1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Edom

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EDOM, the district situated to the south of Palestine, between the Dead Sea and the Gulf of ‘Akaba (Aelanitic Gulf), the inhabitants of which were regarded by the Israelites as a “brother” people (see Esau). On the E. it touched Moab, the tribes of the great desert and the northern part of Arabia; on the W. its boundaries were determined by the Sinaitic peninsula, Egypt and Israel. Both Kadesh and Mt. Hor (perhaps Jebel Mādera) are represented as lying on its border (Num. xx. 16, 22), and the modern Wadi el-Fikreh, in which the “Scorpion pass” was probably situated (Judg. i. 36; Num. xxxiv. 4), may have marked its limits from Jebel Mādera north-west towards the southern extremity of the Dead Sea. Kadesh (‘Ain Ḳadis), however, lies about 50 m. south of Beersheba (the southern end of Israel as opposed to Dan in the north), and the precise borders must always have been determined by political conditions: by the relations between Edom and its neighbours, Judah, the Philistine states, Moab, and the restless desert tribes with which Edom was always very closely allied.

The northern part of Edom became known by a separate name as Gebalene (Gebal in Ps. lxxxiii. 7), the modern Jibāl, “mountain country.” Seir or Mt. Seir, a synonym for Edom, not to be confused with the Judaean locality (Josh. xv. 10), has been identified with the modern eš-šarah, the hilly region to the south of Petra; though its use probably varied in ancient times as much as that of Edom certainly did. Mt. Ḥalaḳ, apparently one of its offshoots (Josh. xi. 17, xii. 7), is of uncertain identification, nor can the exact position of Paran (probably desert of et-Tih) or Zin (Sin) be precisely determined. The chief Edomite cities extended from north to south on or adjoining an important trade-route (see below); they include Bozrah (Buseire), Shōbek, Petra (the capital), and Ma‘ān; farther to the south lay the important seaports Ezion-Geber (mod. ‘Ain el-Ghudyān, now 15 m. north of the head of the Aelanitic Gulf) and Elath (whence the gulf derives its name). Petra (q.v.) is usually identified with the biblical Sela, unless this latter is to be placed at the south end of the Dead Sea (Judg. i. 36). The sites of Teman and Dedan, which also were closely associated with Edom (Jer. xlix. 7 seq.; Ez. xxv. 13), are uncertain. No doubt, as a general rule, the relations between Edomites and the “sons of the east” (Ezek. xxv. 10; Job i. 3) and the “kingdoms of Hazor” (nomad states; Jer. xlix. 28, 30, 33) varied considerably throughout the period of O.T. history.

The land of Edom is unfruitful and forbidding, with the notable exception of fertile districts immediately south of the Dead Sea and along its eastern border. It was traversed by an important trade-route from Elath (the junction for routes to Egypt and Arabia) which ran northwards by Ma’ān and Moab; but cross-routes turned from Ma’ān and Petra to Gaza or up the Ghor (south end of Dead Sea) to Hebron and Jerusalem.[1] Thus Edom formed a prominent centre for traffic from Arabia and its seats of culture to Egypt, the Philistine towns, Palestine and the Syrian states, and it enjoyed a commercial importance which made it a significant factor in Palestinian history.

The earliest history of Edom is that of the “sand-dwellers,” “archers” or Shasu (perhaps “marauders”), whose conflicts with ancient Egypt are not infrequently mentioned. The first clear reference is in the eighth year of Mineptah II. (close of 13th century B.C.), when a tribe of Shasu from Aduma received permission to enter Egypt and feed their flocks.[2] A little more than a century later Rameses III. claims to have overthrown the Saaru among the tribes of the Shasu, and the identification of this name with Seir is usually recognized, although it is naturally uncertain whether the Edomites of Old Testament tradition are meant. According to the latter, the Edomites were a new race who drove out the Horites from Mt. Seir. The designation suggests that these were “cave-dwellers,” but although many caves and hollows have been found about Petra (and also in Palestine), this tradition probably “serves only to express the idea entertained by later generations concerning their predecessors” (Nöldeke).

Not only is Edom as a nation recognized as older than Israel, but a list of eight kings, who reigned before the Israelite monarchy, is preserved in Gen. xxxvi.

