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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible

Obadiah, Book of

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OBADIAH, BOOK OF. The questions as to the origin and Interpretation of this, the shortest book of the OT, are numerous and difficult. The title describes the book as ‘a vision’ (cf. Isaiah 1:1 , Nahum 1:1 ) and ascribes it to Obadiah. Obadiah is one of the commonest of Hebrew names, and occurs both before and after the Exile: see preceding article. Some fruitless attempts have been made to identify the author of the book with one or other of the persons of the same name mentioned in the OT.

The book of Obadiah stands fourth in order (in the Greek version, fifth) of the prophets whose works were collected and edited in (probably) the 3rd cent. b.c.; the collection since the beginning of the 2nd cent. b.c. has been known as ‘The Twelve’ (see Canon of OT; cf. Micah [Bk. of], ad init .). By the place which he gave this small book in his collection the editor perhaps intended to indicate his belief that it was of early, i.e . pre-exilic, origin. But the belief of an editor of the 3rd cent. b.c. is not good evidence that a book was written earlier than the 6th century. The relative probabilities of the different theories of its origin must be judged by internal evidence; this, unfortunately, is itself uncertain on account of ambiguities of expression.

It will be convenient to state first what appears on the whole the most probable theory, and then to mention more briefly one or two others.

The book contains two themes: (1) a prophetic Interpretation of an overwhelming disaster which has already befallen Edom ( Obadiah 1:1-7; Obadiah 1:10-14; Obadiah 1:16 b); (2) a prediction of a universal judgment and specifically of judgment on Edom which is now imminent ( Obadiah 1:8-9; Obadiah 1:16 a, Obadiah 1:16-21 ).

1. The prophetic interpretation of Edom’s fall . The prophet describes the complete conquest of the Edomites and their expulsion from their land ( Obadiah 1:7 ) by a number of nations ( Obadiah 1:1 ) once their friends and allies ( Obadiah 1:7 ). In this calamity the writer sees Jahweh’s judgment on Edom for gloating over the fall of the Jews described as Edom’s brother ( Obadiah 1:12 ) and participating with foreign and alien enemies ( Obadiah 1:11 ) in the infliction of injuries on them. This interpretation is stated in simple and direct terms in Obadiah 1:10-11 , and dramatically in Obadiah 1:12-14 , where the writer, throwing himself back to the time of the Edomites’ ill-treatment of the Jews, adjures them not to do the things they actually did. The section closes with the effective assertion of the retributive character of the disasters that had befallen Edom and still affect it ‘As thou hast done, is it done unto thee; thy dealing returns upon thine own head’ ( Obadiah 1:15 b).

The verses thus summarized have these points in common: ( a ) the tenses are historical except in Obadiah 1:10 (‘shame doth cover thee, and thou art cut off for ever’) and Obadiah 1:15 b, which may be rendered as presents, and interpreted as at the end of the preceding paragraph; and ( b ) after Obadiah 1:1 , where Edom, in the present text, is spoken of in the 3rd person, Edom is throughout addressed in the 2nd pers. sing. Among these verses are now interspersed others, Obadiah 1:6 , which speaks of Esau (=Edom) in the 3rd person (pl. in clause a , sing, in b ) and which may be an aside in the midst of the address, but is more probably an Interpolation; and Obadiah 1:8-9 (together with the last clause of Obadiah 1:7 ), which speak of Edom in the 3rd person and unmistakably regard the disaster as still future: these verses are best regarded as an addition by an editor who wished the prophetic interpretation of past fact to be read as a prophetic description of the future.

If now Obadiah 1:1-7 (or Obadiah 1:1-5; Obadiah 1:7 ) Obadiah 1:10-15 b, which are held together by the common features just noticed, be a unity; the prophecy is later than b.c. 586; for Obadiah 1:11 cannot well be interpreted by any other disaster than the destruction of Jerusalem in that year. The prophecy also appears in Obadiah 1:5; Obadiah 1:7 to allude to the extrusion of the Edomites from ancient Edom owing to the northward movement of Arabs people who had often satisfied themselves with plundering expeditions (cf. Obadiah 1:5 ), but now permanently evicted settled populations from their lands (cf. Obadiah 1:7 ). This northward movement was already threatening at the beginning of the 6th cent. b.c. ( Ezekiel 25:4-5; Ezekiel 25:10 ); before b.c. 312, as we learn from Diodorus Siculus, Arabs had occupied Petra, the ancient capital of Edom. Between those two dates, perhaps in the first half of the 5th cent. b.c. (cf. Malachi 1:2-5 ), the prophecy appears to have been written.

