Medeba (Madaba), east of the Jordan River.
Site of the ancient Madaba Map of Israel (and especially Jerusalem)
Belonging to Israel, Ammonites, Moabites, Nabateans...

Section of Roman era street at Madaba


Madaba (alt. Madiyabah) in Jordan is the site of ancient Medeba recorded in Old Testament Scriptures (or Medaba of Josephus). It is located approximately 14 miles east of the north tip of the Dead Sea, 30 miles south-west of Amman in Jordan (ancient Rabbah of the Ammonites) and six miles from Mount Nebo. At the time of the Exodus, Moab controlled Medeba, yet had fallen to the Amorites; both who were subsequently defeating by Moses.

Numbers 21:29-30 Woe to you, O Moab! You are destroyed, O people of Chemosh! He has given up his sons as fugitives and his daughters as captives to Sihon king of the Amorites. 30 "But we have overthrown them; Heshbon is destroyed all the way to Dibon. We have demolished them as far as Nophah, which extends to Medeba." (NIV)

Following the conquests of Joshua, Medeba was part of the territory allocated to the tribe of Reuben.

Joshua 13:15-23 This is what Moses had given to the tribe of Reuben, clan by clan: 16 The territory from Aroer on the rim of the Arnon Gorge, and from the town in the middle of the gorge, and the whole plateau past Medeba 17 to Heshbon and all its towns on the plateau, including Dibon, Bamoth Baal, Beth Baal Meon, 18 Jahaz, Kedemoth, Mephaath, 19 Kiriathaim, Sibmah, Zereth Shahar on the hill in the valley, 20 Beth Peor, the slopes of Pisgah, and Beth Jeshimoth 21 -all the towns on the plateau and the entire realm of Sihon king of the Amorites, who ruled at Heshbon. Moses had defeated him and the Midianite chiefs, Evi, Rekem, Zur, Hur and Reba - princes allied with Sihon - who lived in that country. 22 In addition to those slain in battle, the Israelites had put to the sword Balaam son of Beor, who practiced divination. 23 The boundary of the Reubenites was the bank of the Jordan. These towns and their villages were the inheritance of the Reubenites, clan by clan. (NIV)

In reality Israel only controlled the area some of time, with the city having competing claims from Israel, the Ammonites and the Moabites. Medeba's role in the battle fought by David, or in David's name by Joab (1 Chronicles 19:7-14), is detailed in the article on Rabbah of the Ammonites. What is clear is that the Ammonites controlled the area at that time.

Moabite Stone or Mesha Stele
Discovered in 1868 and written in Moabite (similar to ancient Hebrew)

On the Moabite Stone (or Mesha Stele), the king of Moab (Mesha) claimed that he had taken control of Medeba, away from the Israelites who had reoccupied it in the time of Omri (ruled circa 885 B.C. - 873 B.C.)1. By Isaiah's day (8th century), Moab is said to have still controlled Medeba.

Isaiah 15:2 Dibon goes up to its temple, to its high places to weep; Moab wails over Nebo and Medeba. Every head is shaved and every beard cut off. (NIV)

The Moabites as a people were ultimately destroyed, though the region was still often referred to as the country of Moab (i.e. Josephus: Antiquities of the Jews 13.15.4). By the time of the inter-testament period (between Malachi and the Gospels), an unrelated Semitic tribe occupied Medeba. In the early Maccabean period, John the son of Mattathias was killed by the Jambri, from the tribe at Medeba. This led to retaliation by his family. Details of all this appear in 1 Maccabees and in the writings of Josephus...

