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Edom by Brad Anderson

Israel and Judah have plenty of enemies in the Hebrew Bible. Some of these are more well-known than others, including powerful empires of the ancient world such as Egypt and Babylon. But Israel and Judah also had complex relationships with a number of their smaller neighbors, and none more so than their neighbor Edom. Edom was a kingdom based in the territory to the south and east of the Dead Sea, covering parts of modern day Israel and Jordan. Known for its mountainous terrain, it is also closely associated with the hill country of Seir in the Hebrew Bible (Gen 32:3; Gen 36:8). Part of the region would later become known as Idumea, a designation that is found in the New Testament (Mark 3:8).

Why is the Hebrew Bible so negative about Edom?

The inhabitants of Edom—the Edomites—are said to be the descendants of Esau, the twin brother of Jacob (Gen 25-36). Because of this association, the Edomites came to be considered as Israel’s kin, and the term “brother” is used in relation to the Edomites or the descendants of Esau in several places (Num 20:14; Deut 2:4-5; Amos 1:11; Obad 1:10).

Like their ancestors Jacob and Esau, the Israelites and the Edomites had a tumultuous relationship. The Hebrew Bible recounts several episodes in the history of these nations where friction can be seen, including King David’s military victory over Edom as told in 2Sam 8:13-14 (see also 2Kgs 8:20-22; 2Chr 28:16-17).

However, it is during and after the Babylonian conquest of Judah and Jerusalem in the sixth century BCE that Edom seems to become an exemplary villain in the Hebrew Scriptures. A number of biblical texts from this era indicate that Edom was complicit in the destruction of Judah and Jerusalem (Obad 1:10-14; Ezek 35:1-5; Ps 137:7) and that the Edomites began to settle in the southern parts of Judah. At the very least, these texts indicate that Edom did not act in a way that would be expected of a sibling in this time of distress. Because of this, the writings from this period have harsh words for their neighboring country, a theme that is particularly prominent in the prophetic literature (Isa 34; Ezek 35; Obad 1:1-21; Mal 1:1-5).

Did Edom deserve all this negative press?

The harsh depiction in the prophets is the most well-known aspect of Edom’s portrayal in the Hebrew Bible. But is this what Edom should be most remembered for, and did it deserve this severe representation?

It is worth noting that, while these negative portrayals are most common, there are also surprisingly positive elements to Edom’s story in the Hebrew Bible. One prominent example is found in Deut 2:4-5, as the Israelites make their way toward the land of promise after their time in the wilderness. Here the Israelites are told that the descendants of Esau have been given their land as a gift from Israel’s God, in the same way that Canaan is to be given as a gift to Israel (see also Josh 24:4). In fact, Deuteronomy indicates that Israel’s God helped the Edomites in taking possession of this territory. There are also texts that closely associate Israel’s God with Seir and Edom, even suggesting that YHWH came from this region (Judg 5:4; Deut 33:2). Thus, the picture of Edom and the Edomites does have some positive dimensions (see also Deut 23:7-8).

Questions have also been raised in recent decades about Edom’s supposed role in the destruction of Judah and Jerusalem at the time of the Babylonian conquest. There is no evidence outside of the Bible for Edom’s role in these events, and the biblical evidence for such complicity is vague and sparse (Ps 137:7). Further, some of the sources that give specific details of Edom’s role took shape quite some time after the events themselves (1Esd 4:45). Because of this, a number of scholars have suggested that Edom became an undeserving scapegoat in the exilic and postexilic eras, an easy target for Judah’s many frustrations and concerns after the Babylonian conquest. Others maintain, however, that this widespread anti-Edom tradition must have come from somewhere, and the idea that it emerged without any historical basis is unlikely.

Whether deserved or not, Edom is remembered in the biblical record as the sibling who doesn’t live up to family expectations.

