The “Great and Terrible Wilderness”

In Ages in Chaos I brought together evidence from Hebrew and Egyptian sources which enabled me to establish the identity of the Hyksos with the Amalekites. I found that the time, the place, and the circumstances corresponded in both sources. In comparing the two sources and seeking to complement them, I looked also into the ancient Arabian traditions and found there plenty of material in support of my view. I lighted upon an old pre-Islamic story describing the wandering of the tribes under Moses, a story which until now has not been recognized as such. Yet the Arabian sources speak so clearly about these events that one wonders why no heed was paid to them before. For me they were not the starting point, but merely a welcome confirmation of what I was able to establish from a comparison of the Egyptian and Hebrew histories.

Outhman, son of Sadj, recites in his history that a torrent once penetrated the Ka’aba and overthrew the structure.(1) This catastrophe did not influence the people of Mecca, and they persisted in their vicious ways. The signs of heavenly wrath inspired the king, Mondad, son of Amur (grandson of Mondad, the father-in-law of Ishmael) to address his people with these words:

Remember what happened to the Amalekites in the time of your fathers. They treated with scorn the Haram [the sacred dominion]; they did not respect what was sacred. The Lord expelled them from the holy place and dispersed them among the foreign countries.

You have seen how the Lord dealt with the Amalekites.

The narrator continued as follows:

The tradition reports that the Amalekites violated the privileges of the sacred territory and that the Almighty God sent against them ants of the smallest variety which forced them to desert Mecca.

Afterwards the Lord sent drought and famine and showed them the clouded sky at the horizon. They marched without rest toward those clouds which they saw near them, but were not able to reach them; they were pursued by the drought which was always at their heels.

The Lord led them to their native land, where He sent against them the toufan—a deluge.(2)

Our interest is aroused by this last statement—that it was a deluge that took the tribe of the Amalekites by surprise when they reached their old native land.

Evidently the disturbance in the accustomed flow of events was experienced not only in Egypt, but in Arabia, too. Mecca, like Memphis, was visited by plagues: the shock that overthrew the cities of Egypt brought the Amalekites, at that time conquerors of Mecca, into disorder and tumult. They became like herds of animals brought to a state of excitement by an earthquake, and their fugacious troops reached Mount Seir (the Old Testament designates Mount Seir as their “native land” ) and arrived at the shores of the Red Sea as the Israelites were escaping from Egypt.

The catastrophe was obviously greater than a rupture of a dyke may cause. Not only the region of Seba, but Mecca, and all the shore of the sea—Tehama—were shattered. Could it be that Arim was not a “dyke” but something different? Massoudi wrote: “All persons versed in tradition among those peoples agree that the word ‘Arim’ designates a solidly built dam.” The meaning of the word “Arim” was not entirely certain if it required interpretation.

The same great catastrophe, when mountain-high waves rushed onto the land, became a theme of tradition and legends of many nations.

A Greek legend personified this upheaval in a battle of Zeus and Typhon, which took place over the sea, between Egypt and Syria. The origin of the legend and its historical background are clarified in Worlds in Collision. Strabo quoted Pindar: “It was father Zeus who once among the Arimi, by necessity, alone among the gods, smote monstrous Typhon of the fifty heads.” Strabo added: “But some understand the Syrians are Arimi.” This is the Greek legendary version of what happened at the Sea of Passage. The Arimi were Hebrews, who were called Arameans: Their origin was from Aram. Toufan of the Arabian author is the same as Typhon of the Greek author; Arim of the Arabian author is Arimi of the Greek author. he “flood of Arim” of the Arabian tradition was originally not the “rupture of the dyke” but the “flood of the Hebrews,” the flood which got their name because they found in it their salvation, whereas for other nations it meant destruction.

The Arab historian did not suspect any link between his story and the events of the Exodus, and he did not bring them into any connection; had he done so, it could be suspected that he was merely transmitting a passage of the Bible in an arbitrary form; but he seems unaware of the significance of his report.


THE DELUGE OF MARIB is it Marib or Arim?

A sudden inundation in which a whole country was destroyed, a land devastated, and in which a multitude of people perished is related in one of the earliest Arab pre-Islamic traditions.(3) “The Flood of the Dyke” was an event which fixed itself indelibly in the memory of the Arabs. This flood was known also as the Deluge of Marib. Marib was the former capital of the Sabeans in Yemen, in the south of Arabia. Near this place a dam was constructed to gather the water which flowed in the wadi of Dhenne (or Adana) that divides the Balak hills. During the summer the bed of the wadi is often dry; in the winter, after rains, it often becomes so swollen as to be impossible to cross. An earthen dam, the remains of which, some 600 meters long, are still to be seen, was used for collecting and storing the water; in the rainless months an irrigation system supplied it to the gardens and to the pastures of the valley beneath.

Al-Masudi in his Meadows of Gold and Mines of Gems(4) gives a description of what he supposed the dam of Marib to have been like before its destruction. In a dyke one parasang (ca. 2.2 kilometers) long were thirty openings which provided for the distribution of water throughout the land.

The rich fantasy of the oriental writers tells of a country in South Arabia whose beauty was proverbial far and wide. A whole month one could ride on his mule across this land (situated within the tropic of Cancer) without leaving the shade above his head. An empty basket on the head of the traveler would fill itself with fruits falling down from the trees.

