History Files
 

 

Middle East Kingdoms

Ancient Central Levant States

 

 

 

Moab (Mu'aba / Ma'ba / Ma'ab)

Moab was, according to the Old Testament, founded by a branch of the early Israelites in the territory between the River Arnon and the Brook of Zered on the eastern shore of the Dead Sea. The area was (and still is) mountainous, occupying a plateau which is 910 metres above sea level (3,000 feet). Its capital was variously at Dibon (near Dhiban in modern Jordan which now encompasses Moab's entire territory) or Kir-Hareshet (modern Kerak, the Old Testament's Qer Harreseth). It was bordered to the north-east by Ammon, with the Arabian desert to the south-east, separated from Moab by low, rolling hills. Moab's exact border was never fixed either then by its inhabitants or more recently by scholars, although educated guesses abound. Cities (or more likely settlements both large and small in most cases) were won and lost over time, so the kingdom's borders were prone to fluctuations anyway.

Akkadian sources which date to the kingdom's earliest years of existence mention nomadic groups along the Trans-Jordanian highlands whom they term the Shutu. These groups extended deep into Mesopotamia, probably occupying the edges of the habitable zone there. Speculation about the Shutu mentions that the name may be a variant of the Egyptian term 'Shasu', Semitic cattle-herding nomads who operated in a clan system with tribal chieftains. While the historical identity of these Shutu is unknown, they have been linked to the Moabites and Ammonites. It seems that the Moabites and their Edomite neighbours to the immediate south remained in Canaan while the Israelites supposedly emigrated to Egypt in the seventeenth century BC, and both kingdoms fought against their return about four hundred years later.

The Moabites are both historically and archaeologically attested. Whether they were Israelite descendants or not, they probably began as pastoral nomads in the same Trans-Jordanian highlands as the mysterious Shutu, and may have been part of the later habiru peoples. Moab was generally treeless, but the soil was fertile and the steep grass-covered hills provided ideal grazing. Mount Nebo, in the north, is the spot at which Moses is said to have died. A good source of wealth was the fact that Moab lay along the 'King's Highway', an important north-south trade route between Egypt, Syria, and Mesopotamia.

The Ammonites were worshippers of Molech, an old Canaanite idol who was also known as Melkarth, Baal-melech, Malcom, and other such names by the Phoenicians and Carthaginians. He was related to Baal, a sun-god worshipped by the sacrifice of children. According to Unger's Bible Dictionary, Palestinian excavations have uncovered evidence of infant skeletons in burial places around heathen shrines. The Moabite god, Chemosh, may have been closely related to Molech, or a substitute for him.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from Unger's Bible Dictionary, Merrill F Unger (1957), from Easton's Bible Dictionary, Matthew George Easton (1897), from Egypt, Canaan and Israel in Ancient Times, Donald Redford (Princeton University Press, 1992), from Moab in the Iron Age: Hegemony, Polity, Archaeology, Bruce Routledge (2004), from Early Edom and Moab: The Beginning of the Iron Age in Southern Jordan, Piotr Bienkowski (Ed, 1992), from Studies in the Mesha Inscription and Moab, Andrew Dearman (Ed, 1989), from the Illustrated Dictionary & Concordance of the Bible, Geoffrey Wigoder (Gen Ed, 1986), from Early Israel and the Surrounding Nations, A H Sayce, and from External Link: Bible Hub.)

fl c.1740 BC

Moab

Son of Lot, who was nephew to Abraham. First king of Moab.

c.1740 BC

According to the Old Testament, the Moabites first occupy the highlands close to the Dead Sea, from which they expel the native Emim. These people may be the same as, or neighbours of, the Rephaim Zuzim, regarded as brigands by larger states but probably nothing more than nomadic, cattle-herding pastoralists who mount the occasional raid. The Rephaim Zuzim are referred to as giants, a label often used to mark out indigenous people who are defeated by newcomers (Finns, Germanics, and Celts in Britain all have similar references, for example).

