MOAB (Hebrew, ; LXX. Μωάβ; Assyrian, "Mu'aba," "Ma'ba," "Ma'ab"; Egyptian, "Muab"):

District and nation of Palestine. The etymology of the word is very uncertain. The earliest gloss is found in the Septuagint, Gen. xix. 37, which explains the name, in obvious allusion to the account of Moab's parentage, as ἐκ τοῦ πατρός μου. Other etymologies which have been proposed regard it asa corruption of = "seed of a father," or as a participial form from = "to desire," thus connoting "the desirable (land)." The latest explanation is by Hommel ("Verhandlungen des Zwölften Internationalen Orientalisten-Congresses," p. 261, Leyden, 1904), who regards "Moab" as an abbreviation of "Immo-ab" = "his mother is his father."

According to Gen. xix. 30-38, Moab was the son of Lot by his elder daughter, while Ammon was Moab's half-brother by a similar union of Lot with his younger child. The close ethnological affinity of Moab and Ammon which is thus attested (comp. also Judges iii. 13; II Chron. xx. 22; Isa. xi. 14; Jer. xxvi. 21) is confirmed by their subsequent history, while their kinship with the Hebrews is equally certain, and is borne out by the linguistic evidence of the Moabite Stone. They are also mentioned in close connection with the Amalekites (Judges iii. 13), the inhabitants of Mount Seir (II Chron. xx. 22; Ezek. xxv. 8), the Edomites (Ex. xv. 15; Ps. lx. 10 [A. V. 8]; Isa. xi. 14; Jer. xxv. 21), the Canaanites (Ex. xv. 15), the Sethites (Num. xxiv. 17), and the Philistines (Ps. lx. 10 [A. V. 8]; Isa. xi. 14).


Moab occupied a plateau about 3,000 feet above the level of the Mediterranean, or 4,300 feet above the Dead Sea, and rising gradually from north to south. It was bounded on the west by the Dead Sea and the southern section of the Jordan; on the east by Ammon and the Arabian desert, from which it was separated by low, rolling hills; and on the south by Edom. The northern boundary varied, but in general it may be said to have been represented by a line drawn some miles above the northern extremity of the Dead Sea. In Ezek. xxv. 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 Isa. xv.-xvi. and Jer. xlviii., where Heshbon, Elealeh, and Jazer are mentioned to the north of Beth-jeshimoth; Medeba, 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. The limestone hills which form the almost treeless plateau are generally steep but fertile. In the spring they are covered with grass; and the table-land itself produces grain. In the north are a number of long, deep ravines, and Mount Nebo, famous as the scene of the death of Moses (Deut. xxxiv. 1-8). The rainfall is fairly plentiful; and the climate, despite the hot summer, is cooler than that of western Palestine, snow falling frequently in winter and in spring. The plateau is dotted with hundreds of rude dolmens, menhirs, and stone-circles, and contains many ruined villages, mostly of the Roman and Byzantine periods. The land is now occupied chiefly by Bedouins, who render the district by no means the safest in Palestine.


At the time of the Hebrew invasion the Moabites seem to have been so powerful that conflict with them was avoided (Deut. ii. 9; Judges xi. 15; II Chron. xx. 10), although the Israelites defeated and slew Sihon, the Amorite king of Heshbon, who himself had conquered a former king of Moab (Num. xxi. 21-31; Deut. ii. 24-35). Moab, on the other hand, under its king Balak, meditated a resistance to the invaders which it dared not carry out (Num. xxii.-xxiv.; Deut. xxiii. 4; Judges xi. 25). After the conquest the Moabite territory was allotted to the tribe of Reuben (Josh. xiii. 15-21; comp. Num. xxxii. 37-38). The Moabites seem to have submitted to the control of the Hebrews for a time, until Eglon, King of Moab, with the help of the Ammonites and the Amalekites, succeeded in conquering them, and ruled over them eighteen years. At the end of this period a Benjamite named Ehud obtained access to Eglon and treacherously assassinated him, whereupon the Hebrews arose and slaughtered 10,000 Moabites (Judges iii. 12-30). A few years later Saul waged a war, apparently of little importance, against them and their allies (I Sam. xiv. 47). David also subdued them and made them tributary (II Sam. viii. 1-2, 11-12; I Chron. xviii. 2, 11), although it is noteworthy that even before this time a Moabite named Ithmah was one of his generals (I Chron. xi. 46).

