Edomites descended from the Bible character Edom. Edom would mean “red” in Hebrew.
The abhorrence of Esau towards Jacob for tricking him into giving up his share of the inheritance was passed on to their descendants. Edomites and Israelites were such constant enemies that there was an account in the Bible when the Edomites didn’t let the Israelites pass through Edom. They tried to conquer the country of Israel during the time of Jehoshaphat but didn’t succeed.
The Edomites were further mentioned as a nation defeated and invaded by Saul and later by David. They allied with Nebuchadnezzar in invading Jerusalem. Their brutality towards the people of Jerusalem and their cruel actions in destroying the First Temple gained criticism from the prophets up to the later eras.
They fought with the Jews many times and became one of the nations conquered by the Maccabees at its peak. Under the leadership of the Maccabees, they were obliged to embrace the Jewish cultures. Their men were circumcised, and they were forced to follow the Jewish laws. Until the time came when they openly mixed themselves with the Jews and did their practices including paganism. The legendary Herod, who ordered the construction of the Second Temple, was an Edomite.
The kingship of the Edomites was elective as opposed to the tradition hereditary. Prior to their forced conversion to Judaism, there were no clear accounts as to what religious practices did the Edomites followed. Some thought that they could had been worshipping the deities El, Baal, Kaus, and Asherah just like the Levantine Semites.
The Land of the Edomites
Edomites inhabited the “country of Edom” which would refer to Mount Seir and Idumea. Mount Seir was previously inhabited by the Horites who were cave dwellers and the Edomites had likely copied this.
Edom was mainly covered with mountains with its principal ancient city at Bozrah. During the time of Amaziah, Petra was the capital city of Edom with its important seaports built in Elath and Ezion Geber.
It was situated inside the legendary Southern Levant in the southeast portion of Palestine covering a few of the most fertile areas in Israel. It also played a significant role in the caravan trade route as it was located in the middle of the Arabian Peninsula and the Mediterranean Sea. Because of these, the Edomites flourished in agriculture and cattle-raising compared to the other cities that were situated in the barren areas. But they gained most from the taxes they imposed on the caravan traders that passed through their area.
Edomites in the Bible
- Genesis 36:9. Edomites as the descendants of Esau.
- Genesis 36:43. Magdiel and Iram as the leaders of the Edomites.
- 2 Samuel 8:14, 1 Chronicles 18:13. The Edomites were conquered by David.
- 1 Kings 11:1. Some of the wives of King Solomon were of Edomite origin.
- 2 Chronicles 25:14. The Edomites were defeated and killed by Amaziah.
- Psalm 137:7. The Edomites cruelly destroyed the foundations of Jerusalem.
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