Edom in the Old Testament
The boundaries of Edom may be traced with some approach to accuracy. On the East of the Heb: `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 (Dt 2:8).
On the West of the Heb: `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 Heb: `Arabah southward to the Gulf of Heb: `Aqaba was included in Edom it is impossible to say.
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 Heb: `Aqaba, 45 miles farther South. The whole depression is known today as Wady el-`Arabah (compare Hebrew Heb: ha-`arabhah, Dt 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.
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 Heb: `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 Heb: `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 Gen 36:8; Dt 2:1,5; 2 Ch 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 Dt 33:2. This seems to be its meaning also in Jdg 5:4, where it appears as the equivalent of "the field of Edom." With this same phrase, however, in Gen 32:3 it may more fitly apply to the eastern range.
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 (Gen 25:25), or from the color of the pottage for which he sold his birthright (Gen 25:30). In Gen 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 (2 Sam 6:10).
The children of Esau are said to have "destroyed" the Horites who dwelt in Seir before them (Gen 14:6; Dt 2:22). This only means that the Horites were subdued. Esau married the daughter of Anah, a Horite (Gen 36:20--in verse 2 he is called a Hivite); and the lists in this chapter show that the races intermingled. The Horite government was in the hands of "dukes" (Gen 36:29 f, the Revised Version (British and American) "chiefs").
They were succeeded by dukes of the house of Esau (Gen 36:40 ff). This form of government gave way to that of an elective monarchy (Gen 36:31 ff); and this had existed some time before Israel left the wilderness. The then reigning king would not permit Israel to pass through the land (Nu 20:14 ff; 21:4). Israel was forbidden to "abhor an Edomite," on the ground that he was a brother; and children of the third generation might enter the assembly of the Lord (Dt 23:7 f). War with Edom was out of the question.
Some thirty years after the Exodus, Ramses III "smote the people of Seir." The Israelites could not have been far off. We first hear of war between Israel and Edom under Saul (1 Sam 14:47). David prosecuted the war with terrific energy, slaying 18,000 Edomites (so read instead of "Syrians") in the Valley of Salt (2 Sam 8:13 f) ; Joab remaining for six months in the country, which was garrisoned by Israelites, "until he had cut off every male in Edom" (1 Ki 11:15 f).
Hadad of the blood royal of Edom escaped to Egypt, and later became a source of trouble to Solomon (1 Ki 11:14 ff,25). The conquest of Edom opened to Israel the ports of the Red Sea, whence the expeditions of Solomon and Jehoshaphat set out. In Jehoshaphat's time the king is called a "deputy" (1 Ki 22:47). Its king acknowledged the supremacy of Judah (2 Ki 3:9, etc.). Under Jehoram son of Jehoshaphat, Edom revolted. Jehoram defeated them at Zair, but was unable to quell the rebellion (2 Ki 8:20 ff).
Amaziah invaded the country, slew 10,000 in the Valley of Salt, and took Sela which he named Joktheel (2 Ki 14:7). Uzziah restored the Edomite port of Elath (2 Ki 14:22). In the Syrian war Rezin regained Elath for Syria, and cast out the Jews. It was then permanently occupied by Syrians--here also probably we should read Edomites (2 Ki 16:6). From the cuneiform inscriptions we learn that when Tiglath-pileser subdued Rezin, among the kings from whom he received homage at Damascus was Qaus-malaka of Edom (736 BC).
Later Malik-ram paid homage to Sennacherib. To Ezarhaddon also they were compelled to render service. They gave what help they could to Nebuchadnezzar, and exulted in the destruction of Jerusalem, stirring the bitterest indignation in the hearts of the Jews (Lam 4:21; Ezek 25:12; 35:3 ff; Ob 1:10 ff). The Edomites pressed into the now empty lands in the South of Judah. In 300 BC Mt. Seir with its capital Petra fell into the hands of the Nabateans.
Idumaea and the Idumeans
West of the Heb: `Arabah the country they occupied came to be known by the Greek name Grk: 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.
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, which is in the public domain.