Wanderings of Israel



1. The Wilderness

2. Four Separate Regions Included

3. "The Sandy Tract"

4. Description of the Arabah

5. Physical Condition of the Wilderness

6. Difficulties Regarding the Numbers of Israel and Account of Tabernacle

7. Difficulty as to Number of Wagons

8. Fauna of the Desert

9. Characteristic Names of the Districts


1. Mode of Traveling

2. The Route: the First Camp

3. Waters of Marah

4. Camp by the Red Sea

5. The Route to Sinai


1. The Stay at Sinai

2. Site of Kadesh-barnea

3. The Route: Hazeroth to Moseroth

4. The Camps between Hazeroth and Moseroth


1. The History

2. The Camps Visited


1. The Route

2. The Five Stations to the Border of Moab

3. From Iyim to Arnon

4. The Message to Sihon

5. From the Arnon to Shittim

6. Review

I. Conditions.

1. The Wilderness:

A consideration of the geography and natural features of the desert between Egypt and Edom, in which the Hebrews are said to have wandered for 40 years, has a very important bearing on the question of the genuineness of the Pentateuch narrative. This wilderness forms a wedge between the Gulfs of Suez and `Aqabah, tapering South to the granite mountains near Sinai. It has a base 175 miles long East and West on the North, and the distance North and South is 250 miles. The area is thus over 20,000 square miles, or double the size of the Promised Land East and West of Jordan. On the North of this desert lie the plains of Gaza and Gerar, and the Neghebh or "dry region" (the south; see Nu 13:17 the Revised Version (British and American)), including the plateau and low hills round Beersheba.

2. Four Separate Regions Included:

There are four separate regions included in the area, the largest part (13,000 square miles) being a plateau which on the South rises 3,000 to 4,000 feet above the sea, and shelves gently toward the Philistine plains. It is drained into the broad Wady el-`Arish, named from el-`Arish ("the booth"), a station on the Mediterranean coast South of Gaza, where this valley enters the sea. In this direction several prominent mountains occur (Jebel Yeleq, Jebel Hilal, and Jebel Ikhrimm), while further East--near the site of the Western Kadesh--there is a step on the plateau culminating on the South in Jebel el-Mukhrah; but none of these ranges appears to be more than about 4,000 feet above the sea. The plateau is known as Badiet et-Tih ("the pathless waste"), and though some Arab geographers of the Middle Ages speak of it as the desert "of the wandering of the Beni Israil," they refer to the whole region as far as `Aqabah, and not to the plateau alone. The elevation on the South forms a very steep ascent or "wall" (see SHUR), bending round on the West and East, and rising above the shore plains near Suez and the `Arabah near Edom. Near the center of the plateau is the small fort of Nakhl ("the palms"), where water is found; but, as a whole, the Tih is waterless, having very few springs, the most important being those near the western Kadesh (`Ain Kadis); for Rehoboth belongs to the region of the Neghebh rather than to the Tih. In winter, when very heavy rains occur, the valleys are often flooded suddenly by a seil, or "torrent," which is sometimes 10 feet deep for a few hours. Such a seil has been known to sweep away trees, flocks, and human beings; yet, in consequence of the hard rocky surface, the flood rushes away to the sea and soon becomes a mere rivulet. Where soft soil is found, in the valleys, grass will grow and afford pasture, but even early in spring the Arabs begin to suffer from want of water, which only remains in pits and in water holes among rocks. They have then much difficulty in watering their goats and sheep.

3. "The Sandy Tract":

Below the Tih escarpment on the South is another region called Debbet er-ramleh ("the sandy tract"), which is only 20 miles across at its widest; and to the West are the sandy plains, with limestone foothills, stretching East of the Bitter Lakes and of the Gulf of Suez. The third region consists of the granite chain (see SINAI) which rises to 8,550 feet above the sea, and some 6,000 feet above its valleys, near Jebel Musa. Parts of this region are better watered than is any part of the Tih, and the main route from Egypt to Edom has consequently always run through it.

4. Description of the Arabah:

The fourth region is that of the `Arabah, or broad valley (10 miles wide) between the Gulf of `Aqabah and the Dead Sea. It has a watershed some 700 feet high above the Gulf (South of the neighborhood of Petra); and North of this shed the water flows to the Dead Sea 1,292 feet below the Mediterranean. The total length of this valley is 120 miles, the watershed being (near the Edomite chain) about 45 miles North of `Aqabah. The head of the Gulf was once farther North; and, near `Ain Ghudian (probably Eziongeber) and `Ain et-Tabah (probably Jotbath), there is a mud flat which becomes a lake in winter--about 20 miles from the sea. Lower down--at `Ain edition Deffiyeh--there is another such flat, the head being 10 miles from `Aqabah. The whole region is much better watered than either of the three preceding districts, having springs at the foot of the mountains on either side; and the `Arabah is thus the best pastoral country within the limits described. It now supports a nomad population of about 2,000 or 3,000 souls (Chaiwatat and `Alawin Arabs), while the region round Sinai has some 2,000 souls (Towarah Arabs): the whole of the Tih has probably not more than 5,000 inhabitants; for the stronger tribes (`Azazimeh and Terabin) live chiefly between Gaza and Beersheba. These Arabs have goats, sheep and camels, but cattle are only found near Beersheba. The flocks are watered daily--as in Palestine generally--and are sometimes driven 20 miles in winter to find pasture and water. The water is also brought on donkeys and camels to the camps, and carried in goatskin bags on a journey through waterless districts.

