, BASOR (1952), No. 125, 7-20; A. D. Tushingham, BASOR (1954), No. 133, 6-26; W. F. Albright, The Archaeology of Palestine (1956); M. du Buit, Geógraphie de la Terre Sainte (1958), 142, 143; D. Baly, The Geography of the Bible (1958); E. D. Grohman, IDB, III, 409-419; A. H. Van Zyl, The Moabites (1960).