The kingdom of Edom was founded during the thirteenth century b.c., according to archaeological evidence. In the process of about four centuries the government of Edom changed from one under tribal chiefs to a monarchy. Eight of these kings reigned over Edom before the Israelites had any such ruler (Gen.36.31-Gen.36.39). One of these kings was on the throne at the time of Moses and refused to permit the Israelites to pass through his country (Num.20.14-Num.20.21). Other evidence of ancient Edom is the Papyrus Anastasi VI of Egypt, dated in the late thirteenth century, which mentions the passage of shepherd tribes from Edom to the richer pasture land of the Nile delta. The Amarna Letter No. 256 from about 1400, mentions Edom in the form Udumu, one of the enemies of a Jordan Valley prince.

The Edomites were subject also to Babylon. Under the Persian Empire, Edom became a province called Idumea, the Greek form of Edom. In 325 b.c. an Arab tribe known as the Nabateans conquered the eastern part of Edom’s territory. In Maccabean times John Hyrcanus subdued the Idumeans and forced them to accept Judaism. When the Romans took over Palestine the Edomites also were included. From Idumea came Antipater, the father of Herod the Great. He became procurator of Judea. After the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in a.d. 70, the Idumeans disappeared from history. Thus the rather mournful career of the Edomites came to an end. Only in the early centuries of their kingdom, before the Israelites became powerful, did they enjoy freedom to any great extent.

The Assyrians came in contact with Edom as early as the seventh century b.c. When her kings began to penetrate as far south as Palestine, Edom, along with Judah and her other neighbors, paid tribute to Assyria for many years. She is mentioned many times in the inscription of the kings of Assyria, beginning with Adad-Nirari III (800) to Ashurbanipal (686-633).

Edom figures prominently in the prophetic Scriptures (Isa.11.14; Isa.34.8ff.; Isa.63.1ff.; Ezek.35.2ff.; Joel.3.19; Amos.9.12; Obadiah). The explanation of this often unexpected appearance of Edom finds its origin in the fact already noted that the conquest of Edom was a unique achievement of David; the overthrow of Edom therefore became a symbol of the reign of the Davidic Messiah.

The territory of Edom.

The land which was occupied by the Edomites was a rugged mountainous area, stretching from the Brook Zered S to the Gulf of Aqabah for nearly one hundred m., while to the E and W extending up to forty m. across the Wilderness of Edom. Although the terrain was inhospitable, there were several good cultivable areas (Num 20:17-19). Edomite territory generally has been divided into three areas, the first of which was the northern section embracing Bozrah and Punon (Feinan). It comprised a rough rectangle about fifteen m. wide and some seventy m. long, extending S from the Brook Zered (Wadi el-Ḥesa) which formed the boundary with Moab. This area ranged in elevation from about 5,000 ft. above sea level at Bozrah to nearly 5,700 feet near Teman (Tawilan), where the S limit was marked by the escarpment overlooking the Hismeh Valley. This quadrangle formed the fortified area of Edom in antiquity, being dotted with a series of strong points, particularly on the exposed E frontier. In Biblical times the King’s Highway passed along the E plateau after ascending the Wadi Laban, and then passed S near to Tophel, Bozrah, and Dana until it descended into the Hismeh Valley. Sela, the capital of Edom, lay to the W of the King’s Highway on the massive plateau of Umm el-Biyara, which towers 1,000 ft. above Petra (the Gr. form of Sela). The second principal area of Edom, the outlying district, comprised the region S of the Hismeh Valley as far as the Gulf of Aqabah, which was under Edomite control though not settled. Those portions of the Arabah involved were valuable for their iron and copper mines, and constituted an important source of wealth for the Edomites who worked them. In addition, trading routes connecting Mesopotamia and Egypt passed through the S extremity of this region, thus contributing further to the Edomite treasury. A third area of land, to the W of the Arabah, was occupied by nomadic tribes which were sometimes loosely associated with the Edomites (Gen 36:11, 12), but were never actually under firm Edomite control. It was through this area that the Israelites passed just prior to the conquest of Canaan.

Its history and population.

Esau had already occupied Edom when Jacob returned from Haran (Gen 32:3; 36:6-8; Deut 2:4, 5), and the Edomites were well established in the country and living by a monarchic pattern prior to the Exodus period, having apparently abandoned the system of tribal chiefs. Unfortunately all inscrs. and written records of the Edomites have perished, and it is necessary to depend on Egyptian, Hebrew and Assyrian sources for information about them.

