1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Obadiah
OBADIAH, the name prefixed to the fourth of the Old Testament “ minor prophets, ” meaning “ servant ” or “ worshipper ” of Yahweh; of a type common in Semitic proper names; cf. the Arabic Abdallah, Taimallat, 'Abd Manat, &c., the Hebrew Abdiel and Obed Edom, and many Phoenician forms. “The vision of Obadiah” bears no date, or other historical note, nor can we connect Obadiah the prophet with any other Obadiah of the Old Testament, and our only clue to the date and composition of the book lies in internal evidence.
The prophecy is directed against Edom. Yahweh has sent a messenger forth among the nations to stir them up to battle against the proud inhabitants of Mount Seir, to bring them down from the rocky fastnesses which they deem impregnable. Edom shall be not only plundered but utterly undone and expelled from his borders, and this he shall suffer (through his own folly) at the hand of trusted allies (vers. 1-9). The cause of this judgment is his cruelty to his brother Jacob. In the day of Jerusalem's overthrow the Edomites rejoiced over the calamity, grasped at a share of the spoil, lay in' wait to cut off the fugitives (vers. 10-14). But now the day of Yahweh is near upon all nations, Esau and all the heathen shall drink full retribution for their banquet of carnage and plunder on Yahweh's holy mountain. A rescued Israel shall dwell in Mount Zion in restored holiness; the house of Jacob shall regain their old possessions; Edom shall be burned up before them as chaff before the flame; they shall spread over all Canaan, over the mountain of Esau and the south of Judah, as well as over Gilead and the Philistine and Phoenician coast. The victorious Israelites shall come up on Mount Zion to rule the mountain of Esau, and the kingdom shall be Yahweh's (vers. 15-21).
The most obvious evidence of date lies in the cause assigned for the judgment on Edom (vers. 10-14). The calamity of Jerusalem can only be the sack of the city by Nebuchadrezzar (586 B.C.); the malevolence and cruelty of Edom on this occasion are characterized in similar terms by 'several writers of the exile or subsequent periods, but by none with the same circumstance and vividness of detail as here (Ezek. xxv. 8, 12 f., xxxv.; Lam. iv. 21; Psalm cxxxvii. 7). The prominence given to Edom, and the fact that Chaldea is not mentioned at all, make it probable that the passage was not written in Babylonia. On this evidence, taken alone, we should be justified in saying that-the prophecy was written at some time after 586 B.C., at a period when misfortunes incurred by Edom were interpreted as a Divine judgment on its unforgotten treachery in that year of tragedy.
The critical problem is, however, complicated by certain phenomena of literary relationship. Obad. 1-6, 8 agree so closely and in part verbally with ]er. xlix. 14-16, 9, 10, 7 that the two passages cannot be independent; nor does it seem possible that Obadiah quotes from jeremiah, for Obad. 1-8 is a well connected whole, while the parallel verses in Jeremiah appear in different order, interspersed with other matter, and in a much less lucid connexion. In Ieremiah the picture is vague, and Edom's unwisdom (ver. 7) stands without proof. In Obadiah the conception is quite definite. Edom is attacked by his own allies, and his folly appears in that he exposes himself to such treachery. Again, the probability that the passage in jeremiah incorporates disjointed fragments of an older oracle is greatly increased by the fact that the prophecy against Moab in the preceding chapter uses, in the same way, Isa. xv., xvi., and the prophecy of Balaam. Scholars who assign the passage in Jeremiah to 604 B.c. (e.g. Driver, L.O.T. chap. vi. § 4), explain this relationship by assuming with Ewald (Propheten, i. 489 f.), Graf (Jeremia, p. 558 f.), Robertson Smith. and others, that jeremiah and our book of Obadiah alike quote from an older oracle. Others, however, who do not regard ]er. xlix. as Jeremianic, explain the relationship as one of dependence on Obadiah. This explanation, simpler in itself, is not discredited by the fact that in some details (cf. Obad. 2 and Jer. xlix. 15) the text of the dependent passage may be preferable to that of the original. On this latter, and more probable, View (taken by Wellhausen, Nowack and Marti) there is no need to separate Obad. 1-7 from 10-14. The immediate occasion of the prophecy was doubtless the pressure of nomadic Arabs (“the men of thy covenant,” “the men of thy peace,” v. 7) upon Edom, which had resulted, by 312 B.C. at latest, in the occupation by Arabs of Petra, the chief city of the Edomites (Wellhausen, p. 214). But the desolation of Edom has already been accomplished in the time of Malachi i. 1-5, a passage belonging to the earlier half of the 5th century. We may, therefore, with Wellhausen, Nowack and Marti, assign Obadiah 1-14 to the same period.