The rupture of the dam turned this blessed country into ruin: the land was submerged, the structures were overthrown, the trees broken, the population drowned: the catastrophe ruined the entire kingdom.

The inhabitants of the Arabian desert preserved through centuries the memory of a remote past when the catastrophe of Marib occurred. A migration of tribes in South and North Arabia was connected with this cataclysm.

Different variants of this catastrophe were kept in the memory of generations, adorned with fancy and transmitted up to the time when Islamic writers recorded them in their histories. The catastrophe that transformed a fertile plain into a barren quarter is related in the Koran (sura 34):

Seba had in their dwellings a sign: two gardens on the right hand and on the left. Eat from the provision of your Lord, and give thanks to him! a good country and a forgiving Lord! but they turned away, and we sent against them the flood of the dyke; and we changed for them their two gardens into two gardens that grew bitter fruit and tamarisk and some few lote trees.

In other narratives referring to the flood of the Dyke, and in commentaries to the Koran, the devastation is said to have spread over all the inhabited land of South Arabia.

The story of the rupture of the dyke is one of the few recollections of ancient times in the Islamic tradition not compiled from the sacred books of the Hebrews, but received from native Arabian sources.

No one knows exactly when the dam of Marib was built. The oldest parts of the work were estimated to have been executed in the period of 1,000 to 700 B.C.E.,(5) but most scholars consider this period to be too early. No one knows when it was destroyed: suppositions only were uttered.(6) Neither is the cause of the destruction established with certainty. Possibly, the devastation by the water of the dam occurred more than once.(7)

The quoted Al-Masudi, who in general was not disinclined to render here and there a fantastic tale, gives a naturalistic explanation for this catastrophe: “The waters undermined in an imperceptible way the foundations of the dam, and its strength was sapped little by little by time and the action of the waters.” (8)

Modern researchers also ascribe the destruction of the dyke to the action of wind and rain, which gradually disjoined the construction.(9) Marib was neglected and the dam fell into disrepair.

If it is true that the dam was gradually and not suddenly destroyed and abandoned, and thus the service it rendered to the cultivation of the land ceased, how then did the many stories about the catastrophe come into existence? And if at some time a collapse really occurred, how could it be that it destroyed the whole country, even the high-lying fields and places far away? A quantity of water which a barrage of the wadi Dhenne could assemble would, at a bursting of the construction, cause a local calamity, but not a “deluge” of South Arabia. And if really only a few gardens were destroyed, how could it be that “there is hardly any historical event of pre-Islamic history that has become embellished with so much that is fanciful and related in so many different versions” (10) as the bursting of the dam?

Were a great catastrophe that remained in the memory of the Arabs to occur at a time when Hebrew, Hellenistic, Roman and Christian historians were writing their annals, could it possibly have escaped their attention? And why does the old tradition place the catastrophe in the third or fourth generation after Ishmael, son of Abraham? Why do the old Arabian traditions connect that time with a general migration of tribes and especially with the migration of the Amalekites in the direction of Egypt and Canaan?

Could it be that the legend does not relate to the Sabean irrigation system, but to some tremendous upheaval, when not a reservoir of rain-water, but the depths of a sea threw their volume across a dam in a plain whose ground disappeared in a rupture of geological strata?

The catastrophe was obviously greater than a rupture of a dyke (Arim) may cause. Not only the region of Seba, but Mecca, and all the sea shore-Tehama, were shattered.

May be Arim signifies not a “dyke,” but something different?

Masoudi: All Persons versed in tradition among those peoples agree that the word Arim designates a solidly built dam.

The meaning of the word Arim was not entirely sure: it required interpretation.

* * *

The same great catastrophe, when mountain high waves rushed on land, became a theme of tradition and legends of many nations.

A Greek legend personified this upheaval in a battle of Zeus and Typhon. The origin of the legends and its historical background are put into light on a page of Worlds in Collision.

Strabo quoted Pindar: “It was father Zeus who once among the Arimi, by necessity, alone of the gods, smote monstrous Typhon of the fifty heads.” Strabo added “But some understand that the Syrians are Arimi.” This is the Greek legendary version of what happened at the Red Sea. The reader must look for argument in above-mentioned work of the author.

Arimi were the Hebrews, who were called Arameans: their origin was from Aram.

Toufan of the Arabian authors is the same as the Typhon of the Greeks.


What does the designation Marib mean? “Various attempts to explain the etymology of Marib are not satisfactory.” (11) Marib was identified with Saba by the Arab geographers.(12) It was supposed to be the name of a castle occupied by the rulers of Saba.(13)

Does the name Marib occur in the Scriptures of the Hebrews? In the stony valley of Rephidim near Horeb, the Israelites met the Amalekites, more exactly at a point called Massa and Meriba (Exodus 17:7-8): “And he called the name of the place Massa and Meriba. Then came Amalek and fought with Israel in Rephidim.” This was shortly after the Israelites had passed to the eastern shore of the Sea of Passage escaping from their persecutors.

The Amalekites, we are told by th Arab historians, when escaping from the plagues of Mecca, arrived at their native site at a time when a sudden flood overran the land; many of them perished. Their native land, according to the Old Testament, was Mount Seir, which stretches along the gulf of Aqaba and the Red Sea.

