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The Ancient Kingdom of Moab

The ancient kingdom of Moab, in the southern part of modern Jordan, is known first in the Bible and later in archaeology. Their role with the Hebrews varied from oppressor to tributary, until finally several Arabian tribes displaced them and live in that territory today.

The Mesha Stele The name Moab is Hebrew. Jacobs and Gray, in The Jewish Encyclopedia, said that it might mean "seed of the father" or "out of the father" or perhaps an abbreviation of Immoab, or "his mother is his father." This refers to his incestuous origin: he is the son that Lot had by the elder of his two daughters, after they had fled the burning of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Another possible meaning is "the desirable land" (from Iav, "to desire"). The land they occupied was indeed desirable, and this probably explains why the Great Famine that affected Egypt and ultimately caused the family of Jacob to relocate there did not affect Moab. (It would also explain why, centuries later, a family of Israelites would take residence in Moab to wait out a famine during the era of the Judges.) The capital city of Moab was named Dibon, which is located near the modern city of Dhiban, Jordan.

The first interaction between Moab and Israel occurred in 1452 BC, in the last days of the Wandering in the Wilderness period, shortly before Israel's invasion of Canaan. The Israelites first conquered the city of Heshbon, whose king, Sihon, had himself taken it from the Moabites. Subsequently, King Balak of Moab hired a prophet named Balaam to lay a curse on Israel--but Balaam could not bring himself to do this, because the same miracle that made Balaam a prophet caused him to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Balaam did, however, suggest to Balak a stratagem of intermarriage between Moabite women and Israelite men--and on this occasion, a young man named Phinehas would distinguish himself by summarily executing an Israelite man and his Midianite concubine with one spear stroke, after which a divinely-ordered plague on the Israelites ceased. (Numbers 25) Phinehas would later become the third High Priest of the Israelites.

In 1360 BC, King Eglon of Moab attacked the Israelites with an army augmented by Ammonite and Amalekite (that is, Hyksos) troops. For eighteen years, Israel paid tribute to Moab. Then a left-handed man named Ehud carried the tribute to Eglon--and assassinated him, escaped from his palace, and recruited an army that would later annihilate a Moabite force of ten thousand men--or perhaps ten regiments of unknown size; the Hebrew word aleph (plural alpayim) can mean either a literal thousand or a very strong military unit. (Aleph also means an ox, a symbol of strength.) Ehud continued to administer justice in Israel for 62 years.

Oddly, the next interaction is peaceful. During Ehud's administration, yet another famine struck the land, and a Bethlehemite named Elimelech left Israel to take up residence in Moab. In 1320 BC, Elimelech died and left two sons, each of whom married a Moabitish woman. Two years later, both these men were dead--and one of the two widows returned to Israel in a destitute state, gathered grain in a generous farmer's field, and then married that farmer, the one time that such a marriage was sanctioned, and chiefly because the woman, named Ruth, renounced the Moabite national religion and accepted the Israelite religion without reserve.

Eventually, King Saul, and then King David, would make war upon Moab. David conquered Moab, which paid tribute to the United Kingdom until the death of King Solomon and continued to pay tribute to the Kingdom of Israel ("The Northern Kingdom") until the death of the Omride king Ahab. This was the occasion of the Battle of Ziz, commemorated in the most salient archaeological find that attests to Moab: the Moabite Stone, or the Mesha Stele (illustrated above), in which King Mesha of Moab boasts of winning at Ziz, though Jeremiah (II Kings) says that Mesha lost heavily until he sacrificed his own son and heir.

Some Moabite marauders would invade Israel during the reign of King Joash of the House of Jehu. Centuries later, Moab would lose its independence to the Assyrians under Sargon II, Sennacherib, Esarhaddon, and Ashurbanipal, and later would become tributary to Babylonia and contribute a levy of troops to Nebuchadnezzar II. In the days of the Persian occupation of the Middle East, Arabs would move in and displace the Moabites forever.

Source: Examiner


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