WILDERNESS or desert; (Heb. צִיָּה ,יְשִׁימוֹן ,מִדְבָּר). In most biblical passages midbar refers principally to an uninhabited, uncultivated land (e.g., Jer. 2:2; 22:6; Ps. 107:4, 33–36) but sometimes also denotes complete desolation (e.g., Num. 20:4–5; Deut. 8:15). In defining desolation there is, in effect, no difference between midbar and the corresponding nouns, yeshimon and ẓiyyah, which are partially identical with it. However, midbar is the more comprehensive concept since it includes also marginal land on the borders of the yeshimon, "the pastures of the wilderness," and even settlements on its fringes (cf. Isa. 42:11, "the wilderness and the cities thereof"). At times midbar signifies a pasturage for flocks (Ex. 3:1; Ps. 78:52), the word being derived, it is suggested, from the Aramaic dbr, which denotes leading sheep to pasture. In the Bible various tracts of wilderness are called after adjacent territories or settlements, such as the wilderness of Edom (II Kings 3:8), Moab (Deut. 2:8), Damascus (I Kings 19:15), Judah (Judg. 1:16), En-Gedi (I Sam. 24:2), Beer-Sheba (Gen. 21:14), Maon (I Sam. 23:24, 25), Shur (Ex. 15:22), Kadesh (Ps. 29:8), Gibeon (II Sam. 2:24), Jeruel (II Chron. 20:16), and Tekoa (20:20). Palestine was a frontier country which was sometimes raided by marauders from the wilderness who spread havoc and destruction. During the second millennium B.C.E., a period of decline, which continued for centuries, overtook Transjordan as a result of the incursion of nomads of the wilderness. In the Israelite period (first millennium B.C.E.) too, marauders made inroads into the country and pillaged the permanent settlements, leaving devastation in their wake. The rural culture and urban settlement in Palestine and in countries of the East generally were based on a constant state of vigilance against the tribes of the wilderness. The Bible mentions perils of the wilderness which endanger man's life – hunger, thirst, wild animals. The wilderness is an "evil place" (Num. 20:4–5), and its wide expanses constitute a threat to human beings (Deut. 1:19; 8:15; Isa. 21:1). It is described as a land of the shadow of death, or of thick darkness (Jer. 2:6, 31). While not ignoring the hardships of the wilderness, the distress of the Israelites, who had come out of Egypt, in Sinai and in the Negev, their hunger and thirst, their complaints and rebelliousness against the terrors of the yeshimon, the Bible sometimes regards the wilderness as the cradle of Israel's sins. The sins in the wilderness – whether the making of the golden calf (Ex. 32–33), the rebellion of Koraḥ and his company (Num. 16–17), or the episode of Baal Peor (Num. 25) – became a symbol for all succeeding generations. Thus several Psalms refer to the Israelites' grave sins in the wilderness which determined their fate (Ps. 78:14–41; 106:14–33). Ezekiel makes particularly strong references to the sins of the generation of the wilderness, both fathers and children, and sees in these sins an original sin, as it were, which persisted from the time the Hebrews lived in Egypt, and the punishment for which is visited upon all generations (Ezek. 20:7–26). In contrast to the negative view of the wilderness period as an age of sin, several prophets refer to it as a time of the nation's purification at the dawn of its history. Thus Hosea and Jeremiah compare Israel to the youthful wife of God whom he found "in the land of great drought," and who followed and cleaved to Him "in a land that was not sown" (Jer. 2:2–4:6; Hos. 2:16–17; 9:10; 13:5). Engraved in the people's memory was the tradition of God's revelation at Sinai and in the wilderness of Seir and the Negeb (Ex. 19:20; Judg. 5:4–5; Hab. 3:3–7). At Sinai, according to this tradition, the Israelite religion crystallized, the Ten Commandments, the laws, and the statutes were given, and the covenant between Israel and its God was made. There, too, Israel enjoyed the special providence of God and was chosen as His people, a theme emphasized particularly in Deuteronomy. However, the view of the wilderness as the scene of the purification from sin does not mean that the prophets idealized either the essential character of the wilderness or nomadic existence as a way of life (see nomadism ). This theory, whose main protagonists have been Budde, Stade, Meyer, Flight, and others, is without foundation. The prophets never set the wilderness in opposition to an agricultural civilization, frequently used by them to symbolize a life of abundance and tranquility. Even the rechabites did not advocate a return to the wilderness, and there is no proof that they in fact had their home there (cf. the interpretations of Hos. 2:16–17; 12:10 in the Book of hosea , and the articles referred to in connection with those interpretations). What can be said on the positive side is that as early as in biblical times the wilderness served as a refuge for anguished, embittered men, whether rebels against society or recluses in search of seclusion (I Sam. 24:1–2; 26:1–4; Job 30:3–8). It is against this background, and not on the basis of idealization, that Jeremiah's yearning, "Oh for a lodging place for wayfarers in the wilderness, that I might leave my people" (Jer. 9:1) is understood. Seclusion in the wilderness, as a historical phenomenon, is known from Second Temple times.   -In the Aggadah The two ways of evaluating the generation of the wilderness, alluded to in the Bible, persisted in the aggadah, though in a new idiom, and formed the subject of conflicting views between R. Eliezer and R. Akiva. Whereas the latter held that the generation of the wilderness has no share in the world to come and will not stand at the last judgment, R. Eliezer applied to them the verse (Ps. 50:5); "Gather My saints together unto Me; those that have made a covenant with Me by sacrifice" (Sanh. 10:3). The entire subsequent midrashic tradition follows his line of approach. The Israelites of the wilderness generation are called Darda (Heb. דר = דרדע, "generation," and דע, "knowledge"; cf. I Kings 5:11), "because they were extremely knowledgeable (בני דעה)" (Mid. Prov. to 1:1). The verse (Song 3:6) "Who is this that cometh up out of the wilderness" is interpreted as "her (Israel's) rise dates from the wilderness" (Song R. 3:6, no. 1), since from it came all Israel's virtues in Torah, prophecy, and kingship. However, the diasporas are also compared to the wilderness. -BIBLIOGRAPHY: J.W. Flight, in: JBL, 42 (1923), 158–226; S. Nystroem, Beduinentum und Yahwismus (1946); N. Glueck, The Other Side of the Jordan (1940); A. Reifenberg, Milḥemet ha-Mizra ve-ha Yeshimon (1950); S. Talmon, in: A. Altmann (ed.), Biblical Motifs (1966), 31–63; S. Abramsky, in: Eretz Israel, 8 (1967), 31–63. (Samuel Abramsky)

Encyclopedia Judaica. 1971.

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