E'lath (Hebrews Eylath', אֵילִת, grove, perhaps of TEREBINTH-trees; occurs in this form De 2:8; 2Ki 14:22; 2Ki 16:6; also in the plur. form אֵילוֹת, ELATH SEE ELATH [q.v.], 1Ki 9:26; 2Ch 8:17; 2Ch 26:2; "Elath," 2Ki 16:6; in the Sept. Αἰλάθ and Αἰλών; in Joseph. [Ant. 8:6,4] Αἰλανή; in Jerome, Ailath [who says that in his day it was called Ailah, to which its appellation in Arabic writers corresponds]; by the Greeks and Romans, Elana or AElana, Ε᾿λάνα [Ptol. 5:17, [Αἴλανα [Strabo, 16:768; comp. Pliny, 5:12; 6:32]; in Arabic authors Ailah), a city of Idumaea, having a port on the eastern arm or gulf of the Red Sea, which thence received the name of Sinus Elaniticus (Gulf of Akabah). According to Eusebius (Onomast. s.v. ῾Ηλάθ), it was ten miles east from Petra. It must have been situated at the extremity of the valley of El-Ghor, 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; but on which side of the valley it lay has been matter of dispute (see M'Culloch's Geog. Dict. s.v. Akabah). In the geography of Arabia it forms the extreme northern limit of the province of the Hijoz (El-Makrizi, Khitat; and Maraisid, s.v.; SEE ARABIA ), and is connected with some points of the history of the country. According to several native writers the district of Ailah was in very ancient times peopled by the Sameyda, said to be a tribe of the Amalekites (the first Amalek). The town itself, however, is stated to have received its name from Eyleh, daughter of Midian (El-Makrizi's Khitat, s.v.; Caussin's Essai sur l'Histoire des Arabes, 1:23). The Amalekites, if we may credit the writings of Arabic historians, passed in the earliest times from the neighborhood of the Persian Gulf through the peninsula (spreading over the greater part of it), and thence finally passed into Arabia Petraea. Future researches may trace in these fragments of primeval tradition the origin of the Phoenicians. Herodotus seems to strengthen such a supposition when he says that the latter people came from the Erythrean Sea. Were the Phoenicians a mixed Cushite settlement from the Persian Gulf, who carried with them the known maritime characteristics of the peoples of that stock, developed in the great commerce of Tyre, and in that of the Persian Gulf, and, as a link between their extreme eastern and western settlements, in the fleets that sailed from Ezion-geber and Elath, and from the southern ports of the Yemen? SEE ARABIA; SEE CAPHTOR; SEE MIZRAIM. It should be observed, however, that Tyrian sailors manned the fleets of Solomon and of Jehoshaphat (see Jour. Sac. Lit. October 1851, page 153, n.).
The first time that Elath is mentioned in Scripture is in De 2:8, in speaking of the journey of the Israelites towards the Promised Land: "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 Ezion-geber." These two places are mentioned together again in 1Ki 9:26 (compare 2Ch 8:17), in such a manner as to show that Elath was more ancient than Ezion-geber, 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 Ezion-geber, which is beside Elath, on the shore (Nu 33:35) of the Red Sea, in the land of Edom." SEE EZION-GEBER. The use which David made of the vicinity of Elath shows that the country was at that time in his possession. Accordingly, in 2Sa 8:14, we learn that he had previously made himself master of Idumaea, and garrisoned its strong-holds with his own troops. Under Joram, however (2Ki 8:20), the Idumaeans revolted from Judah, and elected a king over themselves. Joram thereupon assembled his forces, "and all the chariots with him," and, falling on the Idumaeans by night, succeeded in defeating and scattering their army. The Hebrews, nevertheless, could not prevail, but ''Edom revolted from under the hand of Judah unto this day;" thus exemplifying the striking language employed (Ge 27:40) 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 2Ki 14:22, 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 chapter 16, verse 6 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 Palaestina Tertia (Jerome, Onomast. s.v. Ailath; Strabo, 21:4, 4; Reland, Palaest. page 556). It subsequently became the residence of a Christian bishop. Bishops of Elath were at the Council of Chalcedon (A.D. 451) and at that of Constantinople (A.D. 536). At the Council of Chalcedon, Beryllus thus wrote his designation as "bishop of Ela of Third Palestine" (Α᾿ϊλᾶ τῆς Παλαιστίνης τρίτης). In the days of its prosperity it was much distinguished for commerce, which continued to flourish under the auspices of Christianity (Cellarii Notit. 2:686 sq.). In the 6th century it is spoken of by Piocopius as being inhabited by Jews subject to the Roman dominion (De Bell. Pers. 1:19). 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 (Abulfeda, Ann. 1:171). Henceforward, till the present century, Ailah lay in the darkness of Islamism. It is merely mentioned by the supposed Ibn-Haukal (Engl. translation of D'Arvieux, Append. page 353), perhaps in the 11th century; and, after the middle of the 12th, Edrisi describes it as a small town frequented by the Aral s, who were now its masters, and forming an important point in the route between Cairo and Medina. In A.D. 1116, king Baldwin of Jerusalem took possession of it. Again it was wrested from the hands of the Christians by Saladin I, A.D. 1157, and never again fully recovered by them, although the reckless Rainald of Chatillon, in A.D.
1182, seized, and for a time held, the town. In Abulfeda's day, and before A.D. 1300, it was already deserted. He says, "In our day it is a fortress, to which a governor is sent from Egypt. It had a small castle in the sea, but this is now abandoned, and the governor removed to the fortress on the shore." Such as Ailah was in the days of Abulfeda, is Akabah now. 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 Haj, or pilgrim caravan. Under the Roman rule it lost its former importance with the transference of its trade to other ports, such as Berenice, Myos Hormos, and Arsinoe; but in Mohammedan times it again became a place of some note. It is now quite insignificant. It lies on the route of the Egyptian pilgrim-caravan, and the mountain-road or Akabah named after it was improved or reconstructed by Ahmad Ibn-Tulun, who ruled Egypt from A.D. cir. 840 to 848. This place has always been an important station upon the route of the Egyptian Haj. 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 Akabah has been established at intervals along the route, with wells of water and supplies of provisions (Robinson's Biblical Researches, 1:250). The first Frank who visited this place in modern times was Ruppell, in 1822 (Reise, page 248 sq.). Laborde (Journey through Arabia Petraea, London, 1836) was well received by the garrison and inhabitants of the castle of Akabah, of which he has given a view (1:116). The fortress, he states, is built on a regular plan, and is in a pretty good condition, though within several good habitations have been suffered to fall to decay. It has only two guns fit for service (Bartlett, Forty Days in the Desert, page 99 sq.). The ancient name of the place is indicative of groves in the vicinity, and Strabo speaks of its palm-woods (16:776), which appear still to subsist (Niebuhr, Beschr. Page 400; Schubert, 2:379)