Israelites
This slightly fanciful view of the migrating Israelites does show a surprisingly small number of participants (more are cropped off from the left, but even so their numbers are very finite), something that chimes with the 'ruling elite' theory of migration detailed in the introduction on the Israelites page

Moab son of Lot of the recently-arrived Israelites is the eponymous founder of the kingdom, while Ben Ammi, an illegitimate son of Lot, gains Ammon, east of the River Jordan and on Moab's northern border. Soon afterwards the Moabites themselves are driven further south by Amorite tribes, beyond the River Arnon which subsequently forms their new northern border. The move south does not save them, it seems, and they are conquered and dominated for an unknown period by Amorites. Moab drifts into complete obscurity for several centuries.

Ar?

Moab is conquered for a time by Amorites.

17th cent BC

Ar of Moab may in fact be a place or region within the kingdom rather than a king. If so then it is located on the south bank of the River Arnon, close to Moab's northern border. An Egyptian execration text dated to the seventeenth century BC refers to an 'Ayyab' as king of the Shutu, but this is not 'Ar' of Moab. The name is possibly a variant form of 'Job', with Jobab of Edom being a handy candidate. However, tentative identification of the mysterious Shutu has linked them with the Moabites and Ammonites to the north of Edom.

late 1300s? BC

Sheth

Possibly not an individual's name at all.

c.1300 BC

Moab has friendly ties with Egypt, as witnessed by the building of a series of border fortresses as the latter seeks to control the Sinai. The fortresses also provide Moab with some protection and help to defend Egypt's trade route to Damas, which passes through Moab at this time.

1286/1258 BC

Ramses II of Egypt reaches a stalemate with the Hittites at the Battle of Kadesh, after which the earliest known peace treaty is signed in 1258 BC. Ramses limits his control to southern Palestine, where he draws a firm and fortified boundary. He is also known during his reign as the oppressor of the Israelites, possibly the unnamed pharaoh of the Old Testament. Whether the well-known story of the Israelite exodus from Egypt occurs at this point in time is still unproven and highly debatable. A statue erected at Luxor by Ramses II lists Mu'ab as one of a series of states conquered by him during a campaign, usually assumed to be Moab.

fl c.1220s BC

Zippor

Father of Balak. King himself?

c.1200 BC

This is the period of Israelite settlement after the exodus from Egypt. At this time, there is general instability in the region: the Hittite empire is destroyed in Anatolia, the Canaanites begin to be reduced to owning the shores of what is now Lebanon (eventually to become the sea traders known as the Phoenicians), the Philistines and other Sea Peoples are first settling on the lower coast of the Levant, and various neo-Hittite city states are arising in northern Syria, many of which come into contact with the Israelites.

In the same period, the language of the Amorites disappears from southern and central Mesopotamia. However, in Syria and Canaan it becomes dominant (in Bashan, for example), with perhaps Ammon being the southernmost state to have an Amorite influence (which excludes Moab from having been converted). In Assyrian inscriptions from about 1100 BC, the term Amurru designates part of Syria and all of Phoenicia and Palestine but no longer refers to any specific kingdom, language, or population.

fl c.1198 BC

Balak

Son. Defeated by the Israelites.

c.1198 BC

The Israelites conquer Arad the Canaanite before going on, within the next couple of years, to defeat Moab and subjugate it. Balak's plea to Balaam to curse the Israelite army is refused. It has to be wondered whether the Israelites (and even Moabites) are aware of their shared origins (at least according to the Old Testament). Have the Moabites been so dominated by Amorites that they are no longer regarded as brothers? A number of minor city states are also conquered by the Israelites, including those of the Midianites and various other Canaanite cities.

Mount Nebo
Mount Nebo in the north of Moab is reputedly the spot at which Moses died, within sight of the promised land on the other side of the Dead Sea

c.1150 BC

After apparently being militarily dominant since their arrival half a century before, the Israelites suffer a reversal in fortunes when at least some of them are subdued by Moab, possibly with support provided by Ammon. More of their territory, in the south, is conquered by the Philistines who maintain vassal kings in Israel. Jerusalem is possibly freed entirely from Israelite control at this stage, as King David is forced to re-conquer it in 975 BC.

c.1150 - 1130 BC

Eglon ('the Corpulent')

Dominated Israel for 18 years. Murdered by Ehud.

