ELATH, î’ath (ELOTH), EZION-GEBER (EZION-GABER): Elath is the Old-Testament name of a place on the eastern arm of the Red Sea, and in the land of Edom. In the Septuagint it appears as Ailath, Ailom, Ailam; in Josephus as Ilanis, Ailanē, Elathous; in other Greek writers as Aeilan, Aïlana; in Pliny as Aelana. These variations are explained by the different forms in Hebrew and Aramaic. It is clear that the name is derived from that of a holy tree or grove, and the original form may be found in the El-paran of Gen. xiv. 6 (M.T. 'eyl pa'ran, "oak [or some other large tree] of Paran"). The form Elah is found only in Gen. xxxvi. 41 as the name of a district of which Elath was the center.
The location is clearly given in I Kings ix. 26, and with this Eusebius agrees (Onomasticon, ccxxvii. 40), placing it on the Red Sea, in Edom, three days' journey from Paran. It was known to the Arabic writers, but owing to its inaccessibility it was first visited in modern times by E. Rüppell in 1822, later by Laborde, E. Robinson and others; in 1884 the Palestine Exploration Fund sent out Professor Hull and Major Kitchener, and they explored thoroughly the region between the Dead Sea and the Gulf of Akabah. Their reports describe the situation as follows: The eastern arm of the Red Sea ends on the northeast in a bay about four miles wide with an irregular beach of sand, mussel shells, and detritus from the neighboring hills. On the east cliffs of porphyritic rock rise to a height of 4,000 feet, on the west are porphyritic rocks, interrupted by strata of sandstone and limestone about 2,500 feet in height. In the northeast is a depression continuing for about twenty miles at a height of about 210 feet above sea level, which is the continuation of the depression in which lies the Dead Sea and is known as the Wadi al-Arabah. The drainage of the rainy season from the hills empties along the west side though much is lost in the sand. By digging, water is easily found (cf. II Kings iii. 16-17), at first brackish, afterward fresh and potable. Nearly the entire region is covered with a growth of thorn-bush. In a bight of the Gulf not far from the east side are heaps of ruins, and a little farther south is a square fort with thick walls and a tower at each corner, which bears the name of (Kalat al-) Akabah, "Fort of the Declivity." The Arabic geographer Idrisi (1154) speaks of the ‘Akabet Aila, in which may be recognized the fuller form of the present name. At the northeastern corner of the bight is a beautiful palm grove containing both date-palms and the African variety. This circumstance has given rise to the conjecture that the name came not from the oak (as the form of the name would suggest) but from the grove of palms. The cultivated area is small, though the ground is not unfruitful. The temperature averages high, especially in summer. The water of the bay is very clear and abounds in fish, and sharks are numerous. Corals are plentiful.
The heaps of ruins mentioned above belong probably to the Aila of the Middle Ages, the Elath of the Old Testament probably was situated on the hills higher up. The Old Testament knows of two places in the region, Elath and Ezion-geber (cf. I Kings ix. 26 and II Chron. viii. 17), the latter probably north of the former. Ezion-geber has been located at Ladyan, about twenty-four miles north of the present coast line, but formerly on the coast when the sea extended farther inland.
Elath and Ezion-geber are brought into connection with the desert wandering of the Hebrews (Deut. ii. 8), and David made the region a part of his realm (II Sam. viii. 14). From Elath and Ezion-geber Solomon sent his ships to Ophir (q.v.; I Kings ix. 26, 28); but after the death of Jehoshaphat they were retaken by the Edomites II Kings viii. 20), and were for only a short time in the possession of Judah, during the reign of Uzziah (II Kings xiv. 22, xvi. 6). Under the Romans Elath was still an important mercantile place, the station of a legion, and the seat of a bishop. Under the Mohammedans it lost its trade. About 1300, at the time of Abulfeda, it was completely deserted.
Bibliography: E. Hull, Mount Seir, Sinai and Western Palestine, pp. 71 sqq., London, 1889; idem, Memoir on the Geology and Geography of Arabia Petræa, ib., 1889; E. Rüppell, Reisen in . . . dem Peträischen Arabien, pp. 248 sqq.. 385-386, Frankfort, 1829; L. de Laborde, Voyage de l'Arabie Pétrée, Paris, 1880; E. Robinson, Biblical Researches, i. 280, Boston, 1856; C. M. Doughty, Travels in Arabia Deserta, London, 1888; G. le Strange, Palestine under the Moslems, ib. 1890; H. C. Hart, Fauna and Flora of Sinai, Petra and Wady Arabah, ib. 1891; F. Buhl, Geschichte der Edomiter, Leipsic, 1893.