Edom, Edomites


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.