See also ARABAH.

5. Physical Condition of the Wilderness:

There is no reason to think that the conditions at the time of the Exodus differed materially from those of the present time. The Arabs have cut down a good many acacia trees for firewood in recent times, but the population is too small materially to affect the vegetation. The annual rainfall--except in years of drought--is from 10 to 20 inches, and snow falls in winter on the Tih, and whitens Sinai and the Edomite mountains for many days. The acacia, tamarisk and palm grow in the valleys. At Wady Feiran there are said to be 5,000 date palms, and they occur also in the `Arabah and the Edomite gorges, while the white broom (1Ki 19:5, the King James Version "juniper") grows on the Tih plateau. This Tih plateau is the bed of an ancient ocean which once surrounded the granite mountains of Sinai. It was upheaved probably in the Miocene age, long before man appeared on earth. The surface formation (Hull, Memoir on the Geology and Geography of Arabia-Petraea, etc., 1886) consists of Cretaceous limestones of the Eocene and Chalk ages, beneath which lies the Nubian sandstone of the Greensand period, which is also visible all along the route from Sinai to `Aqabah, and on the east side of the Dead Sea, and even at the foot of the Gilead plateau. These beds are all visible in the Tih escarpment; and North of Sinai there are yet older formations of limestone, and the "desert sandstone" of the Carboniferous period. Since the conditions of natural water-supply depend entirely on geological formation and on rainfall, neither of which can be regarded as having changed since the time of Moses, the scientific conclusion is that the desert thus described represents that of his age, This, as we shall see, affects our conclusion as to the route followed by Israel from Egypt to the `Arabah; for, on the direct route from Suez to Nakhl (about 70 miles), there is no water for the main part of the way, so it has to be carried on camels; while, East of Nakhl, in a distance of 80 miles, there is only one known supply in a well (Bir eth-Themed) a few miles South of the road. This route was thus practically impassable for the Hebrews and their beasts, whereas the Sinai route was passable. Thus when Wellhausen (History of Israel and Judah, 343) speaks of Israel as going straight to Kadesh, and not making a "digression to Sinai," he seems not to have considered the topography as described by many modern travelers. For not only was the whole object of their journey first to visit the "Mount of God," but it also lay on the most practicable route to Kadesh.

6. Difficulties Regarding the Numbers of Israel and Account of Tabernacle

It is true that there are certain difficulties as regards both the numbers of Israel and the account of the tabernacle. The first of these objections has been considered elsewhere (see EXODUS). The detailed account of the tabernacle (Ex 25:1-40 through Ex 28:1-43; 36:1-38 through Ex 39:1-43) belongs to a part of the Pentateuch which many critical writers assign to a later date than that of the old narrative and laws (Ex 1:1-22 through Ex 24:1-18). The description may seem more applicable to the semi-permanent structure that existed at Shiloh and Nob, than to the original "tent of meeting" in the desert. On the other hand, living so long in civilized Egypt, the Hebrews no doubt had among them skilled artificers like Bezalel. The Egyptians used acacia wood for furniture; and though the desert acacia does not grow to the size which would furnish planks 1 1/4 cubits broad, it may be that these were made up by joiner's work such as the ancients were able to execute. There was plenty of gold in Egypt and Asia, but none near Sinai. It is suggested, however, that the ornaments of which the Hebrews spoiled the Egyptians were presented, like the stuffs (Ex 36:6) prepared for the curtains--just as the Arabs weave stuffs for their tents--and they might have served to spread a thin layer of gold over acacia boards, and on the acacia altar. It is more difficult to understand (on our present information) where silver enough for the bases (Ex 26:25) would be found. Copper (Ex 27:4) presents less difficulty, since there were copper mines in Wady Nucb near Serabit el Khadim. The women gave gold earrings to Aaron (Ex 32:3) for the Golden Calf, but this may have been a small object. Eusebius (in Onomasticon), referring to Dizahab, "the place of gold" (De 1:1), now Dhahab ("gold") on the west shore of the Gulf of `Aqabah, East of Sinai, mentions the copper mines of Punon; and thought that veins of gold might also have existed in the mountains of Edom in old times. A little gold is also found in Midian. We know that the Egyptians and Assyrians carried arks and portable altars with their armies, and a great leather tent of Queen Habasu actually exists. Thothmes III, before the Exodus, speaks of "seven tent poles covered with plates of gold from the tent of the hostile king" which he took as spoil at Megiddo. The art of engraving gems was also already ancient in the time of Moses.


