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 (
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 4:21connects 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.
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 (
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
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 (
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
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 (
Whether deserved or not, Edom is remembered in the biblical record as the sibling who doesn’t live up to family expectations.