Caves of Shuaib

By the Editors of the Madain Project

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The Caves of Shuaib (مغاير شعيب), literally meaning the Caves of Jethro, also called the dwellings of Jethro (مدائن شعيب), are a group of first century CE Nabatean tombs, near the town of al-Bad'a in Tabuk, modern day Saudi Arabia. The necropolis forms part of the al-Malhah which extends over a large area of more than a square kilometers and was connected to the surviving Nabataean cave-tombs. According to local tradition it is the site of Prophet Shuaib's dwelling (who is known as Jethro in the biblical texts).


The site is also called the Madain Shuaib (city or dwelling of Jethro), or Madayan (biblical Midian). This site is believed to be the site where prophet Moses (Musa in Islam) saught refuge when he fled from Egypt.

The so-called Caves of Shuaib (identified with biblical Jethro) is one of the most distinguished archaeological sites in al-Bada'a oasis. Local tradition links the ancient site with the Islamic prophet Shuaib or biblical Jethro, considering that the site is located in the ancient Midian. Still there is no direct historical or archaeological evidence linking the tombs or even the geographical area to prophet Shu'ayb and his people.

The ancient oasis necropolis contains some sixteen tombs dating back to the Nabataean era (circa first century CE). Decorations and carvings on most of the tombs have not survived. Some of the tomb interiors bear Nabataean and Lihyanite inscriptions.

Abrahamic Tradition


The story of Moses in Midian (Madyan) is primarily found in the Quran, which is the holy book of Islam. The biblical account of Moses in Midian is also present in the Book of Exodus in the Old Testament.

After fleeing Egypt, where he had unintentionally killed an Egyptian, Moses arrived in Midian. According to the Bible & the Quran, he found a well in Midian where a group of shepherds were watering their flocks. Two women were holding back their sheep, and Moses helped them by watering their animals. In gratitude, one of the women, named Zipporah (often identified with Jethro and Reuel's daughter in the Bible, but is not named in the Islamic tradition), invited Moses to her father's house.

In the Bible, Moses married this woman and spent around 40 years in Midian as a shepherd. During his time in Midian, Moses had a significant encounter with God at Mount Horeb, where he saw the burning bush and received his divine calling to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. In the Islamic tradition, this period in Midian is seen as a time of spiritual growth and preparation for Moses before he returned to Egypt as a messenger of God.

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