7. Difficulty as to Number of Wagons:

Another difficulty is to understand how six ox wagons (Nu 7:3) sufficed to carry all the heavy planks and curtains, and vessels of the tabernacle; and though the use of ox carts, and of four-wheeled wagons also, is known to have been ancient in Asia, there are points on even the easiest route which it would seem impossible for wagons to pass, especially on the rough road through Edom and Moab. On the other hand, we know that an Egyptian Mohar did drive his chariot over the mountains in Palestine in the reign of Rameses II, though it was finally broken near Joppa.

8. Fauna of the Desert:

Whatever be thought as to these questions, there are indications in other passages of actual acquaintance with the desert fauna. Although the manna, as described (Ex 16:31), is said not to resemble the sweet gum which exudes from the twigs of the tamarisk (to which it has been compared by some), which melts in the sun, and is regarded as a delicacy by the Arabs, yet the quail (Ex 16:13; Nu 11:31) still migrate from the sea northward across the desert in spring, flying low by night. The birds noticed (Le 11:1-47; De 14:1-29) include--as Canon Tristram remarked--species found on the seashores and in the wilderness, such as the cormorant, pelican and gull; the ostrich (in the desert East of Moab); the stork, the crane and the heron which migrate from Africa to the Jordan valley. It is notable that, except the heron (Assyrian anpatu), the Hebrew names are not those used by later Assyrians. The mammals include the boar which loves the marshes, and the hyrax (the King James Version "coney") which still exists near Sinai and in the desert of Judah, with the desert hare. It is remarkable that in Dt (De 14:5), besides the ibex and the bubak, two species are added (the fallow deer, Hebrew 'ayyal, the King James Version "hart," and the roebuck, Hebrew yachmur, Arabic yachmur, the King James Version "fallow deer") which are not desert animals. The former occurs at Tabor; the latter was found by the present writer in 1873 on Carmel, and is since known in Gilead and Lebanon. But Deuteronomy refers to conditions subsequent to the capture of Gilead and Bashan.

9. Characteristic Names of the Districts:

The various districts in the desert receive characteristic names in the account of the Exodus. Thus, Shur is the coast region under the "wall" of the Tih, and Sin (Ex 17:1; Nu 33:11) was the "glaring" desert (see SINAI) of white chalk, West of Sinai. Paran is noticed 10 times, as a desert and mountain region (De 33:2; Hab 3:3) between Sinai and Kadesh. The name seems to survive in Wady Feiran West of Sinai. It means some kind of "burrows," whether referring to mines, caves or water pits, according to the usual explanation; but in Arabic the root also means "hot," which is perhaps more likely. The term seems to be of very wide extension, and to refer to the Tih generally (Ge 21:21); for David (1Sa 25:1) in Paran was not far from Maon and Carmel South of Hebron, and the same general application (1Ki 11:18) is suggested in another passage. Finally the desert of Zin (tsin) is noticed 9 times, and very clearly lay close to Kadesh-barnea and East of Paran (Nu 13:21; 20:1; 34:3; De 32:51; Jos 15:3). The rabbis rendered it "palm" (tsin), which is appropriate to the `Arabah valley which still retains the old name mentioned in De 1:1. These various considerations as to the conditions to be fulfilled may serve to show that the difficulties often raised, as to the historic character of the Exodus narrative, have been much overstated; and a further study of the various journeys serves to confirm this view.

II. First Journey.

1. Mode of Traveling:

Israel left Egypt in the early part of April (after the 14th of Abib) and reached Sinai about the 14th or 19th of the 3rd month (Ex 19:1), or at the end of May. They thus took two months to accomplish a journey of about 117 miles; but from the first camp after crossing the Red Sea to that in the plain before the Mount ten marches are mentioned, giving intervals of less than 12 miles between each camp. Thus they evidently remained in camp for at least 50 days of the time, probably at the better supplied springs, including that of the starting-point, and those at Elim and Rephidim, in order to rest their flocks. The camps were probably not all crowded round one spring, but spread over a distance of some miles. The Arabs indeed do not camp or keep their flocks close to the waters, probably in order not to defile them, but send the women with donkeys to fetch water, and drive the sheep and goats to the spring or well in the cool of the afternoon. Thus we read that Amalek "smote the hindmost" (De 25:18), which may either mean the stragglers unable to keep up when "weary," or perhaps those in the camp most in the rear.

