NEGEV, NEGEB (nĕg'ĕv, Nĕg'ĕb, Heb. neghev, dry). The desert region lying to the south of Judea, and hence the term has acquired the double meaning of the “south” (usually so rendered in the kjv), because of its direction from Judah, and the “desert,” because of its aridity. It came to refer to a definite geographical region, as when we read concerning Abraham that he journeyed “into the south” (kjv; niv “to the Negev”) to Bethel (Gen.13.1). Num.13.22 represents the twelve spies as spying out the land by way of the Negev (kjv “south”). The Negev is the probable site of Debir, a city of Judah about twelve miles (twenty km.) SW of Hebron.

NEGEB nĕg’ ĕb (נֶ֫גֶב, H5582, its meaning seems to be dry country), used throughout the Bible to denote “south” (e.g. Gen 12:9; 13:14; 24:62; Num 13:17, etc.).


It is one of the regions of Pal., to the S of Judea, a region poor in rain and with few sources of underground water. The natural boundary of the Negeb in the N is the plain of Beer-sheba, but in the Bible the southern parts of the mountains of Hebron also are included. It is bounded by the coastal dunes in the W, the ’Arabah in the E, and extends toward the deserts of Paran, Zin, Shur and the River of Egypt in the S. Most of the Negeb is mountainous and is formed by ranges of hills which stretch from SE to NW. It is drained by rivers, narrow and canyon-like in their eastern parts, broad and shallow in the W. For this reason no major trade route could cross the Negeb from N to S.

Roads and highways.

Wars and commercial contacts between Pal. and Egypt were maintained by means of the via maris, while the peoples to the N and NE of Pal. used the “Kings’ Way” which runs along the Trans-Jordanian plateau. Only those routes coming from the Hebron or southern Judea lead over the high mountainous region of the Negeb. It was thus isolated and formed the natural southern limits of Judaea. No army, and esp. no army including chariots, could reach Hebron or Jerusalem from this part. There are two important roads mentioned in the Bible: a) a road connecting Kadesh-barnea with the southern ’Arabah, possibly the way of the mountains of the Amorites (Deut 1:19); b) a road which descends from Arad to the southern part of the mountains of Sodom. This is the way of Edom (2 Kings 3:20). A third possible road for which we have no records, connected Gaza, Gerar, Beer-sheba, Horma and Arad.


In Biblical times the economic importance of the Negeb was limited. The breeding of sheep and goats, esp. in the northern and central Negeb, was one of the more important items in the economy of the region (1 Sam 25:2ff.; 1 Chron 4:38-41; 2 Chron 26:10). It seems that the raising of asses and camels for the use of caravans also was practiced here. Of greater importance was the opening of the trade route in the period of the kingdom to South Arabia, East Africa and the Indian Ocean. The visit of the Queen of Sheba and the subsequent dispatch of the navy of Tarshish (1 Kings 10:22ff.) brought in silver, gold, precious stones and aromatics. Judaea maintained its rule over this route during the reign of Jehoshaphat and Uzziah (Azariah) (1 Kings 22:29; 2 Kings 14:22). Evidence for the actual commerce with S Arabia was unearthed in the excavations of Tell Huleifeh. Copper was mined in the mountains NW of the Gulf of Elath. The exploitation of the copper mines has been attributed to King Solomon, but it seems that it antedates his reign by about two centuries. The collecting of the Dead Sea’s asphalt belongs mainly to the classical period, although there is evidence for its use in Pal. also in Biblical times.


The first settlers came to the northern and central Negeb already in prehistoric times, but permanent settlement is not earlier than the Chalcolithic period. At that time settlements were built along the valley of the large wadis in the northern Negeb, esp. in the region of Beer-sheba. There are hardly any remains from the Early Bronze period, but the Middle Bronze I period witnessed a great expansion of settlements over the central mountainous part of the Negeb. No settlements were discovered from the rest of the Bronze Age, but the Negeb is mentioned in the list of Thutmose III.

