In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Archaeology and Material Culture of Moab and the Moabites

  • Introduction
  • Overviews and Syntheses
  • Epigraphic Evidence
  • Archaeological Landscape Surveys
  • Iron Age I Period Settlements
  • Iron Age II and Iron Age III Period Settlements
  • Economy
  • Religion and Ritual
  • Mortuary Practices
  • Art and Architecture
  • Ceramic Vessels

Biblical Studies Archaeology and Material Culture of Moab and the Moabites
Benjamin Porter
  • LAST REVIEWED: 04 January 2024
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 May 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393361-0265


Moab was both a culture area and an Iron Age kingdom located in the west-central half of the modern Middle Eastern country of Jordan. Moab is mentioned frequently in the Hebrew Bible and was often in contact with its Israelite neighbors. Scholars have used the biblical text to reconstruct Moab’s history and society despite the original authors’ and editors’ skewed perspectives on the kingdom. Moab has been the subject of archaeological research since the latter third of the nineteenth century. Landscape surveys have identified many large and small settlements across the region while excavations at key settlements have documented public and private architecture, and recovered art and epigraphic evidence. This research has been reported over many decades in archaeological and landscape survey reports, and the evidence has been frequently summarized in scholarly syntheses. Moab’s development occurred in three phases. During the Iron I period, a collection of small settlements was founded at the end of the second millennium BCE. These semi-autonomous settlements organized their household and communal agro-pastoral subsistence economies at local levels. The point at which these settlements began to be integrated into a political polity likely occurred in the late tenth or early ninth century, the beginning of the Iron II period. The Mesha Inscription, a royal inscription of one of Moab’s earlier kings, describes how he increased his territory, established a new capital and cult center at Dhiban, and incorporated new populations within an expanded kingdom. The Mesopotamian empire of Assyria began to intervene in Moab’s and its neighbors’ affairs starting in the mid-eighth century, commencing the Iron III period. Soon after, Moab’s agro-pastoralist economy and textile industries intensified, a change likely brought on by producers responding to new international markets and Assyria’s demand for taxes and tribute. Currently, very little is known about Moab in the final centuries of the Iron Age, the sixth through fourth centuries BCE. Permanent settlement activity decreased during these centuries, possibly due to a combination of population deportations and the return to semi-sedentary and nomadic settlement practices. Readers should note that transliterations of ancient and Arabic place names have shifted over the course of modern scholarship. Some titles may preserve older variants that contrast with the now updated versions.

Overviews and Syntheses

Routledge 2004 provides a substantive treatment of Moab’s development. Porter 2023, Steiner 2014, and Gass 2009 are overviews specific to Moab. Bienkowski 1992, Petter 2014, and Porter 2013 investigate the Iron Age I period before the kingdom’s establishment. See Finkelstein and Lipschits 2011 for an alternative reconstruction. Vera Chamaza 2005 focuses on Moab’s relationship with Assyria during the Iron III period. Van Zyl 1960, although groundbreaking when published, is now a dated publication that nevertheless should be consulted.

  • Bienkowski, Piotr, ed. Early Edom and Moab: The Beginning of the Iron Age in Southern Jordan. Sheffield, UK: J. R. Collis, 1992.

    An edited volume of studies investigating Moab’s and its southern neighbor Edom’s earliest centuries in light of archaeological evidence and written sources. See chapters 6 through 9 for specific studies on Moab.

  • Finkelstein, Israel, and Oded Lipschits. “The Genesis of Moab: A Proposal.” Levant 43.2 (2011): 139–152.

    DOI: 10.1179/175638011X13112549593005

    The authors argue for an Iron Age I Moabite kingdom south of the Wadi al-Mujib. This historical reconstruction contrasts with the more widely held interpretation that the region consisted of networks of semi-autonomous villages organized around resource zones (e.g., Porter 2013, Routledge 2004).

  • Gass, Erasmus. Die Moabiter – Geschichte und Kultur eines ostjordanischen Volkes im 1. Jahrtausend v. Chr. Wiesbaden, Germany: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2009.

    This book is a well-organized catalog of evidence supporting Moab’s development. Epigraphic evidence excavated from Moabite settlements is presented alongside Egyptian, Assyrian, and biblical sources on Moab. Surveyed and/or excavated settlements are also cataloged for the sake of interpreting changing political and economic trends.

  • Petter, Thomas. The Land between the Two Rivers: Early Israelite Identities in Central Transjordan. Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2014.

    DOI: 10.1515/9781575068756

    This book examines biblical sources and archaeological evidence to identify historical events and actors during the late second millennium BCE. Argues that the region of Madaba was a frontier zone in which Israelite and Amorite tribal groups contested for territory.

  • Porter, Benjamin. Complex Communities: The Archaeology of Early Iron Age West-Central Jordan. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2013.

    This book examines the archaeological and historical evidence for Iron Age I Moab. Argues that Moab’s earliest settlements were semi-autonomous communities with only a limited amount of regional political and economic organization. Also examines economic organization in Moab’s eastern semi-arid marginal zones. Archaeological evidence summarized in chapters 4 and 5.

  • Porter, Benjamin. “The Invention of Moab.” In The Ancient Israelite World. Edited by Kyle H. Keimer and George A. Pierce, 619–638. Abingdon, UK, and New York: Routledge, 2023.

    This chapter reviews the archaeological and historical evidence for Moab. The author examines how ancient authors crafted visions of Moab in their writings to suite their political, religious, and literary priorities. Modern scholars have often uncritically accepted these depictions as historically reliable sources.

  • Routledge, Bruce. Moab in the Iron Age: Hegemony, Polity, Archaeology. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004.

    This book is a critical review of Moab’s development from the Middle Bronze Age to the end of the Iron Age. The author uses Antonio Gramsci’s notion of hegemony to demonstrate how Moab’s kings integrated the region’s tribes within a single ethnic and territorial identity during the early ninth century BCE (chapters 6 and 7). The book examines Moab’s role in the Bible, and Moab under the Assyrian and Babylonian Empires.

  • Steiner, Margreet. “Moab during the Iron Age II Period.” In The Oxford Handbook of the Archaeology of the Levant: c. 8000–332 BCE. Edited by Margreet Steiner and Ann E. Killebrew, 770–781. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014.

    A basic introduction to Iron II Moab emphasizing settlement patterns, mortuary practices, and religion.

  • Vera Chamaza, Galo. Die Rolle Moabs in der neuassyrischen Expansionspolitik. Münster, Germany: Ugarit Verlag, 2005.

    A methodical treatment of Moab’s relationship with Assyria during their imperial expansion into the Levant. Chapter 4 describes Moab’s relationship with each specific Assyrian king, from Tiglath-Pileser III to Assurbanipal. Appendix 1 transliterates and translates sixteen cuneiform texts that contain information about Moab.

  • van Zyl, A. H. The Moabites. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1960.

    A classic overview of Moabite history and archaeology based on information accumulated in the mid-twentieth century. Synthesis leans heavily on the interpretation of Iron Age chronology and settlement patterns in Nelson Glueck, The Other Side of the Jordan (New Haven, CT: American Schools of Oriental Research, 1940), much of which is now considered incorrect. Although now dated, the book offers several important connections between the Hebrew Bible and Moab’s history. See index for list of biblical passages relevant to Moab.

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