2. The Route: the First Camp:

The route of Israel has been very carefully described by Robinson (BR, 1838, I, 60-172; II, 95-195), and his account is mainly followed in this and the next sections. We may place the first camp (see EXODUS), between the springs which supply Suez (`Ain Nab'a and `Ayyun Musa), which are about 4 miles apart. The first of these is scooped out among the sand hillocks, and bubbles up in a basin some 6 ft. deep. The water is brackish, but supplies as many as 200 camel loads at once for Suez. At `Ayyun Musa ("the springs of Moses") there are seven springs, some being small and scooped in the sand. A few palms occur near the water (which is also brackish), and a little barley is grown, while in recent times gardens of pomegranates have been cultivated (A. E. Haynes, Man-Hunting in the Desert, 1894, 106), which, with the palms, give a grateful shade.

3. Waters of Marah:

From this base Israel marched "three days in the wilderness" of Shur, "and found no water" (Ex 15:22). They no doubt carried it with them, and may have sent back camels to fetch it. Even when they reached the waters of Marah ("the bitter") they found them undrinkable till sweetened. The site of Marah seems clearly to have been at `Ain Chawarah ("the white chalk spring"), named from the chalky mound beside it. This is 36 miles from `Ayyun Musa, giving an average daily march of 12 miles. There is no water on the route, though some might have been fetched from `Ain Abu Jerad in Wady Sudr, and from the small spring of Abu Suweirah near the sea. Burckhardt thought that the water was sweetened from the berries of the Gharqad shrub (which have an acid juice) on the thorny bushes near the spring. This red berry ripens, however, in June. There is no doubt, on the other hand, that the best treatment for brack water is the addition of an acid taste. The Arabs consider the waters of this spring to be the most bitter in the country near.

4. Camp by the Red Sea:

From Marah, the next march led to Elim ("the palms"), where were "twelve springs (not "wells") of water and seventy palms." The site seems clearly to have been in Wady Gharandil, where a brook is found fed by springs of better water than that of Marah. The distance is only about 6 miles, or an easy march, and palm trees exist near the waters. Israel then entered the desert of Sin, stretching from Elim to Sinai, reaching a camp "by the Red Sea" (Nu 33:10) just a month after leaving Egypt (Ex 16:1). The probable site is near the mouth of Wady et-Taiyibeh ("the goodly valley"), which is some 10 or 12 miles from the springs of Gharandil. The foothills here project close to the coast, and North of the valley is Jebel Chammam Far'aun ("the mountain of Pharaoh's hot bath"), named from hot sulphur springs. The water in Wady et-Taiyibeh is said to be better than that of Marah, and this is the main Arab watering-place after passing Gharandil. A small pond is here described by Burckhardt at el-Murkhat, in the sandstone rock near the foot of the mountains, but the water is bitter and full of weeds, moss and mud. The site is close to a broad shore plain stretching South Here two roads diverge toward Sinai, which lies about 65 miles to the Southeast, and in this interval (Nu 33:11-15) five stations are named, giving a daily march of 13 miles. The Hebrews probably took the lower and easier road, especially as it avoided the Egyptian mines of Wady el-Maghdrah ("valley of the cave") and their station at Serabit el-Khadim ("pillars of the servant"), where--though this is not certain--there may have been a detachment of bowmen guarding the mines.

5. The Route to Sinai:

None of the five camps on this section of the route is certainly known. Dophkah apparently means "overdriving" of flocks, and Alush (according to the rabbis) "crowding," thus indicating the difficulties of the march. Rephidim ("refreshments") contrasts with these names and indicates a better camp. The site, ever since the 4th century AD, has always been shown in Wady Feiran (Eusebius, Onomasticon, under the word "Rephidim")--an oasis of date palms with a running stream. The distance from Sinai is about 18 miles, or 14 from the western end of the broad plain er-Rachah in which Israel camped in sight of Horeb; and the latter name (Ex 17:6) included the Desert of Sinai even as far West as Rephidim. Here the rod of Moses, smiting the rock, revealed to the Hebrews an abundant supply, just as they despaired of water. Here apparently they could rest in comfort for some three weeks before the final march to the plain "before the mount" (Ex 19:1-2), which they reached two months after leaving Egypt. Here Amalek--coming down probably from the mines--attacked them in the rear. Meanwhile there was ample time for the news of their journey to reach Midian, and for the family of Moses (Ex 18:1-5) to reach Sinai. On one of the low hills near Wady Feiran, Moses watched the doubtful fight and built his stone altar. A steep pass separates the oasis from the Rachah plain, and baggage camels usually round it on the North by Wady esh-Sheikh, which may have been the actual route. The Rephidim oasis has a fertile alluvial soil, and the spot was chosen by Christian hermits perhaps as early as the 3rd century AD.