The archeological evidence points to an Israelite expansion over the central Negeb during the period of the early kingdom. Fortresses were constructed along the commercial routes. Remains of such a line were discovered along the road stretching from Arad and Horma to Kadesh-barnea. Near some of the forts small settlements sprang up at about the first half of the tenth cent. b.c. To this period the expansion of the Israelite trade toward the Gulf of Elath and the fortification of a part of Ezion-geber (2 Kings 9:26) are attributed. This port was the key point for S Arabian trade (1 Kings 10:11, 22). In the fifth year of Rehoboam (924 b.c.) Sheshonq made his campaign against Judaea (1 Kings 14:25-28; 2 Chron 12:1-12). In his long list of topographical names at the temple of Amun at Karnak eighty-five belong to the N. It seems that Sheshonq penetrated as deep as Eziongeber. The destruction of the forts and small settlements is attributed to Sheshonq.

The Negeb was again in Israelite hands in the days of Jehoshaphat (1 Kings 22:49, 50; 2 Chron 20:35-37), a fact well-attested by archeological evidence. In the northern Negeb, E of Beer-sheba, new fortresses and settlements were built in the 9th and 8th centuries, some possibly by Jehoshaphat (2 Chron 17:12). The administrative division of Judaea, as listed in Joshua 15, is now attributed to Jehoshaphat. According to this list the Negeb district included thirty towns, but these are all N of the Beer-sheba-Horma-Arad line, except Aroer. The Judaean district of the Negeb extends over an area of 576 square m. and is equal in size to the six districts of Judea in its mountainous part.

This state of affairs continued also in the days of Uzziah the son of Amaziah who conquered Edom and built the port of Elath (2 Kings 14:22; 2 Chron 26:2). This expansion was accompanied by the building of new forts and settlements along the important trade routes. The large fortress at Tell Qudeirat, identified with Kadesh-barnea, is attributed to this period. During the Assyrian campaigns in the days of Ahaz the Negeb was gradually lost. Ezion-geber was conquered by the Edomites (2 Kings 16:6; 2 Chron 20:17) and was never reconquered by Judaea.

It seems that there was no permanent settlement during the subsequent centuries. The first traces of renewed human activity go back to the beginning of the 3rd cent. b.c. Pottery finds and coins from Nessana, Oboda and Elusa in the central Negeb are commonly attributed to the Nabateans, a people of Arabian descent, who founded a caravan state in the subsequent cent. in the former land of Edom and in the Negeb. In the late 1st cent. b.c. and early 1st cent. a.d. the caravan halts and some other newly settled places grew into small towns. A third phase in Nabatean settlement of the Negeb belongs to the late 1st and first half of the 2nd cent. a.d. To this period the beginning of Nabataean agriculture should be attributed. By the middle of the 2nd cent. the Nabataean towns and settlements were abandoned, being renewed by different settlers in the late Rom. period.


F. M. Abel, Géographie de la Palestine, I-II (1933-1938); M. Avi-Yonah, The Holy Land from the Persian to the Arab Conquests (536 B.C. to A.D. 648). A Historical Geography (1966); A. Negev, Cities of the Desert (1966); Y. Aharoni, The Land of the Bible (1967).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

(ha-neghebh, "the negeb" or simply, neghebh, from a root meaning "to be dry," and therefore in the first instance implying the "dry" or "parched regions," hence, in the Septuagint it is usually translated eremos, "desert," also nageb):

1. Meaning:

As the Negeb lay to the South of Judah, the word came to be used in the sense of "the South," and is so used in a few passages (e.g. Ge 13:14) and in such is translated lips (see Geography). The English translation is unsuitable in several passages, and likely to lead to confusion. For example, in Ge 13:1 Abram is represented as going "into the South" when journeying northward from Egypt toward Bethel; in Nu 13:22 the spies coming from the "wilderness of Zin" toward Hebron are described as coming "by the South," although they were going north. The difficulty in these and many other passages is at once obviated if it is recognized that the Negeb was a geographical term for a definite geographical region, just as Shephelah, literally, "lowland," was the name of another district of Palestine. In the Revised Version (British and American) "Negeb" is given in margin, but it would make for clearness if it were restored to the text.

