Kingdom of Moab
c. 13th century BCE – c. 400 BCE
A theoretical map of the region around 830 BCE. Moab is shown in purple on this map, between the Arnon and Zered rivers.
A theoretical map of the region around 830 BCE. Moab is shown in purple on this map, between the Arnon and Zered rivers.
Common languagesMoabite
Canaanite religion
• Established
c. 13th century BCE 
• Collapsed
 c. 400 BCE
Today part ofJordan

Moab[a] (/ˈmæb/) is an ancient Levantine kingdom whose territory is today located in southern Jordan. The land is mountainous and lies alongside much of the eastern shore of the Dead Sea. The existence of the Kingdom of Moab is attested to by numerous archaeological findings, most notably the Mesha Stele, which describes the Moabite victory over an unnamed son of King Omri of Israel, an episode also noted in 2 Kings 3. The Moabite capital was Dibon. According to the Hebrew Bible, Moab was often in conflict with its Israelite neighbours to the west.


The etymology of the word Moab is uncertain. The earliest gloss is found in the Koine Greek Septuagint (Genesis 19:37) which explains the name, in obvious allusion to the account of Moab's parentage, as ἐκ τοῦ πατρός μου ("from my father"). Other etymologies which have been proposed regard it as a corruption of "seed of a father", or as a participial form from "to desire", thus connoting "the desirable (land)".[1]

Rashi explains the word Mo'ab to mean "from the father", since ab in Hebrew and Arabic and the rest of the Semitic languages means "father". He writes that as a result of the immodesty of Moab's name, God did not command the Israelites to refrain from inflicting pain upon the Moabites in the manner in which he did with regard to the Ammonites. Fritz Hommel regards Moab as an abbreviation of Immo-ab = "his mother is his father".[2]


See also: Shutu and Shasu

Moabite sarcophagus in Jordan Archaeological Museum in Amman
The Mesha stele describes King Mesha's wars against the Israelites
Al-Balu' Stele on display at the Jordan Museum.

Bronze Age

Despite a scarcity of archaeological evidence, the existence of the Kingdom of Moab prior to the rise of the Israelite state has been deduced from a colossal statue erected at Luxor by pharaoh Ramesses II, in the 13th century BCE. The statue lists Mu'ab among a series of nations conquered during a campaign.[3]

Four inscriptions from the time of Ramesses II mention Mwjbw as a rebellious place that refuses to recognize Egypt's control over Canaan and, together with the Shasu of Mount Seir, conducted raids in Egypt. Pharaoh sent troops to the area and suppressed the rebellion - in the inscriptions of Ramesses II, the Moabites are shown as having hairstyles identical to those of the resident Canaanites (long hair collected and arranged) and not a braided hairstyle like the Shasu from later reliefs that contained the name Moab, with researchers debating whether this indicates a demographic change in Moab, or a change in the lifestyles of the Moabites.[4]

Another inscription from Luxor mentions that Ramses and his eldest son called the Egyptians the "leader of Moab" and reprimanded him for trying to make an alliance with the Hittite Empire so that they would help him get out of Egyptian control.[5]

Iron Age

An 8th-century BCE inscription seems to indicate that the Kingdom of Moab expanded into the eastern part of the Jordan Valley after a successful campaign against the Ammonites.[6]

In the Nimrud clay inscription of Tiglath-pileser III (r. 745–727 BCE), the Moabite king Salmanu (perhaps the Shalman who sacked Beth-arbel in Hosea 10:14) is mentioned as tributary to Assyria. Sargon II mentions on a clay prism a revolt against him by Moab together with Philistia, Judah, and Edom; but on the Taylor prism, which recounts the expedition against Hezekiah, Kammusu-Nadbi (Chemosh-nadab), King of Moab, brings tribute to Sargon as his suzerain.[citation needed]

Musuri, King of Moab, paid too a tribute to Assarhaddon at the same time as Manasseh of Judah, Qosgabar of Edom and other kings of the Levant. They send building materials to Nineveh. Moab militarily supported Assurbanipal during his campaign against Egypt and the pharaoh Taharqa. The status of vassal of Assyria allows Moab to benefit in return from the support of Assyria against the nomadic tribes of the Arabian desert, and in particular against the Qedarites. King Kamōš-ʿaśa seemed to have defeated Ammuladi, king of Qedar.[7]


After the Roman conquest of the Levant by Pompey in 63 BCE,[8] Moab lost its distinct identity through assimilation.[9]

19th-century travellers

Early modern travellers in the region included Ulrich Jasper Seetzen (1805), Johann Ludwig Burckhardt (1812), Charles Leonard Irby and James Mangles (1818), and Louis Félicien de Saulcy (1851).[10]

Biblical narratives

According to the biblical account, Moab and Ammon were born to Lot and Lot's elder and younger daughters, respectively, in the aftermath of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. The Bible refers to both the Moabites and Ammonites as Lot's sons, born of incest with his daughters (Genesis 19:37–38).