It becomes conceivable that the flood overtook a part of them near the place where the Egyptian host drowned, and where the Hebrews escaped the depths. According to al-Masudi, “the waters covered the lands . . . ruined the habitations, and let perish all the troops.” The Amalekites migrated, ready for attack and battle. Why should an inundation of the Sabean gardens by the waters of the reservoir destroy all the troops?

All the troops did not perish. It is not recorded in the Scriptures that the Sea of Passage swallowed a part of the Amalekites, but the catastrophe surely was not restricted only to the place where the Israelites were: the shores of Aqaba and the slopes of Mount Seir were surely involved, and besides the Egyptians there must have been other victims.

Arabian sources also retained a recollection of some tribes that succeeded in escaping the catastrophe, being saved in a miraculous way. We are to become attentive. The story we shall hear is in no way attributed by the Arabian tellers of legends to the history of the Israelites escaping from Egypt, or to their leader. The Koran and Arabian literature generally are full of stories related to Moses (Nabi Musa), but all of them are obviously culled from Biblical or Aggadic tradition. Therefore a narration which is related by the Arab historians to the time and place of the bursting of the dyke in Merib in the Sabean realm is of value exactly because of the absence of any signs of its having been borrowed from Hebrew sources.

In the region of Marib (Meriba) was staying a tribe that had arrived there only a short time before. According to al-Masudi,

The king [in other sources the ruler of the tribe] was Amr the son of Amir; he had the surname Mozaikiya. He had a divine brother whose name was Amran. The ruler had for wife a woman skilful in the art of divination; her name was Zarifah.(14)

This family of three persons stood at the head of the nation: two men and one woman—a ruler, his divine brother, and his wife, the prophetess. Similarly, a family of three led the Israelites according to their tradition: a ruler, his divine brother, and a sister, the prophetess. The leaders of the Israelites were sons of Amram. The leaders of the tribe rescued at Marib were sons of Amir. The divine brother of Moses was Aharon; the divine brother of the ruler of the nomads at Marib was Amran. The sister of Moses was Miriam, his wife was Zipora; the prophetess at Marib was Zeripha. If the second and the third syllables are reversed the names become identical.

The peculiar name Mozaikiya, the surname of Amr, son of Amir, was an object of surmise for Arab philologists from early times. A word which sounds similar in Arabic is mazak, “a piece,” and folk etymology construed a forced story: the ruler was called by this surname because he was accustomed, when going to his nightly rest, to tear to pieces the garment he wore during the day.

It seems to me that the name is not an Arabic one, but rather is of Egyptian design. Mose-ika-ya could be a name arranged similarly to Smenkh-ka-re, the last syllable being the name of a divinity—god Re (or Ra) in the case of Smenkare; in the case of Mosaikaya—the God Ya (as in the names Isa iah , Jerem iah, and the like), the syllable ka being the Egyptian word for “soul.” If this archaic Arabian tradition brought down to us the name of the leader correctly, we may at last have the Semitic name of the great deliverer, and also his Egyptian name. The name “the soul of Yahweh” would surely be a fitting name for the man who, according to the Scriptures, was the first to whom the Divine name was revealed.

In the Arabian story the rupture of the dam and the catastrophe were foreseen by the prophetess Zerifa. As told by al-Masudi, she had a dream:

A great cloud covered the earth and ejected lightnings and flashes. Then the thundercloud burst, and thunderbolt fell and consumed everything in its path; reaching the ground it reduced to ashes all it touched in its fall. “After this,” said the prophetess, “it will happen that everything will submerge.”

On the eve of the day when the sea burst, a dreadful cloud—not in a dreamy vision, but in the sight of a multitude—darkened the heavens, and flashes of lightning intersected the darkness. “And it came between the camp of the Egyptians and the camp of Israel; and it was a cloud and darkness, but it gave light by night.” (Exodus 14:20) The Aggada adds that “the Lord discharged hailstones and coals of fire.”

The spirit that inspired the prophetess Zaripha rescued the people. She predicted “a calamity of calamities, a momentous thing, a misfortune without precedent.” A tempest would ruin the entire country.

It was the prophetic woman in the camp of the Israelites whose exaltation is especially mentioned when on the shore of the Sea of Passage, and this time she is called “the prophetess” (Exodus 15:20-21):

And Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aharon, took a timbrel in her hand and all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dances.

And Miriam answered them, “Sing ye to the Lord, for he hath triumphed gloriously: the horse and the rider hath he thrown into the sea.”

The Arab authors have embellished the story with the inevitable oriental addenda of palmy days in a paradise garden and of a suzerain enchanted by houries, but these are characteristic elaborations on the part of the tale tellers and do not belong the story of the dyke broken at the sea, nor to the description of a spoiled irrigation system.

Not only the prophetess Zeripha, but also her husband and his brother had prophetic dreams. According to one source it was the “divine brother Amran who was the first to receive the revelation concerning the impending catastrophe.” This brother was gifted with magical knowledge of the right way. Thus forewarned, Mozaikiya disposed of all his possessions and emigrated with all his people (Nuwairi).

It was Aharon in the camp of the Israelites who with the help of the Urim and the Tumim oracle determined the way to go and the deed to undertake.

