Edom (Obadiah 1)

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Illustration: Many of the Edomites lived in caves or houses inside the mountain

Edom was located south of the Dead Sea and north of the Gulf of Aqaba. The region boasts numerous mountains over 5,000 feet (1,524 m) in height, some pasturage and a few oases. Many Edomite dwellings were cut into the  faces of these high, craggy mountains and gave rise to Obadiah’s description of the Edomites as people “who live in the clefts of the rocks” and “soar like the eagle” (Obadiah 3-4). Some such ancient abodes are still visible today.

Edom prospered through its control of the major north-south caravan route, the “King’s Highway”, as well as through the mining of iron and copper. A pre-Edomite Early Bronze agricultural civilization flourished in this region, organized under seminomadic clan chiefs. Pharaoh’s were involved in Edom’s copper mines from the fourteenth century to the twelfth century B.C., and thus the area is mentioned often in Egyptian documents.

As descendants of Esau, the twin brother of the patriarch Jacob, the Edomites were considered “brothers” by Israel (cf. verses 10-12). Moses unsuccessfully attempted to negotiate passage for the Israelites through the territory of the king of Edom. Saul fought against the Edomites, but David conquered Edom. His general, Joab, killed many adult males during a xix month occupation, although Hadad, a royal heir, escaped to Egypt (1 Kings 11:14-22). Edom revolted from under Joram (ca. 851 B.C.), bu later Amaziah (ca. 800 B.C.) captured its capital, Sela, and renamed it Joktheel. Edomites sometimes raided Judah (e.g. 2 Chronicles 20, 28:16-17).

From 734 B.C. until the fall of Jerusalem. Edom was under Assyrian domination. Assyrian records mention three Edomite kings as tributaries: Qaus-malaku (732 B.C.), Aiarammu (701 B.C.) and Qaus-gabri (629 B.C.). Edom prospered under Assyrian control, and its population increased considerably. Evidence of Edomite settlements during this period appears at several sites in southern Judah. Obadiah indicates that the Edomites participated in the 586 B.C. destruction of Jerusalem.

During the postexilic period Edom proper was overrun by Arabs until the Nabateans became established there. Edomites (who were during the postexilic period called Idumeans) established Hebron as their capital. John Hyrcanus forcibly converted the Idumeans to Judaism in approximately 120 B.C. Antipater, an Idumean, became governor of Judah, and his son Herod ruled the region as king. After the Roman destruction of Jerusalem (A.D. 70) Idumea and the Idumeans disappeared from history.


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