Mount Seir of Deutr. 1:2 is Gebel Esh-Sha`ira and the Hill Country of Judaea?

Walter Reinhold Warttig Mattfeld y de la Torre, M.A. Ed.

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03 September 2001 (Revisions through 09 August 2008)

08 Oct. 2003 Update: Warning this article has been superceded by my new article of 26 September 2003 identifying the location of Kadesh Barnea as being Tel Masos, NOT Ain el Qudeirat,  and that  "the Hill Country of Seir" is referring to the Judaean Hill Country north of Wadi Beersheba and Arad, seized by Edom ca. 586 B.C. after Judah's Exile to Babylon. I argue that the Exodus' geographical setting is that of the Exile, ca. 586-562 B.C. Please click on the following blue titled article with underlining for the new research, and the in-depth argumentation:
Kadesh Barnea is  Tell Masos, NOT Ain el Qudeirat (Which is Hazar Addar)?

Click here for my Exodus Route map and Seir being the Judaean Hill Country.

"It is eleven days' journey from Horeb by the way of Mount Seir to Kadesh-barnea." (RSV)

Kraeling found this verse didn't make any sense if Mount Seir on the east side of the Arabah valley was intended:


"The direct trip from the traditional Sinai to the neighborhood of Kadesh suits that specification very well, for Seetzen's journey took about the same time. Some difficulty, however, is caused by the qualification that the journey is "by way of Mount Seir." If Mount Seir in this verse had its usual meaning of the high Edomite country northeast of the Gulf of Aqabah, then a journey from Jebel Musa to Kadesh by that route would involve useless and arduous ascents, and could not be accomplished in the stated time. Nor would the latter suffice if the words "by way of Mount Seir" merely meant going up the Arabah, at the foot of the Edomite mountains. One explanation of this difficulty is to suppose "Mount Seir" is used here in an imprecise manner. After the Edomites were driven from their homeland, the term "Mount Seir" and "Edom" seem to have been occasionally applied to the Negeb region west of the el`Arabah (cf. Deut. 1:44; Josh 11:17; 12:7; I Chron 4:42-43)."

(pp.115-116 "The Wilderness Sojourn,"  Emil G. Kraeling. Rand McNally Bible Atlas. New York. Rand McNally & Co., 1966)

The late Israeli bible scholar and Rabbi Nelson Glueck on the Exilic narrator siting Edom/Seir in the Negev (emphasis mine):

"The possibility that Edomite power once extended into parts of southern Palestine and of Sinai is suggested by a number of Old Testament verses which definitly locate Edom-Seir on the westside of the Arabah. All these verses (De 1:2,44; 33:1; Josh11:17, 12:7; 1 Chron 4:42; Judges 5:4; Habb 3:3) however, in their present form must be dated to the exilic period or later. They reflect the Idumaean settlement in southern Palestine which the author of De 23:8 probably had in mind..."

(p. 436. Nelson Glueck. "Transjordan-Edom." D. Winton Thomas. Editor. Archaeology and Old Testament Study. Oxford University Press.1967)

Burton MacDonald on Seir/Edom extending into the Negev, west of the Arabah:

"Some scholars restrict the land of Edom to the territory between Wadi el Hasa in the north and Wadi Hisma in the South, and Wadi `Arabah on the West and the desert on the East (Glueck 1970: 161-67; Aharoni LBHG, 40) Others extend the territory West of the Arabah (Eod-Avd 1963:622; Cohen 1962:25; Is 1971:370-71). The second position appears to be more consistent with the biblical data which describe the North border of Edom as extending from the Dead Sea southward to the ascent of Akrabbim to Zin and Kadesh Barnea (Nu 34:3-4; cf. Josh 15:1-3)."

(p. 295. Vol 2. Burton MacDonald. "Archaeology of Edom." David Noel Freedman. Editor.
The Anchor Bible Dictionary. Doubleday. New York. 1992)

I understand that the "way to Mount Seir" (De 1:2) was via the Darb esh-Shaira, a mount west of the modern Israeli port of Elat, but that the "end-destination" was the Judaean Hill Country called Seir, a place from which Israel was routed all the way to Hormah (De 1:44).

