1902 Encyclopedia > Moab


MOAB. Moab and Amnion (children of Lot) consti-tute along with Edom and Israel (children of Isaac) that group of four Hebrew peoples which in early antiquity had issued from the Syro-Arabian wilderness, and settled on the border of the cultivated country eastward of the great depression which extends from the Gulf of Elath to the
Dead Sea, and up the valley of the Jordan. According to the book of Genesis, they had come out of Mesopotamia, and so were precursors of the larger wave which followed from the same quarter, forming the most southern outpost of the Aramaean immigration into the lands of Canaan and Heth. Whether the Hebrews were originally Ara-maeans is questionable, but it is certain that, like the Aramaeans, they were distinct from the Canaanites, whose conquerors they were. Such was the relation of the old and new inhabitants, not only in Western Palestine after the Israelite occupation, but also, and from a much earlier period, in Eastern Palestine, where the aborigines were Amorites—that is, Canaanites—and where the Bne Ammon and Moab and the Bne Isaac successively settled in their lands. The old population did not disappear before the conquerors, but continued to subsist among them. In a considerable district—namely, in Gilead—the Amorites even remained unsubdued, and thus formed a gap, only imperfectly filled up by the Bne Ammon, between the Hebrew line of immigration on the south and the Ara-maean line more to the north,—a gap which did not begin to close until the historical period. From this district they even endeavoured, and with some success, as will be afterwards seen, to recover the territory which had been taken from them in the south. But where they were the subjects of the Hebrews they constituted the basis of the population, the mainstock of the working and trading classes. The extent of their influence over the conquerors may be judged from the fact that it was their speech which gained the upper hand. The Moabites, and doubt-less also the Ammonites and Edomites, spoke the language of Canaan as well as the Israelites. They must have learned it from the Canaanites in the land eastward of Jordan, prior to the period at which Jacob immigrated to and returned from Egypt. Our knowledge is extremely imperfect as regards other departments of the Canaanite influence; but in religion it has left a noticeable trace in the cultus of Baal-Peor, which was carried on in Moabite territory, but was certainly of Canaanite origin.
The assumption that the change of language was first brought about by the Israelites in the land which is called by preference that of Canaan, is rendered untenable by the fact that the Moabites also spoke Canaanitish. It is vain to urge against the identity of Hebrew and Canaanitish the distinction between Phoenician and Hebrew ; for doubtless similar distinctions existed between the dialect of the Phoenician coast towns and that of the Hivites, Amorites, and Canaanites generally, wdiose language the Hebrews borrowed. That the Aranireans of Damascus, wdio also were com-pelled to mingle with the Hethites in the country of which they had taken possession, nevertheless retained their original tongue is to be explained by the circumstance that they continued to maintain direct relations with the mother-country of Mesopotamia, and more-over had greater internal cohesion. The designation Amorites, usually given in the Old Testament to the original inhabitants of Eastern Palestine, is substantially synonymous with that of Canaanites, although not quite so comprehensive. The Palestine of the Pre-Israelitic period, which in the Pentateuch is called the Land of Canaan, figures in Amos as the Land of the Amorites. While, however, the former name is bestowed chiefly upon that portion of the earlier population which had remained unconquered, the latter is given to the portion against which the Israelites first directed their attack and in wdiose territory they settled. This took place in the mountain district, first to the east and afterwards to the west of Jordan. For this reason the Amorites, as contrasted with the Canaanites of the cities of the level country, are a highland race, like the Hebrews themselves, but belong exclusively to the past. In the time of the Biblical narrators, the Canaanites are still living here and there in the land, but the Amorites have once lived where the Israelites now are. This explains the fact that, while in ordinary peaceful circumstances the Canaanites are named as the old inhabitants, the Amorites are immediately substituted for them wherever war and conquest are spoken of. Sihon and Og, with whom Moses does battle, are kings of the Amorites ; in like manner it is with the twelve kings of the Amorites that Joshua has to deal westward of the Jordan. The Amorites as an extinct race of course assume a half-mythical character, and are represented as giants, tall as cedars and strong as oaks.

