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The Kenites or Kainites (in Hebrew, Kainim), the children of Cain, were a tribe of the ancient Levant, possibly ancestors of the Midianite nation. According to the Bible, they played an important role in the history of ancient Israel. According to Petrine Sabis, Keturah was a Kenite.

In the Bible

The Kenites are mentioned as inhabiting the promised land of Canaan as early as the time of Abraham.(Genesis|15:19|) At the Exodus the tribe inhabited the vicinity of Mount Sinai and Horeb. Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses was a Kenite Judges i.16.); elsewhere, however, Jethro is said to have been "priest of Midian"Exodus iii.1.)and a Midianite Numbers x. 29., leading many scholars to believe that the terms are intended (at least in parts of the Bible) to be used interchangeably, or that the Kenites formed a part of the Midianite tribal grouping. The Kenites journeyed with the Israelites to Canaan (Judges i. 16.); and their encampment, apart from the latter's, was noticed by Balaam Numbers xxiv.21-22.)

At a later period some of the Kenites separated from their brethren in the south, and went to northern Canaan, (Judges iv. 11) where they existed in the time of King Saul. The kindness which they had shown to Israel in the wilderness was gratefully remembered. "Ye showed kindness to all the children of Israel, when they came up out of Egypt," said Saul to them I Samuel xv.6.); and so not only were they spared by him, but David allowed them to share in the spoil that he took from the Amalekites.(I Sam. xxx.29.)

Other well-known Kenites were Heber, the husband of Jael, and Rechab, the ancestor of the Rechabites.[1]|

Critical view

According to the critical interpretation of the Biblical data, the Kenites were a clan settled on the southern border of Judah, originally more advanced in arts than the Hebrews, and from whom the latter learned much. In the time of David the Kenites were finally incorporated into the tribe of Judah.I Samuel xxx. 29; comp. ib. xxvii. 10.) Their eponymous ancestor may have been Cain (Kain), to whose descendants the Jahwist in Genesis iv. attributes the invention of the art of working bronze and iron, the use of instruments of music, etc. Sayce has inferred in James Hastings, Dictionary of the Bible, s.v. that the Kenites were a tribe of smiths—a view to which Jahwist's statements would lend support.

Jethro, priest of Midian, and father-in-law of Moses, is said<ref>Judges i. 16. to have been a Kenite. This indicates that the Kenites originally formed part of the Midianite tribe or tribes. The Bible may even describe an initiation of Moses and Aaron by Jethro into the worship of YHWH, (Ex. xviii. 12 et seq.) although this seems contrary to very many other Biblical passages.(e.g. Exodus xviii. 8.) Several modern scholars believe, in consequence of this statement, that Yhwh was a Kenite deity, and that from the Kenites through the agency of Moses his worship passed to the Israelites. This view, first proposed by F. W. Ghillany, afterward independently by Cornelis Petrus Tiele, and more fully by Stade, has been more completely worked out by Karl Budde; and is accepted by H. Guthe, Gerrit Wildeboer, H. P. Smith, and G. A. Barton<ref>George Aaron Barton (1859 - 1942), US Bible scholar and professor of Semitic languages. online. This view is challenged by other Bible scholars who argue: "We nowhere hear that Moses took over the Yahweh-worship from this tribe. On the contrary, Jethro begins only at this time (Exodus 18:11) to worship Yahweh, the God of Moses, and the common sacrificial meal, according to 18:12, did not take place in the presence of Yahweh, but, accommodating it to the guest, in the presence of Elohim" (from the International Standard Bible Dictionary.)

It has been suggested that inasmuch as the Bible describes Jethro assisting Moses in the organization of a court system, at least some of ancient Israelite jurisprudence may have derived from Kenite sources. Still other scholars have speculated that the genealogy of Cain in the Book of Genesis may contain oral Kenite traditions.


  • Stade, Geschichte des Volkes Israel, i. 126 et seq., Berlin, 1889;
  • Moore, "Judges", in International Critical Commentary, pp. 51-55, New York, 1895;
  • Budde, Religion of Israel to the Exile, pp. 17-38, New York;
  • Barton, Semitic Origins, pp. 271-278, ib. 1902.

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