2. Description:

This "parched" land is generally considered as beginning South of edition Dahariyeb--the probable site of DEBIR (which see)--and as stretching South in a series of rolling hills running in a general direction of East to West until the actual wilderness begins, a distance of perhaps 70 miles (see Natural Features). To the East it is bounded by the Dead Sea and the southern Ghor, and to the West there is no defined boundary before the Mediterranean. It is a land of sparse and scanty springs and small rainfall; in the character of its soil it is a transition from the fertility of Canaan to the wilderness of the desert; it is essentially a pastoral land, where grazing is plentiful in the early months and where camels and goats can sustain life, even through the long summer drought. Today, as through most periods of history, it is a land for the nomad rather than the settled inhabitant, although abundant ruins in many spots testify to better physical conditions at some periods (see I, 5, below). The direction of the valleys East or West, the general dryness, and the character of the inhabitants have always made it a more or less isolated region without thoroughfare. The great routes pass along the coast to the West or up the Arabah to the East. It formed an additional barrier to the wilderness beyond it; against all who would lead an army from the South, this southern frontier of Judah was always secure. Israel could not reach the promised land by this route, through the land of the Amalekites (Nu 13:29; 14:43-45).

3. Old Testament References:

4. Later History:

When Nebuchadnezzar took Jerusalem the Edomites sided with the Babylonians (compare La 4:21 f; Eze 35:3-15; Ob 1:10-16), and during the absence of the Jews they advanced north and occupied all the Negeb and Southern Judea as far as Hebron (see Judaea). Here they annoyed the Jews in Maccabean times until Judas expelled them from Southern Judea (164 BC) and John Hyrcanus conquered their country and compelled them to become Jews (109 BC). It was to one of the cities here--Malatha--that Herod Agrippa withdrew himself (Josephus, Ant, XVIII, vi, 2).

The palmy days of this district appear to have been during the Byzantine period: the existing ruins, so far as they can be dated at all, belong to this time. Beersheba was an important city with a bishop, and Elusa (mentioned by Ptolemy in the 2nd century) was the seat of a bishop in the 4th, 5th and 6th centuries. After the rise of Mohammedanism the land appears to have lapsed into primitive conditions. Although lawlessness and want of any central control may account for much of the retrogression, yet it is probable that Professor Ellsworth Huntington (loc. cit.) is right in his contention that a change of climate has had much to do with the rise and fall of civilization and settled habitation in this district. The district has long been given over to the nomads, and it is only quite recently that the Turkish policy of planting an official with a small garrison at Beersheba and at `Aujeh has produced some slight change in the direction of a settled population and agricultural pursuits.

5. Its Ancient Prosperity:

It is clear that in at least two historic periods the Negeb enjoyed a very considerable prosperity. What it may have been in the days of the Patriarchs it is difficult to judge; all we read of them suggests a purely nomadic life similar to the Bedouin of today but with better pasturage. In the division of the land among the tribes mention is made of many cities--the Hebrew mentions 29 (Jos 15:21-32; 19:1-9; 1Ch 4:28-33)--and the wealth of cattle evidently was great (compare 1Sa 15:9; 27:9; 30:16; 2Ch 14:14 f). The condition of things must have been far different from that of recent times.

The extensive ruins at Bir es Seba` (Beersheba) Khalasa (Elusa), Ruheibeh (REHOBOTH, which see), `Aujeh and other cities, together with the signs of orchards, vineyards and gardens scattered widely around these and other sites, show how comparatively well populated this area was in Byzantine times in particular. Professor Huntington (loc. cit.) concludes from these ruins that the population of the large towns of the Negeb alone at this period must have amounted to between 45,000 and 50,000. The whole district does not support 1,000 souls today.


Robinson, BR (1838); Wilton, The Negeb, or "South Country" of Scripture (1863); E.H. Palmer, The Desert of the Exodus, II (1871); Trumbull, Kadesh-Barnea (1884); G. A. Smith, HGHL, chapter xiii (1894); E. Huntington, Palestine and Its Transformation, chapter vi, etc.