Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, June 16th, 2024
the Week of Proper 6 / Ordinary 11
For 10¢ a day you can enjoy StudyLight.org ads
free while helping to build churches and support pastors in Uganda.
Click here to learn more!

Bible Encyclopedias

Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature

Search for…
Prev Entry
Next Entry
Resource Toolbox
Additional Links

Idumæ´a is the Greek form of the Hebrew name Edom. It was derived from Isaac's son Edom, otherwise called Esau, the elder twin-brother of Jacob [ESAU]. It signifies red, and seems first to have been suggested by his appearance at his birth, when 'he came out all red' (i.e. covered with red hair, ), and was afterwards more formally and permanently imposed on him on account of his unworthy disposal of his birthright for a mess of red lentils (). The region which came to bear his name is the mountainous tract on the east side of the great valleys el-Ghor and el-Arabah, extending between the Dead Sea and the Elanitic Gulf of the Red Sea. Into this district Esau removed during his father's lifetime, and his posterity gradually obtained possession of it as the country which God had assigned for their inheritance in the prophetic blessing pronounced by his father Isaac (;;; ). Previously to their occupation of the country, it was called Mount Seir, a designation indeed which it never entirely lost. The word seir means hairy (being thus synonymous with Esau), and, when applied to a country, may signify rugged, mountainous, and so says Joseph us (Antiq. i. 20, 3): 'Esau named the country “Roughness” from his own hairy roughness.' But in , we read of an individual of the name of Seir, who had before this inhabited the land, and from whom it may have received its first appellation.

The first mention made of Mount Seir in Scripture is in , where Chedorlaomer and his confederates are said to have smitten 'the Horim in their Mount Seir.' Among the earliest human habitations were caves, either formed by nature or easily excavated, and for the construction of these the mountains of Edom afforded peculiar facilities. Hence the designation given to the Aboriginal inhabitants—Horim, i.e.cave-dwellers, an epithet of similar import with the Greek Troglodytes. Even in the days of Jerome 'the whole of the southern part of Idumæa, from Eleutheropolis to Petra and Aila was full of caverns used as dwellings on account of the sun's excessive heat;' and there is reason to believe that the possessors of the country in every age occupied similar habitations, many traces of which are yet seen in and near Petra, the renowned metropolis.

We are informed in , that 'the children of Esau succeeded [ inherited] the Horim when they had destroyed them from before them, and dwelt in their stead, as Israel did unto the land of his possession, which Jehovah gave unto them.' From this it may be inferred, that the extirpation of the Horim by the Esauites was, like that of the Canaanites by Israel, very gradual and slow. From Genesis 36 (compare 1 Chronicles 1) we learn this much of the political constitution of the Seirite Aborigines, that, like the Esauites and Israelites, they were divided into tribes, and these tribes were subdivided into families—the very polity which still obtains among the Arabs by whom Idumæa is now peopled. Each tribe had its own. Alluf—a term which is unhappily rendered in the English Version by 'Duke'—for though that has, no doubt, the radical meaning of the Latin dux, a 'leader,' it now only suggests the idea of a feudal title of nobility. Of these chiefs of the Horites seven are enumerated, viz., Lotan, Shobal, Zibeon, Anah, Dishon, Ezer, and Dishan. The only one of these who is spoken of as related to the other is Anah, the son of Zibeon. The primitive and pastoral character of the people is incidentally brought out by the circumstance that this Anah, though a chieftain's son, was in the habit of tending his father's asses. It was when thus employed that he found in the wilderness eth-ha-yemim, rendered in the English Version by 'the mules,' but meaning more probably 'the hot springs;' and thus interpreted, the passage seems to be an intimation that he was the first to discover the faculty with which asses and other animals are endowed, of snuffing the moisture of the air, and thus sometimes leading to the opportune discovery of hidden waters in the desert. There is in the country to the south-east of the Dead Sea (which formed part of the Seirite possessions), a place, Kallirhoë, celebrated among the Greeks and Romans for its warm baths, and which has been visited by modern travelers.

Esau first married into two Canaanitish families of the Hittite and Hivite tribes (;; in one or other of which places, however, the text seems corrupt); but anxious to propitiate his offended parents, he next formed a matrimonial alliance with one of the race of Abraham, viz., Mahalath, otherwise called Bashemath, daughter of Ishmael, and sister of Nebatoth, whose descendants, the Nabathæans, by a singular coincidence, obtained in after-times possession of the land of Edom (). Esau's first-born (by Adah or Bashemath, of the daughters of Heth) was Eliphaz, whose son Teman gave name to a district of the country (;;;; Obadiah verse 9). The Temanites were renowned for their wisdom (;; ). The chief speaker in the book of Job is another Eliphaz, a Temanite—which is one of the circumstances that have led many to place the scene of that story in the land of Edom [JOB]. The name of Teman was preserved to the days of Eusebius in that of Thaiman, a small town five Roman miles from Petra. Another son of the first-mentioned Eliphaz was Amalek, who is not to be confounded, however, with the father of the Amalekites, one of the doomed nations of Canaan, of whom we hear so early as the age of Abraham ().