The Moabites first inhabited the rich highlands at the eastern side of the chasm of the Dead Sea, extending as far as Wadi Mujib to Wadi Hasa,[11] from which country they expelled the Emim, the original inhabitants (Deuteronomy 2:11), but they themselves were afterward driven southward by warlike tribes of Amorites, who had crossed the river Jordan. These Amorites, described in the Bible as being ruled by King Sihon, confined the Moabites to the country south of the river Arnon, which formed their northern boundary (Numbers 21:13; Judges 11:18).

God renewed his covenant with the Israelites at Moab before the Israelites entered the Promised Land(Deuteronomy 29:1). Moses died there (Deut 34:5), prevented by God from entering the Promised Land. He was buried in an unknown location in Moab and the Israelites spent a period of thirty days there in mourning (Deuteronomy 34:6–8).

According to the Book of Judges, the Israelites did not pass through the land of the Moabites (Judges 11:18), but conquered Sihon's kingdom and his capital at Heshbon. After the conquest of Canaan the relations of Moab with Israel were of a mixed character, sometimes warlike and sometimes peaceable. With the tribe of Benjamin they had at least one severe struggle, in union with their kindred the Ammonites and the Amalekites (Judges 3:12–30). The Benjaminite shofet Ehud ben Gera assassinated the Moabite king Eglon and led an Israelite army against the Moabites at a ford of the Jordan river, killing many of them.

Ruth in the fields of Boaz by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld

The Book of Ruth testifies to friendly relations between Moab and Bethlehem, one of the towns of the tribe of Judah. By his descent from Ruth, David may be said to have been part Moabite. He committed his parents to the protection of the king of Moab (who may have been his kinsman), when hard pressed by King Saul. (1 Samuel 22:3,4) But here all friendly relations stop forever. The next time the name is mentioned is in the account of David's war, who made the Moabites tributary (2 Samuel 8:2; 1 Chronicles 18:2). Moab may have been under the rule of an Israelite governor during this period; among the exiles who returned to Judea from Babylonia were a clan descended from Pahath-Moab, whose name means "ruler of Moab". The Moabite Ruth is regarded as a prototype of a convert to Judaism.[12]

At the disruption of the kingdom under the reign of Rehoboam, Moab seems to have been absorbed into the northern realm. It continued in vassalage to the Kingdom of Israel until the death of Ahab which according to E. R. Thiele's reckoning was in about 853 BCE,[13] when the Moabites refused to pay tribute and asserted their independence, making war upon the kingdom of Judah (2 Chronicles 22:1).

After the death of Ahab in about 853 BCE, the Moabites under Mesha rebelled against Jehoram, who allied himself with Jehoshaphat, King of the Kingdom of Judah, and with the King of Edom. According to the Bible, the prophet Elisha directed the Israelites to dig a series of ditches between themselves and the enemy, and during the night these channels were miraculously filled with water which appeared red as blood in the morning light.

According to the biblical account, the crimson color deceived the Moabites into thinking that the Israelites, and their allies, had attacked one another. Eager to acquire plunder, they were ambushed and defeated by the Israelites (2 Kings 3). According to Mesha's inscription on the Mesha Stele, however, he was completely victorious and regained all the territory of which Israel had deprived him. This battle is the last important date in the history of the Moabites as recorded in the Bible. In the year of Elisha's death they invaded Israel (2 Kings 13:20) and later aided Nebuchadnezzar in his expedition against Jehoiakim (2 Kings 24:2).

Allusions to Moab are frequent in the prophetical books (Isa 25:10; Ezek 25:8–11; Amos 2:1–3; Zephaniah 2:8–11). Two chapters of Isaiah (15 and 16) and one of Jeremiah (48) are devoted to the "burden of Moab". Its prosperity and pride, which the Israelites believed incurred the wrath of God, are frequently mentioned (Isa 16:6; Jer 48:11–29; Zephaniah 2:10), and their contempt for Israel is once expressly noted (Jer. 48:27). Moab would be dealt with during the time of the Messiah's rulership according to the prophets.[14] The book of Zephaniah states that Moab would become "a permanent desolation".[15]

Moab is also made reference to in the 2 Meqabyan, a book considered canonical in the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church.[16] In that text, a Moabite king named Maccabeus joins forces with Edom and Amalek to attack Israel, later repenting of his sins and adopting the Israelite religion.