The first Bela, son of Beor, is often identified with Balaam, but the traditions of the Exodus are not precise enough to warrant the assumption that the seer was the king of a hostile land in Num. xx. 14 sqq., which in Deut. ii. 1-8 appears to have been peaceful; see Balaam; Exodus. In Husham, the third king, several scholars (Grätz, Klostermann, Marquart, &c.) have recognized the true adversary of Othniel (q.v.; Judg. iii.). The defeat of Midian in the land of Moab by his successor Hadad has been associated with the Midianite invasion in the time of Gideon (q.v.; Judg. vi. sqq.). The sixth is Shaul, whose name happens to be identical with Saul, king of Israel, whilst the last Hadad (so 1 Chron. i. 50) of Pau (or Peor in Moab, so the Septuagint) should belong to the time of David. The list, whatever its value, together with the other evidence in Gen. xxxvi., implies that the Edomites consisted of a number of local groups with chieftains, with a monarchy which, however, was not hereditary but due to the supremacy of stronger leaders. The tradition thus finds an analogy in the Israelite “judges” before the time of Saul and David.

Saul, the first king of Israel, conquered Edom (1 Sam. xiv. 47).[3] Of the conquest of Edom by David, the first king of the united Judah and Israel, several details are given (2 Sam. viii. 13 seq.; 1 Kings xi. 14 sqq.; 1 Chron. xviii. 11 seq.; cf. Ps. lx. title and ver. 8 seq.), although the account of the slaughter is certainly exaggerated. The scene was the valley of Salt, probably to the south of the Dead Sea. Of the escape of the Edomite prince Hadad, and of his residence in Egypt, a twofold account is preserved.[4] After the death of David he returned to Edom; if, as the narrative implies, he became a troublesome adversary to Solomon, nothing is known of his achievements, and if the royal trading-journeys from Ezion-geber were maintained, Edom could have done little. However, in the first half of the 9th century Edom was under the rule of Jehoshaphat of Judah, and this king together with Israel held Ezion-geber (1 Kings xxii. 47 sqq.; 2 Chron. xx. 35 sqq.). But some catastrophe befell the fleet, and shortly afterwards Jehoshaphat’s son Jehoram had to face a revolt in which Edom and the men of Libnah (the Philistines) were concerned. It was about this period that Israel had conquered Moab, thrusting it farther south towards Edom, and the subsequent success of Moab in throwing off the yoke, and the unsuccessful attempt of Jehoram of Israel to regain the position, may show that Edom was also in alliance with Moab.[5] In the time of Adad-nirari of Assyria (812-783 B.C.) Edom is mentioned as an independent tributary with Beth-Omri (Israel) and Palashtu (Philistia); the absence of Judah is perplexing. Amaziah of Judah had gained a signal victory over Edom in the valley of Salt (2 Kings xiv. 7), but after his defeat by Jehoash of Israel there is a gap and the situation is obscure. Consequently it is uncertain whether Edom was the vassal of the next great Israelite king Jeroboam II., or whether the Assyrian evidence for its independent position belongs to this later time. However, Uzziah, a contemporary of Jeroboam II., and one of the most successful of Judaean kings, overcame Edom and its natural allies (2 Chron. xxvi. 6 sqq.), and at this stage Edomite history becomes more prominent. It joined the great coalition in which Philistia and Israel were leagued against Assyria, and drove out the Judaeans who had been in possession of Elath.[6] On the events that followed see Ahaz; Hezekiah; Philistines. The Assyrian inscriptions name as tributary kings of Edom, Kauš-melek (time of Tiglath-Pileser IV.), Malik (?)-ram (701 B.C.), and Kauš-gabri (7th century). In the middle of the 7th century both Edom and Moab suffered from the restlessness of the desert tribes, and after another period of obscurity, they joined in the attempt made by Zedekiah of Judah to revolt against Nebuchadrezzar (Jer. xxvii. 3). In the last years before the fall of Jerusalem many of the Jews found a refuge in Edom (Jer. xl. 11), although other traditions throw another light upon the attitude of Edom during these disasters.

