(Eʹdom) [red, ruddy], Edomites.
Edom was the secondary name or byname given to Esau, Jacob’s twin brother. (Gen. 36:1) It was applied to him because of his selling his birthright for the red stew. (Gen. 25:30-34) Coincidentally, Esau at birth had had a very ruddy color (Gen. 25:25), and a similar color prevailed in parts of the land he and his descendants later inhabited.
SEIR AND EDOM
Sometime during Jacob’s twenty-year stay in Haran Esau, (Edom) had begun to establish himself in the land of Seir, “the field of Edom.” (Gen. 32:3) Thus, even before the death of his father (Gen. 35:29), Esau was apparently beginning to fulfill Isaac’s prophetic blessing, directing his attention away from the fertile soils around Hebron and, doubtless, beginning to ‘live by his sword,’ along with the four hundred men under his command. (Gen. 27:39, 40; 32:6, 8) The record indicates, however, that he still maintained residence or a base camp in the Hebron area, not transferring definitely to the mountainous region of Seir until after his father’s death (1738 B.C.E.). By then his family had grown and his possessions were great.—Gen. 36:6-8.
The land of Seir had previously been the domain of Horites (Gen. 14:6; 36:20-30), but Esau’s sons dispossessed the Horite sheiks and took over the region. (Deut. 2:12) Thereafter the land became known as the land of Edom, though the older name of Seir still continued to be in use. (Num. 24:18) The name Seir seems to be echoed in the modern name Jebel esh-Shera’, applied to the principal mountain range S of the Dead Sea and E of the Arabah (the southern extension of the great Rift Valley, which, N of the Dead Sea, forms the valley of the Jordan).
The territory of Edom extended about a hundred miles (c. 161 kilometers) from its frontier with Moab in the N, formed by the torrent valley of Zered, down to Elath (Eloth) on the Gulf of Aqabah in the S. (Deut. 2:1-8, 13, 14; 1 Ki. 9:26) To the E, the Edomite domain apparently extended out to the edge of the Arabian Desert, while to the W it reached across the Arabah to the wilderness of Zin and embraced the Negeb highlands region stretching from the SW corner of the Dead Sea on down to Kadesh-barnea. The western portion of Edom therefore came to form the SE boundary of Judah’s territory.—Josh. 15:1; compare Numbers 34:3.
The true heartland of the Edomite territory, however, evidently lay E of the Arabah, for here the high mountain range, with some points reaching an altitude of 5,600 feet (c. 1,707 meters), receives some rainfall. This is because the land W of the Arabah, the Negeb, is considerably lower, allowing the remnants of Mediterranean storm clouds to pass over and reach the higher mountains of Edom, where they release some of their remaining moisture. Thus, archaeological investigations show a string of ancient settlements and fortresses along a narrow tongue of arable land on the highest part of the long mountainous tableland or plateau, but these run out as one proceeds S toward the Gulf of Aqabah. Modern Tafileh, some eighteen miles (29 kilometers) from the S end of the Dead Sea, has large olive groves, though this is due in great measure to the flow of water from eight fine springs, only about eleven inches of rainfall being deposited annually.
Though fertile land was in short supply, this rugged mountainous region held valuable deposits of copper and iron, mining and smelting being carried on around modern Feinan, some thirty miles (48.3 kilometers) S of the Dead Sea. Evidence can also be seen of the existence of ancient pine forests of considerable size.
In harmony with the above, we see that Moses, upon sending messengers to the king of Edom, spoke of the Israelite position at Kadesh-barnea as “at the extremity of your territory,” and, when requesting permission for peaceful passage through Edomite territory, Moses referred to their fields, vineyards and wells.—Num. 20:14-17.
Moses requested permission for Israel to travel over the “king’s road” through Edom. (Num. 20:17) This road, generally called “the King’s Highway,” runs from the Gulf of Aqabah on up to Damascus in Syria, following the edge of the high plateaus lining the E side of the Arabah when traversing Edom. Along it were to be found the major cities of Edom, including Bozrah and Petra (connected with Biblical Sela). (Gen. 36:33; 2 Ki. 14:7) A route also led from the Negeb over to Petra, continued E through Maʽan on the edge of the Arabian Desert, connecting there with another route running N and S. Over these roads passed rich cargoes from Egypt, Arabia, Syria and Mesopotamia. Toll collected from camel or donkey caravans traversing the roads likely contributed greatly to Edom’s wealth. Weary desert travelers also may have paid for food and lodging upon reaching Edom. Petra became a rich trading city, rivaling Damascus in importance.