In Jewish tradition

According to the Hebrew Bible, the Moabites were not hospitable to the Israelites who exited Egypt and hired Balaam to curse them. As a consequence, male Moabites were excluded by Torah law[17] from marrying Jewish women.[18]

The term "tenth generation" used in connection with that prohibition is considered an idiom, used for an unlimited time, as opposed to the third generation, which allows an Egyptian convert to marry into the community. The Talmud expresses the view that the prohibition applied only to male Moabites, who were not allowed to marry born Jews or legitimate converts. Female Moabites, when converted to Judaism, were permitted to marry with only the normal prohibition of a convert marrying a kohen (priest) applying. However, the prohibition was not followed during the Babylonian captivity, and Ezra and Nehemiah sought to compel a return to the law because men had been marrying women who had not been converted at all (Ezra 9:1–2, 12; Nehemiah 13:23–25). The heir of King Solomon was Rehoboam, the son of an Ammonite woman, Naamah (1 Kings 14:21).

On the other hand, the marriages of the Bethlehem Ephrathites (of the tribe of Judah) Mahlon and Chilion to the Moabite women Orpah and Ruth (Ruth 1:2–4), and the marriage of the latter, after her husband's death, to Boaz (Ruth 4:10–13) who by her was the great-grandfather of David, are mentioned with no shade of reproach. The Talmudic explanation, however, is that the language of the law applies only to Moabite and Ammonite men (Hebrew, like all Semitic languages, has grammatical gender). The Talmud also states that the prophet Samuel wrote the Book of Ruth to settle the dispute as the rule had been forgotten since the time of Boaz. Another interpretation is that the Book of Ruth is simply reporting the events in an impartial fashion, leaving any praise or condemnation to be done by the reader.

The Babylonian Talmud in Yevamot 76B explains that one of the reasons was the Ammonites did not greet the Children of Israel with friendship and the Moabites hired Balaam to curse them. The difference in the responses of the two people led to God allowing the Jewish people to harass the Moabites (but not go to war) but forbade them to even harass the Ammonites (Deuteronomy 23:3–4).

Jehoash was one of the four men who pretended to be gods.[19] He was persuaded thereto particularly by the princes, who said to him. "Wert thou not a god thou couldst not come out alive from the Holy of Holies" (Ex R. viii. 3). He was assassinated by two of his servants, one of whom was the son of an Ammonite woman and the other the offspring of a Moabite (2 Chron. 24:26); for God said: "Let the descendants of the two ungrateful families chastise the ungrateful Joash" (Yalk., Ex. 262). Moab and Ammon were the two offspring of Lot's incest with his two daughters as described in Gen. 19:30–38.

Jehoshaphet subsequently joined Jehoram of Israel in a war against the Moabites, who were under tribute to Israel. The Moabites were subdued, but seeing Mesha's act of offering his own son (and singular heir) as a propitiatory human sacrifice on the walls of Kir of Moab filled Israel with horror, and they withdrew and returned to their own land.[20]

According to the Book of Jeremiah, Moab was exiled to Babylon for his arrogance and idolatry. According to Rashi, it was also due to their gross ingratitude even though Abraham, Israel's ancestor, had saved Lot, Moab's ancestor from Sodom. Jeremiah prophesies that Moab's captivity will be returned in the end of days.[21]

The book of Zephaniah states that "Moab will assuredly be like Sodom, and the sons of Ammon like Gomorrah—Ground overgrown with weeds and full of salt mines, and a permanent desolation." (2:9). The prophecy regarding their defeat by the Israelites is linked to the conquests by the Jewish Hasmonean king Alexander Jannaeus. During that period, the Moabites were called the "Arabian Moabites".[22]

Boundaries in the Hebrew Bible

In Ezekiel 25:9 the boundaries are given as being marked by Beth-jeshimoth (north), Baal-meon (east), and Kiriathaim (south). That these limits were not fixed, however, is plain from the lists of cities given in Isaiah 15–16 and Jeremiah 48, where Heshbon, Elealeh, and Jazer are mentioned to the north of Beth-jeshimoth; Madaba, Beth-gamul, and Mephaath to the east of Baalmeon; and Dibon, Aroer, Bezer, Jahaz, and Kirhareseth to the south of Kiriathaim. The principal rivers of Moab mentioned in the Bible are the Arnon, the Dimon or Dibon, and the Nimrim. In the north are a number of long, deep ravines, and Mount Nebo, famous as the scene of the death of Moses (Deuteronomy 34:1–8).