III. Second Journey.

1. The Stay at Sinai:

Israel remained at Mt. Sinai for 10 months, leaving it after the Passover of the "second year" (Nu 9:1-3), and apparently soon after the feast, since, when they again witnessed the spring migration of the quail (Nu 11:31) "from the sea"--as they had done in the preceding year (Ex 16:13) farther West--they were already about 20 miles on their road, at Kibroth-hattaavah, or "the graves of lust."

2. Site of Kadesh-barnea:

(1) In order to follow their journey it is necessary to fix the site of Kadesh-barnea to which they were going, and there has been a good deal of confusion as to this city since, in 1844, John Rowlands discovered the site of the western Kadesh, at `Ain Qadis in the northern part of the Tih. Robinson pointed out (BR, II, 194, note 3) that this site could not possibly be right for Kadesh-barnea; and, though it was accepted by Professor Palmer, who visited the vicinity in January, 1870, and has been advocated by Henry Clay Trumbull (Kadesh-barnea, 1884), the identification makes hopeless chaos of the Old Testament topography. The site of `Ain Qadis is no doubt that of the Kadesh of Hagar (see SHUR), and a tradition of her presence survives among the Arabs, probably derived from one of the early hermits, since a small hermitage was found by Palmer in the vicinity (Survey of Western Palestine, Special Papers, 1881, 19). But this spring is not said to have been at the "city" of Kadesh-barnea, which is clearly placed at the southeast corner of the land of Israel (Jos 15:3), while, in the same chapter (Jos 15:23), another site called Kedesh is mentioned, with Adadah (`Ada'deh 7 miles Southeast of Arad) and Hazor (at Jebel Chadireh); this Kedesh may very well have been at the western Kadesh.

(2) Kadesh-barnea is noticed in 10 passages of the Old Testament, and in 16 other verses is called Kadesh only. The name probably means "the holy place of the desert of wandering," and--as we shall see--the wanderings of Israel were confined to the `Arabah. The place is described as "a city in the uttermost .... border" of Edom (Nu 20:16), Edom being the "red land" of Mt. Seir, so called from its red sandstones, as contrasted with the white Tih limestone. It is also very clearly placed (Nu 34:3-4) South of the Dead Sea (compare Jos 15:3), while Ezekiel also (47:19) gives it as the southeastern limit of the land, opposed to Tamar (Tamrah near Gaza) as the southeastern border town. A constant tradition, among Jews and Christians alike, identifies Kadesh-barnea with Petra, and this as early as the time of Josephus, who says that Aaron died on a mountain near Petra (Ant., IV, iv, 7), and that the old name of Petra was Arekem (vii, 1). The Targum of Onkelos (on Nu 34:4) renders Kadesh-barnea by "Rekem of the G'aia" and this name--meaning "many-colored"--was due to the many-colored rocks near Petra, while the g'aia or "outcry" is probably that of Israel at Meribah-kadesh (Nu 27:14), and may have some connection with the name of the village el-Jii, at Petra, which is now called Wady Musa ("the valley of Moses") by the Arabs, who have a tradition that the gorge leading to Petra was cloven by the rod of Moses when he struck the rock at the "waters of strife" (Nu 27:14), forming the present stream which represents that of "Meribah of Kadesh." Eusebius also (in Onomasticon under the word "Barne") connects Kadesh with Petra, and this traditional site so fully answers the requirements of the journey in question that it may be accepted as one of the best-fixed points on the route, especially as the position of Hazeroth agrees with this conclusion. Hazeroth (Nu 11:35; 12:16; 33:17; De 1:1) means "enclosures," and the name survives at `Ain Chadrah ("spring of the enclosure") about 30 miles Northeast of Mt. Sinai on the way to the `Arabah. It was the 3rd camp from Sinai, the 1st being Taberah (Nu 11:3) and the 2nd Kibroth-hattaavah (Nu 11:35), giving a daily march of 10 miles.


3. The Route: Hazeroth to Moseroth:

After passing Hazeroth (Nu 12:16; 13:3) the journey appears to have been leisurely, and Israel probably camped for some time in the best pastures of the `Arabah. For the spies were sent from Paran near Hazeroth to explore the route to Kadesh, and to examine the "south country" through which Israel hoped to enter Palestine (Nu 13:17,21). They explored this district (Nu 13:21; 32:8) from "the wilderness of Zin," or otherwise "from Kadesh-barnea," on the East, to Rehob--probably Rehoboth (now er-Ruheibeh)--on the West; and--having been absent 40 days (Nu 13:25)--after visiting Hebron (Nu 13:22) they returned by the direct route leading South of Arad (Tell `Arad) to Petra, which road is called (Nu 21:1) the "way of the spies." On their return, in the season of "first-ripe grapes" (Nu 13:20), they found Israel at Kadesh (Nu 13:26). No place North of Hebron is mentioned in the account of their explorations, and it is difficult to suppose that, in 40 days, they could have reached the Syrian city of Hamath, which is some 350 miles North of Petra, and have returned thence. The definition of Rehob (mentioned before Hebron) as being `on the coming to Hamath' (Nu 13:21) is best explained as a scribe's error, due to an indistinct manuscript, the original reading being chalatseth, and referring to the classical Elussa (now Khalasah) which lies 10 miles North of Rehoboth on the main road to Beersheba and Hebron. Israel left Sinai in the spring, after the Passover, and was near Hazeroth in the time of the quail migration. Hazeroth possesses the only perennial supply of water in the region, from its vicinity the spies set forth in August.

