PARAN (Heb. פָּארָן), biblical appellation for the main desert in the eastern Sinai peninsula. Its boundaries can be reconstructed by means of a number of biblical references. In their campaign against Canaan, the kings of Shinar, Ellasar, Elam, and Golim reached El-Paran, "which is by the wilderness" (Gen. 14:6), a place generally identified with Elath on the Red Sea. Moses spoke to Israel "in the Arabah, near Suph [Red Sea?], between Paran and Tophel" (Deut. 1:1). The Red Sea, therefore, was probably the southern extremity of the Paran wilderness. On the other hand, when Ishmael was cast out with Hagar by Abraham, presumably from Beer-Sheba, he dwelt in the wilderness of Paran (Gen. 21:21). The 12 spies of Moses were sent from the wilderness of Paran to Canaan, and returned to "the wilderness of Paran, to Kadesh" (Num. 13:3, 26), which is usually described in the Bible as situated in the wilderness of Zin. Paran, therefore, extended as far north as Kadesh and even the periphery of Beer-Sheba. David went to the wilderness of Paran in his wanderings (I Sam. 25:1) and came into contact with Nabal, "a man in Maon," which is in southern Judah. Thus it also extended to the northeast. The Israelites entered it from the wilderness of Sinai (Num. 10:12), or, more specifically, from Hazeroth. If the identification of Hazeroth with ʿAyn al-Ḥaḍra near Jebel Ḥillāl is correct (rather than with ʿAyn Ḥaḍra in southeastern Sinai, as some have suggested), Paran would be limited to the Tih Desert in the northeastern part of the Sinai Peninsula, which agrees roughly with the story of Hadad, the Edomite pretender, who fled from Midian to Egypt by way of Paran (I Kings 11:18). An element of doubt is created, however, by the juxtaposition of Mt. Paran with Mt. Sinai and Mt. Seir in Deuteronomy 33:2 and Habakkuk 3:3; some interpreters regard this mountain as synonymous with Mt. Sinai, while others look for a separate Mt. Paran at a site called Jebel Fārān, a place mentioned by some travelers, but not located by others. It can perhaps best be defined as the eastern part of the Tih Desert, placed between the desert of Shur near Egypt and the desert of Zin near the Judean Mountains. It is crossed by the eastern confluents of the Brook of Egypt (Wadi al-ʿArīsh).
In later times, the name occurs as that of a tribe (Ptolemy, Geographia, 3:5 17), and in the Byzantine period, in the description of the area in which St. Nilus searched for his son, who had been kidnapped by the Saracens (PG, vol. 79, pp. 667ff.).
Aharoni, Land, index; Glueck, in: aasor, 15 (1935), 104.
Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.