After the death of Ahab the Moabites under Mesha rebelled against Jehoram, who allied himself with Jehoshaphat, King of Judah, and with the King of Edom. At the direction of Elisha the Israelites dug a series of ditches between themselves and the enemy, and during the night these channels were miraculously filled with water which was as red as blood. Deceived by the crimson color into the belief that their opponents had attacked one another, the Moabites became overconfident and were entrapped and utterly defeated at Ziz, near Engedi (II Kings iii.; II Chron. xx., which states that the Moabites and their allies, the Ammonites and the inhabitants of Mount Seir, mistook one another for the enemy, and so destroyed one another). According to Mesha's inscription on the Moabite Stone, however, he was completely victorious and regained all the territory of which Israel had deprived him. The battle of Ziz 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 (II Kings xiii. 20), and later aided Nebuchadnezzar in his expedition against Jehoiakim (ib. xxiv. 2).

Although allusions to Moab are frequent in the prophetical books (e.g., Isa. xxv. 10; Ezek. xxv. 8-11; Amos ii. 1-3; Zeph. ii. 8-11), and although two chapters of Isaiah (xv.-xvi.) and one of Jeremiah (xlviii.) are devoted to the "burden of Moab," they give little information about the land. Its prosperity and pride, which brought on the Moabites the wrath of Yhwh, are frequently mentioned (Isa. xvi. 6; Jer. xlviii. 11, 29; Zeph. ii. 10); and their contempt for Israel is once expressly noted (Jer. xlviii. 27). From this time Moab disappears as a nation; and in Neh. iv. 7 the Arabians instead of the Moabites are the allies of the Ammonites (comp. I Macc. ix. 32-42; Josephus, "Ant." xiii. 13, § 5; xiv. 1, § 4).


References to the religion of Moab are scanty. The Moabites were polytheists like the other early Semites; and they induced the Hebrew invaders to join in their sacrifices (Num. xxv. 2; Judges x. 6).Their chief god was Chemosh (Jer. xlviii. 7, 13), so that they are even called the "people of Chemosh" (Num. xxi. 29; Jer. xlviii. 46). At times, especially in dire peril, human sacrifices were offered to him, as by Mesha, who gave up his son and heir to him (II Kings iii. 27). Nevertheless, Solomon built, for this "abomination of Moab," on the hill before Jerusalem, a "high place" (I Kings xi. 7) which was not destroyed until the reign of Josiah (II Kings xxiii. 13). The Moabite Stone also mentions (line 17) a female counterpart of Chemosh, Ishtar-(or Ashtar-) Chemosh, and a god Nebo (line 14), the well-known Babylonian divinity, while the cult of Baal-peor (Num. xxv. 5; Ps. cvi. 28) or Peor (Num. xxxi. 16; Josh. xxii. 17) seems to have been marked by sensuality. Since the Moabites had opposed the invasion of Palestine, they, like the Ammonites, were excluded from the congregation unto the tenth generation (Deut. xxiii. 3-4; comp. Neh. xiii. 1-3). This law was violated during the Exile, however; and Ezra and Nehemiah sought to compel a return to the ancient custom of exclusion (Ezra ix. 1-2, 12; Neh. xiii. 23-25). The exilian usage had had royal sanction; the harem of Solomon included Moabite women (I Kings xi. 1). On the other hand, the fact that the marriages of the Beth-lehem-judah Ephrathites Chilion and Mahlon to the Moabite women Orpah and Ruth (Ruth i. 2-4), and the marriage of the latter, after her husband's death, to Boaz (ib. iv. 10, 13), who was the great-grandfather of David, are mentioned with no shade of reproach, shows that the law had fallen into abeyance at a comparatively early period and had become a mere priestly restriction.

In Assyrian and Babylonian Inscriptions.

In the Nimrud clay inscription of Tiglath-pileser the Moabite king Salmanu (perhaps the Shalman who sacked Beth-arbel [Hos. x. 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. Another Moabite king, Muẓuri ("the Egyptian" ?), is mentioned as one of the subject princes at the courts of Esar-had-don and Assurbanipal, while Kaasḥalta, possibly his successor, is named on cylinder B of Assurbanipal.

In the Egyptian inscriptions Moab is mentioned once, on the base of one of six colossal figures at Luxor, where Rameses II. (c. 1300 B.C.) includes "Mu'ab" in the list of his conquests. See Moabite Stone.

  • Tristram, The Land of Moab, London, 1874;
  • George Adam Smith, Historical Geography of the Holy Land, ib. 1897;
  • Clermont-Ganneau, Recueil d'Archéologie Orientale, ii. 185-234, Paris, 1889;
  • Baethgen, Beiträge zur Semitischen Religionsgeschichte, Berlin, 1888;
  • Smith, Rel. of Sem. Edinburgh, 1894.
J. L. H. G.
Images of pages