4. The Camps between Hazeroth and Moseroth:

Most of the sites along this route are unknown, and their position can only be gathered from the meaning of the names; but the 6th station from Hazeroth was at Mt. Shepher (Nu 33:23), and may have left its name corrupted into Tell el-`Acfar (or `Asfar), the Hebrew meaning "the shining hill," and the Arabic either the same or else "the yellow." This site is 60 miles from Hazeroth, giving a daily march of 10 miles. As regards the other stations, Rithmah means "broomy," referring to the white desert broom; Rimmon-perez was a "cloven height," and Libnab a "white" chalky place; Rissah means "dewy," and Kehelathah, "gathering." From Mt. Shepher the distance to the vicinity of Mt. Hor is about 55 miles, and seven stations are named, giving an average march of 8 miles. The names are Haradah (Nu 33:24), "fearful," referring to a mountain; Makheloth, "gatherings"; Tahath--probably "below"--marking the descent into the `Arabah; Terah, "delay," referring to rest in the better pastures; Mithkah, "sweetness" of pasture or of water; Hashmonah, "fatness"; and Moseroth; probably meaning "the boundaries," near Mt. Hor. These names, though now lost, agree well with a journey through a rugged region of white limestone and yellow sandstone, followed by a descent into the pastoral valley of the `Arabah. The distances also are all probable for flocks.

IV. The Thirty-eight Years.

1. The History:

From the time of their first arrival at Kadesh-barnea, in the autumn of the 2nd year, to the day that the Hebrews crossed the brook Zered in Moab on their final march, is said to have been a period of 38 years (De 2:14), during which the first generation died out, and a strong race of desert warriors succeeded it. During this period Israel lived in the nomadic state, like modern Arabs who change camp according to the season within well-defined limits, visiting the higher pastures in summer, and wintering in the lower lands. On their first arrival near Kadesh-barnea, they were discouraged by the report of the spies, and rebelled; but when they were ordered to turn South "by the way of the Red Sea" or Gulf of `Aqabah, they made an unsuccessful attempt to enter Palestine by the way of the spies (Nu 14:25-45). They were discomfited by Amalekites at Hormah ("cutting off"), which place is otherwise called Zephath (Jg 1:17). Here also they were again defeated by the king of Arad (Nu 21:1,3) in the early autumn of the 40th year of wandering. This site may well be placed at the ascent now called Nuqb es-Cufah ("the pass of Zephath"), which preserves the Hebrew name, 45 miles Northwest of Mt. Hor, on the main road from Hebron to Petra. The route is well watered, and `Ain Yemen is a spring at the foot of this ascent leading to the higher terrace of the Tih. Arad lies North of the road, and its Canaanite king no doubt marched South some 40 miles, to defend the top of the ascent down which the Amalekites had driven the first generation of Hebrews, who returned to the Kadesh-barnea camp.

2. The Camps Visited:

We are not left without any notice of the stations which Israel visited, and no doubt revisited annually, during the 38 years of nomadic life. We have in fact three passages which appear to define the limits of their wanderings. (1) In the first of these (Nu 33:31-36) we find that they left Moseroth, near Mt. Hor, the site of which latter has always been shown--since the time of Josephus at least--at the remarkable mountain West of Petra, now called Jebel Haran ("Aaron's Mountain"); thence they proceeded to the wells of the Bene-jaakan, to Hor-haggidgad, and to Jotbathah. Hor-haggidgad (or Gudgodah, De 10:7) signifies apparently the "hill of thunder," and the word is not in any way connected with the name of Wady Ghadaghid ("the valley of failing waters"), applying to a ravine West of the `Arabah; for the Hebrew and Arabic words have not a letter in common. The site of Jotbathah, which was in "a land of brooks of waters" (De 10:7), is, on the other hand, pretty clearly to be fixed at `Ain et-Tabah ("the good spring"), 28 miles North of 'Aqabah, and about 40 along the road from Mt. Hor. This spring, near a palm grove, feeds the winter lake of et-Tabah to its West in the 'Arabah. The next station was Abronah ("the crossing"), and if this refers to crossing the `Arabah to the western slopes, we are naturally brought--on the return journey--to Ezion-geber, at `Ain-ghudian (the usual identification), which springs from the western slopes of the Tih on the side of the lake opposite to Jotbathah. Thence the migrants gradually returned to Kadesh.

