The name Midian instantly brings to mind images of barren desert landscapes, camel caravans crossing vast arid wastelands, and, above all, the land of Moses’s exile where he received for the first time Yahweh’s revelation.
What does the Bible say about Midian?
Midian is the name of a region mentioned in the Hebrew Bible that is located in the northwestern Hejaz, nowadays Saudi Arabia. Though memories of the Midianites figure prominently in the Hebrew Bible and later in the Quran, we know very little about the history of the Midianites from these sources, and they did not seem to leave much material culture behind. It is clear that the biblical writers saw the Midianites as somehow related to the Israelites, for Midian is mentioned as one of the sons of Abraham through his wife Keturah (
Did the worship of Yahweh originate in Midian?
Yet it is not until we reach the account of the exodus and the wilderness wanderings that we see Midianites playing important roles. It was to Midian that Moses fled after slaying an Egyptian and where he married Zipporah the daughter of Jethro—also known as Reuel (
Memories of Midian, however, were not altogether positive. The Bible recollects Moses’s slaying of the Midianite women (
To complicate things further, some scholars associate Midian with archaeological sites and objects—such as “Midianite” pottery—found in southern Israel/Jordan and northern Saudi Arabia that date to the second millennium BCE, the date traditionally attributed to the exodus. They connect particularly a small shrine discovered at Timna Valley in Israel to Midianite religious practices or refer to the site of Qurayyah in Saudi Arabia as the “capital” of Midian. But the relationship between ancient peoples and material remains is a complex issue, and since so far there are no local inscriptions linking the archaeological evidence with biblical Midian, it is better the keep the issue of the Midianite culture open.
Whether historically true or not, ancient memories of Midian were significant enough to shape Israel’s own perception of the past.