De 1:44-46 RSV

"Then the Amorites who lived in that Hill Country came out against you and chased you as bees do and beat you down in Seir as far as Hormah...So you remained at Kadesh many days..."

Thus, for me the Exodus is a composition of the Exile, ca. 562-560 B.C. The Judaean Hill Country had been known as "Edom/Seir" (Hellenistic Greek: Idumaea) by the Exilic audience since its capture and occupation by Edom ca. 587 B.C. with the Babylonian Captivity, for over 20 years! I would further suggest that Seir/Edom's _south border_ is being described, NOT its "north" border. The south border being Wadi Beersheba and Kadesh-Barnea being Tel Masos on this Wadi. Tel Masos is the BIGGEST Iron IA site in the Negev and one of the oldest, ca. 1220-1150 B.C. according to Kempinsky, its excavator. Most scholars assume that Kadesh Barnea is the Tell near Ain el Qudeirat. The problem? It is no earlier than Iron II and the 10/9th century B.C. It has NO Iron IA pottery debris anywhere in the vicinity. I have argued that Ain el Qudeirat is biblical Hazar Addar which appears in Judah's south border.

I suspect Mount Seir, which is encountered enroute between Mount Horeb (Mt. Sinai) and Kadesh-barnea is modern-day Gebel Esh-Sha`ira, which lies to west of the track ascending northward from Mt. Sinai, past the head of the Gulf of Aqabah, eventually taking one to the vicinty of Ain Qadeis (Kadesh for some scholars) and Ain Quseima (biblical Azmon, called Kesam in the Targum). Esh-Sha`ira lies approximately 30 miles due west of the modern port of Elat and it is a prominent landmark, being the last mountain encountered before entering and crossing the great drainage system of the  Nahal Paran which is bounded on the north by the mountainous ridge forming ancient Israel's southern border, descending from the Dead Sea (cf. grid 42C, for Gebel Esh-Sha`ira, "Israel Touring Map," 1:250,000 Southern Sheet, Survey of Israel, Jerusalem, 1977)

Ze`ev Meshel notes that the Darb es-Sha`ira, passing the western lower slopes of Gebel esh-Sha`ira has been identified as Dueteronomy 1:2's Mount Seir.


"Thus Z. Ilan, too, makes the original proposal to identify "the way of Mount Seir" with the Darb esh-Sha`ira which passes the foot of Gebel esh-Sha`ira (South of Thamad) and links the area of Wadi Watir and southern Sinai with Thamad. This proposal was accepted by Aharoni (Aharoni, Avi-Yonah 1977; map 10)."

(p.103,  "The History of Darb Ghaza- The Ancient Road to Eilat and Southern Sinai,"  Ze`ev Meshel. Sinai, Excavations and Studies. Oxford. Archaeopress. 2000. ISBN  1-84171-077-6  pbk  161pp)

Its just possble that Mount Seir is a "late"  Exilic rendering for the Hebron Hill Country. I have posited that the Primary History (Genesis-2 Kings) was written by one author ca. 560 B.C. in the Exile.  If I am correct, then the Hebron Hill Country had been in Edomite hands for approximately 26 years when this account was written and the narrator was presenting the history of the nation in terms his current audience of 560 B.C. would understand, that is to say that Seir in 560 B.C. is the former Judaean Hill Country. He "waffles" at times and remembers that Seir was originally to the east of the Arabah valley, south of the Dead Sea.  This would explain why he has a fearful Jacob returning home from Mesopotamia to the old homeland of his father (Beersheba, Hebron, etc.), but encountering Esau who comes from "Seir" to greet his brother. It makes no sense for Jacob to be heading from Haran to Seir and encountering Esau on the east side of the Arabah when his destination is the Hill Country and Negev (Hebron and Beersheba) south of Jerusalem.

This would explain the strange statement that Israel was "beaten down _in_ Sei" by the Amorites when she attempted to invade the Hebron Hill country from Kadesh Barnea
(Ge 33:14,16 De 1:2, 44  Josh 11:17).

