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Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature


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E´lath, now called Ailah. It was a city of Idumea, having a port on the eastern arm or gulf of the Red Sea, which thence received the name of Sinus Elaniticus (Gulf of Aqaba). According to Eusebius, it was ten miles east from Petra. It lies at the extremity of the valley of Elghor, which runs at the bottom of two parallel ranges of hills, north and south, through Arabia Petraea, from the Dead Sea to the northern parts of the Elanitic Gulf.

The first time that it is mentioned in the Scriptures is in , where, in speaking of the journey of the Israelites towards the Promised Land, these words occur—'When we passed by from our brethren the children of Esau, which dwelt in Seir, through the way of the plain from Elath, and from Eziongeber.' These two places are mentioned together again in , in such a manner as to show that Elath was more ancient than Eziongeber, and was of so much repute as to be used for indicating the locality of other places: the passage also fixes the spot where Elath itself was to be found: 'and King Solomon made a navy of ships in Eziongeber, which is beside Elath, on the shore () of the Red Sea, in the land of Edom.' The use which David made of the vicinity of Elath shows that the country was at that time in his possession. Accordingly, in , we learn that he had previously made himself master of Idumaea, and garrisoned its strong-holds with his own troops. Under his successor, Joram (), the Idumeans revolted from Judah, and elected a king over themselves. Joram thereupon assembled his forces, 'and all the chariots with him,' and, falling on the Idumeans by night, succeeded in defeating and scattering their army. The Hebrews, however, could not prevail, but 'Edom revolted from under the hand of Judah unto this day;' thus exemplifying the striking language employed () by Isaac—'by thy sword shalt thou live, and shalt serve thy brother: and it shall come to pass, when thou shalt have the dominion, that thou shalt break his yoke from off thy neck.' From , however, it appears that Uzziah recovered Elath, and, having so repaired and adorned the city as to be said to have built, that is rebuilt, it, he made it a part of his dominions. This connection was not of long continuance; for in of the same book, we find the Syrian king Rezin interposing, who captured Elath, drove out the Jews, and annexed the place to his Syrian kingdom, and 'the Syrians came to Elath, and dwelt there unto this day.' At a later period it fell under the power of the Romans, and was for a time guarded by the tenth legion, forming part of Palestina Tertia. It subsequently became the residence of a Christian bishop. In the days of its prosperity it was much distinguished for commerce, which continued to flourish under the auspices of Christianity. In the sixth century it is spoken of by Procopius as being inhabited by Jews subject to the Roman dominion. In A.D. 630, the Christian communities of Arabia Petraea found it expedient to submit to Mohammed, when John, the Christian governor of Ailah, became bound to pay an annual tribute of 300 gold pieces. Henceforward, till the present century, Ailah lay in the darkness of Islamism. Mounds of rubbish alone mark the site of the town, while a fortress, occupied by a governor and a small garrison under the Pasha of Egypt, serves to keep the neighboring tribes of the desert in awe, and to minister to the wants and protection of the annual Egyptian Hajj, or pilgrim caravan. This place has always been an important station upon the route of the Egyptian Hajj. Such is the importance of this caravan of pilgrims from Cairo to Mecca, both in a religious and political point of view, that the rulers of Egypt from the earliest period have given it convoy and protection. For this purpose a line of fortresses similar to that of Aqaba has been established at intervals along the route with wells of water and supplies of provisions.





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Bibliography Information
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Elath'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature".

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