Just as Israel was the people of Jehovah, and Amnion the people of Milcom, Moab was the people of Chemosh (K'IDS, Num. xxi. 29). The kingship of Chemosh was regarded as thoroughly national and political in its char-acter, but did not on that account exclude the institution of a human king, which existed in Moab much earlier than in Israel; in the time of Moses the Moabites had a king, and the institution was even then an old one. The capitals of the kingdom were Ar-Moab and Kir-Moab, south from the Arnon ; these were not, however, the constant residences of the kings, who continued to live in their native places, as, for example, Mesha in Dibon. Doubtless there were changes of dynasty, and traces exist of a powerful aristocracy (Ariele Moab; 2 Sam. xxiii. 20).
The land of the Moabites, the Balka, is bounded north-ward and southward by Mount Gilead and Wadi l-Ahsa, westward and eastward by the Dead Sea and the Wilder-ness ; it is divided into two portions by the deep bed of the Arngn, that to the north being the more level (Mishor), and that to the south being more broken up, and consti-tuting the proper stronghold of the nation. The soil is peculiarly adapted for sheep-farming (2 Kings iii.) and the culture of the vine (Isa. xvi.).
The historical importance of the Moabites lies wholly in their contact with Israel, and we have no knowledge of them apart from this. After the Israelites had quitted Egypt and passed a nomadic life for about a generation in the neighbourhood of Kadesh, they migrated thence, still under the leadership of Moses, into northern Moab, dis-possessing the Amorites, who had made themselves masters of that district. The interval from Kadesh to the Arnon could be passed only by a good understanding with Edom, Moab, and Ammon,—a proof that the ethnical relationships, which at a later period were expressed only in legend, were at that time still living and practical. In all probability the Moabites called the Israelites to their aid; they were not as yet aware that this little pastoral people was des-tined one day to become to them a greater danger than the Canaanites by whom they were threatened at the moment.
As the story of Balaam indicates, the Moabites would willingly have been rid of their cousins after their service had been rendered, but were unable to prevent them from settling in the land of Sihon. The migration of the tribes of Israel into Western Palestine, however, and the dissolu-tion of their warlike confederation soon afterwards made a restoration of the old frontiers possible. If King Egion took tribute of Benjamin at Jericho, the territory between Arnon and Jordan must also have been subject to him, and
Reuben must even then have lost his land, or at least his liberty. It would appear that the Moabites next extended their attacks to Mount Gilead, giving their support to the Ammonites, who, during the period of the judges, were its leading assailants. So close was the connexion between Moab and Ammon that the boundary between them vanishes for the narrators (Judges xi.).
Gilead was delivered from the Ammonites by Saul, who at the same time waged a successful war against Moab ; the fact is lightly touched upon in 1 Sam. xiv. 47, as if this were a matter of course. The establishment of the mon-archy necessarily involved Israel in feuds with its neighbours and kin. The Moabites being the enemies of the Israelite kingdom, David naturally sent his people for shelter thither when he had broken with Saul; the incident is precisely analogous to what happened when he himself at a later period took refuge from Saul's persecution in Philistine territory, and needs no explanation from the book of Ruth. As soon as he ceased to be the king's enemy by himself becoming king, his relations with Moab became precisely those of his predecessor. The war in which apparently casual circumstances involved him with Hanun ben Nahash of Ammon really arose out of larger causes, and thus spread to Moab and Edom as well. The end of it was that all the three Hebrew nationalities were incorj^orated with the kingdom of Israel; the youngest brother eclipsed and sub-dued his seniors, as Balaam had foreseen. Through the work of Saul and David the political system of Palestine was altogether changed: the smaller peoples were no longer a match for Israel, which established a decisive preponder-ance, and transformed what had hitherto been jealousy on the part of Moab and Ammon as well as of Edom into bitter hatred ; this hatred did not cease even after nothing but a religious shadow remained of what had once been the political supremacy of the people of Jehovah.