"...until I come to my lord in Seir." (Ge 33:14)

"So Esau returned that day on his way to Seir." (Ge 33:16)

"It is eleven days' journey from Horeb by the way of Mount Seir to Kadesh-barnea." (De 1:2)

"Then the Amorites who lived in that hill country came out against you and chased you as bees do and beat you down in Seir as far as Hormah." (De 1:44)

"So Joshua took all that land, the hill country and all the Negeb and all the land of Goshen and the lowland of the Arabah and the hill country of Israel and its lowland from Mount Halak that rises toward Seir, as far as Baal-gad in the valley of Lebanon below Mount Hermon." (Josh 11:16-17)

I understand that Mount Halak is Gebel Haleqim, modern Israeli  Har Haluqim, near Sede Boqer (cf. Alois Musil. 1907. Karte von Petraea Arabia. Vienna. 1:300,000).

Alternately, there could be "multiple" Seirs.  The Mount Seir of De 1:2 might be Gebel es-Sha'ira while Seir could be another name for Edom/Idumaea, extending from Kadesh-barnea to Hebron? Thus Kadesh-barnea is said to lie "in" Edom's border, and Edom is alternately called Seir.

"Moses sent messengers from Kadesh to the king of we are in Kadesh, a city on the edge of your territory." (Nu 20:14-16)

It just may be, that I am in error (above) in understanding that Seir, as applied to the Judaean Hill Country in the Exodus narratives is a late Exilic marker of ca. 562-560 B.C. The toponymn might be as early as the Late Bronze Age and the Amarna Era (14th century B.C.), or possibly the Late Bronze/Iron IA and the Ramesside Era (cf. below):

Kitchen on Edom and Seir and its appearance in Egyptian records of the Ramesside period:

"More important are the explicit references to Moab and Seir/Edom from Ramesses II through to Ramesses III and later...Ramesses II twice describes himself as one 'who plunders the mountain of Seir with his valiant arm'; in context, Shasu is used in parallel phrases. On another stela from Tell er-Retabeh (east Delta), he plunders their [=the Shasu's] (mountain) ridges, slaying their people and building towns (dmi) bearing his name'. The location of this Shasu (not paralleled by Seir) remains uncertain. But the mountain of Seir is already a fixed expression, reminiscent of the Hebrew phrase Mount Seir. What we learn from this is limited but of some value, namely that Seir was hilly (as in Hebrew sources), and that in the 13th century B.C. it was worth Ramesses II either raiding it or claiming it as subdued.

Some 60 or more years later, in the 8th year of Merneptah, c. 1206 B.C., the term Edom appears for the first time. Papyrus Anastasi VI contains the following well-known report (lines 51-61):

"We have finished with allowing the Shasu clansfolk of Edom to pass the fort of Merenptah that is in Succoth [Tjeku], to the pools [brkt] of Pi-Tum of Merenptah that (is/are) in Succoth, to keep them alive and to keep alive their livestock..." (text, Gardiner 1937:76-77; translations, e.g. ANET:259; with notes, Caminos 1954:293)

The picture is one of pastoralists with their livestock, which agrees well with the next item in the dosssier. That in turn comes from the reign of Ramesses III (c. 1184-1153 B.C.). Between accounts of his conflicts with the Sea Peoples and with the Libyans (also attested on the walls of his temple at Medinet Habu), there appears the following passage (Papyrus Harris I, 76:9-11) :

"I destroyed the Seirites, the clans of the Shasu, I pillaged their tents [using the West Semitic term 'ohel], with their people, their property, and their livestock likewise, without limit... (text, Erichsen 1933:93; translation, e.g. ANET:262:I; cf. Grdseloff 1947:87-88).

This is entirely consistent with the pastoralists of Merenpath's time, and the raid on Seir by Ramesses III (an action repeating the claim of Rameses II) may have been linked with Egyptian mining interests in Timna in both reigns, and the security of those interests. Clearly, Seir/Edom was not just a deserted wilderness in the Late Bronze/Iron Age transitional period- there were enough people here to concern Egyptian official interests, and the lifestyle was (at least in part) pastoral and (with tents) at least semi-nomadic. The consequent scarcity of tangible physical remains in the archaeological record is, therefore not surprising; cf. above on the tented kingdoms of the Old Babylonian period. Moab, and especially Edom, should be considered mainly 'tented kingdoms', likewise, in at any rate the 13th to perhaps the 9th centruies BC, as a result."