The remainder of the book, vers. (15) 16-21, must belong to a later date. That the book of Obadiah, short as it is, is a complex document might have been suspected from an apparent change of view between vers. 1-7 and vers. 15 f. In the former verses Esau is destroyed by his allies, and they occupy his territory, but in the latter he perishes with the other heathen in the day of universal retribution, he disappears before the victorious advance of Israel, and the southern Judaeans occupy his land. The ideas of this passage belong to the eschatological outlook of later centuries, but afford no data for chronology. The conceptions of the “rescued ones” (R.V. “those that escape,” v. 17), of the sanctity of Zion, of the kingship of Yahweh, are the common property of the post-exilic writers. The restoration of the old borders of Israel and the conquest of Edom and the Philistines are ideas as old as Amos ix., Isa. xi. 14; but such passages represent this conquest as a suzerainty of Israel over its neighbours, as in the days of David, while in Obadiah, as in other later books, the intensified antithesis-religious as well as political-between ]udah and the surrounding heathen finds its expression in the idea of a consuming judgment on the latter,—the great “day of Yahweh.” The chief interest of the book of Obadiah lies in its references to the historical relations between Israel and Edom. From the point of view of religion, we may notice the emphasis on the doctrine of strict retribution (vers. 10 f., 15 b) which remains applicable to other peoples, even when its inadequacy as a complete theory of providence has been slowly and painfully discovered in the case of Israel itself.
Literature.—Wellhausen, Die kleinen Propheten3 (1898); Nowack, id. (1897, 2nd ed., 1904); G. A. Smith, The Book of the Twelve, vol. ii. (1898); J. A. Selbie, art. “Obadiah,” in Hastings's Dict. of the Bible, iii. 577-580 (1900); Cheyne, id. in Ency. Biblica, iii. c. 3455-3462 (incorporating the article of W. Robertson Smith in the 9th edition of the Ency. Brit.) (1902); Marti, Dodekapropheton (1903). For a sketch of the history of the Edomites, see Nöldeke's article “Edom” in the Ency. Biblica. (W. R. S.; H. W. R.*)
- An early Hebrew tradition recorded by Jerome (Comm. in Ob.) identified the prophet with the best-known Obadiah of the historical books, the protector of the prophets in the reign of Ahab (I Kings XV111.
- Between Joel and Obadiah there are points of material and verbal agreement so close as to imply that joel used the earlier book (Joel iii. 19-Ob. ro, 14; joel iii.3-Ob. II; joel ii. 32, iii. 7-Ob. 17).
- Wellhausen and Nowack regard w. 8, 9 as a later addition, intended to apply vv. 1-7 to the future; so Marti, who groups with these verses 15a, because of the common reference to “the day of Yahweh.”
- The Judaeans are addressed in v. 16 (“as ye have drunk”), not the Edomites. Verse 20 anticipates that the exiles from northern Israel will occupy Phoenician territory, whilst those from Jerusalem “which are in Sepharad” will occupy the southern districts in the Messianic restoration. “Sepharad” has been connected with various places, e.g. Saparda in south-west Media (G. A. Smith), and Cparda of Darius in the Behistun inscription (Robertson Smith); whilst, according to Winckler (K.A.T.3 p. 301), it is the name, from the Persian period onwards, for Asia Minor. Many of the Jews were doubtless sold as slaves by Nebuchadrezzar. Lydia was a great slave market, and Asia Minor was a chief seat of the Diaspora at an early date (comp. Gutschmidt, Neue Beiträge, p. 77), so that “Sepharad” in itself does not supply ground for Hitzig’s argument that Obadiah was written in the Greek period, when we rear? of many Jews being transplanted to Asia Minor (Jos. Ant. xii. 3).