In the Arabian tradition, in the variants I had before me, there was no allusion to a persecuting host and no knowledge of the way the tribes passed before they reached Marib.

The Arabian philologists did not succeed in explaining the origin of the name Marib. In the books of Exodus and Numbers two similar events are recounted which occurred in two places called Meriba: in both instances the tribes complained about the absence of water; the first time at the beginning of their march through the wilderness; the second time in the last years of the wandering. The etymology of the name is explained to be “the water of discord.”

Wells in an arid region were almost always waters of dispute. That the Israelite tribes many times suffered thirst in the desert is recorded in short but dramatic sentences. In the violent changes in the different strata of that region water sources disappeared; they were blocked and diverted; thermal springs appeared, such as the spring Mara. An inspired dowser might be able to find hidden water sources in the blocks of split-apart rocks by striking one with a rod.

It even seems to me possible that the Sabean region of Arabia was before the catastrophe “a garden across which the traveller could voyage a month on his mule without leaving the shade,” similar to India, rich in water and on the same degree of latitude, where the vehement sun lets the soil sprout abundant vegetation. The southern and northern fringes of Arabia attained a high level of culture at a very early time, which would hardly be possible if these parts of Arabia had been as poor in water as they are today.

It was not the rupture of the dyke that caused the dwindling of the fortunes of the country, but drought and the disappearance of water sources, of which records are preserved both in the Hebrew Scriptures and in the Arab annals.

The construction of the dyke in the Sabean region could have been a remedial measure to keep alive the gardens in this plain, ten days’ march from the Red Sea and from the Gulf of Aden alike. The disasters—with a field of destruction that embraced not only the other plains of Arabia but also far-removed lands—were remembered as “the deluge of Marib,” and as a sudden torrent that overthrew the sanctuary at Mecca, and as a time of drought and famine and also of plagues, and as a time when whole countries were destroyed, left desolate and abandoned, while armies perished, and tribes migrated. But with the passing of centuries the real place and cause were forgotten and a deserted dyke in the south of Arabia was supposed to have been the main theater of events. Its ruined remnants were supposed to be coeval witnesses of days recollected as days of terror, when land and sea were shaken in spasms. Possibly this place had been called Marib since ancient times—what place of water is not a place of strife? Likewise the oil wells of today, being rare, are wells of strife. Or perhaps the deluge of Meriba at the sea was only later connected connected with the visible remains of the abandoned dam, the name Marib being given to it subsequently.

The drought, followed by famine and by different plagues, compelled the Amalekites to leave their ancestral home in Mecca and to migrate toward the clouds far away in the sky and “toward their native land,” where they, or a part of them, were drowned in the flood, according to Kitab-alaghaniy.

And then—we return to the scriptural narration—they met the migrants coming from Egypt. The latter advanced, following the mist that covered the desert in these latter days of in-the-beginning; it was like the vapor which arose from the darkness “upon the face of the deep.”

In the place where the cloud abode, there the children of Israel pitched their tents. Whether it was by day or by night that the cloud was taken up, they journeyed. And the cloud rested in the wilderness of Paran. (Numbers 9:17, 21; 10:12)

The clouds are repeatedly mentioned in the history of the wandering. According to the Kitab-alaghaniy, “the Amalekites journeyed in the direction of the cloud.”

If these were the same clouds which were followed by the Israelites, the two groups must have encountered each other. And this encounter in fact took place by Rephidim. (Exodus 17:8)

Jewish tradition retained a memory of the encounter in the mist: “Joshua did not at first want to expose himself to danger and leave the protection of the cloud . . . then he set forth against Amalek.” (15)

The author of Kitab-alaghaniy did not know what befel the Amalekites after they left, following the cloud. He supposed that they found their end in a sudden flood.

At Rephidim the Israelites took up arms against the vanguard of the roaming Amalekites. When, after a prolonged sojourn at Mount Horeb, they attempted to reach Canaan from the south, the scouts they had sent out brought them the ill tidings that the Amalekites already occupied the south of Canaan (Numbers 13:29). It was a hard blow to the Israelites and their hearts grew faint. They made a desperate and unsuccessful attempt to reach the land from the south, daring to attack the Amalekites: “For the Amalekites and the Canaanites are there before you, and ye shall fall by the sword.” (Numbers 14:23). They were discomfitted and driven to Horma. They proceeded on their thorny way in the land of flint, in the untrodden desert, in the labyrinthine sandy ravines, upon old basalt and limestone. As a Jewish legend relates, “When they saw the vast, extensive, utterly barren wilderness before them, their courage gave way.” After the highest pitch of expectation their hopes were revealed as vain. “He tortures us with famine,” they complained.

“With the name of a new settlement he has deceived this great multitude; after he had succeeded in leading us from a well-known to an uninhabited land, he now plans to send us to the underworld, the last road of life.” (16)

We are at the crossing point in the desert where the Israelites coming from Egypt met the Amalekites coming from Mecca. We followed the Scripture describing the way of the Israelites and the old Arabian traditions describing the way of the Amalekites. From this point on we shall follow the Isrealites’ wandering in the desert, according to the Biblical and Arabian traditions.