(2) The second passage (De 10:6-7). is one of many geographical notes added to the narrative of the wanderings, and gives the names in a different order--Wells of the Bene-jaakan, Moserah, Gudgodah, and Jotbathah--but this has little importance, as the camps, during 38 years, would often be at these springs.

(3) The third passage is in the preface to Deuteronomy (1:1,2), which enumerates the various places where Moses spoke to Israel at various times after leaving Sinai. These include the region East of Jordan, the wilderness, the `Arabah, "over against Suph," with all the district between Paran and Tophel (now Tufileh, on the southern border of Moab), as well as Laban (probably the Libnah of Nu 33:20), Hazeroth, and Dizahab which may be Dhahab on the seashore East of Sinai. This list, with the valuable notes added showing that Kadesh-barnea was 11 days from Horeb in the direction of Mt. Seir, refers to speeches down to the last days of Moses' life. The wanderings of the 38 years do not include the march through Edom and Moab; and, though it is of course possible that they may have extended to Hazeroth and Sinai, it seems more probable that they were confined to the `Arabah between Petra and Jotbathah. Elath (now `Aqabah), on the eastern shore at the head of the gulfs, is not mentioned; for the raised beach South of the Lake of Jotbathah would not give pasture. In summer the camps would be on the western slopes of the valley, where grass might be found in April; and the annual migrations were thus within the limits of some 500 square miles, which is about the area now occupied by a strong tribe among Arabs.

V. The Final Journey.

1. The Route:

In the 1st month of the 40th year (Nu 20:1) Israel was at Kadesh in the desert of Zin, where Miriam was buried. They were troubled once more by want of water, till Moses smote the rock of Meribah ("strife"). They were commanded to keep peace with their relatives of Edom and Moab, whose lands were not attacked by the Hebrews till the time of Saul, and of David and his successors. They camped on the border of Kadesh, desiring to reach the main road to Moab through the city; and, when this was refused by the king of Edom, they withdrew a few miles West to Mt. Hor. Here Aaron was buried, and was mourned for 30 days (Nu 20:29), after which the 2nd attempt to reach Hebron by the main road (Nu 21:1) was also repulsed. Since, on this occasion, Israel remained "many days" in Kadesh (De 1:46) and left it less than 38 years after they first reached it in autumn, it would seem that they may have started in August, and have taken about a month to reach the brook Zered; but only five stations are noticed (Nu 21:10-12; 33:41-44) on the way. They are not said--in any passage--to have gone to Elath, but they turned "from mount Hor by the way to the Red Sea, to compass the land of Edom" (Nu 21:4), or, as otherwise stated (De 2:8), they went "from the way of the Arabah" on the road which led "from Elath and from Ezion-geber"; and thus, starting on the "way to the Red Sea," they "compassed mount Seir many days," turning "northward" by the "way of the wilderness of Moab" (De 2:1,8) after passing through the coast of Edom (De 2:4).

2. The Five Stations to the Border of Moab:

If the list of five stations is complete, we may suppose that they left the `Arabah road not many miles South of Petra, striking East by an existing road leading to Ma'an, and thus gaining the high plateau above Petra to the East, and reaching the present Chaj route. This view is confirmed by the notice of Punon as the 2nd camp, if we accept the statement of Eusebius (Onomasticon, under the word "Phinon"); for he appears to have known it as an Edomite village North of Petra, in the desert, where convicts were employed digging copper. The name, however, has not been recovered. The preceding camp at Zalmonah suggests some "gloomy" valley leading up to the Edomite plateau. North of Punon, the 3rd camp was at Oboth ("water bags"), and the 4th was at Iyim or Iye-abarim ("the ruins" or "the ruins of the crossings"), the site of which is pretty certainly at `Aimeh, a few miles North of Tophel. The total distance thus seems to have been about 60 miles for four marches, or 15 miles a day. Iyim was "in the border of Moab" (Nu 33:44) and in the desert facing Moab, in the East (Nu 21:11).

3. From Iyim to Arnon:

Here therefore Israel left Edom; and between Iyim and the river Arnon, in a distance of about 32 miles, only one station is mentioned, being at the valley of Zered (Nu 21:12; De 2:13-14). This has usually been placed at Wady el-Chesy ("the pebbly valley"), which flows into the Dead Sea, having its head near Iyim; but this is evidently too far South, and it is no doubt the great gorge at Kerak that is intended, having its head close to the Chaj road, halfway from Iyim to Arnon, giving a daily march of 16 miles. The traditional identification of the Arnon with Wady Mojib is rendered certain by the positions of Diban (Dhiban) and Aroer (`Ar`air) close by. It was the border of the Amorites, who had driven the Moabites South of this river (Nu 21:13; De 2:36), depriving them of their best lands which stretched to Heshbon. These Amorites were apparently recent intruders who, with the Hittites (see HITTITES), had invaded Damascus and Bashan from North Syria, and who no doubt had thus brought the fame of Balaam from Pethor (Nu 22:5), on the Euphrates near Carchemish.

