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Edom (Hebrew: אֱדוֹם, Modern Edom Tiberian ʼĔḏôm ; "red") is a name given to Esau in the Hebrew Bible, as well as to the nation descending from him. The nation's name in Assyrian was Udumi; in Syriac, ܐܕܘܡ; in Greek, Ἰδουμαία (Idoumaía); in Latin, Idumæa or Idumea.

The Edomite people were a Semitic-speaking tribal group inhabiting the Negev Desert and the Arabah valley of what is now southern Dead Sea and adjacent Jordan. The region has much reddish sandstone, which may have given rise to the name "Edom". The nation of Edom is known to have existed back to the 8th or 9th century BC, and the Bible dates it back several centuries further. Recent archaeological evidence may indicate an Edomite nation as long ago as the 11th century BC, but the topic is controversial and others argue that the 8th or 9th century dates are correct.[1] The nation ceased to exist as a settled state with the Jewish-Roman Wars.

The Edomites

The Edomites may have been connected with the Shasu and Shutu, nomadic raiders mentioned in Egyptian sources. Indeed, a letter from an Egyptian scribe at a border fortress in the Wadi Tumilat during the reign of Merneptah reports movement of nomadic "shasu-tribes of Edom" to watering holes in Egyptian territory.[2]

Biblical references

The Bible identifies Esau as the fraternal twin brother of Jacob, the grandson of Abraham. Jacob became the father of the Israelites after God (Genesis 35:10) renamed Jacob "Israel." Thus Esau shared his mother's womb together with the founder of the nation of Israel.[3] See Genesis 25. Although Esau was Isaac's first-born entitled to inherit Isaac's wealth and blessing, Esau sold his birthright to his younger brother Jacob (Israel) for a pot of stew. The descendants of Esau and Israel led divergent paths with Edom settling east of modern day Israel forming tribal chiefs while Jacob traveled west of the Dead Sea and north along the Jordan river inaccordance with the lands that were granted to the people of Israel, his inheritance.

The Bible explains the name "Edom" with no mention of red rock. It refers to the Edomites as descendants of Esau, and the Book of Genesis mentions "red" a number of times in describing Esau and explaining his alternate name Edom. "The first one [Esau] came out red [admoni in Hebrew], as hairy as a fur coat. They named him Esau."[4] Years later, "Jacob was once simmering a stew, when Esau came home exhausted from the field. Esau said to Jacob: "Feed me, I pray thee, with that same red pottage; for I am faint: therefore was his name called Edom". (Genesis 25:29-30, KJV) [5] (see also retroactive nomenclature).

Levant 830

Map of the southern Levant, c.830s BC.      Kingdom of Judah      Kingdom of Israel      Philistine city-states      Phoenician states      Kingdom of Ammon      Kingdom of Edom      Kingdom of Aram-Damascus      Aramean tribes      Arubu tribes      Nabatu tribes      Assyrian Empire      Kingdom of Moab

The Edomites' original country, according to the Tanakh, stretched from the Sinai peninsula as far as Kadesh Barnea. Southward it reached as far as Eilat, which was the seaport of Edom.[6] On the north of Edom was the territory of Moab.[7] The boundary between Moab and Edom was the Wadi Zered.[8] The ancient capital of Edom was Bozrah[9] According to Genesis, Esau's descendants settled in this land after displacing the Horites. It was also called the land of Seir; Mount Seir appears to have been strongly identified with them and may have been a cultic site. In the time of Amaziah (838 BC), Selah (Petra) was its principal stronghold;[10] Eilat and Ezion-geber its seaports.[11]

Genesis 36 chronicles Esau's family and the kings of Edom:

These are the kings who ruled in the land of Edom before a king ruled the children of Israel. And Bela ben Beor ruled in Edom, and the name of his city was Dinhabah. And Bela died, and Jobab ben Zerah from Bozrah ruled in his place. And Jobab died, and Husham of the land of Temani ruled in his place. And Husham died, and Hadad ben Bedad, who struck Midian in the field of Moab, ruled in his place, and the name of his city was Avith. And Hadad died, and Samlah of Masrekah ruled in his place. And Samlah died, and Saul of Rehoboth on the river ruled in his place. And Saul died, and Baal-hanan ben Achbor ruled in his place. And Baal-hanan ben Achbor died, and Hadar ruled in his place, and the name of his city was Pau, and his wife's name was Mehetabel bat Matred bat Mezahab. And these are the names of the clans of Esau by their families, by their places, by their names: clan Timnah, clan Alvah, clan Jetheth, clan Aholibamah, clan Elah, clan Pinon, clan Kenaz, clan Teman, clan Mibzar, clan Magdiel, clan Iram.[12]

The Hebrew word translated as "clan" is aluf, also translated as "chief", "general", or "duke", and used in this sense only in connection with Edom and Hori.[13] (Since 1948 it has been used for senior ranks in the Israeli Defense Force).

