(kehn' itess) Name of a tribe meaning, “smith.” Nomadic tribe, probably of blacksmiths, whose land, along with that of the Kadmonites and Kenizzites God promised to Abraham (Genesis 15:19). Their home was the southeastern hill country of Judah. Balaam pronounced doom and captivity for them (Numbers 24:21-22). Moses' father-in-law, Jethro, is called a “priest of Midian” (Exodus 3:1) and is described as a Kenite (Judges 1:16). This association suggests a close relationship between the Kenites and Midianites. Some scholars have suggested that Moses learned about the worship of Yahweh through Kenite influence, but this theory has not been accepted by all scholars.
The Kenites lived among the Amalekites during the time of Saul. The Kenites “showed kindness” to Israel during the time of the Exodus (1 Samuel 15:6). The chronicler includes the Kenite, Hemath, the father of the Rechabites, as one of the ancestors of the tribe of Judah (1 Chronicles 2:55). No mention is made of the Kenites in the late history of Israel suggesting to many scholars that they disappeared or lost their identity shortly after 1000 B.C.
The word Kenite is probably related to an Aramaic word that means “smith.” Some scholars think the traveling blacksmiths of the Middle Ages resembled the Kenites. This would account for their relations with different peoples. In addition to their nomadic character, the biblical evidence also indicates that the Kenites were never completely absorbed by another people but maintained a separate existence throughout their history. See Moses, Jethro; Cain; Amalekites; Midianites.