Mount Seir extends along the length of the Red Sea and includes the area known as Hedjaz. The mountainous chain of volcanic formations stretches along the western border of the plateau called the Arabian Desert, and constitutes a barrier opposite the depression which composes the bed of the Red Sea. When it is said that the tribes of Israel “turned and took our journey into the wilderness by way of the Red Sea [Yam Suf]” or that they “compassed Mount Seir many days” (Deuteronomy 2:1) it means just what is said, that they went southward along the mountainous chain not far from the shore of the Red Sea in the region of Hedjaz. It is difficult to understand why the historians and Bible exegetes agreed that the decades of wandering of the tribes were confined to a very small area which may be crossed in one week or two.

Arabia is wide; nomads with cattle, looking for water and pasture, drive great distances. Defeated by the hostile Amalekites in the south of Canaan, the fugitives from Egypt had no other choice but to return to Egypt or to move by way of the Red Sea.

Midian was the land where, according to the Scripture, Moses had spent his manhood when a fugitive from Egyptian justice; there he also became the son-in-law of a priest named Jethro. (Exodus 2:15-21) The habitation of the Midianite priest was to the south or to the east of Mount Horeb. (Exodus 3:1) Midian was not in the Negev or on the coast of the Aqaba Gulf: in order to escape Egyptian justice Moses needed to go farther than the Sinai peninsula.

The abode of the Midianites is to be looked for near the place where the city of Medina is today. This name Medina may likely be a remnant of the habitation of the Midianites there. The identification of Midian and Medina may be further substantiated by the name of the Midianite priest, Jethro. The old Arabian name of Medina is Yathrib.

But even here the Israelites did not pause, but continued on their way south. They were strangers in this land and they begged the Midianites to give them a guide for the way through the desert. “We went through all that great and terrible wilderness,” they said at the end of the way.

Would the so-called Sinai Peninsula be called “that great and terrible wilderness” in face of the Arabian desert, fifty times as great? Did the Israelite tribes really tramp one decade after another in the narrow and short strip that runs from the south shore of the Dead Sea to the Aqaba Gulf? The desert of the forty-year wandering was not the Sinai Peninsula, but a much larger area. The inclination of the historians is generally to deny the ancients long itineraries. Midian being the Medina of Moslem times, actually deep in the Arabian Peninsula, all indications in the Old Testament are for a deep penetration of the Arabian Peninsula by the wandering Israelites who escaped the land of Egypt, destroyed by the catastrophe in the mid-fifteenth century before the present era.

A wandering of nomads with their animals in years of drought would encompass large areas. Overcome by the Amalekites of southern Canaan and driven to the Red Sea, they would scarcely remain in the same region. Their path led them to the south.



Ka’aba, the holy spot in Mecca, was a sanctuary long before the time of Mohammed. The Ka’aba has the form of a cube or chamber, and the name is interpreted as meaning “a cube.” In the immediate vicinity of this small structure—inside the walls that encircle an open-to-the-sky court—a spring enclosed in a deep well provides the faithful with health-restoring water; once it was a well of oracular decision and it is certain that the spring was held in reverence at a very early period and that the fount determined the building of the sanctuary and the foundation of the city. It is called the well of Zam-Zam.

Zam-Zam is explained to mean in Arabic “to drink with small gulps,” or also “water in abundance.” But it may be a reminiscence of the former prehistoric dwellers in Arabia. Concerning the eastern boundaries of the land of Ammon, lost in the sand of the desert, which the tribes approached at the end of their wandering, it is said (Deut. 2:20): “Giants dwelt therein in old time; and the Ammonites call them Zam-Zum(im).”

The Israelite tribes apparently visited the plains and hills where the generation of the Zamzum lived and died away in a gray antiquity. Most probably the Israelite tribes, roaming about in a thirsty land with their little ones and with their flocks, were attracted to every well yielding drink.

Let us proceed with the annals of Kitab-alaghaniy, which I cited up to the point when the Amalekites, driven out of Mecca by ants and drought and famine, migrated and moved toward the clouds on the horizon and came to their native land of Marib, where a flood overcame them. When they left Mecca a tribe called the Djorhomites entered the place and took care of the sanctuary neglected by the Amalekites. But they also were mindless of the holy duties imposed on them and, as they did not listen to the admonitions of their king, they were visited by warning signs; a sudden torrent of rainy flood ruined the Ka’aba. A number of years passed and the Amalekites were not heard of. The Kitab-alaghaniy continues:

Meanwhile arrived the tribes, brought in a disorderly retreat by the rupture of the dam of Marib; with them was the prophetess Tarickah [Zaripha] who had announced to them the disaster, and at their head Mozaikiya, the same as Amr, son of Amir, son of Thalabah. . . . On reaching the gates of Mecca, the tribes stopped, and Amr [Mozaikiya] their leader, sent to the inhabitants his son Thalabah, who spoke to them in the name of the emigrant tribes: “Departed from our native land and going in search of another, we have not found a land the inhabitants of which will agree to restrict themselves a little as to let us have a place and to grant us hospitality until our explorers will return; for we have sent on errand some of our men to explore a territory proper for our establishing ourselves on it.

“Will you cede to us a small space of your lands and allow us to remain there for a while to rest until we shall learn from our scouts whether we must go to the north or to the east? As soon as we shall learn on what site we have more chances for relief, we shall direct ourselves without delay from this place. We do hope that our sojourn with you will be very short.”