As a modern Arab sheikh is often found to exercise influence far beyond the sphere of his hereditary domain, so in the list of the Edomite emirs preserved by Moses we have perhaps only the names of the more distinguished individuals who; acquired more or less authority over all the tribes. This oligarchy appears gradually to have changed into a monarchy, as happened too among the Israelites; for in addition to the above mentioned lists, both of Horite and Esauite leaders, we have, at , a catalogue of eight kings (Bela, Jobab, Husham, Hadad, Samlah, Saul, Baal-hanan, Hadar or Hadad) who 'reigned in the land of Edom before there reigned any king-over the children of Israel.' It is not necessary to suppose that this was said by Moses prophetically: it is one of those passages which may have been inserted by Ezra when finally arranging the canon, inasmuch as it occurs also in the first book of Chronicles, of which he is the reputed compiler. The period when this change to regal government took place in Idumea can only be matter of conjecture. In the Song of Moses () it is said that at the tidings of Israel's triumphant passage of the Red Sea the rulers or princes (Alluf) of Edom trembled with affright, but when, some forty years afterwards, application had to be made by the Israelites for leave to traverse the land of Edom, it was to the king (Melek) that the request was addressed (). The road by which it was sought to penetrate the country was termed 'the king's highway' (), supposed by Robinson to be the Wady el-Ghuweir, for it is almost the only valley that affords a direct and easy passage through those mountains. From a comparison of these incidents it may be inferred that the change in the form of government took place during the wanderings of the Israelites in the desert, unless we suppose, with Rosenmüller, that it was only this north-eastern part of Edom which was now subject to a monarch, the rest of the country remaining under the sway of its former chieftains. But whether the regal power at this period embraced the whole territory or not, perhaps it did not supplant the ancient constitution, but was rather grafted on it, like the authority of the Judges in Israel, and of Saul, the first king, which did not materially interfere with the government that previously existed. It further appears, from the list of Idumæan kings, that the monarchy was not hereditary, but elective (for no one is spoken of as the son or relative of his predecessor); or probably that chieftain was acknowledged as sovereign who was best able to vindicate his claim by force of arms. Every successive king appears to have selected his own seat of government: the places mentioned as having enjoyed that distinction are Dinhabah, Avith, Pagu or Pai. Even foreigners were not excluded from the throne, for the successor of Samlah of Masrekah was Saul, or Shaul, 'of Rechoboth, on the river.' The word 'Rechoboth' means, literally, streets, and was a not uncommon name given to towns; but the emphatic addition of 'the river,' points evidently to the Euphrates, and between Rakkah and Anak, on that river, there are still the remains of a place called by the Arabs Rachabath-Malik-Ibn Tauk. In the age of Solomon we read of one Hadad, who 'was of the king's seed in Edom' (); from which some have conjectured that by that period there was a royal dynasty of one particular family; but all that the expression may imply is, that he was a blood-relation of the last king of the country. Hadad was the name of one of the early sovereigns 'who smote Midian in the field of Moab' ().