The steep escarpment or wall of the plateau that faced the Arabah gave the main stronghold of Edom excellent protection from that direction. The deep canyon of Zered valley impeded invasion from Moab. (Note, however, Amos 2:1.) A chain of fortresses faced the desert to the more vulnerable E, providing defense against Midianite and other nomadic tribes. Additionally, the clefts that cut into the mountains and plateaus are generally walled in by unscalable red sandstone cliffs forming forbidding gorges. With good reason Jehovah’s prophecy through Jeremiah speaks of the Edomites as confidently “residing in the retreats of the crag, holding the height of the hill,” and like an eagle in its nest.—Jer. 49:7, 16.
THE PEOPLE OF EDOM
The Edomites as descendants of Esau were basically a Semitic race, but with a strong Hamitic strain. This was due to two of Esau’s wives being from Hamitic Canaanite stock (Hittite and Hivite), only one wife named being Semitic, through Abraham’s son Ishmael. (Gen. 36:2, 3) If, as some scholars hold, the name “Horite” means simply “cave dweller,” Esau’s Hivite wife Oholibamah, the daughter of Anah, may have come from the Horite dwellers of Seir. (Compare Genesis 36:2, 20, 24, 25.) At any rate, the Edomites, like Lot’s descendants the Moabites and Ammonites (note Daniel 11:41), were related to the Israelites and originally they also practiced circumcision. (Jer. 9:25, 26; compare Ezekiel 32:29.) Jehovah referred to them as Israel’s “brothers,” and Edomite land rights were to be held inviolate by the Israelites advancing through the wilderness, since Jehovah had granted Edom’s descendants Mount Seir as a holding.—Deut. 2:1-8.
Originally formed into sheikdoms, the Edomite tribes later were organized under a kingdom. The royal line of succession indicates that the kings came from different tribes or sheikdoms, hence not taking the throne on a hereditary family basis. (Gen. 36:15-19, 31-43) Some critics have viewed as an anachronism or as a later insertion the reference at Genesis 36:31 to the Edomite rulers as “the kings who reigned in the land of Edom before any king reigned over the sons of Israel.” This is not the case, however, since Moses, the recorder of Genesis, already knew God’s clear promise to Jacob (Israel) that “kings will come out of your loins.” (Gen. 35:11) Moses himself foretold that Israel would eventually have a king.—Deut. 28:36.
The Septuagint Version contains an addition to Job 42:17 that would identify Job with Jobab, the Edomite king of Genesis 36:33. Job, however, was from the land of Uz, a name given originally to an Aramaean tribe and repeated in Aramaean Nahor’s lineage. (Job 1:1; compare Genesis 10:23; 22:20, 21.) Lamentations 4:21 does speak of Edom as ‘dwelling in the land of Uz,’ but this text, written many centuries after the probable time of Job’s life, does not equate Uz with Edom, especially since at Jeremiah 25:20, 21, “the kings of the land of Uz” are distinct from Edom. The text may rather indicate an extension of the Edomite domain.—See Uz.
On the other hand, it seems definite that one of the three “companions” who visited and criticized Job in his diseased state was an Edomite, namely, Eliphaz the Temanite. (Job 2:11; compare Genesis 36:11, 34.) Teman is presented as a center of Edomite wisdom at Jeremiah 49:7, the regular Edomite contact and communication with travelers from the Orient perhaps contributing to their reputation for wisdom.
EDOMITE HISTORY FROM THE EXODUS TO THE CLOSE OF JUDEAN HISTORY
The destruction of Pharaoh’s forces and Israel’s miraculous deliverance at the Red Sea had repercussions in Edom, as in all the region in and around Canaan. (Ex. 15:14, 15) In the wilderness of the Sinai Peninsula, Israel’s first armed opposition came from a far-ranging Edomite tribe, the Amalekites, a source of trouble for Israel throughout their history. (Ex. 17:8-16; compare Genesis 36:12, 16; see AMALEK, AMALEKITES.) At the close of the period of wandering, Moses’ respectful request for safe conduct over the king’s highway through Edom was rejected and the unnamed Edomite king marshaled a strong force to block any Israelite intrusion. (Num. 20:14-21) So, following Aaron’s death at Mount Hor by the border of Edom (Num. 20:22-29), Israel skirted Edom’s heartland, camped by the torrent valley of Zered and thereafter traveled N past Moab’s eastern frontier, all without suffering attack.—Num. 21:4, 10-13; Judg. 11:18; compare Deuteronomy 2:26-29.
