ZIN (zĭn, Heb. tsin). A wilderness the Israelites traversed on their way to Canaan. It was close to the borders of Canaan (Num.13.21) and included Kadesh Barnea within its bounds (Num.20.1; Num.27.14; Num.33.36). Edom bordered it on the east, Judah on the SE (Josh.15.1-Josh.15.3), and the wilderness of Paran on the south. It was not the same as the wilderness of Sin, Zin and Sin being quite different Hebrew words.
Zin’s location, however, has been disputed. Though virtually all concede its distinction from the Wilderness of Sin, the crucial identification of Kadesh-barnea has been debated. Some favored Petra, some ’Ain el-Weibeh in the Arabah, and others ’Ain Qedeis (Kadesh) on the Egyp. side of the Sinai border—or perhaps both the Arabah and Sinai sites since two Kadeshes seemed possible. However, an informed consensus now decisively favors ’Ain Qedeis or rather its general vicinity, since (name apart) there is nothing to suggest this particular spring as more significant than ’Ain Qoseimeh or ’Ain el-Qudeirât with its abundant flow. But, localized or generalized, this identification of Kadesh-barnea, along with the description of Judah’s boundaries as extending “to the wilderness of Zin at the farthest south” (Josh 15:1; Num 34:3, 4) indicates that this wilderness extended from somewhere near Kadesh—perhaps from the River of Egypt or Wadi el-Arish—eastward toward the Ascent of Akrabbim and along the Fiqra or Wadi Zin to the border of Edom. More precise definition is hardly warranted: even in Biblical times the Wilderness of Paran overlapped (or perchance included) that of Zin (Num 13:26).
However defined, Zin was included in the “great and terrible wilderness” (Deut 1:19; 8:15). With a fickle few inches of rain even in the slightly less arid N, with its soil bestrewn with rock, flint and sand, with its surface corrugated by fault-scarps and breached by the elongated erosional “craters” of the Khurashe and Kurnub mountains, Zin was mostly barren. Yet investigation is disclosing an ancient ebb and flow of settlement—Patriarch and Israelite, Nabatean and Byzantine—based on meticulous utilization of soil and water and the strategy of trade and defense: a complex of fortresses, apparently following the Biblical frontier, marked Judah’s borders in the Wilderness of Zin.
C. L. Woolley and T. E. Lawrence, The Wilderness of Zin (1936); D. Baly, Geography of the Bible (1957); N. Glueck, Rivers in the Desert (1960); B. Rothenberg, God’s Wilderness (1962); E. Orni and E. Efrat, Geography of Israel (1966).
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
(1) A town in the extreme South of Judah, on the line separating that province from Edom, named between the ascent of Akrabbim and Kadesh-barnea (Nu 34:4; Jos 15:3). It must have lain somewhere between Wady el-Fiqra (the ascent of Akrabbim?) and `Ain Qadis (Kadesh-barnea); but the site has not been recovered.