moab in the bible

Moab in The Bible | What does Moab represent in the Bible?

While for the latter name in the biblical account, an etymology is given which aims to explain the name of Ammon, a similar etymology is not provided for the title of Moab in the Bible. But it is found in the Greek text of the Seventy (probably genuine), which adds that her mother called her son “Moab, saying: From my father [I had him]” ( Genesis, XIX, 37). 

The expression “from my father” corresponds to the Hebrew me’abhī. This, compared with the name Mō’āb appears as one of those popular etymologies that are not uncommon in the Bible. Others have thought of mē’abh, semen Patria, but certainly with little foundation. For the symbolic value attributed to this kinship, since a close ethnographic affinity existed between Moabites and Jews, warn you.

The territory above Moab was limited to the north by the Wādi Hesbān. Which flows into the Jordan just north of the Dead Sea. And to the south by the Wādi el-Ḥesa, which flows into the Dead Sea at its lower end. It is a plateau divided almost half by the Arnon river ( Seil el – Mōǵib ). Which also ends in the Dead Sea; the southern half is somewhat higher than the northern half. And both decline steeply to the west in the Dead Sea valley. 

The etymology of the name Moab

The etymology of the landscape name Moab in the Bible, which came to designate the people of Moab and their state/country, is unclear. The folk etymology of Gen 19:30-38 connecting Moab in the Bible ( מוֹאָב mô’āv ) with מֵאָב me’āv “from the Father” is controversial and philologically untenable.

The land of Moab in the Bible lies between the Dead Sea to the west. And the eastern Jordanian semi-desert to the east. The southern border forms the deep Wādī el-Ḥesā [ Wadi el-Hesa ], the Biblical Sered (→ Kir-Moab ). The northern border varies. The core area of ​​Moabite settlement is the Ard el-Kerak, a plateau that stretches north from the Wādī el-Ḥesā to the equally profound Wādī el-Mōǧib [ Wadi l-Mogib ]. The biblical → Arnon. In the 9th century, Moab gained northern areas so that during its maximum expansion, the state extended to the tiny state of → Ammon. And the lower Jordan valley (“Steppes of Moab”; Num 22:1; Numbers 26: 3.63; Deut 34: 1.8; Jos 13:32, etc.) was enough.

moab in the bible

Representation of the land of Moab in the Bible

History of Moab in the Bible

Even if “Moab” in the Bible, in inscriptions of the Egyptian pharaohs → Amenhotep III. and → Ramses II. is mentioned, the prehistory and ethnogenesis of the Moabites, who spoke a Canaanite dialect in the late Bronze Age and early Iron Age remain little known to this day.

According to 2 Sam 8:2 .12 par. 1Chr 18:2 .11 the Moabites were subjugated in the 10th century B.C. by → David. Only king → Mesha, who came from the tribal area of ​​Gad as a Dibonite and from whose father King Kamoshjat, a three-line inscription has been preserved (more → Kir-Moab in the Bible), was able to end the Israelite occupation under the Omrids (→ Mesha stele; 2Kgs 3; cf. already 2Kings 1,1 ) and enlarge his territory north-west up to the level of Jericho at the expense of his opponents.

The Moabite state was a territorial state with a kingship at the top. Its tribal society may have been predominantly sedentary. Officials and writing are very similar to those of the neighboring states of Israel and Judah at the same time. The → Mesha stele, one of the longest Northwest Semitic inscriptions and the most extensive Moabite inscription known to date (TUAT I, 646-650), is related in historiography and theology to similar passages in the Old Testament.

Primary Takeaways

  • In the southern part, the Jews settled very poorly; in the north, they were more numerous. But there, the Ammonites were also notably represented. This region is generally referred to in the Bible as “the fields of Moab.” Or simply ham – mīshōr(“the leveled”). Today, instead, its northern part is called al – Balqā ‘. And the southern one al – Kerak, from the homonymous city, the principal inhabited center.
  • The ancient Moabites were ethnographically very similar to the Hebrews, as demonstrated. As well as by the various Moabite proper names preserved in the Old Testament, especially by the text of the Mesa inscription, whose language is very close to Hebrew (see mesa ). The chief god of the Moabites was Chemosh, also known from the Bible; in honor of him, sacred massacres ( ḥerem ) of captured enemies were made. (Stele of Mesa, lin. 12, 17) And the firstborns of Moabite families were sacrificed even in critical moments ( II [ IV ] Re, III, 27).
  • We have uncertain and obscure news of the Moabites in the period before the Israelite invasion. From Deuteronomy II, 10, it appears that in ancient times the people of the Emim (the “terrible” ones?) Lived in the territory of Moab in the Bible, presented as gigantic stature, in which the remains of some pre-Semitic race later disappear.


During the Jewish monarchy, relations between Moab and Israel were usually hostile in the official. And diplomatic fields, although in the private and individual areas, there is evidence of friendly relations. From the book of Ruth, it appears that in times of famine, isolated Jews took refuge in Moab in the Bible. And from I Samuel ( Re ), XXII, three ff. that David’s relatives did the same when Saul persecuted him, as well as in I Chron ., XI, 46. An Item Moabite is mentioned among the most chosen warriors of David.

On the other hand, Saul and David were at war with the Moabites ( I Sam . [ Re ], XIV, 47; II Sam.D VIII, 2). And from this last war onwards, they were tributaries of the Jewish relatives. They rebelled against this tribute immediately after the death of Ahab, king of Israel (v. Acabbus ), which provoked the expedition of the two kings of Israel and Judah against Mesha (v.).

After the Jews returned from Babylonian exile, we hardly have any news of Moab in the Bible; it was probably destroyed and its population deported by Nebuchadnezzar. Not long after the destruction of Jerusalem (cf. Flavius ​​Josephus, Antiquities, X, 9, 7 [181]). Moabites were able to remain in the territory. And these are those with whom the Jews repatriated from Babylon came into contact (cf. Ezra, IX, 1; Nehemiah, XIII, 1-3). However, at that time, the gradual penetration of Arab Nabataeans had begun in the now half-emptied region. Which subsequently created a dominant and almost exclusive settlement.