The tribe of Djorhom refused:

“No, in God’s name, we shall not put ourselves aside, we and our cattle, for having the pleasure of receiving you. Go along wherever you like to go; we have nothing to do with you.”

Mozaikiya, informed of this answer, sent them a second message worded thus:

“It is absolutely necessary that I spend at your place a whole year awaiting the answer of the messengers that I sent to explore the north and the east. If you let me take hold here and if you will receive me with good will, I will be in accord with you and we shall divide the use of the pastures and of the water; but if you will refuse this adjustment, I will establish myself with you despite you. And then, when you will send your herds to graze on the grassland, you will find only what remains after our animals; and if you will like to drink at the well it will be measured for you by a vessel. If you will attempt to repel me by force, I will battle against you, and if I shall be the victor, I shall take your wives and kill your men; and these that may escape I shall forbid the approach to the sacred territory.”

These passages resemble another passage, in Numbers 20:14f. There is a similarity of situation, but not identity of events.

And Moses sent messengers from Kadesh unto the king of Edom, “Thus saith thy brother Israel, Thou knowest all the travail that hath befallen us . . . we have dwelt in Egypt a long time. The Lord . . . brought us forth out of Egypt: and behold, we are in Kadesh, a city in the uttermost of thy border. Let us pass, I pray thee, through thy country: we will not pass through the fields, or through the vineyards, neither will we drink of the water of the wells: we will go by the king’s high way, we will not turn to the right hand nor to the left, until we have passed thy borders.”

And Edom said unto him, “Thou shalt not pass by me, lest I come out against thee with the sword.”

And the children of Israel said unto him, “We will go by the high way: and if I and my cattle drink of thy water, then I will pay for it . . .”

And he said, “Thou shalt not go through.” And Edom came out against him with much people and with a strong hand.

Thus Edom refused to give Israel passage through his border.

The Hebrew record cites similar approaches to Moab and Ammon, also refused.

Of these two accounts, the Hebrew record relates to an episode near the end of the wandering of the tribes in the desert; the Arabian record relates to a moment during the wandering of some tribes and before the land of settlement was was explored by men sent on this errand. In one case the negotiation is about a temporary stay, and in the other case about passage. And still the correspondences are conspicuous, as they repeat the plight of the Israelites in the desert and their way of dealing with the tribes through whose land they had to pass.

Upon a cursory reading of the Arabian recollections it seems as if the tribes were looking for land for themselves towards the north or the east. It is true that mention is made of some men of the tribes sent to the north and east to look for a temporary settlement; but it is also recounted about another land of which an explorers’ report is awaited.

The spies were sent from the desert of Pharan (Numbers 13:3). The desert of Pharan according to the old Arabian sources, neglected by Biblical research, is in the mountainous area of Hedjaz.(17) The spies returned to Pharan into Kadesh and brought their report (Numbers 13:26).

The name Kadesh was given to many different places. Jerusalem was called Kadesh, as was Carchemish on the Orontes; there was a Kadesh in Galilee, Kadesh Naphtali, mentioned a few times in the Scriptures. The word means “sanctuary” and every venerated place was called Kadesh.

Difficulties were laid before the exegetes concerning the locality called Kadesh, a station on the wandering of the Israelites. Kadesh was at the beginning of the march, Kadesh was at its end: “And the space in which we came from Kadesh-barnea, until we were come over the brook Zered, was thirty and eight years.” (Deut. 2:14). Accordingly it was surmised that for 38 out of the 40 years of the wandering the tribes were settled in Kadesh. The reason for the long stay of the Israelites at Kadesh-barnea was in the existence there of sources of water, while in the desert most of the rare sources became bitter. At Mecca there are sources of water, considered sacred and many legends are preserved about them. These water springs, not destroyed in the catastrophe, were the main incentive for the Israelites to congregate there.

May it be that these were two different holy spots, both called Kadesh? In one place in the Bible Kadesh is said to be situated in the wilderness of Pharan, and another time in the wilderness of Zin. Sometimes Kadesh is called by a fuller name, Kadesh-barnea. This designation is not consistently applied.

The place in the desert is called in the Scriptures “a city” ( ). This caused surprise. Usually the place is looked for in the northern part of the Sinai desert, and since Kadesh-barnea has been located in , about 18 miles south of el-Arish on the Mediterranean coast. This place never played any important role in the subsequent history of the nation. If this or another place located inside the borders of the future Jewish Kingdom had been the scene of many events during the wandering in the desert, would it not have been venerated in later centuries? The place where the tabernacle stood, where the judgment court was established, where Miriam died and was buried, should have been marked if only by the slightest sign of national veneration, if at any time in history it was at the borders of Jewish land. But it was never in its boundaries.

In 1964, more than a score of years after I came to this conclusion, Bar Droma, the author of Negeb, independently brought arguments to show that Kadesh-barnea was Medain-Salib, formerly El-Hejr, about 450 km southeast of Petra.(18) As explained above, I identify Kadesh-barnea with Mecca.

The Hebrews wandered in the great desert, and not in the small one. Their way from Horma was at first southeastward. Correspondingly their camps moved: the eastern camp was the first, followed by the southern camp, and then the other two ( ). The southern camp was called “one that is turned to Yemen.” This description appears more proper for a camp which is in the Arabian peninsula rather than the Sinaitic triangle.