The struggle with Ammon which David began ultimately assumed larger dimensions, and brought the Aramaeans also into the field against him. He was successful, indeed, against them also, and destroyed their most powerful kingdom; but after his death they recovered themselves, and pressed steadily on from the borders of the wilderness towards the sea; at their head were those kings of Damascus who had established themselves on the ruins of Zoba. In presence of these enemies the already fading distinction between the ruling and the subject nationality within the kingdom of Israel now completely disappeared; and even towards the Canaanites outside the relations of the kings became friendly. It is in one instance expressly stated that the common danger threatening from the East had to do with this (2 Sam. viii. 9 sqq.). But, conversely, it was natural that Ammon and Moab should make common cause with the Aramaeans; such an attitude was suggested by geographical position and old connexions, but above all by their helpless fury against Israel. Both nationalities must have succeeded in emancipating themselves very soon after David's death, and only now and then was some strong king of Israel able again to impose the yoke for a time, not upon the Ammonites indeed, but upon Moab. The first to do so was Oinri, who garrisoned a number of their towns and compelled the king to acknowledge Israel's suzerainty by a yearly tribute of sheep,—a state of matters which con-tinued until the death of Ahab ben Omri. But when that brave king fell in battle with the Aramaeans at Ramoth Gilead (about 850 B.C.), Mesha of Dibon, then the ruler of Moab, seized the favourable opportunity to make him-self and his people independent. In his famous inscription he tells how, through the wrath of Chemosh, the land had fallen into the enemy's power and endured forty years of slavery, and how by the grace of Chemosh the yoke is now broken and the Israelites ignominiously driven off. In