That Edomites burned the temple after the destruction of Jerusalem (1 Esd. iv. 45, cf. v. 50) is on a line with the repeated denunciation of their “unbrotherly” conduct in later writings. Certainly the weak state of Palestine invited attacks from the outlying tribes, but the tone of certain late writings implies a preliminary period of, at least, neutrality (cf. Deut. ii. 4 sqq., xxiii. 7 seq.; the omission of Edom in xxiii. 3; Neh. xiii. 1; and in Ezra ix. 1—contrast 1 Esd. viii. 69). Subsequently Edom is execrated for revengeful attacks upon the Jews, and its speedy destruction is foretold; but the passages appear to be much later than the disaster of 587 B.C., and may even imply conditions after the restoration (Ob. 10 sqq.; Ezek. xxv. 12-14; Jer. xlix. 7; Ps. cxxxvii. 7; Lam. iv. 21 seq., v. 2 sqq.). But at length the day of reckoning came (cf. Is. xxxiv. 5; lxiii. 1-6), and the fate of Edom is still fresh in the mind of Malachi (i. 1-5).

The problem is complicated by the possibility that during the ages over which the references can range many changes of fortune could have occurred. The pressure of the Nabataeans (q.v.) forced Edom to leave its former seats and advance into the south of Judah with Hebron as the capital. This had been fully accomplished by 312 B.C., but the date of the first occupation cannot be ascertained from the literary evidence alone. Thus the district in question is Jewish in the time of Nehemiah (Neh. xi. 25-30), but it is uncertain whether the Edomite occupation was earlier (a fusion being assumed) or later, or whether the passage may be untrustworthy. Henceforth, the new home of the Edomites is consequently known as Idumaea. See, for further history, Herod; Jews.[7]

Although but little is known of the inhabitants of Edom, their close relationship to Judah and their kinship with the surrounding tribes invest them with particular interest. The ties which united Lot (the “father” of Ammon and Moab), Ishmael, Midian and Edom (Esau) with the southern tribes Judah and Simeon, as manifested in the genealogical lists, are intelligible enough on geographical grounds alone, and the significance of this for the history of Judah and Palestine cannot be ignored. The traditions recording the separation of Lot from Abraham, of Hagar and Ishmael from Isaac, and of Esau from Jacob, although at present arranged in a descending scheme of family relationship, are the result of systematic grouping and cannot express any chronological order of events (see Genesis). Many motives have worked to bring these legends into their present form, and while they depict the character of Israel’s wilder neighbours, they represent the recurrent alternating periods of hostility and fellowship between it and Edom which mark the history. Esau (Edom) although the older, loses his superiority, and if the oracles declare that the elder shall serve the younger (Jacob, i.e. Israel), the final independence of Esau (Gen. xxv. 23, xxvii. 39 seq.), as foretold, obviously alludes to some successful Edomite revolt. As an enemy, Edom in alliance with the tribes along the trade-routes (Philistines, Moabites, &c.) was responsible for many injuries, and in frequent forays carried away Judaeans as slaves for Gaza and Tyre (Am. i. 6 seq., 9). As an ally or vassal, it was in touch with the wealth of Arabia (Ezek. xxvii. 16, read “Edom” for “Aram”), and Judah and Israel as well as Gaza and Damascus enjoyed the fruits of its commerce. In view of the evidence for the advanced culture of early Arabia, the question of Edom is extremely suggestive, and although speculation at this stage would be premature, it is interesting to observe that Edomite and allied tribes were famed for their wisdom,[8] and that apart from the possibility of Arabian influence upon Israelite culture, the influence of Midian and related tribes is certain from the traditions of Moses and of his work (see Jethro; Kenites; Moses), and the Edomite district was a traditional home of Yahweh himself (Deut. xxxiii. 2; Judg. v. 4; Hab. iii. 3); see Hebrew Religion. It should be added, however, that the Edomite names and other evidence point to the cult of other gods, viz. Baal, Hadad, Malik (cf. Moloch), Kauš, or Kuš, and Kozeh (Jos. Ant. xv. 7, 9), who was probably a sky or lightning deity.