The unbrotherly feud which arose between Esau and Jacob was prolonged for ages between their posterity. The Israelites, indeed, were commanded 'not to abhor an Edomite, for he was their brother' (); but a variety of circumstances occurred to provoke and perpetuate the hostility. The first time they were brought into direct collision was when the Edomites, though entreated by their 'brother Israel,' refused the latter a passage through their territories; and they had consequently to make a retrograde and toilsome march to the Gulf of Elath, whence they had to 'compass the land of Edom' by the mountain desert on the east. We do not again hear of the Edomites till the days of Saul, who warred against them with partial success (); but their entire subjugation was reserved for David, who first signally vanquished them in the Valley of Salt (supposed to be in the Ghor, beside Usdum, the Mountain of Salt); and finally placed garrisons in all their country (;; . Compare the inscription of Psalm 60 and; , where 'the strong city' may denote Selah or Petra). Then were fulfilled the prophecies in; , that the 'elder should serve the younger;' and also the prediction of Balaam (), that Edom and Seir should be for possessions to Israel. Solomon created a naval station at Ezion-geber, at the head of the Gulf of Elath, the modern Aqaba (; ). Towards the close of his reign an attempt was made to restore the independence of the country by one Hadad, an Idumean prince, who, when a child, had been carried into Egypt at the time of David's invasion, and had there married the sister of Tahpenes the queen () [HADAD]. If Edom then succeeded in shaking off the yoke, it was only for a season, since in the days of Jehoshaphat, the fourth Jewish monarch from Solomon, it is said, 'there was no king in Edom; a deputy was king;' i.e.he acted as viceroy for the king of Judah. For that the latter was still master of the country is evident from the fact of his having fitted out, like Solomon, a fleet at Ezion-geber (; ). It was, no doubt, his deputy (called king) who joined the confederates of Judah and Israel in their attack upon Moab (;; ). Yet there seems to have been a partial revolt of the Edomites, or at least of the mountaineers of Seir, even in the reign of Jehoshaphat (): and under his successor, Jehoram, they wholly rebelled, and 'made a king over themselves' (;;; ). From its being added that, notwithstanding the temporary suppression of the rebellion, 'Edom revolted from under the hand of Judah unto this day,' it is probable that the Jewish dominion was never completely restored. Amaziah, indeed, invaded the country, and having taken the chief city, Selah or Petra, he, in memorial of the conquest, changed its name to Joktheel (q.d. subdued of God); and his successor, Uzziah, retained possession of Elath (;; ). But in the reign of Ahaz, hordes of Edomites made incursions into Judah and carried away captives (). About the same period Rezin, king of Syria, expelled the Jews from Elath, which (according to the correct reading of ) was thenceforth occupied by the Edomites. Now was fulfilled the other part of Isaac's prediction, viz. that, in course of time, Esau 'should take his brother's yoke from off his neck' (). It appears from various incidental expressions in the later prophets, that the Edomites employed their recovered power in the enlargement of their territory in all directions. They spread as far south as Dedan in Arabia, and northward to Bozrah in the Hauran; though it is doubtful if the Bozrah of Scripture may not have been a place in Idumea Proper (;;;; ). When the Chaldeans invaded Judah, under Nebuchadnezzar, the Edomites became their willing auxiliaries, and triumphed with fiendish malignity over the ruin of their kinsmen the Jews, of whose desolated land they hoped to obtain a large portion to themselves (;;;; ). By this circumstance the hereditary hatred of the Jews was rekindled in greater fury than ever, and hence the many dire denunciations of the 'daughter of Edom,' to be met with in the Hebrew prophets (;;; Ezekiel 25, 35). From the language of Malachi (), and also from the accounts preserved by Josephus (Antiq. x. 9, 7), it would seem that the Edomites did not wholly escape the Chaldean scourge; but instead of being carried captive, like the Jews, they not only retained possession of their own territory, but became masters of the south of Judah, as far as Hebron (, comp. with; ). Here, however, they were, in course of time, successfully attacked by the Maccabees, and about B.C. 125, were finally subdued by John Hyrcanus, who compelled them to submit to circumcision and other Jewish rites, with a view to incorporate them with the nation (;;;; Josephus Antiq. xiii. 9, 1; 15, 4). The amalgamation, however, of the two races seems never to have been effected, for we afterwards hear of Antipater, an Idumean by birth, being made by Caesar procurator of all Judea; and his son, commonly called Herod the Great, was, at the time of Christ's birth, king of Judea, including Idumea; and hence Roman writers often speak of all Palestine under that name. Not long before the siege of Jerusalem by Titus, 20,000 Idumeans were called in to the defense of the city by the Zealots; but both parties gave themselves up to rapine and murder. This is the last mention made of the Edomites in history. The author of a work on Job, once ascribed to Origen, says that their name and language had perished, and that, like the Ammonites and Moabites, they had all become Arabs. In the second century Ptolemy limits the name Idumea to the country west of the Jordan.

But while, during the captivity of the Jews in Babylon, the Edomites had thus been extending their territory to the north-west, they were themselves supplanted in the southern part of their native region by the Nabathaeans, the descendants of Ishmael's eldest son; and to the article Nebaioth we must refer the reader for the subsequent history of the land of Edom.


From the era of the Crusades down to the present century the land of Esau was, to Europeans, a terra incognita. Its situation was laid down on the best maps more than a hundred miles from the true position, and as if lying in a direction where it is now known there is nothing but a vast expanse of desert. Volney had his attention drawn towards it, when at Gaza, by the vague reports of the Arabs; and in 1807 the unfortunate Seetzen penetrated a certain way into the country and heard of the wonders of the Wady Mûsa; but the first modern traveler who 'passed through the land of Edom' was Burckhardt, in the year 1812. And it has been well remarked by Dr. Robinson that 'had he accomplished nothing but his researches in these regions, his journey would have been worth all the labor and cost expended on it, although his discoveries thus shed their strongest light upon subjects which were not comprehended in the plan or purpose either of himself or his employers.' Burckhardt entered Idumea from the north, and in the year 1818 he was followed in the same direction by Messrs. Legh, Bankes, Irby and Mangles. In 1828 Laborde and Linant found access from the south; and since then it has been visited and described by so many that the names of its localities have become familiar as household words.