the Bible we find only the curt statement that Moab rebelled against Israel after the death of Ahab (2 Kings i.); on the other hand, there is a full narrative of a later attempt on the part of Joram ben Ahab to bring Mesha again into subjection—an attempt which promised very well at first, but ultimately failed completely. Joram's invasion took place not from the north but (probably very unex-pectedly to the enemy) from the frontier of Edom over the Wadi '1-Ahsa; he marched through Judah and Edom, and the kings of those countries served as auxiliaries. He defeated a Moabite army on the frontier, penetrated into the country and laid it waste; he laid siege to the fortress of Kir-Moab so closely as to reduce it to great straits. But these straits seem to have filled the besieged with a desperate courage, for the fortunes of war suddenly changed." The Israelites were compelled to retire home-ward, a great wrath (of Jehovah) having come upon them, that is, a severe disaster having befallen them, which is not described, but, from the nature of the case, must have been a sudden surprise and defeat by the enemy.
As the Moabites owed their liberation from Israelite supremacy to the battle of Ramah—that is, to the Aramaeans—we accordingly find them (as well as the Ammonites) afterwards always seconding the Aramaeans in continual border warfare against Gilead, in which they took cruel revenge on the Israelites. With what bitterness the latter in consequence were wont to speak of their hostile kinsfolk can be gathered from Gen. xix. 30 sqq.— the one trace of open malice in the story of the patriarchs, and all the more striking as it occurs in a narrative of which Lot is the hero and saint, which therefore in its present form is of Moabite origin, although perhaps it has a still older Canaanite nucleus. Of these border wars we learn but little, although from casual notices it can be seen (2 Kings xiii. 20; Amos i. 13 ; comp. 2 Kings v. 2) that they were long kept up, although not quite uninterruptedly. But when at length the danger from the Aramaeans was removed for Israel by the inter-vention of the Assyrians, the hour of Moab's subjection also came ; Jeroboam II. extended his frontier over the eastern territory, as far as to the brook of the willows (Wadi '1-Ahsa). (Perhaps the song of Num. xxi. 27 sqq. has reference to these events.) A vivid picture of the confusion and anguish then prevalent in Moab has been preserved to us in the ancient prcvphecy of Isa. xv., xvi., which indeed would have greater historical value if we were able to tell precisely what in it depicts the present, and what is prediction of the future.
This utterance of an older prophet was repeated some decennia later by the prophet Isaiah, with the addition of a clause adapting it to his time, to the effect that the Assyrians would carry out in all its fulness the hitherto imperfectly-executed threat. The Assyrians actually sub-jugated the Moabites, as well as the other small peoples of that region; but the blow was apparently not so grave as Isaiah had predicted. They lay more out of the way than their western neighbours, and perhaps their resistance to the scourge of God was not so obstinate as to demand the sharpest measures. What made it all the easier for them to reconcile themselves to the new situation was the fact that the Israelites suffered much more severely than they. From these their deadly enemies they were henceforth for ever free. They did not on that account, however, give up their old hatred, but merely transferred it from Israel to Judah. The political annihilation of the nation only inten-sified in Jerusalem the belief in its religious prerogative, and against this belief the hostility of neighbours was aroused more keenly than ever. The deepest offence at the reli-gious exclusiveness of the people of Judaea, which then first began to manifest itself, was, as is easily understood, taken by their nearest relatives, Edom and Moab. They gave terrible expression to their feelings when the Chal-daeans urged them on like uncaged beasts of prey against the rebellious Jews ; and they joined loudly in the general chorus of malignant joy which was raised over the burning of the temple and the ruin of the holy city.
" Because Moab saith: Behold the house of Judah is like all the other nations, therefore do I open his land to the Bne Kedem," says the prophet Ezekiel (xxv. 8 sqq.). His threat against the Moabites as well as against the Edomites and Ammonites is that they shall fall before the approach of the desert tribes. Probably in his day the tide of Arabian invasion was already slowly rising, and of course it had first to overtake the lands situated on the desert border. At all events the Arab immigration into this quarter began at an earlier date than is usually supposed; it continued for centuries, and was so gradual that the previously - introduced Aramaeizing process could quietly go on alongside of it. The Edomites gave way before the pressure of the land-hungry nomads, and settled in the desolate country of Judah; the children of Lot, on the other hand, appear to have amalgamated with them,—the Ammonites maintaining their individuality longer than the Moabites, who soon entirely disappeared.
3 Zeph. ii. 8 sq.; 2 Kings xxiv. 2, and Jer. xii. 9 sqq.; Ezek. xxv. 8 sqq. It need hardly be said that the Moabites shared the fate of all the Palestinian peoples when supremacy passed from the Assyrians to the Chaldeans, and that, notwithstanding their hatred of the Jews, they had no difficulty in seeking alliances with them, when occasions arose on which they could be made useful (Jer. xxvii. 3).

Israel and Moab had a common origin, and their early history was similar. The people of Jehovah on the one hand, the people of Chemosh on the other, had the same idea of the Godhead as head of the nation, and a like patriotism derived from religious belief,—a patriotism capable of extraordinary efforts, and which has had no parallel in the West either in ancient or in modern times. The mechanism of the theocracy also had much that was common to both nations; in both the king figures as the deity's representative, priests and projthets as the organs through whom he makes his communications. But, with all this similarity, how different were the ultimate fates of the two! The history of the one loses itself obscurely and fruitlessly in the sand; that of the other issues in eternity. One reason for the difference (which, strangely enough, seems to have been felt not by the Israelites alone but by the Moabites also) is obvious. Israel received no gentle treatment at the hands of the world; it had to carry on a continual conflict with foreign influences and hostile

powers; and this perpetual struggle with gods and men was not profitless, although the external catastrophe was inevitable. Moab meantime remained settled on his lees, and was not emptied from vessel to vessel (Jer. xlviii. 11), and corruption and decay were the result. This explana-tion, however, does not carry us far, for other peoples with fortunes as rude as those of Israel have yet failed to attain historical importance, but have simply disappeared. The service the prophets rendered at a critical time, by raising the faith of Israel from the temporal to the eternal sphere, has already been spoken of in the article ISRAEL.
Sources.—The Old Testament (Ruth and Chronicles, however,
being of no historical worth in this connexion), and the inscription
of Mesha, on the stone of Dibon, discovered in 1S68, and now in
the Louvre. The Berlin Moabitica are valueless,—Schlottmann
himself, the unshaken champion of their genuineness, conceding
that they are mere scribbling, and do not even form words, much
less sentences. The literature of the subject is to be found in the
commentaries on the Old Testament books, and in those on the
inscription of Mesha. (J. WE.)