2 . The prediction of universal judgment . In contrast with Obadiah 1:10-14 Obadiah 1:10-14 , the tenses in Obadiah 1:15-21 , are consistently imperfects (naturally suggesting the future), the persons addressed (2nd pl.) are Israelites, not Edomites, and Edom is referred to in the 3rd person. The prophecy predicts as imminent: ( a ) a universal judgment ( Obadiah 1:15 a, Obadiah 1:15 , in which the annihilation of Edom by the Jews (not [nomadic] nations as in Obadiah 1:1; Obadiah 1:5; Obadiah 1:7 ) and Israelites forms an episode which is specially described ( Obadiah 1:18 ), and ( b ) the restoration of the exiles alike of the Northern and of the Southern Kingdom ( Obadiah 1:18 , cf. Obadiah 1:17 ), who are to re-occupy the whole of their ancient territory the Negeb in the S., the Shephçlah in the W., Ephraim to the N., Gilead in the E. ( Obadiah 1:19 , which after elimination of glosses reads, ‘And they shall possess the Negeb and the Shephçlah, and the field of Ephraim and Gilead’); in particular, the Israelites will re-occupy as far N. as Zarephath (near Tyre), and the Jews as far south as the Negeb ( Obadiah 1:20 ). The prophecy closes with the announcement of Jahweh’s reign from Zion ( Obadiah 1:21 ).

The prediction (Obadiah 1:15-21 ) scarcely appears to be the original and immediate continuation of the former part of the chapter, but is, like Obadiah 1:8-9 , a subsequent addition. The theory of the origin and interpretation of the book just described is substantially that of Wellhausen; it has been adopted in the main by Nowack and Marti; and, so far as the separation of Obadiah 1:15-21 (with Obadiah 1:15 b) from the rest of the chapter is concerned, and the assignment of the whole to a date after the Exile, by Cheyne ( EBi [Note: Encyclopædia Biblica.] ).

One fact has appeared to many scholars an insuperable difficulty in the way of assigning the whole book to a date after 586. It is admitted by all that the resemblances between Obadiah 1:1-5; Obadiah 1:5; Obadiah 1:8 and Jeremiah 49:14-15; Jeremiah 49:9-10 a, Jeremiah 49:7 are so close as to imply the literary dependence of one of the two passages on the other; it is further admitted by most, and should be admitted, that the common matter is in its more original form in Obadiah, and that therefore so much at least of Obadiah is prior to Jeremiah 49:14-16; Jeremiah 49:9-10 a, Jeremiah 49:7 , and therefore prior to the year b.c. 604, if the theory that was commonly held with regard to the date of Jeremiah 46:1-28; Jeremiah 47:1-7; Jeremiah 48:1-47; Jeremiah 49:1-39 be admitted. But of recent years many have questioned whether Jeremiah 46:1-28; Jeremiah 47:1-7; Jeremiah 48:1-47; Jeremiah 49:1-39 , at least in its present form , is the work of Jeremiah at all, and consequently whether it was necessarily written before 586.

If the argument that Obadiah 1:1; Obadiah 1:6; Obadiah 1:8 is pre-exilic be accepted, it is necessary to account for what are now generally admitted to be the allusions to the events of 586 in Obadiah 1:10-14 . This has been done by assuming that Ob. and Jer. alike quote from a pre-exilic prophecy, but that Obadiah himself prophesied after b.c. 586. As to the amount of matter cited by Obadiah, scholars differ: e.g . Driver considers that Obadiah 1:1-9 is derived from the old prophecy; G. A. Smith, that Obadiah 1:1-5; Obadiah 1:8-10 are quotations, but that Obadiah 1:7 , which he admits presupposes later conditions, is by Obadiah himself. The weakness of these theories lies in the fact that the distribution of the parts to the two authors does not follow the concrete differences of style indicated above, and that Obadiah 1:7 either receives no adequate interpretation, or is torn away from Obadiah 1:5 , with which it certainly seems closely connected. As to the more precise date of Obadiah 1:1-9 ( Obadiah 1:10 ) or so much of the verses as may be pre-exilic, no agreement has been reached among those who hold them to be pre-exilic; no known circumstances explain the allusions. It is also very uncertain whether any inference can safely be drawn from the allusion to Sepharad (wh. see) in Obadiah 1:20 .

For further discussion of many details, some of which have of necessity been left unmentioned here, and for an account of other theories as well as those described above, the English reader will best consult Driver, LOT [Note: OT Introd. to the Literature of the Old Testament.] ; G. A. Smith, Book of the Twelve , ii. 163 184 (with a critical translation); Selbie’s art. in Hastings’ DB [Note: Dictionary of the Bible.] , and Cheyne’s in EBi [Note: Encyclopædia Biblica.] .

G. B. Gray.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Obadiah, Book of'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. 1909.

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