In the Arabian record we read that the tribes under Mozaikiya succeeded to enter Mecca and occupy it. The Djorhomites sent an army against Mozaikiya. The ensuing battle lasted for three days; both sides were courageous. It ended with the Djorhomites being put to a disorderly retreat, only a few of them escaping death.

Another author, al-Masudi, wrote that the Djorhomites had been expelled earlier by the children of Ismael:

The Lord sent against the Djorhomites swift clouds, ants, and other signs of his rage, and many of them perished. The children of Ismael, when grown in number, expelled the Djorhomites from Mecca. These established themselves near the land of Djohainah, where an sudden torrent drowned all of them in a single night. The theater of this catastrophe is known under the name Idam (Fury). Omeyah of the tribe Takif made an allusion to this event in a the following verse: “In the time of yore the Djorhomites took the ground at Tehamah and a furious current swept all of them away.” (19)

That an earthquake was the cause of the havoc is to be inferred from the already quoted passage of Masudi:

From el-Hadjoun up to Safa(20) all became desert; in Mecca the nights are silent, no voice of pleasant talks. We dwelt there, but in a most resounding night and in the most terrible of devastations we were destroyed.

Loud sounds often accompany an earthquake. Din and roaring became linguistic substitutes for the phenomenon itself. Mecca was abandoned by the Amalekites when, shortly before its occupation by the Israelites, it was shattered by earthquakes. This was the same catastrophe that ruined the Middle Kingdom of Egypt. The Amalekites moved toward Palestine and Egypt, and soon built their fortress-capital Avaris at el-Arish. The Israelites, who were unable to break through to Palestine from the south, reached the former capital of the Amalekites.

After occupying Mecca the conquerors allowed the Ismaelite tribes, which had not participated in the battle against them, to visit the sanctuary.



The tribes under Mozaikiya did not remain in Mecca. According to Masudi, after a number of years

They continued on their way and came to camp between the land of the Aharites and Akk, near a pool named Gassan, between two valleys called Zebid and Rima, and they drank the water of the pool.

In the book of Deuteronomy it is said (2:1,3): “We compassed Mount Seir many days . . . And the Lord spake . . . turn you northward.” They reached the border of Edom and Moab (Deuteronomy 2:10-13):

The Emim dwelt therein in times past . . . which also were accounted giants, as the Anakim; but the Moabites call them Emim. The Horim also dwelt in Seir before time; but the children of Esau succeeded them . . . And we went over the brook Zerid.

According to the book of Numbers (21:12-17):

From thence they removed [i.e., from the wilderness which is before Moab, toward the sunrising], and pitched in the valley of Zared. From thence they removed and pitched on the other side of Arnon . . . and at the stream of the brooks that goeth down to the dwelling of Ar, and lieth upon the border of Moab. And from thence to Beer [pool]: that is, the well whereof the Lord spake unto Moses, Gather the people together, and I will give them water. Then Israel sang this song, Spring up, O well; sing ye unto it . . .

Then follows the song rewritten by the redactor of Numbers from “The book of the wars of the Lord” (Numbers 21:14). The pool where the migrants camped and drank and exalted themselves in praise seems to be the same pool as that mentioned by Masudi. The Aharites and the Horites are quite surely the same. Akk would stand for Anak. The valley of Zebid accordingly would be named in the Hebrew sources the valley of Zered.

Let me finish the story of al-Masudi:

They halted in that land and established their domicile in the plain, on the heights, and at all the neighboring places. This mountainous area borders upon Syria, and divides it from Hedjaz, keeping close to the territory of Damascus, the province of Jordan and Palestine, and comes to an end at the mountain of Moses. The place designated here is that part of the Promised Land that was conquered in the days of Moses, according to the Scriptures.

The author of the tenth century of our era, bringing down the record he received in his time from old sources, did not suspect any affinity of this story with the story of Moses. Therefore he designated the Mount of Moses as the border in the conquest of the tribes under Mozaikiya, tribes which escaped from a deluge and came into the depth of the great desert, and departed from there into the land between Damascus and Mount Nebo.

The Arabian tradition tells that some parts of these tribes when in the desert departed from the main stock. A similar story is preserved in the Aggada. Until recently Hebrew sects were living in the desert among the Arabs.

Is the old Arabian tradition, handed down by the Islamic historians, an authentic story of the wandering of Israel in the desert? The material is dealt with quite differently in this pre-Islamic tradition from the way the Biblical legends are repeated in the Koran. So possibly, Moses and his tribes enjoy a double existence in the Arabic tradition.