If the account may be taken at face value, the kingship of Edom was, at least in early times, not hereditary,[14] perhaps elective.[15] First Chronicles mentions both a king and chieftains.[16] When the King of Edom refused to allow the children of Israel[17] to pass through his land on their way to Canaan, they detoured around the country because of his show of force[18] or because God ordered them to do so rather than wage war.[19] The King of Edom did not attack the Israelites, though he prepared to resist aggression.

Nothing further is recorded of the Edomites in the Tanakh until their defeat by King Saul of Israel in the late 1000s BC. Forty years later King David and his general Joab defeated the Edomites in the "valley of salt", (probably near the Dead Sea).[20] An Edomite prince named Hadad escaped and fled to Egypt, and after David's death returned and tried to start a rebellion, but failed and went to Syria.[21] From that time Edom remained a vassal of Israel. David placed over the Edomites Israelite governors or prefects,[22] and this form of government seems to have continued under Solomon. When Israel divided into two kingdoms Edom became a dependency of the Kingdom of Judah. In the time of Jehoshaphat (c. 914 BC) the Tanakh mentions a king of Edom,[23] who was probably an Israelite appointed by the King of Judah. It also states[24] that the inhabitants of Mount Seir invaded Judea in conjunction with Ammon and Moab, and that the invaders turned against one another and were all destroyed. Edom revolted against Jehoram and elected a king of its own.[25] Amaziah attacked and defeated the Edomites, seizing Selah, but the Israelites never subdued Edom completely.[26]

In the time of Nebuchadnezzar II the Edomites helped plunder Jerusalem and slaughter the Jews.[27] For this reason the Prophets denounced Edom violently.[28]

Although the Idumaeans controlled the lands to the east and south of the Dead Sea, their peoples were held in contempt by the Israelites. Hence the Book of Psalms says "Moab is my washpot: over Edom will I cast out my shoe".[29] According to the Torah,[30] the congregation could not receive descendants of a marriage between an Israelite and an Edomite until the fourth generation. This law was a subject of controversy between Shimon ben Yohai, who said it applied only to male descendants, and other Talmudists, who said female descendants were also excluded.[31]


Archaeological excavations in southern Jordan have uncovered dozens of sites dated to the 7th and 6th centuries BC and attributed to the Edomites. Modern Buseirah is generally identified with biblical Bozrah, probably the Edomite capital. However, most of the Edomite sites are small villages, farms or seminomadic sites. Edomites are usually associated with Edomite pottery, a ware found and manufactured both in southern Jordan and the Negev.

For over a century, archeologists specializing in the Middle East maintained that there was no evidence of an organized state society in Edom earlier than the 800s or 700s BC, and first believed no Edom existed at all. Biblical minimalists touted this fact as one piece of evidence of the Bible's ultimate unreliability as a historical source.[32] Excavations such as the 2004-2004 UCSD dig at Khirbat an-Nahas, part of the Jabal Hamrat Fidan (JHF) Archaeological Project, in Jordan have shed new light on the history of Edom, unearthing artifacts and evidence of settled state society as early as the tenth century BC,[33] Thomas E. Levy, among other scholars, concluded from a survey of the an-Nahas site that Edom was a sophisticated, urbanized society as early as the eleventh century BC, (the date of the first Israelite monarchy, according to the Bible) which even had its own copper works.[34] Newer data pushes back the archaeological chronology some three centuries earlier than the current scholarly consensus.[35] "Now," said Levy, "with data from the first large-scale stratified and systematic excavation of a site in the southern Levant to focus specifically on the role of metallurgy in Edom, we have evidence that complex societies were indeed active in 10th and 9th centuries BC and that brings us back to the debate about the historicity of the Hebrew Bible narratives related to this period."[36] Radiocarbon tests from the site have confirmed that the industrial areas of the site date to the eleventh and tenth centuries BC.[37] However, according to the March Issue of Antiquity in 2006 published by the colleagues of Levy, the datings that Levy has presented is exactly the problem. Levy used the Bayesian radiocarbon tool which differed from the tabulated calibrated radio carbon dates in which they did not specify to have been used to reach these dates. According to the Department of Archeaology, "The authors need to be more specific about the archaeological or other data they have used to reach their extremely early BCal dates, before they can make any claims based on these dates.At each step, it seems, the authors are attempting to push the dates as early as possible, on average about a hundred years or so earlier than the calibrated radiocarbon evidence allows for. The irony is that the authors claim that their ‘high-precision radiocarbon dating is liberating us from chronological assumptions based on Biblical research’, but their paper clearly manipulates the dates according to chronological assumptions that are not articulated. This lack of transparency is unacceptable." [2]