(p. 27. Kenneth A. Kitchen. "The Egyptian Evidence on Ancient Jordan." pp. 21-34. Piotr Bienkowski. Editor. Early Edom and Moab, the Beginning of the Iron Age in Southern Jordan. 1992. Sheffield Archaeological Monographs # 7. J.R. Collis Publications, in association with National Museums and Galleries on Merseyside. ISBN 0-906090-45-8)

Iron IA sherds (ca. 1220-1100 B.C.) are documented for the northern Negev at Tel Masos (west of Arad) as well as northwestern Edom and the vicinity of Khirbet el-Nahas (cf. Burton MacDonald on the Wadi el-Hasa Surveys for Edom). MacDonald reported Nahas had Iron IA sherd scatters, and evidence of smelting activities. Knauf noted that the Iron IA pottery from Nahas appeared similar in form to that found at Iron IA Tel Masos, and suggested that Egyptian founded Tel Masos controlled the exploitation of ALL copper reserves in Wadi Arabah, Nahas as well as Timna in the southern Arabah.

The Exodus narratives suggest that Israel upon striking their tents in the southern Sinai is headed for the Hill Country of the Amorites, which I identify with the Judaean Hill country north of Arad and including Hebron. We are informed that the Amorites of that Hill Country defeated Israel _IN SEIR_ and routed her to Hormah. Perhaps the Seir of Ramesses II account is the Seir Hill Country of the Exodus account? If so, then Ramesses II's boast that he not only defeated the Seirites but that he also founded towns (dmi) might be an allusion to the founding of Iron IA Tel Masos and Yattir? I know of NO Iron IA towns in Edom, on the eastside of the Arabah, possessing Egyptian residences like Tel Masos. I wonder, could Hebrew Esau be a form of Egyptian Shasu?

The 14th century B.C. loyal Egyptian-appointed mayor of Jerusalem, `Abdi-Heba, mentioned a "land of Sheru," that had become Habiru/Apiru, to Pharaoh Akhenaten. Is it possible that Seir, if Sheru, as applied to the Judaean Hill Country about Arad and Hebron is "pre-exilic"?

"I am at war as far as the land of Sheru and as far as Ginti-kirmil. All the mayors are at peace, but I am at war...the `Apiru have taken the very cities of the king. Not a single mayor remains to the king, my lord; all are lost."
(p. 331. EA 288. "Begnign Neglect." William L. Moran. The Amarna Letters. 1978, 1992. Johns Hopkins University Press. Baltimore, Maryland)

I note some locations in the Judaean Hill Country that seem to have retained topynyms resembling the word Seir on the Palestine Exploration Fund map of ca. 1878 (London. Scale 1:64,000). These locations all appear in the Hill Country southwest of Hebron:

Khurbet Sirreh and Ras Sirreh to the west of the main track to Hebron from Beersheba via edh-Dhariyeh (PEF sheet XXI grid X-J and sheet XXV grid J), also Umm es-Seir, an elevation south of Khurbet `Attir and north of Wady el Habur (PEF sheet XXV grid JK-YZ); Mughair Umm Sirah, an elevation on the west side of Wady `Attir and the track ascending to edh-Dhariyeh (PEF sheet XXV, grid JK-YZ).

If I am correct in proposing that Tel Masos is Kadesh Barnea because it possesses Iron IA debris and it is near the Hill Country (Ain el Qudeirat , believed by most scholars to be Kadesh Barnea, NOT being earlier than Iron II, and some 100 kilometers from the Hill Country or 60 miles, a three day march), could Israel have been envisioned as "hiding" behind the Hill Country spur called today Hare Ira, and, circling this spur, marched up into the Hill Country and at the base of these Hills, at either Mughair Umm Sirah or Umm es-Seir, tracks heading eventually to Hebron, was routed to Hormah, possibly Khurbet Horah, northeast of Beersheba/Tell es-Seba (PEF sheet XXIV grid J-Z)?

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