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Moab

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The Oxford Companion to the Bible What is This? Provides authoritative interpretive entries on Biblical people, places, beliefs, events, and secular influences.

    Moab

    A nation whose affiliation with Israel may have been the closest of all her neighbors. This is indicated by the affinity of the Moabite language and writing tradition to Hebrew; by David's ancestry from the Moabite Ruth and his sending his parents for sanctuary in Moab (1 Sam. 22.3–5); by the legend of Moab's birth through the incestuous union of Lot and his elder daughter (Gen. 19.30–37); and by religious affinities to Yahwism portrayed in the Moabite Stone.

    Moab (Map 1:Y5–6) lay along the east side of the Dead Sea. North Moab, including the plains of Moab opposite Jericho (Num. 22.1; 33.48–49), covered an area from just north of the top of the sea to the Arnon 40 km (25 mi) south, which is mostly well‐watered tableland, 600–850 mi (2000–2800 ft) above mean sea level; here lay Heshbon, the peaks of Nebo and Pisgah, Medeba, Beth‐meon, Ataroth, and Dibon. South (“true”) Moab, from the Arnon to the Zered, the boundary with Edom, is tableland 300 m (1000 ft) higher and more marginal agriculturally. A text of Pharaoh Ramesses II (early thirteenth century BCE) designates this region by the name Moab. Topographic survey, which at first seemed to display an occupation gap from roughly 2000 to 1300 BCE, has more recently contributed evidence of settlement throughout the second millennium, even in the south. Probably Moab was first a tribal society, then a monarchy.

    Relations between Moab and Israel are complex and difficult to discern from the record—whether enmity or amity. The issue is bound up with whether north Moab was under Moabite control. Thus, Numbers 21 depicts the Amorite king Sihon as having displaced Moab from north of the Arnon and makes Sihon, not Moab, Israel's foe. The Balak/Balaam story in Numbers 22–24, on the other hand, portrays enmity and puts the action in north Moab. Deuteronomic tradition condemns Moab for inhospitality to Israel during the Transjordanian trek (Deut. 23.34; Judg. 11.17), but asserts that Yahweh granted Moab its (southern?) territory, so Israel is not to harass Moab (Deut. 2.9). Judges 3.12–30 pictures enmity, showing Moab in possession of the north with a foothold at Jericho (“city of palms”); Judges 11, on the other hand, implies amity with Moab (11.24–27).

    Saul reportedly defeated Moab (1 Sam. 14.47–48), but it is David who subjugated it, militarily and by vassal treaty (2 Sam. 8.2). The next explicit information comes from the Moabite Stone about 830 BCE, where Mesha, king of Moab at Dibon, asserts he liberated north Moab from the control of the Israelite northern kingdom's Omri Dynasty, dispossessing the “men of Gad” during Ahab's reign or more probably at Ahab's death about 850 BCE (2 Kings 1.1; 3.4–8). Mesha's inscription implies that Omri had regained this control; had Moab escaped subjugation sometime between Solomon and Omri? The accounts in 2 Kings 3 (Jehoram of Israel) and 2 Chronicles 20 (Jehoshaphat of Judah) contribute contemporary episodes of conflict with Moab, further suggesting struggle for independence at the end of the Omri dynasty. And 2 Kings 10.32–33 places Hazael of Damascus in north Moab in this period; perhaps Moab gained freedom from Israel only to lose it to Syria.

    Moab came under loose Assyrian control, probably through vassal treaty, around 732 BCE. In the mid‐seventh century, it functioned as loyal vassal by quelling Arab rebellion against Assyria. Moab appears as Nebuchadrezzar's client (2 Kings 24.2), helping put down Jehoiakim's revolt around 600 BCE. This period of subservience to the great powers is the setting for Amos 2.1–3, Isaiah 15–16, and Jeremiah 48 (cf. Num. 21.27–30), which link Moab to Yahweh's international dominion. These oracles judge Moab, lament over it, and convey to it divine promises. After the Babylonian conquest of the region, Moab disappears from available records, though the EzraNehemiah campaign against mixture with foreigners suggests that Moab still designates a people in the late fourth century BCE (Ezra 9.1–2; Neh. 13.23).

    Edward F. Campbell

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