Kadesh or Qadesh (in classical Hebrew Hebrew: קָדֵשׁ, from the root קדש "holy") is a place-name that occurs several times in the Hebrew Bible, describing a site or sites located south of, or at the southern border of, Canaan and the Kingdom of Judah. Many modern academics hold that it was a single site, located at the modern 'Ain el-Qudeirat, while some academics and rabbinical authorities hold that there were two locations named Kadesh. A related term, either synonymous with Kadesh or referring to one of the two sites, is Kadesh (or Qadesh) Barnea. Various etymologies for Barnea have been proposed, including 'desert of wanderings,' but none have produced widespread agreement.
The Bible mentions Kadesh and/or Kadesh Barnea in a number of episodes, making it an important site (or sites) in narratives concerning Israelite origins. Kadesh was the chief site of encampment for the Israelites during their wandering in the Zin Desert (Deuteronomy 1:46), as well as the place from which the Israelite spies were sent to Canaan (Numbers 13:1-26). The first failed attempt to capture Canaan was made from Kadesh (). Moses disobediently struck a rock that brought forth water at Kadesh (). Miriam () and Aaron () both died and were buried near a place named Kadesh. Moses sent envoys to the King of Edom from Kadesh (), asking for permission to let the Israelites use the King's Highway passing through his territory, which the Edomite king denied.
Kadesh Barnea is a key feature in the common biblical formula delineating the southern border of the Land of Israel (cf. , , etc.) and thus its identification is key to understanding both the ideal and geopolitically realised borders of ancient Israel.
The most common identification of Kadesh or Kadesh Barnea in modern scholarship is with the present-day Tell el-Qudeirat, with most contemporary scholars seeing the biblical references to Kadesh as referring to a single site.
By the late nineteenth century, as many as eighteen sites had been proposed for biblical Kadesh. One source of confusion has been the fact that Kadesh is sometimes mentioned in connection with the Desert of Paran (Numbers 13:26) and at other times with the Zin Desert (Numbers 20:1). This discrepancy has been noted by commentators as early as the Middle Ages. Some (e.g., Hezekiah ben Manoah) sought a reconciliatory model, while others (Abraham ibn Ezra and Nahmanides) proposed two separate sites named Kadesh.
A minority of recent scholars have continued to maintain a two-site theory, with a western Kadesh in the wilderness of Zin, and an eastern Kadesh in the wilderness of Paran, the latter often associated with Petra, Jordan. The two-site theory also appears to have been held by Josephus and Eusebius of Caesarea. Josephus identifies Miriam's burial site (which the Bible identifies as Kadesh) with Petra.
After a period in which researchers identified Kadesh with the similarly-named Ein Qedeis, since 1905 modern Ain-el-Qudeirat in Wadi el-Ain of northern Sinai has been widely accepted as the location of Kadesh Barnea. Several Iron Age fortresses have been excavated there. The oldest, a small elliptical structure, dates to the tenth century BCE, and was abandoned for some time after its first destruction. A second fort, constructed during the eighth century BCE (probably during the reign of Uzziah) was destroyed during the seventh century BCE, most likely during Manasseh of Judah's reign. Two ostraca engraved in Hebrew, dated to the 8th or 7th century BCE, have been recovered there, suggesting Israelite occupation.
Excavations at Ain el-Qudeirat conducted by Dr. Rudolph Cohen, former head of the Israeli Antiquities Authority during the Israeli occupation of Sinai following the 1967 war uncovered copious remains of the Middle Bronze Age I period (MBA I or MBI, sometimes known as the Intermediate Bronze Age), which were also found at numerous other sites in the Negev. On the other hand, Late Bronze Age, the conventional time of the Exodus, is unattested in the Negev. In an article in Biblical Archaeology Review of July, 1983, Cohen put forward the suggestion that the Exodus took place at the start of MBI and that the MBI people were, in fact, the Israelites. The idea has not been widely adopted.