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Archaeology in Israel: Kadesh

Kadesh is the name of several places in Biblical Israel to which a sacred character is attributed.


An important oasis situated on the southern border of Canaan (Num. 34:4; Josh. 15:3; Ezek. 47:19; 48:28) in the wilderness of Zin (Num. 20:1; 27:14; 33:36; Deut. 32:51) – part of the wilderness of Paran (Num. 20:16) – at a distance of an eleven days' journey from Mt. Horeb (Deut. 1:2). Kadesh is alternatively called En-Mishpat ("spring of judgment"; Gen. 14:7) and the "waters of Meribah" ("strife," Num. 20:13, 24; 27:14; Deut. 32:51), names which indicate its special role as a sacred place of judgment and assembly for the desert tribes.

Kadesh-Barnea appears in the stories of Abraham (Gen. 16:14; 20:1) and in the description of the expedition of Chedorlaomer and his allies; Kadesh-Barnea, here called En-Mishpat, is said to have been inhabited by Amalekites (Gen. 14:7). During the Exodus it served as an assembly point for the Israelite tribes in the desert (Deut. 1:46). Some scholars regard it as the first amphictyonic center of the Israelites. From Kadesh-Barnea spies were sent to explore Canaan (Num. 13:26); the attempt was made to penetrate into Canaan which was prevented by Arad and Hormah (Num. 14:40–45; 21:1; 33:36–40); messengers were sent to the king of Edom; and from here the Israelites started out on their eastward march to Transjordan (Num. 20:14ff.; 33:36ff.; Deut. 1:46ff.; Judg. 11:16ff.). Biblical tradition associates Kadesh-Barnea with the family of Moses in particular: here Moses drew water abundantly from the rock; here he and Aaron were punished for their lack of faith by being denied entrance into the land of Canaan (Num. 20:2ff.); here his sister Miriam died and was buried (Num. 20:1); and Aaron died nearby at mount Hor (Num. 20:22–29; 33:37–39). Kadesh-Barnea has been identified with the group of springs 46 mi. (75 km.) south of Beer-Sheba and 15 mi. (25 km.) south of Niẓẓanah. The name is preserved at the southernmost spring ʿAyn Qudays, but ʿAyn al-Qudayrāt to the north of it is of much greater importance being a rich spring which waters a fertile plain. In its vicinity a large fortress from the time of the Judahite kings was discovered. Most scholars therefore identify Kadesh-Barnea with the larger spring; the entire group of springs may have originally been called Kadesh-Barnea and the name survived at the southern one despite its lesser importance. During the Sinai campaign a large Israelite fortress was discovered also above ʿAyn Qudays as well as numerous remains in the whole region from the Middle Bronze I (c. 2000 B.C.E.) and Israelite periods.

Large-scale excavations in 1976 and 1982 uncovered three superimposed fortresses on the site. The first was dated to the 11th century, the second to around the time of Hezekiah and measured 65 ft. × 195 ft. (20 × 60 m.) with six rectangular towers and a moat and glacis on three sides, and the third to the seventh century, probably destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar. Inscriptions indicate that the inhabitants of the fortress probably spoke Hebrew.

Kadesh in Galilee

One of the principal cities in Upper Galilee in the Canaanite and Israelite periods. In the opinion of some scholars, it is mentioned in the list of cities conquered by Thutmosis III (c. 1468 B.C.E.) and depicted on a relief of Seti I (c. 1300 B.C.E.); others, however, argue that these references are to Kadesh on the Orontes. In the Bible, "Kedesh in Galilee in the hill country of Naphtali" appears in the list of defeated Canaanite kings (Josh. 12:22), as a city of refuge (Josh. 20:7) and a levitical city (Josh. 21:32; I Chron. 6:61), and as one of the fortified cities of the tribe of Naphtali (Josh. 19:37). It was conquered by Tiglath-Pileser III in his expedition in 733/2 B.C.E. (II Kings 15:29) but continued to exist in the Second Temple period eventually becoming a Hellenistic city in the territory of Tyre. Near Kedesh, Jonathan the Hasmonean defeated the army of Demetrius II (I Macc. 11:63–73; Jos., Ant. 13:154). It is identified with Tell Qadis, a large tell overlooking the fertile plateau west of the Ḥuleh, and containing remains and fortifications from the Canaanite, Israelite, and later periods. A Roman temple was partially excavated in 1981–84, dedicated under Hadrian in 117/8 C.E.


The birthplace of Barak, son of Abinoam, located in Galilee in the territory of the tribe of Naphtali (Judg. 4:6, 9–11). It is generally identified with Kedesh (2) but this seems unsound for the following reasons:

(a) Kedesh Upper Galilee is far from Mt. Tabor in the vicinity of which Deborah's battle with the Canaanite kings took place;

(b) "Elon-Bezaanannim, which is by Kedesh" (Judg. 4:11) is also known from the border description of Naphtali where it is situated between the Tabor and the Jordan (Josh. 19:33).

Kedesh-Naphtali should therefore be sought east of Mount Tabor and in this area Khirbat al-Kadīsh near Poriyyah which contains extensive remains from the early Israelite period has been proposed as the location of the site.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.

(1) B. Rothenberg and J. Aharoni, Tagliyyot Sinai (1958); H.C. Trumbull, Kadesh-Barnea (1884): C.L. Woolley and T.E. Lawrence, The Wilderness of Zin (1915); Glueck, in: AASOR, 15 (1935), 118ff.; Phythian-Adams, in: PEFAS, 67 (1935), 69ff.; 114ff.; de Vaux and Savignac, in: RB, 47 (1938), 89ff. (2) J. Aharoni, Hitnaḥalut Shivtei Yisrael ba-Galil ha-Elyon (1957), index; Avi-Yonah, Land, index; Albright, in: BASOR, 19 (1928), 12; 35 (1929), 9; J. Garstang, Joshua-Judges (1931), 390–91. (3) Press, in: BJPES, 1, pt. 3 (1933/34), 26ff.; J. Aharoni, op. cit., index; Kolshari, in: BIES, 27 (1963), 165ff. (4); M. Péyard, Qadesh Mission à Tell Nebi Mend… (1931); Du Buisson, in: Mélanges Maspéro, 1 (1938), 919ff.; Gardiner, in: Onomastica, 2 (1947), index; Aharoni, Land, index.