Wilderness is in the A.V. the most frequent rendering of מַדבָּר (midbar, ἡ ἔρημος), which primarily denotes a region not regularly tilled or inhabited (Job 38:26; Isa 32:15; Jer 2:2), but used for pasturage (from דָּבִר, to track, referring to the cattle-paths) (Jer 9:9; Ps 65:13; Joe 2:22; Lu 15:4); mostly treeless and dry, but not entirely destitute of vegetation or fertility, such as are of frequent occurrence in the East (Robinson 2:656; occasionally cultivated in spots, Josephus, Ant. 12:4, 6). Towers were sometimes erected in them for the protection of flocks (2Ch 26:10; 2Ki 17:9; comp. Isa 1:8). The term is likewise in some instances applied to particular barren tracts of hard arid steppes (Isa 35:6; Isa 41:18; Isa 43:20; La 4:3; Mal 1:3) overrun with wild animals (see Rosenmiller, Morgenl. 1:88 sq.); although for such spots the words מַדבִּר שׁמָמָה (Joel 2:3; 4:19), ישׁימוֹן, עֲרָבָה (see Credner, in the Stud. u. Krit. 1833, 3:788 sq.), etc., are usually employed. For a remarkable phenomenon of these dry wastes, SEE MIRAGE. Although this kind of region is not particularly characteristic of Palestine, yet the term midbar is applied to the following localities in it or its immediate vicinity SEE DESERT.
1. The Wilderness of Judah also called Jeshimon (1Sa 23:19; 1Sa 26:1,3), is a rocky district in the eastern part of that tribe adjoining the Dead Sea and including the town of Engedi (Jos 15:61; Jg 1:16). It appears to have extended from the vicinity of the Kedron, a few miles east of Jerusalem, to the S.W. shore of the Dead Sea and to the hills of Judah. The convent of Mar Saba (q.v.) is a marked feature of one of its wild and barren dells. SEE JUDAH, WILDERNESS OF. On the N.W. border of the wilderness of Judah lay the Wilderness of Tekoa (2Ch 20:20; 2Ch 1 Macc. 9:33); as in its E. part appears to have lain the Wilderness of Engedi (1Sa 24:2), and in its S. part the Wilderness of Ziph (23:14 sq.) or Maon (q.v.), otherwise called Jeruel (2Ch 20:37). The Wilderness of St. John (Mt 3:1,3; comp. 11:7; Lu 1:80) is a part of the desert of Judah; although modern tradition gives that name to the neighborhood of Ain Karim west of Jerusalem. SEE JOHN THE BAPTIST.
2. The Wilderness of Beersheba (Ge 21:14) lay south of that town on the borders of the desert Et-Tih. SEE BEERSHEBA.
3. The Wilderness of Jericho (Jos 16:1), between that city and the Mount of Olives, or rather Bethany, was an extension of the desert of Judah, a rough and stony tract full of precipices (see Josephus, Ant. 10:8, 2), which contains the so-called khan of the Samaritans (Lu 10:30). Its N, E. extremity is the wilderness of Quarantana (q.v.), and its N.W. extremity the wilderness of Beth-aven (Jos 18:12).
4. The Wilderness of Gibeon, in the vicinity of that city, north of Jerusalem (2Sa 2:24).
5. The Wilderness of Reuben (De 4:43), denotes the barren tract in the neighborhood of Bezer, on the border of the tribe towards the Arabian desert. SEE REUBEN.
6. The Wilderness of Bethsaida (Lu 9:10), a pasture-ground adjoining that town, apparently extending on both sides of the mouth of the Upper Jordan. SEE BETHSAIDA. For the Wilderness of Arabia Petraea or of Mt. Sinai, including those of Etham, Paran, Shur, and the Arabah, SEE WILDERNESS OF THE WANDERINGS.