“I was forty years old when Moses the servant of the Lord sent me from Kadesh-Barnea to spy out the land; and I brought him an honest report.”
KADESH IN THE BIBLE. In the Hebrew Bible, a place called Kadesh—also known as Kadesh-Barnea—was an important stop during the Israelites’ wilderness wanderings. Where is Kadesh? The site of Tell el-Qudeirat in the northeastern part of the Sinai Peninsula is considered to be the best candidate. Photo: Israel Antiquities Authority.
According to the Bible, the Israelites stayed at a place called Kadesh following their Exodus from Egypt and wanderings through the desert. Kadesh—also called Kadesh-Barnea in some Biblical passages1—was where Moses’ sister Miriam died and was buried (Numbers 20:1) and from where Moses sent 12 men to spy out the Promised Land (Numbers 13:26). Where is Kadesh-Barnea? Investigations since the early 19th century have attempted to find the site. Tell el-Qudeirat, located in the valley of the Wadi el-Ein in the northeastern part of the Sinai Peninsula, is the best candidate for Biblical Kadesh-Barnea, according to scholarly consensus today.
Excavations conducted at Tell el-Qudeirat and its surroundings in 1914 by Leonard Woolley and T.E. Lawrence and between 1976 and 1982 by Rudolph Cohen have revealed the ruins of three Iron Age (Israelite) fortresses. However, the archaeologists uncovered no evidence dating before the 10th century B.C.E.—the time of King Solomon. There appears to be no evidence, therefore, that Tell el-Qudeirat was occupied during the time of Moses and the Biblical Exodus.2 What do we make of this?
In “Kadesh-Barnea—In the Bible and on the Ground” in the September/October 2015 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, David Ussishkin, Lily Singer-Avitz and Hershel Shanks explore the archaeological evidence uncovered at Tell el-Qudeirat. An analysis of the finds—especially the pottery—from the Iron Age ruins sheds new light on the identification of Tell el-Qudeirat with Kadesh in the Bible.
In the free eBook Ancient Israel in Egypt and the Exodus, top scholars discuss the historical Israelites in Egypt and archaeological evidence for and against the historicity of the Exodus.
Fragments of Qurayyah Painted Ware discovered at Tell el-Qudeirat suggest that there was a presence at the site—believed to be Biblical Kadesh-Barnea—during the time of Moses and the Biblical Exodus. Pictured is a restored Qurayyah jug from Timna, Israel. Photo: Eretz Israel Museum.
BAR coauthor Lily Singer-Avitz suggests that several finds discovered in the later strata, including Egyptian-style seals and seal impressions and local pottery sherds, should be associated with a Late Bronze Age–Early Iron I period presence at Tell el-Qudeirat. Particularly important are the sherds belonging to what is called Qurayyah Painted Ware found in different strata throughout the site. As Singer-Avitz argues: The Qurayyah Painted Ware was in use during the latter part of the Late Bronze and the Iron I periods, from the 12th to the 11th centuries B.C.E., about the time of the Exodus from Egypt according to those who attribute some historicity to this central Biblical event.
Learn more about Qurayyah Painted Ware and its importance to the site of Tell el-Qudeirat— Kadesh in the Bible—by reading the full article “Kadesh-Barnea—In the Bible and on the Ground” by David Ussishkin, Lily Singer-Avitz and Hershel Shanks in the September/October 2015 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.
Notes: 1. The name Kadesh-Barnea in Hebrew is qādeš barnēa‘. The Hebrew root qdš means “holiness,” “separateness”; the meaning of the second word is not known. See Dale W. Manor, “Kadesh-Barnea,” in David Noel Freedman, ed., The Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol. 4 (New York: Doubleday, 1992), p. 1.
2. Rudolph Cohen, “Did I Excavate Kadesh-Barnea?” Biblical Archaeology Review, May/June 1981; Rudolph Cohen, “Qadesh-Barnea,” in Eric M. Meyers, ed., The Oxford Encyclopedia of Archaeology in the Near East, vol. 4 (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1997), pp. 365–367.