4. The Message to Sihon:

The Hebrews were now a strong people fit for war, and Moses sent messengers from the "wilderness of Kedemoth" (De 2:26) to Sihon in Heshbon, demanding a peaceful passage through his lands, such as had been accomplished through Edom and Moab. Kedemoth ("the Eastern Lands") was evidently the desert of Moab.

It was objected, by Colenso, to the narrative of the Pentateuch that, since Israel only reached the brook Zered in autumn of the 40th year, only six months are left for the conquest of North Moab, Gilead and Bashan. But it must be remembered that the Hebrews left all their impedimenta in the "plains of Moab" (Nu 22:1) opposite Jericho at Shittim, so that the advance of their army in Gilead and Bashan was unimpeded. The Assyrians, in later times, covered in a season much longer distances than are attributed to Hebrew conquerors, and the six months leave quite enough time for the two missions sent from Moab (Nu 22:5-36) to fetch Balaam.


5. From the Arnon to Shittim:

(1) It is notable that, for the march from the Arnon to Shittim, we have two lists of stations. That which is said to have been written down by Moses himself (Nu 33:45-49) mentions only four stations in a distance of about 25 miles--namely Dibon-gad, Almon-diblathaim, Nebo and the plains of Moab, where the camps were placed at various waters from Beth-jeshimoth (Sueimeh) on the northeastern shore of the Dead Sea to Abelshittim ("the Meadow of Acacias"), now called the Ghor es-Seiseban, or "Valley of Acacias." In this area of 50 square miles there were four running streams, besides springs, and excellent pasture for flocks. This therefore was the headquarters of the nation during the Amorite war.

(2) In the 2nd list (Nu 21:13-20) we read of a still more gradual and cautious advance in the Amorite lands, and this may represent the march of the main body following the men of war. Leaving the Arnon, they reached "a well" (Beer), probably near Dibon, this being one of those shallow water pits which the Arabs still scoop out in the valleys when the water runs below the surface. Between Arnon and Pisgah (or Nebo) no less than five stations are noticed in about 20 miles, namely Beer, Mattanah ("the gift"), Nahaliel ("the valley of God"), Bamoth (or Bamoth-Baal (Nu 22:41), "the monuments of Baal"), and Pisgah (Jebel Neba). Of these only the last is certainly known, but the central station at Nahaliel may be placed at the great gorge of the Zerqa Ma`ain, the road from Dibon to Nebo crossing its head near Beth-meon. There was plenty of water in this vicinity. The last stage of Israel's march thus seems to represent a program of only about 4 miles a day, covered by the more rapid advance of the fighting men; and no doubt the women, children and flocks were not allowed to proceed at all until, at least, Sihon had been driven from Heshbon (Nu 21:21-25).

6. Review:

We have thus considered every march made by the Hebrews, from Egypt to Shittim, by the light of actual knowledge of their route. We have found no case in which the stations are too far apart for the passage of their beasts, and no discrepancies between any of the accounts when carefully considered. If, as some critical writers think, the story of the spies and the list of camps said to have been written down by Moses are to be attributed to a Hebrew priest writing in Babylonia, we cannot but wonder how he came to be so accurately informed as to the topography of the wilderness, its various regions, its water-supply and its natural products. It does not seem necessary to suppose a "double source," because, in the spring of two successive years, the manna is noticed, and Israel is recorded as having eaten the quail flying (as now) by night to the Jordan valley from Africa. The march was not continuous, and plenty of time is left, by the recorded dates, for the resting of the flocks at such waters as those of Elim, Rephidim and Hazeroth. The wanderings of the 38 years represent a nomadic life in the best pastures of the region, in and near the `Arabah. Here the new race grew up--hardy as the Arabs of today. When they left Egypt the Pharaoh still had a firm hold on the "way of the Philistines," and the Canaanites owned his sway. But 40 years later Egypt was defeated by the Amorites, and the forces of the Pharaoh were withdrawn from Jerusalem after suffering defeat in Bashan (see Tell el-Amarna Letters, number 64, British Museum, where no less than nine known places near Ashteroth and Edrei are noticed); general chaos then resulted in Southern Palestine, when the `Abiri (or Hebrews) appeared from Seir, and "destroyed all the rulers" (see EXODUS). This then, was the historic opportunity for the defeat of the Amorites, and for Joshua's conquest of the Promised Land.

C. R. Conder

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