Desert of Paran

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The Desert of Paran or Wilderness of Paran (also sometimes spelled Pharan or Faran; Hebrew: מִדְבַּר פָּארָן, Midbar Pa'ran), is a location mentioned in the Hebrew Bible. It is one of the places where the Israelites spent part of their 40 years of wandering after the Exodus, and was also a home to Ishmael, and a place of refuge for David.

In Islamic tradition, it has often been equated with an area of the Hejaz.

Biblical Paran[edit]

Abraham sends Hagar and Ishmael into the desert, illustration by Gustave Doré

The Wilderness or Desert of Paran is said to be the place where Hagar was sent into exile from Abraham's dwelling in Beersheba. (Hagar was the Egyptian servant girl of Abraham's wife Sarah/Sarai, at Sarah's suggestion was made Abraham's wife, and had a son Ishmael with him.) She "departed, and strayed in the wilderness of Beer-sheba":

Then God opened her [Hagar's] eyes and she saw a well of water. So she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink. God was with the boy as he grew up. He lived in the desert and became an archer. While he was living in the Desert of Paran, his mother got a wife for him from Egypt. (Genesis 21:19–22)

Paran is later mentioned in the Book of Numbers as a place where the Israelites temporarily settled during the Exodus:

Then the Israelites set out from the Desert of Sinai and traveled from place to place until the cloud came to rest in the Desert of Paran. (Numbers 10:12; see also Numbers 12:16)

Paran again features in the opening lines of the Book of Deuteronomy:

These are the words Moses spoke to all Israel in the desert beyond the Jordan--that is, in the Arabah--opposite Suph, between Paran and Tophel, Laban, Hazeroth and Dizahab. (Deuteronomy 1:1)

He said: "The LORD came from Sinai and dawned over them from Seir; he shone forth from Mount Paran. He came with myriads of holy ones, from his right hand went a fiery law for them." (Deuteronomy 33:2)

King David spent some time in the wilderness of Paran after Samuel died (1 Samuel 25:1).

1 Kings 11:17–18 states that when Hadad the Edomite fled from Edom to Egypt, he passed through Midian and Paran on the way to Egypt.

It is not certain precisely where the wilderness of Paran is to be located. It is often associated with Mount Sinai in Egypt, and there is some evidence that it may originally have referred to the southern portion of the Sinai Peninsula.[1] However the Deuteronomy 1:1 text suggests it could be east of the Jordan River.

The minor prophet Habakkuk references that "God is coming from Teman, the Holy One from Mount Paran" in Habakkuk 3:3.

Both Eusebius (in his Onomasticon, a Bible dictionary) and Jerome reported that Paran was a city in Paran desert, in Arabia Deserta (beyond Arabia Nabataea), southeast of Eilat Pharan. Onomasticon, under Pharan, states: "(Now) a city beyond Arabia adjoining the desert of the Saracens [who wander in the desert] through which the children of Israel went moving (camp) from Sinai. Located (we say) beyond Arabia on the south, three days journey to the east of Aila (in the desert Pharan) where Scripture affirms Ismael dwelled, whence the Ishmaelites. It is said (we read) also that (king) Chodollagomor cut to pieces those in 'Pharan which is in the desert'."[2]

Eusebius' mention of Chodollagomor refers to a possible earlier mention of Paran in Genesis 14:6, which states that as he and the other kings allied with him were campaigning in the region of Sodom and Gomorrah, they smote "the Horites in their mount Seir, unto El-paran, which is by the wilderness". (KJV)

Sebeos, the Armenian Bishop and historian, describing the Arab conquest of his time, wrote that the Arabs "assembled and came out from Paran".[3][4]

in 1989, Professor Haseeb Shehada, in his translation of the Samaritan Torah, suggested an identification of the wilderness of Paran with the desert of Western Arabia, which is known today as the Hijaz.[5]

Arab and Islamic traditions[edit]

The Arab geographer Al-Muqaddasi mentioned in his book that the Red Sea branches into two "at the extremity of al-Hijaz at a place called Faran".[6]

The association of Paran in Genesis 21:21 with Ishmael and the Ishmaelites is affirmed by the Muslim geographer Yaqut al-Hamawi who writes "Faran, an arabized Hebrew word, one of the names of Mecca mentioned in the Torah."[7] Islamic and Arabic traditions hold that the wilderness of Paran is, broadly speaking, the Hejaz, the northern half of Tihamah, stretching along the east side of the Red Sea starting from Jordan and Sinai,[8] and that the specific site where Ishmael settled is that of Mecca, near the mountains of Paran.[9]