c.1130 BC

The Benjaminite 'judge' of the Israelites, Ehud ben Gera, assassinates Eglon and defeats the Moabite army in battle. The result is a complete about-face in fortunes as Moab is now conquered by the Israelites.

c.1115 BC

According to the Old Testament, Sihon, an Amorite, captures areas of Moab ('from Arnon even unto Jabbok and unto Jordan'), and forms his own kingdom around the city of Heshbon. He is referred to as a king of Ammon by the Israelites when they make contact and he refuses to allow them to return from Egypt to Canaan through his western territories. In retaliation they attack and capture his walled towns, including Heshbon, wiping out his people. His land becomes part of Israel. This is a bone of contention with the Ammonites, who would rather have their territory returned to them. The upper waters of the Jabbok now form their western border.

fl c.1000 BC

Mizpeh / Mizpah

Aided David, king of Israel. Killed or replaced?

990s BC

The Israelite King David commits his parents to protect Mizpeh, a possible relation of his through his Moabite mother, Ruth (according to tradition). However, this is the last time that the two kingdoms share friendly relations. Later in David's reign he attacks the kingdom and possibly places his own governor in command of it. Moab seems to be under Israelite and then Samarian control for the next century.

The governor's name is not known but I Chronicles 4:22 of the Old Testament mentions '...Saraph, who ruled in Moab and returned to Lehem (now the records are ancient)'. The records can also be interpreted as 'who was married in Moab', but the former translation seems generally to be preferred, with Saraph probably a governor under King David. The alternative is that he is an occupying king during one of Israel's periods of dominance over Moab. The 'records are ancient' because they are written down in their Old Testament form during the Babylonian captivity.

fl c.970s? BC

Saraph?

A man of Judah (Israel) who 'ruled in Moab'. Possible governor.

960s BC

The death of the Israelite King David allows Moab to free itself from vassalage. No more details are known but Pahath-Moab the Shilonite, known to rule around the middle of the tenth century BC, is a candidate for ensuring renewed Moabite independence.

Map of Canaan and Syria c.850 BC
Plains of Moab
The Plains of Moab lay on the eastern side of the River Jordan, opposite Jericho, and it was here that the Israelites mourned the death of Moses for one month prior to entering the 'Promised Land' (presumably the Moabites lacked the resources to hurry them along), while above that is a map of the region around 850 BC (click on map to view full sized)

fl mid-900s BC

Pahath-Moab the Shilonite

Former governor. Freed the Moabites from Israel's control?

The Moabites now start naming several kings with the prefix 'Chemosh'. The Moabite god, Chemosh, may be closely related to Molech, or is a substitute for him. The Ammonites worship Molech, an old Canaanite idol who is also known as Melkarth, Baal-melech, Malcom, and other such names by the Phoenicians and Carthaginians.

c.900 - 870 BC

Chemosh-Gyt

Vassal of Israel. Founder of the Dibonite dynasty.

c.880 - 848 BC

Moab is oppressed by the Samarians under Omri and his son, Ahab. Omri occupies many of Moab's northern towns and exacts a heavy tribute (notably around 853 BC). This may be the last stages of Samaria's control of Moab as a vassal state. After the death of Ahab in 848 BC, Mesha of Moab is effective in throwing off Samarian control, and is able to re-establish the kingdom.

c.870 - 840 BC

Mesha ('the Great')

Freed the kingdom from Samaria. Aided Ahab of Samaria.

c.847 BC

Joram of Samaria, Jehoshaphat of Judah, and the king (or governor) of Edom form a coalition which attempts to retake Moab by force but, despite some initial gains, the attempt is unsuccessful. Probably to celebrate his victory, Mesha sets up a stele (discovered by archaeologists in 1868) called the Mesha Stone on which he records that he 'reigned in peace over the hundred towns which he had added to the land. And he built Medeba and Beth-diblathen and Beth-baal-me'on [Beth-meon]...' Despite Old Testament claims to the contrary, Mesha also leads his forces to invade and defeat Samaria, although there is apparently no occupation. This is the last important date in Moabite history to be recorded by the Old Testament.