There does not seem to have been any difference in this respect between the northern and southern portions; instead of Heshbon, Sibmah, and Jaezer (Isa. xvi.), the poet Hatim of Tayyi, a little before Mohammed, names Maab and Zoar as the chief wine centres (Yakut, iv. 377, 19).
The facts as a whole are indubitable; it cannot be an invention that the Israelites settled first ill Kadesh, then in northern Moab, and thence passed into Palestine proper. The only doubtful point is whether the song in Num. xxi. 27 sqq. is contemporary evidence of these events. It is certainly not a forgery, but it is a ques-tion whether it really refers to the destruction of the kingdom of the Amorites at Heshbon. This reference rests entirely upon the words
pCPD 'HCX ^D^. which might very well be omitted as a mere gloss, in which case the song would naturally be understood as directed against the Moabites themselves ; it is in this last sense that it is taken by the author of Jer. xlviii. (Comp. E. Meyer in Stade's Zeitsehr. /. A Tliche Wissensch., 1881, p. 129 sqq.) As Israel got the better of the Amorites on the plain of Moab, so did Hadad king of the Edomites vanquish the Midianites on the "field" of Moab (Gen. xxxvi. 35); this took place in Gideon's time, as is borne out by the fact that between Hadad and the downfall of the ancient Edomite monarchy, i.e. to the period of David, there were four reigning princes. Confused recollections of a former settlement of the Midianites in northern Moab are seen in Num. xxii. 4, 7 ; xxv. 18.

The narrative of Mesha in his inscription has, strange to say, not nnfrequently been regarded as parallel with 2 Kings iii., and the con-clusion been drawn that the Biblical narrative completely inverts the true state of the case,—it is difficult to see for what motives, for there is no braggadocio in 2 Kings iii. But it is perfectly clear that the narrative of 2 Kings iii. presupposes the revolt of Mesha as an old affair; while, on the other hand, Mesha's story on the stele in the Louvre is a narrative of this very revolt and its immediate consequences; it is accordingly to be regarded as parallel with 2 Kings i. 1. Elisha's miracle in Wadi '1-Ahsa (2 Kings iii. 16) is explained by the locality; Ahsa means a sandy ground with moist subsoil, where, by digging trenches, wTater is always obtainable. The (probably compulsory) par-ticipation of the king of Edom in Joram's expedition against Moab may perhaps be brought into connexion with the fact that the Moabites burned to lime the bones of a king of Edom (Amos ii. 1).
In Isa. xv. xvi. it is presupposed that the attack upon Moab has been made from the north, at a time when Judah is a comparatively powerful kingdom, exercising sovereignty over Edom also, and in a position to afford shelter to the fugitive Moabites, thus not being itself at war with them. These marks taken together can only apply to the period of Jeroboam II. and Uzziah. Hitzig will have it that Jonah ben Amittai wrote Isa. xv. xvi. ; but according to 2 Kings xiv.
25 that prophet preached prosperity to Jeroboam, and not disaster to the Moabites.

3 Zeph. ii. 8 sq.; 2 Kings xxiv. 2, and Jer. xii. 9 sqq.; Ezek. xxv. 8 sqq. It need hardly be said that the Moabites shared the fate of all the Palestinian peoples when supremacy passed from the Assyrians to the Chaldeans, and that, notwithstanding their hatred of the Jews, they had no difficulty in seeking alliances with them, when occasions arose on which they could be made useful (Jer. xxvii. 3).

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