Brad Anderson, "Edom", n.p. [cited 16 Nov 2018]. Online: http://bibleodyssey.com/en/places/main-articles/edom

Contributors

Brad Anderson

Brad Anderson
Lecturer, Dublin City University

Brad Anderson is lecturer in biblical studies at Dublin City University, Ireland. His research focuses on the Pentateuch and the prophetic literature, as well as biblical reception history. Publications include Brotherhood and Inheritance: A Canonical Reading of the Esau and Edom Traditions (T&T Clark, 2011), and the forthcoming co-authored volume An Introduction to the Study of the Pentateuch (Bloomsbury).

Edom was a neighboring enemy kingdom of Judah.

Did you know…?

  • Edom was a territory to the southeast of Israel/Judah. Today this area includes the famous site at Petra in Jordan.
  • The biblical traditions consider Edom the brother of Israel/Judah because their respective ancestors are Esau and Jacob, the sons of Isaac and Rebekah.
  • Outside of the Bible, the earliest references to Edom come from Egypt in the middle of the second millennium BCE.
  • Archaeological evidence indicates that Edom was settled as early as the eleventh century BCE and that the kingdom of Edom flourished from the eighth to the sixth centuries BCE. Edom seems to have suffered a fate similar to Judah, as the kingdom came to an end during the reign of the Babylonian king Nabonidus in the mid-sixth century BCE.
  • Several biblical texts speak of the wisdom of Edom (Jer 49:7; Obad 1:8), suggesting there was some association of wisdom with Edom in the ancient world.
  • Lam 4:21 connects Edom with the land of Uz, which means that Edom could be the setting for the book of Job, an idea that is confirmed in the LXX version of Job.
  • Herod the Great, known from the New Testament, was from Idumea.

A West Semitic language, in which most of the Hebrew Bible is written except for parts of Daniel and Ezra. Hebrew is regarded as the spoken language of ancient Israel but is largely replaced by Aramaic in the Persian period.

The set of Biblical books shared by Jews and Christians. A more neutral alternative to "Old Testament."

A collection of first-century Jewish and early Christian writings that, along with the Old Testament, makes up the Christian Bible.

region east of the Arabah

Gen 32:3

Jacob Sends Presents to Appease Esau
3Jacob sent messengers before him to his brother Esau in the land of Seir, the country of Edom,

Gen 36:8

8So Esau settled in the hill country of Seir; Esau is Edom.

Mark 3:8

8hearing all that he was doing, they came to him in great numbers from Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea, beyond the Jordan, and the region around Tyre and Sidon.

Of or relating to ancient lower Mesopotamia and its empire centered in Babylon.

The third division of the Jewish canon, also called by the Hebrew name Ketuvim. The other two divisions are the Torah (Pentateuch) and Nevi'im (Prophets); together the three divisions create the acronym Tanakh, the Jewish term for the Hebrew Bible.

Gen 25-36

Abraham Marries Keturah
1Abraham took another wife, whose name was Keturah.2She bore him Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak, and Shuah.3Jokshan was the fath ... View more

Num 20:14

Passage through Edom Refused
14Moses sent messengers from Kadesh to the king of Edom, “Thus says your brother Israel: You know all the adversity that has befall ... View more

Deut 2:4-5

4and charge the people as follows: You are about to pass through the territory of your kindred, the descendants of Esau, who live in Seir. They will be afraid o ... View more

Amos 1:11

11Thus says the Lord:
For three transgressions of Edom,
and for four, I will not revoke the punishment;
because he pursued his brother with the sword
and cast o ... View more

Obad 1:10

Edom Mistreated His Brother
10For the slaughter and violence done to your brother Jacob,
shame shall cover you,
and you shall be cut off forever.

2Sam 8:13-14

13David won a name for himself. When he returned, he killed eighteen thousand Edomites in the Valley of Salt.14He put garrisons in Edom; throughout all Edom he ... View more

2Kgs 8:20-22

20In his days Edom revolted against the rule of Judah, and set up a king of their own.21Then Joram crossed over to Zair with all his chariots. He set out by nig ... View more

2Chr 28:16-17

Assyria Refuses to Help Judah
16At that time King Ahaz sent to the king of Assyria for help.17For the Edomites had again invaded and defeated Judah, and carried ... View more

Obad 1:10-14

Edom Mistreated His Brother
10For the slaughter and violence done to your brother Jacob,
shame shall cover you,
and you shall be cut off forever.11On the day th ... View more

Ezek 35:1-5

Judgment on Mount Seir
1The word of the Lord came to me:2Mortal, set your face against Mount Seir, and prophesy against it,3and say to it, Thus says the Lord GO ... View more

Ps 137:7

7Remember, O Lord, against the Edomites
the day of Jerusalem's fall,
how they said, “Tear it down! Tear it down!
Down to its foundations!”