The limit of the wanderings of the Israelites in the desert was the brook Zered, after crossing which they found themselves in the territory of Moab (). This brook is supposed to be identical with the Wady el-Ahsy, which, rising near the Castle el-Ahsy, on the route to Mecca of the Syrian caravan upon the high eastern desert, penetrates through the whole chain of mountains to near the south-east corner of the Dead Sea. It was thus the southern border of Moab and the northern of Edom, whence the latter region extended southwards as far as to Elath on the Red Sea. The valley which runs between the two seas consists first of El-Ghor, which is comparatively low, but gradually rises into the more elevated plain of El-Arabah to the south. The country lying east of this great valley is the land of Idumea. It is a mountain tract, consisting at the base of low hills of limestone or argillaceous rock, then lofty mountains of porphyry forming the body of the mountain; above these, sandstone broken up into irregular ridges and grotesque groups of cliffs; and again farther back, and higher than all, long elevated ridges of limestone without precipices. East of all these stretches off indefinitely the high plateau of the great eastern desert. The whole breadth of the mountainous tract between the Arabah and the eastern desert does not exceed fifteen or twenty geographical miles. Of these mountains the most remarkable is Mount Hor, near the Wady Musa [HOR]. While the mountains on the west of the Arabah, though less elevated, are wholly barren, those of Idumea seem to enjoy a sufficiency of rain, and are covered with tufts of herbs and occasional trees. The wadys, too, are full of trees and shrubs and flowers, while the eastern and higher parts are extensively cultivated, and yield good crops. This mountainous region is at present divided into two districts. The northern bears the name of Jebâl, i.e. 'The Mountain,' the Gebal of the Hebrews (), and the Gebalene of the Greeks and Romans. The southern district is esh-Sherah, extending as far as Aqabah, and including Shôbak, Wady Mûsa, Maan, etc. Burckhardt mentions a third district, Jebal Hesma; but Robinson says that though there is a sandy tract, el-Hismah, with mountains around it, on the east of Aqabah, it does not constitute a separate division.

The whole of this region is at present occupied by various tribes of Bedouin Arabs. The chief tribe in the Jebal is the Hejaya, with a branch of the Kaabineh, while in esh-Sherah they are all of the numerous and powerful tribe of the Haweitat, with a few independent allies. The Bedouins in Idumea have of late years been partially subject to the Pasha of Egypt, paying an annual tribute, which, in the case of the Beni Sukhr, is one camel for two tents. The fellahin, or peasants, are half Bedouin, inhabiting the few villages, but dwelling also in tents; they, too, pay tribute to the Egyptian government, and furnish supplies of grain. Among the localities connected with Edom which are mentioned in Scripture may be noticed Dinhabah, Bozrah, Theman, Maon (now Maan), Kadesh-barnea (which Robinson identifies with el-Weibeh in the Wady el-Jeib), Zephath (which he supposes to be the pass of Es-Sufah), Elath, and Ezion-geber, etc.; but the most celebrated place in all the region was the chief city, Selah or Petra, for a description of which the reader is referred to the latter head [PETRA].

Could the scene of the book of Job be with certainty fixed in Idumea, we should then possess much curious and valuable information respecting both the country and people soon after it had been colonized by the descendants of Esau (see Mason Good, Wemyss, and others upon Job). But all that we learn directly of the ancient Edomites from the historical books of Scripture represents them as not, indeed, neglecting agriculture or trade (), yet, on the whole, a warlike and predatory race, who, according to the prediction of their progenitor Isaac, 'lived by their sword.' The situation of the country-afforded peculiar facilities for commerce, which seems to have been prosecuted from a very early period. 'Bordering,' says Volney, 'upon Arabia on the east and south, and Egypt on the southwest, and forming, from north to south, the most commodious channel of communication between Jerusalem and her dependencies on the Red Sea, through the continuous valleys of el-Ghor and el-Arabah, Idumea may be said to have long formed the emporium of the commerce of the East.' The era of its greatest prosperity was after the Nabathaeans had become masters of the country and founded the kingdom of Arabia Petraea, of which the renowned metropolis was Petra. The religion of the early Edomites was, perhaps, comparatively pure: but in process of time they embraced idolatry: in , we read of the 'gods of Edom,' one of whom, according to Josephus (Antiq. xv. 7, 9), was called Kotzé. With respect to the striking fulfillment of the prophetic denunciations upon Edom, we need only refer the reader to the well-known work of Keith, who frequently errs, however, in straining the sense of prophecy beyond its legitimate import, as well as in seeking out too literally minute an accomplishment.





Bibliography Information
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Idumea'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature". https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​kbe/​i/idumea.html.
Ads FreeProfile