1 Maccabees 9:35-42 And Jonathan sent his brother as leader of the multitude and begged the Nabateans, who were his friends, for permission to store with them the great amount of baggage which they had. 36 But the sons of Jambri from Medeba came out and seized John and all that he had, and departed with it. 37 After these things it was reported to Jonathan and Simon his brother, "The sons of Jambri are celebrating a great wedding, and are conducting the bride, a daughter of one of the great nobles of Canaan, from Nadabath with a large escort." 38 And they remembered the blood of John their brother, and went up and hid under cover of the mountain. 39 They raised their eyes and looked, and saw a tumultuous procession with much baggage; and the bridegroom came out with his friends and his brothers to meet them with tambourines and musicians and many weapons. 40 Then they rushed upon them from the ambush and began killing them. Many were wounded and fell, and the rest fled to the mountain; and they took all their goods. 41 Thus the wedding was turned into mourning and the voice of their musicians into a funeral dirge. 42 And when they had fully avenged the blood of their brother, they returned to the marshes of the Jordan. (RSV)

But when Jonathan knew that Bacchides was coming upon him, he sent his brother John, who was also called Gaddis, to the Nabatean Arabs, that he might lodge his baggage with them until the battle with Bacchides should be over, for they were the Jews' friends. And the sons of Ambri laid an ambush for John from the city Medaba, and seized upon him, and upon those that were with him, and plundered all that they had with them. They also slew John, and all his companions. However, they were sufficiently punished for what they now did by John's brethren, as we shall relate presently. (Josephus: Antiquities of the Jews 13.1.2)

About the same time one came to Jonathan, and to his brother Simon, and told them that the sons of Ambri were celebrating a marriage, and bringing the bride from the city Gabatha, who was the daughter of one of the illustrious men among the Arabians, and that the damsel was to be conducted with pomp, and splendor, and much riches: so Jonathan and Simon thinking this appeared to be the fittest time for them to avenge the death of their brother, and that they had forces sufficient for receiving satisfaction from them for his death, they made haste to Medaba, and lay in wait among the mountains for the coming of their enemies; and as soon as they saw them conducting the virgin, and her bridegroom, and such a great company of their friends with them as was to be expected at this wedding, they sallied out of their ambush, and slew them all, and took their ornaments, and all the prey that then followed them, and so returned, and received this satisfaction for their brother John from the sons of Ambri; for as well those sons themselves, as their friends, and wives, and children that followed them, perished, being in number about four hundred. (Josephus: Antiquities of the Jews 13.1.4)

John Hyrcanus later captured Medeba for Israel, from the Syrians, after a six-month siege.

But when [John] Hyrcanus heard of the death of Antiochus, he presently made an expedition against the cities of Syria, hoping to find them destitute of fighting men, and of such as were able to defend them. However, it was not till the sixth month that he took Medaba, and that not without the greatest distress of his army. (Josephus: Antiquities of the Jews 13.9.1)

At a still later time, to secure the help of the Nabateans, Hyrcanus II offered a series of cities and towns to their king, including Medeba. Once again, Medeba continued its tradition of changing hands.

Moreover, Hyrcanus [II] promised him [Aretas, Nabatean king of Arabia at Petra], that when he had been brought thither, and had received his kingdom, he would restore that country, and those twelve cities which his father Alexander had taken from the Arabians, which were these, Medaba, Naballo, Libias, Tharabasa, Agala, Athone, Zoar, Orone, Marissa, Rudda, Lussa, and Oruba. (Josephus: Antiquities of the Jews 14.1.4)

Medeba flourished as a Nabatean city during the Nabatean period east of the Jordan and in the subsequent Roman period (as part of the new province of Arabia). As Christianity spread throughout the Roman world, Medeba, too, became a bastion of Christianity. The city became the seat of a Christian bishop during the Byzantine era. Eusebius in his Onomasticon, written circa 330 A.D., lists the city. The bishop of Medeba was present as the Council of Chalcedon in 451 A.D. Medeba had at least 14 churches in the sixth century, showing how large the Christian community had become to support them. While many of the churches had finely crafted mosaic floors (fifth to seventh centuries), one features a map of the Bible lands, known as the Madaba Map.2 This is the oldest known map of the region, believed to have been completed in the 6th century (rediscovered in 1896). Medeba likely suffered in the Muslim invasions of the 7th century, but there is evidence that Christianity continued for a few more centuries. The city was subsequently abandoned.