The territory occupied by Moab at the period of its greatest extent, before the invasion of the Amorites, divided itself naturally into three distinct and independent portions: the enclosed corner or canton south of the Arnon, referred to in the Bible as "field of Moab" (Ruth 1:1,2,6). The more open rolling country north of the Arnon, opposite Jericho and up to the hills of Gilead, called the "land of Moab" (Deuteronomy 1:5; 32:49) and the district below sea level in the tropical depths of the Jordan valley (Numbers 22:1).


References to the religion of Moab are scant. Most of the Moabites followed the ancient Semitic religion like other ancient Semitic-speaking peoples, and the Book of Numbers says that they induced the Israelites to join in their sacrifices (Num 25:2; Judges 10:6). Their chief god seems to have been Chemosh,[23] and the Bible refers to them as the "people of Chemosh" (Num 21:29; Jer 48:46). During the Iron Age, several Moabite cultic sites have been found in places such as Deir Alla, Damiyah, Ataruz or Khirbet al-Mudayna.[24]

According to II Kings, at times, especially in dire peril, human sacrifices were offered to Chemosh, as by Mesha, who gave up his son and heir to him (2 Kings 3:27). Nevertheless, King Solomon built a "high place" for Chemosh on the hill before Jerusalem (1 Kings 11:7), which the Bible describes as "this detestation of Moab". The altar was not destroyed until the reign of Josiah (2 Kings 23:13). The Moabite Stone also mentions (line 17) a female counterpart of Chemosh, Ashtar-Chemosh.


The Moabite language was spoken in Moab. It was a Canaanite language closely related to Biblical Hebrew, Ammonite and Edomite,[25] and was written using a variant of the Phoenician alphabet.[26] Most of our knowledge of it comes from the Mesha Stele,[26] which is the only known extensive text in this language. In addition, there are the three line El-Kerak Inscription and a few seals.

List of rulers

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The following is a list of rulers of the ancient kingdom of Moab.

Iron Age

Assyrian period

Explanatory notes

  1. ^ Moabite: 𐤌𐤀𐤁Māʾab; Biblical Hebrew: מוֹאָב Mōʾāḇ; Ancient Greek: Μωάβ Mōáb; Assyrian: 𒈬𒀪𒁀𒀀𒀀 Mu'abâ, 𒈠𒀪𒁀𒀀𒀀 Ma'bâ, 𒈠𒀪𒀊 Ma'ab; Egyptian: 𓈗𓇋𓃀𓅱𓈉 Mū'ībū

