As Tanakh does not provide accompanying maps, we must piece together different textual and archaeological clues in order to identify geographic locations. The case of Midyan is particularly intriguing because the evidence points in three different directions, to places which today are located in three separate countries (Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan).
The stories of Moshe and Yitro appear to place Midyan in close proximity to Mount Sinai, which would support a site south of Israel. In contrast, most of the other Biblical stories which mention Midyan connect them to Moav and Central Israel, suggesting a more northeastern location. Finally, extra-biblical evidence points to a southeastern locale, near the Gulf of Aqaba.
This apparent contradiction can be resolved by positing either that the Midianites were a nomadic people which settled in different areas at various points in history, or that the Midianites were a broad confederation of tribes which lived in several regions simultaneously under assorted foreign rulers.1
Below is the evidence for a Midianite presence in the various possible regions:
A Midyan located south of Israel, in the southern region of the Sinai Desert.
A Midyan situated on the eastern side of the Jordan River, near Moav.
A Midyan lying to the southeast of Israel, in the Arabian Desert, on the coast of the Gulf of Aqaba.
Midyan and Kushan – Chavakkuk 3:7 sets up a parallel between Kushan and Midyan, implying that the two are identical. There are different identifications of Kushan which support the different possible locations of Midian. Albright10 cites Egyptian texts that refer to the Kushu tribes which lived near the Shutu tribes, an ancient name for Moav. Others disagree, identifying Kushan instead with a place named Derom Kushu lying on the southwest outskirts of Israel.11