The subjugation of Edom marked an important stage in the economic growth of the kingdom under Solomon, for not merely did he secure control of the rich caravan trade by this means, but also made possible the exploitation of the copper and iron mines of the territory. Solomon also built a port at Ezion-Geber on the Gulf of Aqabah which served as the terminal point for his Red Sea trading vessels to Ophir and Arabia (9:26; 2 Chron 8:17). Archeological excavations show that, on a new site about two and a half m. W of Aqabah (Elath), there was constructed a copper and iron smeltery in the time of Solomon. Situated between the hill country of Sinai and Edom, it was ideally located for the purpose since it received the full force of the N winds howling down the Arabah rift-valley. The ore for the blast furnaces was obtained locally, and was prob. processed by slave labor.

The heavy tribute required of Edom diminished its prosperity considerably, resulting in a general decline of the kingdom and quiet acceptance of Babylonian suzerainty in 604 b.c. The Edomites allied with Nebuchadnezzar when he overthrew Jerusalem in 587 b.c., and were overjoyed at the destruction of their traditional foes (Ps 137:7; Lam 4:21, 22; Obad 10-16). Some Edomites subsequently occupied S Judah and made Hebron their capital, thus forming the Idumaea of the postexilic era. During the 5th cent. b.c. Edom proper came under Arab control, and by the 4th cent. b.c. had been overrun by the Nabataeans who entered the land from the S and E, making Petra their capital city. While some Edomites moved to Idumaea, others apparently remained and were absorbed by the Nabataean Arabs.

Known Idumaean history commenced with the Maccabean revolt, part of the military success of Judas Maccabeus comprising a victory over the Idumaeans in the Akrabattene in 164 b.c. (1 Macc 5:1-5; Jos. Antiq. XII, 8, 1). John Hyrcanus occupied all Idumaea about 120 b.c. and compelled its people to adopt Judaism (Jos. Antiq. XIII, ix, 1; XV, vii, 9). When the Romans took over Pal., the Edomites naturally fell under their jurisdiction, one result being that from Idumaea came Antipater, the father of Herod the Great, as governor of the country in 63 b.c. His son founded in 37 b.c. the final dynasty of Palestinian rulers, and after the destruction of Jerusalem in a.d. 70 the Idumaeans disappeared from history, thus ending the varied career of the Edomites. Ironically, the descendants of those who had exulted over the fall of Jerusalem in 587 b.c. were among its staunchest defenders against Rome in a.d. 66-70.

Edom in the OT.

The traditional antagonism between Edom and Israel had its roots in the relations between Esau, identified with Edom, and Jacob, representing Israel (Gen 36:1). Perhaps there is a play on words in the description of Isaac as “smooth” (hālāq) and Esau as “hairy” (sā'îr), since Mount Halak, standing on the S border of Israel, faced the Edomite boundary of Seir (Josh 11:17; 12:7), but this may be entirely accidental. The bitter hatred of Edom for the Israelites was severely censured by almost all the prophets of Judah. Amos condemned them for their brutal practices in war, and mentioned an otherwise unrecorded border conflict (Amos 2:1) in which the Moabites burned the bones of an Edomite king to powder, thus inflicting the greatest possible personal insult upon a corpse. The whole of Obadiah was given over to a bitter denunciation of Edom and a prediction of its destruction. The principal point at issue in this prophecy was the sense of betrayal felt by the Judaeans when blood relatives, albeit hereditary enemies, turned upon them in the time of crisis which saw the fall of Jerusalem in 587 b.c., and aided the common enemy.


F. Buhl, Geschichte der Edomiter (1893); N. Glueck, AASOR (1935), XV, 18, 19; ibid. The Other Side of the Jordan (1940), 114-134; D. Baly, The Geography of the Bible (1958).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

e’-dum, e’-dum-its ’edhom, "red"; Edom:

1. Boundaries:

The boundaries of Edom may be traced with some approach to accuracy. On the East of the `Arabah the northern border ran from the Dead Sea, and was marked by Wady el-Kurachi, or Wady el-Chasa. On the East it marched with the desert. The southern border ran by Elath and Ezion-geber (De 2:8). On the West of the `Arabah the north boundary of Edom is determined by the south border of Israel, as indicated in Nu 34:3 f: a line running from the Salt Sea southward of the Ascent of Akrabbim to Zin and Kadesh-barnea. This last, we are told, lay in the "uttermost" of the border of Edom (Nu 20:16). The line may be generally indicated by the course of Wady el-Fiqrah. How much of the uplands West of the `Arabah southward to the Gulf of `Aqaba was included in Edom it is impossible to say.