In the poetic blessing Moses pronounced over Israel before his death, he described Jehovah God as ‘coming from Sinai’ and having “flashed forth from Seir [Edom]” and ‘beamed forth from the mountains of Paran.’ A similar description occurs in Barak and Deborah’s song and in the prophecy of Habakkuk. (Deut. 33:2; Judg. 5:4, 5; Hab. 3:3, 4) This prophetic portrayal thus evidently sets forth the arena or theater in which Jehovah had manifested himself to his newly formed nation, illuminating them as by flashes of light shining over the mountain peaks.
Israel had been commanded not to detest an Edomite, “for he is your brother.” (Deut. 23:7, 8) However, not only the aggressive Amalekite tribe, but Edom as a whole followed a course of opposition to Israel. Saul successfully waged war against them. (1 Sam. 14:47, 48) Yet, Saul had an Edomite, Doeg, as head over his shepherds and this man acted as informer to Saul against David. When Saul’s men were averse to attacking the priests of Nob, Saul used Doeg to accomplish a wholesale massacre.—1 Sam. 21:7; 22:9-18.
David, as king, won a major victory over the Edomites in the Valley of Salt. (2 Sam. 8:13) While the action provoking the battle is not stated, Edomite aggression was doubtless responsible, perhaps due to the Edomites’ thinking that David’s campaigns into Syria had left the southern part of his kingdom vulnerable to invasion. (See SALT, VALLEY OF.) At 1 Chronicles 18:12 and in the superscription of Psalm 60, Abishai and Joab respectively are described as effecting the conquest of the Edomites. Since David was commander-in-chief and Joab was his principal general, while Abishai was a divisional commander under Joab, it can be seen how the accounts could differ in crediting the victory, depending upon the viewpoint taken, even as is the case in modern times. Similarly the difference in figures in these texts is likely due to the narrator’s particular view of the different aspects or campaigns of the war. (Compare 1 Kings 11:15, 16.) At any rate, David stationed garrisons of Israelite troops throughout Edom, and Edom’s remaining population became subject to Israel. (2 Sam. 8:14; 1 Chron. 18:13) The “yoke” of Jacob now rested heavily on Edom’s (Esau’s) neck.—Gen. 27:40; compare Numbers 24:18.
Solomon, who married Edomite women (1 Ki. 11:1), made use of Israelite control over the Edomite coastal cities on the Red Sea, Eloth (Elath) and Ezion-geber, for developing a shipping enterprise. (1 Ki. 9:26; 2 Chron. 8:17, 18) Edom’s depleted male population was unable to lift off the Israelite yoke, though an escapee of royal blood, Hadad, did lead a resistance movement of some sort.—1 Ki. 11:14-22.
Whether this situation prevailed continuously for a full century after David’s initial conquest cannot be said. There is some uncertainty as to whether the attack by the “sons of Ammon and Moab and the mountainous region of Seir [Edom]” (2 Chron. 20:1, 2, 10, 22) took place before or after the combined assault by Judean, Israelite and Edomite forces against Moab. (2 Ki. 3:5-9) At any rate, Edom apparently formed part of each triple alliance, fighting first on one side and then on the other. It is also stated that, at some point in Jehoshaphat’s reign, Edom had no king, the land being ruled by a deputy, evidently answerable to the Judean throne, and Judah’s access to the Gulf of Aqabah and its port or ports was unobstructed. (1 Ki. 22:47, 48) With regard to the campaign against Moab, the predicted flooding of the previously dry torrent valley where the allied armies camped may have resulted from a desert thunderstorm on the higher plateau. Such storms in modern times can send torrents of water rushing down me wadis toward the Arabah. Or the water may have appeared by purely miraculous means.—2 Ki. 3:16-23.
Edom revolted and threw off the Judean yoke in the reign of Jehoshaphat’s son Jehoram and reestablished its independent monarchy. Although Jehoram won a military victory in an encounter with them, the Edomites remained in revolt. (2 Ki. 8:20-22; 2 Chron. 21:8-10) In the first half of Amaziah’s reign (858-829 B.C.E.), the Valley of Salt was again the scene of military disaster for Edom, and Amaziah seized the major Edomite city of Sela, being ensnared, however, by worship of Edom’s impotent false gods. (2 Ki. 14:7; 2 Chron. 25:11-20) His son, Uzziah (Azariah), restored Elath to Judean control.—2 Ki. 14:21, 22.
Syria, in an offensive action against Judah during Ahaz’ reign (761-745 B.C.E.), put the Red Sea port of Elath (Eloth) back into Edom’s hands. (2 Ki. 16:5, 6) The Edomites, evidently free from Judah’s dominion, joined other nations, including Assyria, in raids against Judah.—2 Chron. 28:16-20; compare Psalm 83:4-8.