The Kingdom of Edom drew much of its livelihood from the caravan trade between Egypt, the Levant, Mesopotamia, and southern Arabia, along the Incense Route. Astride the King's Highway, the Edomites were one of several states in the region for whom trade was vital due to the scarcity of arable land. It is also said that sea routes traded as far away as India, with ships leaving from the port of Ezion-Geber. Edom's location on the southern highlands left it with only a small strip of land that received sufficient rain for farming.

Edom probably exported salt and balsam (used for perfume and temple incense in the ancient world) from the Dead Sea region.

Post-biblical references


Map showing kingdom of Edom (in red) at its largest extent, c. 600 BC. Areas in dark red show the approximate boundary of classical-age Idumaea.

Edom is mentioned in Assyrian cuneiform inscriptions in the form "Udumi" or "Udumu"; three of its kings are known from the same source: Ḳaus-malaka at the time of Tiglath-pileser III (c. 745 BC), Malik-rammu at the time of Sennacherib (c. 705 BC), and Ḳaus-gabri at the time of Esarhaddon (c. 680 BC). According to the Egyptian inscriptions, the "Aduma" at times extended their possessions to the borders of Egypt.[38] After the conquest of Judah by the Babylonians, the Edomites were allowed to settle in the region of Hebron. They prospered in this new country, called by the Greeks and Romans "Idumaea" or "Idumea", for more than four centuries.[39].Strabo, writing around the time of Christ, held that the Idumaeans, whom he identified as of Nabataean origin, constituted the majority of the population of Western Judea, where they commingled with the Judaeans and adopted their customs [40].

During the revolt of the Maccabees against the Seleucid kingdom, II Maccabees refers to a Seleucid general named Gorgias as "Governor of Idumaea"; whether he was a Greek or a Hellenized Edomite is unknown.[41] Some scholars maintain that the reference to Idumaea in that passage is an error altogether. Judas Maccabeus conquered their territory for a time in around 163 BC.[42] They were again subdued by John Hyrcanus (c. 125 BC), who forced them to observe Jewish rites and laws.[43] They were then incorporated with the Jewish nation.[15] The Pharisees were notably opposed to te annexation of Idumea to the Maccabee state.

The Hasmonean official Antipater the Idumaean was of Edomite origin. He was the progenitor of the Herodian Dynasty that ruled Judea after the Roman conquest. Under Herod the Great Idumaea was ruled for him by a series of governors, among whom were his brother Joseph ben Antipater and his brother-in-law Costobarus.

Immediately before the siege of Jerusalem by Titus, 20,000 Idumaeans, under the leadership of John, Simeon, Phinehas, and Jacob, appeared before Jerusalem to fight in behalf of the Zealots who were besieged in the Temple.[44] See Zealot Temple Siege for more information.

After the Jewish Wars the Idumaean people are no longer mentioned in history, though the geographical region of "Idumea" is still referred to at the time of St. Jerome.[15]

Edomite religion

The nature of Edomite religion is largely unknown. As close relatives of other Levantine Semites, they may have worshipped such gods as El, Baal, Kaus and Asherah.

In Antiquities of the Jews, Book 15, chapter 7, section 9, Josephus notea that Costobarus, appointed by Herod to be governoer of Idumea and Gaza,was descended from the priests of 'the Koze, whom the Idumeans had formerly served as a God."

Josephus goes on to say that the Jewish leader Hyrcanus had made the Idumeans "receive the Jewish customs and law."

For an archaeological text that may well be Edomite, reflecting on the language, literature, and religion of Edom, see Victor Sasson, "An Edomite Joban Text, with a Biblical Joban Parallel", Zeitschrift fur die Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 117 (Berlin 2006), 601-615.