2. Character and Features:

The land thus indicated varies greatly in character and features. South of the Dead Sea in the bottom of the valley we have first the stretch of salt marsh land called es-Sebkha; then, beyond the line of white cliffs that crosses the valley diagonally from Northwest to Southeast, a broad depression strewn with stones and sandhills, the debris of an old sea bottom, rises gradually, and 60 miles to the South reaches a height of about 700 ft. above the level of the Red Sea, 2,000 ft. above that of the Dead Sea. From this point it sinks until it reaches the shore of the Gulf of `Aqaba, 45 miles farther South. The whole depression is known today as Wady el-`Arabah (compare Hebrew ha-`arabhah, De 2:8 the Revised Version (British and American), etc.). On either side the mountains rise steeply from the valley, their edges carved into many fantastic shapes by the deep wadys that break down from the interior (see Arabah). The northern part of the plateau on the West forms the spacious grazing ground of the `Azdzimeh Arabs. The mountains rise to a height of from about 1,500 ft. to a little over 2,000 ft. This district was traversed by the ancient caravan road to South Palestine; and along the eastern side traces of the former civilization are still to be seen. The desert region to the South is higher, reaching to as much as 2,600 ft. The mountain range East of the `Arabah is generally higher in the South than in the North. Jebel Harun beside Petra, is 4,780 ft. above sea-level; while East of `Aqaba, Jebel el-Chisma may be as much as 5,900 ft. in height.

Limestone, porphyry and Nubian sandstone are the prevailing formation; but volcanic rocks are also found. The range consists mainly of rough rocky heights with many almost inaccessible peaks separated by deep gorges. But there are also breadths of fertile land where wheat, grapes, figs, pomegranates and olives are grown to advantage. The northern district is known today by the name el-Jebal, corresponding to the ancient Gebal. Seir is the name applied to the eastern range in Ge 36:8; De 2:1,5; 2Ch 20:23. It is also called Edom, and the Mount of Esau (Ob 1:8 f). Seir, however, is used for the western highlands in De 33:2. This seems to be its meaning also in Jud 5:4, where it appears as the equivalent of "the field of Edom." With this same phrase, however, in Ge 32:3 it may more fitly apply to the eastern range.

See illustration under DESERT.

3. Origin of Name:

The name Edom, "red," may have been derived from the red sandstone cliffs characteristic of the country. It was applied to Esau because of the color of his skin (Ge 25:25), or from the color of the pottage for which he sold his birthright (Ge 25:30). In Ge 36:8 Esau is equated with Edom as dwelling in Mt. Seir; and he is described as the father of Edom (36:9, Hebrew). The name however is probably much older. It may be traced in the records of the Twelfth Dynasty in Egypt. In the Tell el-Amarna Letters (Brit Mus No. 64) Udumu, or Edom, is named; and in Assyrian inscriptions the name Udumu occurs of a city and of a country. The latter may have been named from the former: this again may have been derived from a deity, Edom, who may be traced in such a name as Obed-edom (2Sa 6:10).

4. History:

5. Idumaea and the Idumeans:

West of the `Arabah the country they occupied came to be known by the Greek name Idumaea, and the people as Idumeans. Hebron, their chief city, was taken by Judas Maccabeus in 165 BC (1 Macc 4:29,61; 5:65). In 126 BC the country was subdued by John Hyrcanus, who compelled the people to become Jews and to submit to circumcision. Antipater, governor of Idumaea, was made procurator of Judea, Samaria and Galilee by Julius Caesar. He paved the way to the throne for his son Herod the Great. With the fall of Judah under the Romans, Idumaea disappears from history.

The names of several Edomite deities are known: Hadad, Qaus, Koze, and, possibly, Edom; but of the religion of Edom we are without information. The language differed little from Hebrew.