See also


  1. ^ Dearman, J. Andrew (1989). Studies in the Mesha Inscription and Moab. Atlanta: Scholars Press. p. 1. ISBN 9781555403577.
  2. ^ Leyden (1904). Verhandlungen des Zwölften Internationalen Orientalisten-Congresses. p. 261.
  3. ^ Kitchen, K. A. (December 1964). "Some New Light on the Asiatic Wars of Ramesses II". The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology. 50: 47–70. doi:10.2307/3855742. JSTOR 3855742.
  4. ^ Na'aman, Nadav (2006). "Did Ramesses II Wage Campaign against the Land of Moab?". Göttinger Miszellen. 209: 63–69.
  5. ^ Darnell, John Coleman; Jasnow, Richard (1993). "On the Moabite Inscriptions of Ramesses II at Luxor Temple". Journal of Near Eastern Studies. 52 (4): 263–274. ISSN 0022-2968.
  6. ^ Gass, Erasmus (2012). "New Moabite inscriptions and their historical relevance" (PDF). Journal of Northwest Semitic Languages. 38 (1): 45–78. hdl:10520/EJC126353. ISSN 0259-0131.
  7. ^ James B. Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, 1969
  8. ^ Parker, Samuel; Betlyon, John (2006). The Roman Frontier in Central Jordan: Final Report on the Limes Arabicus Project. Dumbarton Oaks. p. 573. ISBN 9780884022985. Archived from the original on 10 April 2023. Retrieved 3 July 2018.
  9. ^ LaBianca, Oystein S.; Younker, Randall W. (1995). "The Kingdoms of Ammon, Moab, and Edom: The Archaeology of Society in Late Bronze/Iron Age Transjordan (ca. 1400–500 BCE)". In Thomas Levy (ed.). The Archaeology of Society in the Holy Land. Leicester University Press. p. 114. Archived from the original on 9 August 2021. Retrieved 16 June 2018.
  10. ^ Miller, Max (1997). "Ancient Moab: Still Largely Unknown". In George Ernest Wright; Frank Moore Cross; Edward Fay Campbell (eds.). The Biblical Archaeologist. Vol. 60. American Schools of Oriental Research. pp. 194–204. doi:10.2307/3210621. JSTOR 3210621. S2CID 163824020. Archived from the original on 2020-08-06. Retrieved 2018-03-19. Among the travellers who traversed the whole Moabite plateau including Moab proper prior to 1870 and whose published observations deserve special mention are Ulrich Seetzen (1805), Ludwig Burckhardt (1812), Charles Irby and James Mangles (1818), and Louis de Saulcy (1851). Both Seetzen and Burckhardt died during the course of their travels, and their travel journals were edited and published posthumously by editors who did not always understand the details. Burckhardt's journal was published first, in 1822, and served as the basis for the Moab segment of Edward Robinson's map of Palestine published in 1841. Robinson's map depicts several strange features for the Moab segment, most of which can be traced to editorial mistakes in Burckhardt's journal and/or to entirely understandable misinterpretations of the journal on Robinson's part. Unfortunately, these strange features would linger on in maps of Palestine throughout the nineteenth century.
  11. ^ وزارة التربية والتعليم. التاريخ الجزء الأول الصف 8 (2021 ed.). المملكة الاردنية الهاشمية: إدارة المناهج والكتب. p. 8.
  12. ^ Ostmeyer, Karl-Heinrich (2021). "No Citizenship for Ruth? Names as Access Permissions in the Scroll of Ruth". Religion, Citizenship and Democracy. Religion and Human Rights. Vol. 8. pp. 245–272. doi:10.1007/978-3-030-83277-3_13. ISBN 978-3-030-83277-3. S2CID 245688505.
  13. ^ Edwin Thiele, The Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings, (1st ed.; New York: Macmillan, 1951; 2d ed.; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1965; 3rd ed.; Grand Rapids: Zondervan/Kregel, 1983). ISBN 0-8254-3825-X, 9780825438257.
  14. ^ "Bible Gateway passage: Numbers 24:14, Numbers 24:17, Isaiah 11:14 - New American Standard Bible". Bible Gateway. Archived from the original on 2021-11-08. Retrieved 2021-11-08.
  15. ^ Zephaniah 2:9
  16. ^ "Torah of Yeshuah: Book of Meqabyan I - III". Archived from the original on 2019-09-23. Retrieved 2019-11-10.
  17. ^ Deuteronomy 23:4
  18. ^ Klein, Reuven Chaim (2015). "The Iniquities of Ammon and Moab" (PDF). Jewish Bible Quarterly. 43 (2): 93–100. ISSN 0792-3910.
  19. ^ The other three were Pharaoh; Hiram and Nebuchadnezzar (Louis Ginzberg's The Legends of the Jews From Moses to Esther; Notes for Volumes Three and Four(p.423)
  20. ^ Bible 2 Kings 3:4–27
  21. ^ Jeremiah 48, Tanach. Brooklyn, New York: ArtScroll. p. 1187.
  22. ^ "Zephaniah 2 Commentary: Gill's Exposition". Biblehub. 2023.
  23. ^ Holm, Tawny L. (2005). «Moabite Religion». Encyclopedia of Religion. 30 Jul. 2022
  24. ^ Steiner, Margreet L. (2019). "Iron Age Cultic Sites in Transjordan". Religions. 10 (3): 145. doi:10.3390/rel10030145. ISSN 2077-1444.
  25. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forke, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian (2020). "Moabite". Glottolog 4.3. Archived from the original on 2018-12-11. Retrieved 2020-10-24.
  26. ^ a b Bromiley, Geoffrey W. (2007). "Moab". The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. p. 395. ISBN 9780802837851. Archived from the original on 2014-06-28. Retrieved 2016-03-01.
  27. ^ "Virtual Karak Resources Project: Historical Study". Archived from the original on 2012-09-17. Retrieved 2011-05-16.

Further reading

31°30′06″N 35°46′36″E / 31.50167°N 35.77667°E / 31.50167; 35.77667