No written records have been found from Edomite sources. Secular records of other nations, however, make mention of them. An Egyptian papyrus thought to be of the second millennium B.C.E. refers to Bedouin tribes from Edom entering the Delta region in search of pasturage for their cattle. Pharaohs Merneptah and Ramses III claimed dominion over Edom, as did the Assyrian monarch Adad-nirari III. Some decades after this latter king, Tiglath-pileser III (a contemporary of Ahaz) boasts of receiving tribute from “Kaushmalaku of Edom,” while Esar-haddon, Sennacherib’s successor, lists “Qaushgabri” as an Edomite vassal king.
EDOM IN PROPHECY
As early as King Uzziah’s rule, the prophets Joel and Amos pronounced Jehovah’s positive condemnation of Edom for its unrelenting fury expressed against Israel by the unmerciful use of the sword. (Amos 1:6, 11, 12) Edom, by its vicious opposition to Jehovah’s covenant people, had forfeited its title to the land it had held by divine warrant. (Joel 3:19; Amos 9:11, 12) The Edomites sealed their doom when the Babylonians conquered Judah and Jerusalem in 607 B.C.E. Edomite hatred was clearly revealed as they rejoiced at Judah’s tragedy, urged on her devastators (Ps. 137:7), and, in their enmity and desire for revenge, even turned over Judean escapees for slaughter by the Babylonians. They joined other neighboring peoples in plundering the land, and planned to take over the abandoned country of Judah and of Israel, speaking boastfully against Jehovah. For this, Jehovah directed his prophets Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Obadiah to assure Edom that its rejoicing would be short-lived and the treatment meted out to Judah would also become Edom’s portion. (Lam. 4:21, 22; Ezek. 25:12-14; 35:1-15; 36:3-5; Obad. 1-16) As the prophet Isaiah had earlier foretold, the sword-wielding Edomites would come under Jehovah’s own sword of justice and judgment, all classes, great and small, becoming like sacrificial animals devoted to destruction.—Isa. 34:5-8.
Edom was to become like Sodom and Gomorrah, uninhabited for all time. (Jer. 49:7-22; compare Isaiah 34:9-15.) Meriting Jehovah’s hatred, Edom would be called “the territory of wickedness” and “the people whom Jehovah has denounced to time indefinite.” (Mal. 1:1-5) Edom thus evidently stands as symbolic of the hard-set enemies of God’s covenant people at Isaiah 63:1-6, where the divine Warrior with bloodstained garments who has trod the winepress of God’s vengeance appropriately is described as coming from Edom (meaning “red”) and from Edom’s most prominent city Bozrah (meaning “fortified place,” though possibly used here as a play on the Hebrew word ba·tsir’, meaning “vintage”).—Compare Revelation 14:14-20; 19:11-16.
LATER HISTORY AND DISAPPEARANCE
Some Judean exiles did find temporary refuge in Edom, returning to their land after the departure of the Babylonian armies, but then fleeing down to Egypt. (Jer. 40:11, 12) Soon the time for Edom to begin drinking the cup of Jehovah’s wrath arrived as Babylon’s forces returned to the Palestinian area for a further campaign, and the foretold yoke of Babylon descended on Edom’s neck. (Jer. 25:15-17, 21; 27:2-7) Jewish historian Josephus (Antiquities of the Jews, Book X, chap. IX, par. 7) says that Nebuchadnezzar carried out another campaign against Syria-Palestine in his twenty-third year, attacking Ammon and Moab. (Compare Jeremiah 52:30.) Likely Edom also came in for attention then (602/601 B.C.E.), but the Babylonian subjugation did not bring complete ruin to the land. However, a wave of nomads from Arabia began exercising pressure on the Edomites from about the fifth century B.C.E. onward. By the third century the Nabataean tribe had pushed the Edomites out of their heartland and the major site of Petra and into the Negeb to the S of Judah. Eventually the Edomites moved farther N, reaching up to Hebron, and the southern part of Judah now became known as Idumea. According to Josephus (Antiquities of the Jews, Book XIII, chap. IX, par. l; Book XV, chap. VII, par. 9), John Hyrcanus subjugated them sometime between 130 and 120 B.C.E. and compelled them to accept Judaism. Thereafter they were gradually absorbed by the Jews and, following the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E., they ceased to exist as a people. (Compare Isaiah 11:13, 14; Obadiah 10, 17-21.) The Herods were basically of Edomitic descent.—See IDUMEA.
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The Land of Edom
WILDERNESS OF ZIN
Torrent Valley of Zered
Gulf of Aqabah