The "Desert of Paran" is also interpreted as Hijaz in an old Arabic translation of the Samaritan Pentateuch.[10] When it was translated into English in 1851, it was found to include a footnote making this interpretation.[11] The name 'Paran' or 'Faran' has often been used to refer specifically to the wilderness and mountains near where Mecca is situated.[11] Al-Hamdani in his book Geography of the Arabic Peninsula says that the Paran mountains around Mecca were named after Paran son of Amalek.[12] Sam'ni in his Book of Surnames also says that the surname Farani is derived from the Faran mountains near Mecca in Hijaz [13]

According to Wahb ibn Munabbih, there was a Tal Faran ("Hill of Faran") on the outskirts of Mecca, mentioned in his book Kitab al-Tijan, a Pre-Islamic Arabic folklore compilation.[7] Ibn Munabbih further suggested an identification for Tal Faran as the 'mound of the Two runaways', a place where the Jurhum tribe found Hagar and Ishmael and thought of them as two runaways.[14]

Haggai Mazuz, a scholar of Islam associated with the Bar-Ilan University, asserts that Muslim polemicists' (like the Jewish convert Samawʾal al-Maghribī, 1125–1175 CE) appropriation of Deut. 33:2 has antecedence in Jewish tradition itself, as some Midrashim and Targumim, before the rise of Islam itself, posed a connection between Paran and Ishmael-Arabs. For instance, commentating on the Sifrei Debarīm, a halakhic midrash on Deuteronomy, dated from the 3rd to the 5th century CE, he says:

the link between Paran and the Arabs (actually the Arabic language), who are also called Ishmaelites after Ishmael (among other names), is very early although somewhat vague.[15]

Modern Scholarship[edit]

According to Uzi Avner, the biblical Desert of Paran was located in the southern mountain region of the Sinai Peninsula, encompassing the Wadi Feiran. Avner argues that inscriptions from the Nabatean period bearing the first or surname "Paran" indicate that the local population has preserved the biblical geographical name of this area for centuries.[16]: 26–28 

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Brisco, T.V. (1982). Geoffrey W. Bromiley (ed.). International Standard Bible Encyclopedia: E-J (Revised ed.). Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. p. 241. ISBN 978-0-8028-3782-0.
  2. ^ Eusebius. "entry for Pharan No 917". Onomasticon.
  3. ^ Sebeos (1999). "30". The Armenian History of Sebeosi. liverpool: liverpool university press. pp. 95–97. OCLC 44228890.
  4. ^ Neuwirth, Angelika; Sinai, Nicolai; Marx, Michael, eds. (2010). The Qur'an in context historical and literary investigations into the Qur'anic milieu. Leiden: Brill. p. 142. ISBN 9789047430322. Alt URL Archived 2015-10-02 at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ Shehada, Haseeb (1989). Translation of the Samaritan Torah, p.90. Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities.
  6. ^ Al-Muqaddasi, Muhammad (1994). The Best Divisions for Knowledge of the Regions. The United Kingdom: Garnet Pub. p. 11. ISBN 1873938144.
  7. ^ a b Reuven Firestone (1990). Title Journeys in holy lands: the evolution of the Abraham-Ishmael legends in Islamic exegesis. SUNY Press. pp. 65, 205. ISBN 0585076294.
  8. ^ "Hejaz map".
  9. ^ Marx (1924). Halper's 'Post-Biblical Hebrew literature. Philadelphia. p. 53. OCLC 172997009.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  10. ^ Khan, Sayyid (1870). Essays on the life of Muhammad. London: Trubner. p. 75. OCLC 438478.
  11. ^ a b Sir Sayyid Aḥmad Khān (1870). A series of essays on the life of Mohammad: and subjects subsidiary thereto. London: Trübner & co. pp. 74–76.
  12. ^ Hamdani, al-Hasan. Geography of the Arabian Peninsula. p. 285. Archived from the original on 2020-09-24. Retrieved 2013-05-30.
  13. ^ al-Sam`ni, Abd Al-Karim (1912) [1140 CE]. Kitab al-Ansab: The book of surnames. London. OCLC 459336183.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link) Alt URL
  14. ^ Al-Munabbih, Wahb bin (2009). Book of crowns on the kings of Himyar = Kitab al-Tigan. Piscataway: Gorgias Press. ISBN 978-1593335151.
  15. ^ Haggai Mazuz, "Tracing possible Jewish influence on a common Islamic commentary on Deuteronomy 33:2" in Journal of Jewish Studies, Autumn 2016, vol. 67, no. 2, p. 294
  16. ^ Avner, ‘Uzi (2021). "The Desert's Role in the Formation of Early Israel and the Origin of Yhwh". Entangled Religions. 12 (2). doi:10.46586/er.12.2021.8889. ISSN 2363-6696.

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