A tribe of Palestine, mentioned in the time of Abraham as possessing a part of the promised land (Gen. xv. 19). At the Exodus it inhabited the vicinity of Sinai and Horeb; and to it belonged Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses (Judges i. 16). In Ex. iii. 1 Jethro is said to have been "priest of Midian" and a Midianite (Num. iv. 29); hence the conclusion seems justified that the Midianites and Kenites are identical. The Kenites journeyed with the Israelites to Palestine (Judges i. 16); and their encampment, apart from the latter's, was noticed by Balaam (Num. xxiv. 21-22).
At a later period some of the Kenites separated from their brethren in the south, and went to northern Palestine (Judges iv. 11), where they existed in the time of Saul. The kindness which they had shown to Israel in the wilderness was gratefully remembered. "Ye showed kindness to all the children of Israel, when they came up out of Egypt," said Saul to them (I Sam. xv. 6); and so not only were they spared by him, but David allowed them to share in the spoil that he took from the Amalekites (ib. xxx. 29).
According to the critical interpretation of the Biblical data, the Kenites were a clan settled on the southern border of Judah, originally more advanced in arts than the Hebrews, and from whom the latter learned much. In the time of David the Kenites were finally incorporated into the tribe of Judah (I Sam. xxx. 29; comp. ib. xxvii. 10). Their eponymous ancestor was Cain (Kain), to whose descendants J in Gen. iv. attributes the invention of the art of working bronze and iron, the use of instruments of music, etc. Sayce has inferred (in Hastings, "Dict. Bible," s.v.) that the Kenites were a tribe of smiths—a view to which J's statements would lend support.
Jethro, priest of Midian, and father-in-law of Moses, is said (Judges i. 16) to have been a Kenite.This indicates that the Kenites originally formed part of the Midianite tribe or tribes. In Ex. xviii. 12 et seq., according to E, Jethro initiates Moses and Aaron into the worship of
The Kenites, then, were a nomadic tribe, more advanced in the arts of life than Israel. Their habitat, according to the first Biblical reference to them, was in the Sinaitic peninsula (unless Horeb is to be sought in Edom), and a part of them, viz., Jethro and his family (Num. x. 29-32; Judges l.c.), migrated with the Israelites to the neighborhood of Jericho, afterward settled in the south of Judah, and were finally absorbed by that tribe.
- Stade, Geschichte des Volkes Israel, i. 126 et seq., Berlin, 1889;
- Moore, Judges, in International Critical Commentary, pp. 51-55, New York, 1895;
- Budde, Religion of Israel to the Exile, pp. 17-38, New York;
- Barton, Semitic Origins, pp. 271-278, ib. 1902.