One of these two stories knows but the segment of time from the flood at Marib up to the conquest of Transjordania. In both traditions the events are ascribed to a time separated from the epoch of the patriarchs by a few generations. In both accounts destructions occurred, plagues came in abundance, water sources vanished, and an earthquake destroyed human dwellings at night. Both ages were times of the migrations of tribes. In both accounts, due to famine and drought, the migrants followed clouds through the desert. A sudden flood—in which many troops perished, having been brought to migration by former plagues—happened in both sequences of events. The places of the last occurrence were at Idam, at Tehama in one account, and at Edom and Pi-Tehom in the other. In both cases some tribes escaped with their lives from the flood. These tribes were under the leadership of a ruler, his divine brother and sister (or a wife), all of them prophetically gifted. Their names and the name of their father are not dissimilar in the two accounts. They migrated with their treasuries and cattle; they sent spies to explore a land for their settlement; in peculiar espressions they asked local rulers permission for a temporary stay; they were ready to do battle in case they were refused; they had a temporary abode in some venerated places. They did not remain there but after a stay for a year or more departed. According to the Arabian story they marched through the land of the Ahorites and Akk and “came to a well” situtated “between two valleys” and “drank water of it.” The same information is given in the Hebrew story, except that the places are called “land of the Horites” and “Anak.” They conquered the land of the Jordan from Damascus to mount Nebo.

Are these two different renderings about different tribes that had similar experiences? Or two different stories of the same tribes and the same events?

Both took place at the time when the Amalekites (called by name in both accounts) left their paternal home and came to roam about. And, from what is said in the Scriptures about the desert (“all that great and terrible wilderness” ); and from the description of the way (along the Red Sea, around Mount Seir) and of the plain of their encampment; and because of the political stimuli to depart from the place of defeat; and because of the necessity of going though vast spaces away from the arid quarters—it may be concluded: the desert of wandering was the immense plateau of Arabia.

The pre-Islamic traditions of the wandering of the Tribes in the Wilderness, having been written down much later than the Hebrew text, cannot claim to be the better or more correct version; but they may cast light on many issues.


  1. Cited in Abu’l Faradj, Kitab-Alaghaniy (Book of Songs), transl. by F. Fresnel, in Journal Asiatique, 3rd series, Vol. VI (1838), p. 204.

  2. The Arab author remarked that the word toufan ordinarily means “deluge,” but he ascribes to it the sense of “death.” Evidently we have to reject his effort to change the meaning of the word. Fresnel changed the meaning of the word ghayth which, as he wrote, signifies primarily “rain” or “clouds,” into “pasture” ; he remarks himself that a mirage could not deceive a dweller of Arabia. The original meaning of ghayth, i.e., “clouds,” must be retained.

  3. See for instance the traditions collected by D. Reiske, De Arabum Epocha Vetustissima, Sail Ol Arem, etc. (Leipzig, 1748).

  4. Murudij el-Dhabab (Les Prairies d’or) (Paris, 1861-77), Vol. III, 366 ff. Masudi, historian and geographer, was born at Baghdad; he voyaged extensively during his life, visiting Ceylon and Madagascar. He lived in Egypt, where he died ca. 956.

  5. E. Glaser ed., Reise nach Marib ( ), p. 68.

  6. Hamza al-Ispaham estimated the time of the destruction at about 400 years before Islam, and Ibn Khaldun gave a less remote date of about 250 years before Islam; Yakut referred it to the period of Abyssinian rule, i.e., 542-570 A.D. Gosselini put the date at 374 B.C.E., Reiske 30-40 B.C.E., Shulters 30-40 A.D.—see The Encyclopaedia of Islam.

  7. Al-Masudi and Ibn Rosta speak of a first and a second devastation.

  8. Al-Masudi, Murudij al-Dhabab, III, 370.

  9. E. Glaser ed., “Zwei Inschriften ueber den Dammbruch von Marib,” p. 13f.

  10. The Encyclopaedia of Islam, s.v. “Marib.”

  11. Cf. references collected by E. M. Jomard in F. Mengin, Histoire sommaire de l’Egypte, (Paris, 1839), pp. 341-44.

  12. “According to other traditions, Marib was the name of a castle that belonged to these kings in a remote age” —Al-Masudi, Murudij al-Dhabab, p. 374.

  13. Masudi, Murudij al-Dhabab, Vol. III, pp. 374f. Cf. Nuwairi, Chap. IV. Kitab-alaghaniy called the prophetess of the tribe Tarikah and did not mention her relationship to the leader.

  14. L. Ginzberg, The Legends of the Jews (Philadelphia, 1911), p. 59.

  15. Ginzberg, Legends, III. 41-42. Cf. Philo, Moses I. 35; Josephus The Antiquities of the Jews III, 1. 3-5.

  16. Palestine Exploration Quarterly, July-December 1964. [In Deuteronomy (1:2) it is said that the distance between Mount Horeb and Kadesh-barnea, by way of Mount Seir, is eleven days. In antiquity a day of march was a unit of distance very close to 40 km. This would mean that Kadesh-barnea was not more than about 440 km from Mount Horeb. Assuming Mount Horeb to be located somewhere in the Sinai peninsula, the distance from there to Mecca is between 800 and 900 km. Possibly the biblical figure of eleven days of march should be understood as days and nights of march, in which case the distance would be ca. 880 km.]

  17. Masudi, Murudij al-Dhabab III, chap. XXXIX. Tehamah is the stretch of land along the Arabian coast of the Red Sea. The Aggada calls Pi ha-Khiroth by the name Pi-Tehom. The first means “abyss” ; the second “entrance to the abyss.” Idam may recall Edom on the borders of which the catastrophe of the Sea of Passage took place.

  18. Safa may recall the name Yam Suf (Sea of the Torrent). Also in this version we read about clouds, various plagues, and a sudden flood.