It has been suggested that this article or section be merged into Wadi Mujib. (Discuss)

Arnon (Hebrew: אַרְנוֹן‎; Latin: Arnon) is a river and wadi in western Jordan, known in modern times in Arabic as Wadi Mujib. The Hebrew name means perhaps "noisy," a term which well-describes the latter part of the course of the river. Its length is about 45 miles, from its highlands in the desert to its entrance into the Dead Sea. It broadens to a width of 100 feet locally, but for the most part is narrow. Though low in summer, it runs as a torrent in the rainy winter season and is 8 or 10 feet deep in places. Its course flows northwesterly, but downstream its course becomes westerly. Its striking feature is the steepness and narrowness of the ravine through which it passes shortly before it empties into the Dead Sea, opposite Ein Gedi. Between the lofty limestone hills, which cause this precipitous descent, and the sea, the river expands into a shallow estuary nearly 100 feet wide.

Role in history

Jewish Encyclopedia Arnon Gorge

Gorge of the River Arnon Near Its Mouth. From Stade, "Geschichte des Volkes Israel."

The Arnon has always been an important boundary-line. Before the Hebrew period it separated, for a time at least, the Moabites from the Amorites (Num. 21:13, 26; Deut. 3:8; Judges 11:18). After the Hebrew settlement it divided, theoretically at least, Moab from the tribes of Reuben and Gad (Deut. 3:12, 16). But in fact Moab lay as much to the north as it did to the south of the Arnon. To the north, for example, were Aroer, Dibon, Medeba, and other Moabite towns. Even under Omri and Ahab, who held part of the Moabite territory, Israel did not hold sway farther south than Ataroth, about ten miles north of the Arnon. Mesha in his inscription (Moabite Stone, line 10) says that the Gadites (not the Reubenites) formerly occupied Ataroth, whence he in turn expelled the people of Israel. He mentions (line 26) his having constructed a road along the Arnon. The ancient importance of the river and of the towns in its vicinity is attested by the numerous ruins of bridges, forts, and buildings found upon or near it. Its fords are alluded to by Isaiah (16:2). Its "heights," crowned with the castles of chiefs, were also celebrated in verse (Num. 21:28).

In Rabbinical literature

The Haggadah tells the following story of a miracle witnessed at the Arnon, which seems to be alluded to in the Bible (Num. 21:14,15). While the Israelites were crossing the deep Arnon valley on the way to the promised land, the Amorites hid in the caves, intending to attack the unsuspecting travelers. But the Ark of the Covenant, which preceded the Israelites, caused the heights to sink and the valley to rise. As a result, the concealed Amorites were crushed in the caves and the Israelites saved from their planned attack. The miracle would have been unnoticed by the Israelites, had not God caused the well which accompanied them to throw up portions of the corpses. At this point the Israelites sang the Song of the Well (Num. 21:17 ff.). In commemoration of this miracle, the Rabbis decided that a special benediction should be uttered upon seeing the Arnon (Ber. 54a ff. Num. R. 19:25; Tan., Ḥuḳḳat., 20.).

This, however, is most likely a later legend based on the following raw materials:

  • Num. 21:13 compares the crossing of the Arnon to that of the Red Sea, perhaps implying that the Arnon split for the Israelite passage, like the Red Sea and later the Jordan (Josh. 3:16,17).
  • The Song of the Well recalls the victory song over the Egyptians at the Red Sea (Ex. 15). (However, textually, the Song of the Well seems to refer to a miracle in which the Israelites receive water to drink, rather than a victory over the Amorites.)
  • Amorite corpses rising up in the well of Be'er are reminiscent of the Egyptians washing ashore the Red Sea (Ex. 14:30).

Israeli family name

In contemporary Israel, "Arnon" is a fairly common family name. It is one of a series of family names derived from Biblical geographic locations and which did not exist among Jews before the advent of Zionism. This, like other names of the kind, was often adopted by immigrants bearing a non-Hebrew family name, especially if the original name bore some similarity to "Arnon" (for example, "Ehrenberg"). Hence, Israelis named "Arnon" are not necessarily related to each other.


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