c.840 BC

Jehu of Samaria puts an end to the house of Omri by massacring the entire royal family and seizing the throne. The only known survivor is Omri's daughter, Athaliah, who is queen in Judah. Soon after his reign begins, and despite Old Testament claims to the contrary, Moab defeats Samaria and Damas takes all the Hebrew possessions east of the Jordan, ravaging Judah, and rendering Samaria impotent.

fl c.800? BC

Chemosh-Nadab I

Some kings of Moab are recorded by the Assyrians, and are known primarily by the Assyrian translations of their Moabite names (the translated versions are shown in green), but there are also some equivalent records from other sources.

fl c.740s? BC

Salmanu

Tributary to Assyria at the time of Tiglath-Pileser III.

fl c.735 BC

Chemosh-Nadab II

c.730 BC

Between 734-732 BC, Tiglath-Pileser III of Assyria marches an army into Syria and the Levant and over the next two years he re-conquers all the rebellious states there. The Samarian city of Hazor is captured in 733 BC, as is the kingdom of Judah, and Damas is captured and destroyed in 732 BC. Prisoners from the latter are initially transported to Moab's city of Kir-Hareshet, suggesting that it is the capital at this time, and around two years after the fall of Damas, Moab itself is made a vassal.

722 - 710 BC

Between 722-720 BC, Moab, Philistia, Judah, and Edom rebel against Assyrian overlordship. The rising is apparently put down, as the next record shows Moab paying tribute to King Sargon II, but still apparently being led by a native ruler rather than a newly-installed governor. Moabite troops are subsequently used in Assyrian wars against the Arab tribes. It is not known whether the later Moabite rulers succeed each other or whether there are more whose names have been lost. From 710 BC Moab is subsumed within the Assyrian empire, but local rulers still crop up occasionally. These must certainly be seen more as governors than kings.

Relief from Medinet Habu
This photo shows a relief from Medinet Habu which details Philistines with their distinctive feathered headdresses, making them an unusual sight on the battlefield

fl c.701 BC

Kammusu-Nadbi / Chemosh-Nadab III

Tributary to Assyria at the time of Sargon II.

fl c.670s BC

Mutzuri ('the Egyptian')

Tributary to Assyria at the time of Esarhaddon & Ashurbanipal.

c.668 - 633 BC

Kaashalta / Kamalshaltu

Tributary to Assyria at the time of Ashurbanipal.

612 - 609 BC

The Assyrian empire collapses with the fall of Kalakh and Ninevah to Media and Babylonia, supported by Egypt and groups such as the Scythians, who divide the spoils between them. King Sin-shar-ishkun dies in his burning palace in Babylonia, where Ashurbanipal's great library crashes into the room below, with many of the baked clay tablets surviving to be discovered by later archaeologists. The remaining Assyrians surrender in 609 BC. The king of Babylonia is acknowledged as the new master of Mesopotamia but it seems that his authority does not initially stretch to the Levant.

597 BC

For its continued support of Egypt, Nebuchadnezzar invades and occupies Jerusalem (with the help of Ammon), showing no hesitation in stripping the city of its treasures. The Judeans are made vassals under Babylonia, and 10,000 subjects are shipped to Babylon, including the ruling elite. Moab apparently takes advantage of Judah's fall, joining in the plunder and seizing some of its territory.

fl 590s BC

Chemosh-Haleth

582 - 539 BC

From 587 BC, Nebuchadnezzar of Babylonia annexes many previously independent states in the west in his quest for complete dominance of Syria-Palestine. While Judah is one of the first targets to fall, it takes until 582 BC for Moab to be conquered and installed as part of the new Babylonian empire.

after 539 BC

During the Persian period, the kingdom or state of Moab disappears from the historical record. The fate of the Moabites is not clear, but they may be migrating northwards to fill Israelite lands that have been emptied by Nebuchadnezzar of Babylonia. The Edomites certainly are allowed to do just this, but they retain their identity while the Moabites seem not to.

Subsequently the territory is taken by tribes of Arabs which are now released to carry out their own northwards migration from Arabia, including the Kedarites and then later the Nabataeans. These peoples are allies of the Ammonites, although the country continues to be known as Moab for some time afterwards, well into the Crusader period when Moab forms part of the kingdom of Jerusalem. In the modern age parts of it form the kingdom of Jordan.