Wilderness Wanderings: Where is Kadesh?

Kadesh in the Bible and on the ground

“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.”
—Joshua 14:7


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.


Subscribers: Read 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.

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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.



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.


More on the Exodus in Bible History Daily:

Exodus in the Bible and the Egyptian Plagues

Who Was Moses? Was He More than an Exodus Hero?

Out of Egypt: Israel’s Exodus Between Text and Memory, History and Imagination

Searching for Biblical Mt. Sinai

This Bible History Daily feature was originally published on September 14, 2015.


Posted in Biblical Archaeology Places, Biblical Archaeology Sites.

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  • Veli says

    My equinox year hypothesis is based on the idea that before the Assyrian cultural dominance in the Levant (i.e. before 750 B.C.E.) the Israelites used a 6 month period as the year. Then the Exodus would be in the first part of the 11th century. It fits the chronology of the layer 4c (on page 41 in the article). The next question is, is there any evidence it was occupied by the Israelites? And the next question is, is there any evidence that they came from Egypt?

  • ilo says

    Almost everything the socalled experts tell us about archaeology is wrong when it comes to precise dating. Relative dating is pretty accurate. But they’ve sold us a bill of goods with the timeline.

  • David says

    The Mountain that Burned with Fire has been estalished as in Saudi Arabia. When Israel crossed the Red Sea, it was that part now called The gulf of Aqaba. To look for Kadesh Barnea in the so-called Sinai Peninsula seems to me to be a very bad diversion. If the current idea can be reached from Saudi Arabia it would seem possible, and would fit with another scripture. When Israel was finally to go into the land they had to go AROUND the land of Edom, indicating that they were to the west and south of it. Since Eilat became a major port for Solomon, it would add to the possibility.

    • Tony says

      I agree with David here. Even Paul says Mt Sinai in Arabia. I believe this is also where the Wilderness of Paran lies also confirmed by Josephus. Kadesh would appear to be on the northern slopes of Mt Sinai quite near Petra from my reading but that is just an opinion. There are many signs around Mr Sinai regarding the children of Israel but these places were since shut down by the Saudis.

  • GENE says

    (Kaʹdesh) [Holy Place], Kadesh-barnea (Kaʹdesh-barʹne·a) [Holy Place of Barnea].

    An Israelite wilderness encampment situated at the extremity of Edomite territory near “the way to Shur,” perhaps the modern Darb el-Shur extending from Hebron to Egypt. (Ge 16:7, 14; Nu 20:14-16 [Heb. ʽir (city) at Nu 20:16 may simply mean encampment; compare Nu 13:19.]) Apparently 11 days’ travel distance by way of Mount Seir separated Kadesh-barnea from Horeb.—De 1:2.

    Kadesh is spoken of as being located in both the Wilderness of Paran and the Wilderness of Zin. Possibly Zin and Paran were adjoining wildernesses that met at Kadesh, and therefore, the site could be referred to as lying in either one. Or, the Wilderness of Zin may have been part of the larger Wilderness of Paran. (Nu 13:26; 20:1) In Abraham’s time the place was known both as En-mishpat and as Kadesh. (Ge 14:7; 20:1) It is perhaps the same site as Kedesh.—Jos 15:21, 23.

    ʽAin Qedeis, about 80 km (50 mi) SSW of Beer-sheba, has been suggested as a possible identification for Kadesh. In the midst of a desolate wilderness (compare De 1:19), the pure and sweet water of the spring at Qedeis supports an oasis of grass, shrubs, and trees. There are also two other springs in the vicinity, ʽAin el-Qudeirat and ʽAin el-Qeseimeh. Today the largest of the three springs is ʽAin el-Qudeirat, and for this reason some favor identifying it with Kadesh-barnea. However, ʽAin Qedeis is the most easterly spring. Consequently, the identification of ʽAin Qedeis with Kadesh-barnea seems to be more in line with the description of the E-W course of Canaan’s southern boundary: Kadesh-barnea (ʽAin Qedeis?), Hazar-addar (ʽAin el-Qudeirat?), and Azmon (ʽAin el-Qeseimeh?).—Nu 34:3-5.

    If the Israelites did encamp in this area, because of the vast multitude they doubtless used all three springs. For example, the encampment just before crossing the Jordan spread out “from Beth-jeshimoth to Abel-shittim.” (Nu 33:49) That was a distance of about 8 km (5 mi), according to the suggested sites for those places. The distance from Kadesh-barnea (ʽAin Qedeis) to Azmon (ʽAin el-Qeseimeh) is about 14 km (8.5 mi); and to Hazar-addar (ʽAin el-Qudeirat) is 9 km (5.5 mi). So, for them to have used all three springs is not an unreasonable possibility. It is also possible that the whole area was called Kadesh-barnea with the name preserved in the SE spring.

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