neg'-eb (ha-neghebh, "the negeb" or simply, neghebh, from a root meaning "to be dry," and therefore in the first instance implying the "dry" or "parched regions," hence, in the Septuagint it is usually translated eremos, "desert," also nageb):
As the Negeb lay to the South of Judah, the word came to be used in the sense of "the South," and is so used in a few passages (e.g. Gen 13:14) and in such is translated lips (see GEOGRAPHY). The English translation is unsuitable in several passages, and likely to lead to confusion. For example, in Gen 13:1 Abram is represented as going "into the South" when journeying northward from Egypt toward Bethel; in Nu 13:22 the spies coming from the "wilderness of Zin" toward Hebron are described as coming "by the South," although they were going north. The difficulty in these and many other passages is at once obviated if it is recognized that the Negeb was a geographical term for a definite geographical region, just as Shephelah, literally, "lowland," was the name of another district of Israel. In the Revised Version (British and American) "Negeb" is given in margin, but it would make for clearness if it were restored to the text.
This "parched" land is generally considered as beginning South of edition Dahariyeb--the probable site of DEBIR (which see)--and as stretching South in a series of rolling hills running in a general direction of East to West until the actual wilderness begins, a distance of perhaps 70 miles (see NATURAL FEATURES). To the East it is bounded by the Dead Sea and the southern Ghor, and to the West there is no defined boundary before the Mediterranean. It is a land of sparse and scanty springs and small rainfall; in the character of its soil it is a transition from the fertility of Canaan to the wilderness of the desert; it is essentially a pastoral land, where grazing is plentiful in the early months and where camels and goats can sustain life, even through the long summer drought. Today, as through most periods of history, it is a land for the nomad rather than the settled inhabitant, although abundant ruins in many spots testify to better physical conditions at some periods (see I, 5, below). The direction of the valleys East or West, the general dryness, and the character of the inhabitants have always made it a more or less isolated region without thoroughfare. The great routes pass along the coast to the West or up the Arabah to the East. It formed an additional barrier to the wilderness beyond it; against all who would lead an army from the South, this southern frontier of Judah was always secure. Israel could not reach the promised land by this route, through the land of the Amalekites (Nu 13:29; 14:43-45).
3. Old Testament References:
The Negeb was the scene of much of Abram's wanderings (Gen 12:9; 13:1,3; 20:1); it was in this district that Hagar met with the angel (Gen 16:7,14); Isaac (Gen 24:62) and Jacob (Gen 37:1; 46:5) both dwelt there. Moses sent the spies through this district to the hill country (Nu 13:17,22); the Amalekites then dwelt there (Nu 13:29) and apparently, too, in some parts of it, the Avvim (Josh 13:3,4). The inheritance of the children of Simeon, as given in Josh 19:1-9, was in the Negeb, but in Josh 15:21-32 these cities are credited to Judah (see SIMEON). Achish allotted to David, in response to his request, the city of ZIKLAG (q.v) in the Negeb (1 Sam 27:5 f); the exploits of David were against various parts of this district described as the Negeb of Judah, the Negeb of the Jerahmeelites, and the Negeb of the Kenites, while in 1 Sam 30:14 we have mention of the Negeb of the Cherethites and the Negeb of Caleb. To this we may add the Negeb of Arad (Jdg 1:16). It is impossible to define the districts of these various clans (see separate articles under these names). The, Negeb, together with the "hill-country" and the "Shephelah," was according to Jeremiah (17:26; 32:44; 33:13) to have renewed prosperity after the captivity of Judah was ended.
4. Later History:
When Nebuchadnezzar took Jerusalem the Edomites sided with the Babylonians (compare Lam 4:21 f; Ezek 35:3-15; Ob 1:10-16), and during the absence of the Jews they advanced north and occupied all the Negeb and Southern Judea as far as Hebron (see JUDAEA). Here they annoyed the Jews in Maccabean times until Judas expelled them from Southern Judea (164 BC) and John Hyrcanus conquered their country and compelled them to become Jews (109 BC). It was to one of the cities here--Malatha--that Herod Agrippa withdrew himself (Josephus, Ant, XVIII, vi, 2).
The palmy days of this district appear to have been during the Byzantine period: the existing ruins, so far as they can be dated at all, belong to this time. Beersheba was an important city with a bishop, and Elusa (mentioned by Ptolemy in the 2nd century) was the seat of a bishop in the 4th, 5th and 6th centuries. After the rise of Mohammedanism the land appears to have lapsed into primitive conditions. Although lawlessness and want of any central control may account for much of the retrogression, yet it is probable that Professor Ellsworth Huntington (loc. cit.) is right in his contention that a change of climate has had much to do with the rise and fall of civilization and settled habitation in this district. The district has long been given over to the nomads, and it is only quite recently that the Turkish policy of planting an official with a small garrison at Beersheba and at `Aujeh has produced some slight change in the direction of a settled population and agricultural pursuits.
5. Its Ancient Prosperity:
It is clear that in at least two historic periods the Negeb enjoyed a very considerable prosperity. What it may have been in the days of the Patriarchs it is difficult to judge; all we read of them suggests a purely nomadic life similar to the Bedouin of today but with better pasturage. In the division of the land among the tribes mention is made of many cities--the Hebrew mentions 29 (Josh 15:21-32; 19:1-9; 1 Ch 4:28-33)--and the wealth of cattle evidently was great (compare 1 Sam 15:9; 27:9; 30:16; 2 Ch 14:14 f). The condition of things must have been far different from that of recent times.
The extensive ruins at Bir es Seba` (Beersheba) Khalasa (Elusa), Ruheibeh (REHOBOTH, which see), `Aujeh and other cities, together with the signs of orchards, vineyards and gardens scattered widely around these and other sites, show how comparatively well populated this area was in Byzantine times in particular. Professor Huntington (loc. cit.) concludes from these ruins that the population of the large towns of the Negeb alone at this period must have amounted to between 45,000 and 50,000. The whole district does not support 1,000 souls today.
Robinson, BR (1838); Wilton, The Negeb, or "South Country" of Scripture (1863); E.H. Palmer, The Desert of the Exodus, II (1871); Trumbull, Kadesh-Barnea (1884); G. A. Smith, HGHL, chapter xiii (1894); E. Huntington, Israel and Its Transformation, chapter vi, etc.
E. W. G. Masterman