Madaba map (click for larger view).
Note that the map orientation is East (top) - West (bottom), North (left) - South (right).
Jerusalem appears as a large walled city on lower left (see below)

Section of Madaba Map showing Jerusalem and area.
Another view highlighting Bethlehem is here

Madaba was resettled in modern times, in 1880, when 90 families of Christian Bedouins from Kerak obtained permission to occupy the ruins. An influx of Muslims beginning in the late 1940's has since tempered the Christian nature of the city. The modern city's location atop the ancient ruins has also restricted archeological excavations, most of which has focused on Byzantine ruins such as the churches.

Other ruins include what must have been a large ancient temple and three large cisterns. Some think that the presence of these ancient cisterns may have had something to do with the name Medeba, which means "quiet waters".

Section of Madaba Map showing Dead Sea, Jerusalem and more.

End Notes

From lines 7, 8 & 9 of the inscription on the Moabite Stone:

Line 7b: Now Omri had occupied all the land
Line 8: of Medeba. He had dwelled in it his days and half the days of his son, forty years. But Chemosh
Line 9a: restored it in my days.

The Madaba Map was originally about 77 feet x 20 feet (23 meters by 6 meters) and contained about two million pieces of colored stone. It was the floor of a Byzantine church built during the reign of emperor Justinian, circa 527-565 A.D. The mosaic depicted the eastern Mediterranean coast from Lebanon to the Delta in Egypt and inland as far as Petra, Amman, and Kerak. Sadly, more than two-thirds of it was destroyed by the construction of St. George's Orthodox Church in 1896. What remains shows the Delta area, the Sinai desert, and south-central Israel (including part of the Jordan River, the Dead Sea, and Jerusalem). The map has been beneficial in the study and identification of sites in Israel during the biblical and Byzantine periods. Some locations are not only named but also have brief descriptions of their significance during a given period. Of special significance is the plan of Jerusalem, which shows its streets, walls, gates, and churches including the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

St. George's Orthodox Church - home of the Madaba Map

The Madaba Map has an east orientation, with east as the top. No land bridge, or tongue of land, protrudes into the Dead Sea, perhaps reflecting that the water level in the Dead Sea was much higher at that time.

Inside St. George's Orthodox Church. Area with ropes around it, towards the front, has the Madaba Map on the floor.

Part of the Church of the Prophet Elias and the crypt of St. Elianos, late 6th century

Part of the Church of the Prophet Elias and the crypt of St. Elianos, late 6th century
Notice the elaborate mosaics and the peacock featured on it.
Inscriptions include an excerpt from Psalms 64.


Looking down into an ancient well opening to an underground cistern

The largely concealed service entrance into the underground cistern

Inside the water cistern (having crawled through the service entrance. see previous photo)
Its design is Roman and similar to others found in the Bible Lands, including Jerusalem.


The Church of the Virgin was built above the hall of a Byzantine mansion of the sixth century A.D.
Ruins of the church and mansion -- also called the Hippolytus Hall

Posted sign describing the Hippolytus Hall

Mosaic of the Greek tragedy from the Hippolytus Hall

Close up of mosaic shown in previous panel - enhanced contrast and color.

Mosaic from the Church of the Virgin

Storerooms below the Church and Hall.

A mosaic on display at Madaba, from nearby Ma'in (likely Moabite Ba'al Ma'on).
Circa 719/720 A.D., this shows the damage done by the Iconoclasts, who believed all images of people
and animals to be idolatrous, so they disfigured them with patterns or plants.


The floor of the ancient Church of the Apostles, all ornately covered with Mosaics.

Mosaic from Church of the Apostles

Mosaic from Church of the Apostles. Many featured animals and plants from the region

Mosaic from Church of the Apostles. Wild Boar.

Mosaic from Church of the Apostles. Ibex (see actual still living at En Gedi).

Side rooms at Church of the Apostles. Note water basin in floor on right by the modern pillar.

Another mosaic from Church of the Apostles. Donkeys.


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