Identification with Rome

Later in Jewish history, the Roman Empire came to be identified with Edom, and specifically the remnants of Amalek and still designate nowadays western countries. This can be seen in rabbinic and Pharasaic writings such as the Mishnah or the Talmud, the Spanish Rabbinic leaders Ramban and Ibn-Ezra, the French Rabbinic scholars Rashi (1040-1105) and Tosphoth, Babylonian Jewish scholars like Sa-adia Gaon and other Jewish exilarchs, the Lithuanian leader Rabbi Elijah of Vilna and Baal-Shem-Tov. They use "Edomite" to refer to Rome, the Byzantine Empire. In parallel, the Islamic world is referred to as "Ishmael


Magdiel was an Edomite province, and possibly the name of an eponymous chieftain (Hebrew: sar‎), mentioned in the Bible ( Genesis 36:31-43). [45] In various midrashim, Magdiel was associated with Rome. [46]

See also


  1. van der Steen, Eveline; Piotra Bienkowski How Old is the Kingdom of Edom [1]
  2. Redford, Egypt, Canaan and Israel in Ancient Times, Princeton Univ. Press, 1992. p.228, 318.
  3. J.M. Tebes (2006), "You Shall Not Abhor an Edomite, for He is Your Brother": The Tradition of Esau and the Edomite Genealogies from an Anthropological Perspective, JHS 6/6
  4. Genesis 25:25, material in brackets added.
  5. Genesis 25:29-30, material in brackets added.
  6. Deuteronomy 1:2; Deuteronomy 2:1-8
  7. Judges 11:17-18; II Kings 3:8-9
  8. Deuteronomy 2:13-18
  9. Genesis 36:33; Isaiah 34:6, Isaiah 63:1, et al.
  10. II Kings 14:7
  11. I Kings 9:26
  12. Genesis 36:31-43
  13. Hebrew word #441 in Strong's
  14. Gordon, Bruce R.. "Edom (Idumaea)". Regnal Chronologies. Retrieved 2006-08-04. 
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 Richard Gottheil, Max Seligsohn (1901-1906). "Edom, Idumaea". The Jewish Encyclopedia. 3. Funk and Wagnalls. pp. 40–41. LCCN:16014703. Retrieved 2005-07-25. 
  16. I Chronicles 1:43-54
  17. Numbers 20:19, King James Version 1611
  18. Numbers 20:14-21
  19. Deuteronomy 2:4-6
  20. II Samuel 8:13-14; I Kings 9:15-16
  21. II Samuel 9:14-22; Josephus, Jewish Antiquities viii. 7, S 6
  22. II Samuel 8:14
  23. II Kings 3:9-26
  24. II Chronicles 20:10-23
  25. II Kings 8:20-22; II Chronicles 21:8
  26. II Kings 14:7; II Chronicles 25:11-12
  27. Psalms 137:7; Obadiah 1:11-14
  28. Isaiah 34:5-8; Jeremiah 49:7-22; Obadiah passim
  29. Psalms 60:8 & Psalms 108:9
  30. Deuteronomy 23:8-9
  31. Yevamot 76b
  32. Redford 305.
  33. Jagoda, Barry (2005). Controversial Dates Of Biblical Edom Reassessed In Results From New Archeological Research
  34. Levy, Thomas E. and Mohammed Najjar. "Edom and Copper." Biblical Archaeology Review. July/August, 2006. 5.
  35. "High-precision radiocarbon dating and historical biblical archaeology in southern Jordan.". PNAS. October 27 2008. doi:10.1073/pnas.0804950105. Retrieved 2008-10-27. 
  36. King Solomon's (Copper) Mines? Newswise, Retrieved on October 27, 2008.
  37. See the recent debate in Antiguo Oriente: T.E. Levy/M. Najjar/T. Higham. (2007) 'Iron Age Complex Societies, Radiocarbon Dates and Edom: Working with the Data and Debates', AntOr 5; E. van der Steen/P. Bienkowski. (2006) 'How Old is the Kingdom of Edom? A Review of New Evidence and Recent Discussion', AntOr 4; I. Finkelstein/L. Singer-Avitz. (2008) 'The Pottery of Edom: A Correction', AntOr 6.
  38. Müller, Asien und Europa, p. 135.
  39. Mark 3:8; Ptolemy, "Geography," v. 16
  40. Strabo, Geography Bk.16.2.34
  41. II Maccabees 12:32
  42. Josephus, "Ant." xii. 8, §§ 1, 6
  43. ib. xiii. 9, § 1; xiv. 4, § 4
  44. Josephus, Jewish Wars iv. 4, § 5


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