The names Esau and Edom are possibly old divine names; see Esau and Ency. Bib. s.v. “Obed edom” (the name appears to mean “servant of Edom”). For Kauš, see Baethgen, Beitr. z. semit. Religionsgeschichte, p. 11 seq.; G. A. Cooke, N. Sem. Inscr. p. 234; Ency. Bib. col. 2682, n. 2 and 2688 (s.v. “Kushaiah”); and Zimmern, Keilinschr. u. d. alte Test.3, pp. 472 seq. On the question of early Arabian civilization see Yemen. That the name Mizraim (Miṣraim), “Egypt,” was extended eastwards of the Delta is in itself probable, but it is still uncertain whether the term (also Ass. Muṣri) was applied to Edom. The evidence (which is of mixed value) makes the view a plausible one, but the theory has often been exaggerated (see Mizraim). For Edom see, generally, Buhl, Gesch. d. Edomiter (1893); Nöldeke’s article in Ency. Bib.; W. Libbey and F. E. Hoskins, The Jordan Valley and Petra (1905); the conjectural sketch by I. Levy in Rev. d’études juives (Jan. 1906). For the history and culture of the latest period, see J. P. Peters and Thiersch, Painted Tombs in the Necropolis of Marissa (1905), ch. i.

(S. A. C.)


  1. See further, E. Robinson, Biblical Researches, vol. ii.; E. Hull, Mt. Seir; E. H. Palmer, Desert of the Exodus; Baedeker’s Palestine and Syria; C. W. Wilson, “Quart. Stat.” (Pal. Explor. Fund), 1899, p. 307, and G. A. Smith, Ency. Bib. col. 5162 seq.
  2. In the old story of Sinuhit (ascribed to the 12th dyn.) the hero visits the land of Kedem, which, it was suggested, lay to the south-east or south of the Dead Sea; see, however, now A. H. Gardiner, Sitz.-Ber. of the Berlin Academy, 1907, pp. 142 sqq. The suggestion that the city Udumu, in the land of Gar, mentioned in the 15th century (Amarna Tablets, ed. Winckler, No. 237), is Edom, Gar being the Eg. Kharu (Palestine) and the O.T. Horites (see above), is extremely hazardous. That the name Aduma (above) refers to Etham (so Naville, &c.) is improbable.
  3. That the Edomites preserved this tradition of Saul’s sovereignty and (from their standpoint) enrolled him among their kings (Gen. xxxvi. 37) cannot of course be proved. The account of the ferocious slaughter of the priests of Nob at Saul’s command by Doeg the Edomite is a secondary tradition and probably of late origin (1 Sam. xxi. 1-9, xxii. 6-23); cf. the hostility of Edom in exilic and post-exilic times (p. 878, col. 1).
  4. 1 Kings l.c., see the Septuagint and, especially, H. Winckler, Alttest. Untersuch., pp. 1-15; C. F. Burney, Kings, pp. 158 sqq.; J. Skinner, Kings, pp. 443 sqq.; Ed. Meyer, Israeliten, pp. 358 sqq.
  5. On 2 Kings iii. see Jehoram; Jehoshaphat; Moab; and for the biblical traditions relating to this period see Kings (Book) and Jews: History. The chronicler’s account of Judaean successes (2 Chron. xvii. 10 seq.; xx.) and reverses (xxi. 16, xxii. 1) may rest originally upon the source from which 1 Kings xxii. 47 seq.; 2 Kings viii. 20, 22, have been abbreviated. It is hardly probable that there was enmity between Edom and Moab as 2 Kings iii. now implies, although hostile relations at other periods are likely (cf. Am. ii. 1); for Edom in Moabite territory see above on Gen. xxxvi. and “Quart. Stat.” (Pal. Explor. Fund), 1902, pp. 10 sqq.
  6. 2 Kings xvi. 6; on the text see the commentaries.
  7. For the Jewish hatred of Edom in later times see the book of Enoch lxxxix. 11-12; Jubilees, xxxvii. 22 seq., and on the Talmudic custom of applying to the Romans the references to Edom or Esau, see Jewish Ency. vol. v. p. 41.
  8. Ob. 8; Jer. xlix. 7 sqq.; Baruch iii. 22, cf. 1 Kings iv. 30; see also Job.