Isa 34

Judgment on the Nations
1Draw near, O nations, to hear;
O peoples, give heed!
Let the earth hear, and all that fills it;
the world, and all that comes from it.2 ... View more

Ezek 35

Judgment on Mount Seir
1The word of the Lord came to me:2Mortal, set your face against Mount Seir, and prophesy against it,3and say to it, Thus says the Lord GO ... View more

Obad 1:1-21

Proud Edom Will Be Brought Low
1The vision of Obadiah.

Thus says the Lord GOD concerning Edom:
We have heard a report from the Lord,
and a messenger has been s ... View more

Mal 1:1-5

1An oracle. The word of the Lord to Israel by Malachi.
Israel Preferred to Edom
2I have loved you, says the Lord. But you say, “How have you loved us?” Is not E ... View more

Relating to the period in Judean history following the Babylonian exile (587–539 B.C.E.), also known as the Persian period, during which the exiles were allowed to return to Judea and rebuild the temple in Jerusalem.

The promise made by Yahweh to the ancestors in Genesis, including the promise of offspring, land, and blessing. Eventually the covenant becomes the essential part of this promise.

The goat offered as an expiatory sacrifice on behalf of the people of Israel in order to purify the temple on the day of atonement; see Lev 16.

The name of Israel's god, but with only the consonants of the name, as spelled in the Hebrew Bible. In antiquity, Jews stopped saying the name as a sign of reverence. Some scholars today use only the consonants to recognize the lost original pronunciation or to respect religious tradition.

Deut 2:4-5

4and charge the people as follows: You are about to pass through the territory of your kindred, the descendants of Esau, who live in Seir. They will be afraid o ... View more

Josh 24:4

4and to Isaac I gave Jacob and Esau. I gave Esau the hill country of Seir to possess, but Jacob and his children went down to Egypt.

Judg 5:4

4“Lord, when you went out from Seir,
when you marched from the region of Edom,
the earth trembled,
and the heavens poured,
the clouds indeed poured water.

Deut 33:2

2He said:
The Lord came from Sinai,
and dawned from Seir upon us;
he shone forth from Mount Paran.
With him were myriads of holy ones;
at his right, a host of h ... View more

Deut 23:7-8

7You shall not abhor any of the Edomites, for they are your kin. You shall not abhor any of the Egyptians, because you were an alien residing in their land.8The ... View more

Ps 137:7

7Remember, O Lord, against the Edomites
the day of Jerusalem's fall,
how they said, “Tear it down! Tear it down!
Down to its foundations!”

1Esd 4:45

45You also vowed to build the temple, which the Edomites burned when Judea was laid waste by the Chaldeans.

Shorthand title for the Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures fabled to have been completed by 70 translators (LXX is 70 rendered in roman numerals).

The last ruler of the Neo-Babylonian Empire, ruled from 555–539 B.C.E. Nabonidus promoted worship of the moon god Sin over the national god of Babylon, Marduk. Nabonidus spent much of his reign at the oasis of Tayma in the Arabian desert, leaving his son Belshazzar in charge of the empire. Nabonidus was defeated by the Persians under Cyrus in 539 B.C.E.

Jer 49:7

Judgment on Edom
7Concerning Edom.

Thus says the Lord of hosts:
Is there no longer wisdom in Teman?
Has counsel perished from the prudent?
Has their wisdom van ... View more

Obad 1:8

8On that day, says the Lord,
I will destroy the wise out of Edom,
and understanding out of Mount Esau.

Lam 4:21

21Rejoice and be glad, O daughter Edom,
you that live in the land of Uz;
but to you also the cup shall pass;
you shall become drunk and strip yourself bare.

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