The Edomites PDF Print E-mail
Written by Stephen Langfur
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The Edomites
Their Conversion

The Edomites were a Semitic people. In the 13th-12th centuries BC they settled east of the Arava, between the southern basin of the Dead Sea and the Gulf of Aqaba. According to Numbers 20:14-21, they were already settled when Moses and the Israelites wanted to pass through their land, and they refused to allow it.

The Nubian sandstone of Edom has a reddish color, whence the name of the people: adom in Hebrew means red. At sunset it casts its reddish glow over the Gulf of Aqaba (hence too, perhaps, the name "Red Sea"). The eponymous ancestor of the Edomites was Esau (called Edom in Genesis 36:1), who issued red from the womb, and who later sold his birthright for "that red stuff" (Genesis 25:30). He was also a very hairy man, and when one looks at the cliffs of Edom above Aqaba in the morning, with the sun behind them, their tops resemble a fringe of hair.

The Edomites got into rivalry with the kings of Judah over the possession of Ezion Geber on the Red Sea. In the late 7th-early 6th centuries BC, under pressure of the Nabataean Arabs, they began to cross the Arava and beleaguer the towns of Judah. When Babylon attacked Judah from the north, Edom took advantage and pressed from the south. Both enemies are named in Psalm 137:  
By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down.
             Yes, we wept, when we remembered Zion.
On the willows in its midst,
we hung up our harps.
For there, those who led us captive asked us for songs.
Those who tormented us demanded songs of joy:
“Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
How can we sing Yahweh’s song in a foreign land?
If I forget you, Jerusalem,
let my right hand forget its skill.
Let my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth if I don’t remember you;
if I don’t prefer Jerusalem above my chief joy.
Remember, Yahweh, against the children of Edom,
the day of Jerusalem;
who said, “Raze it!
Raze it even to its foundation!”
Daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction,
he will be happy who rewards you,
as you have served us.
Happy shall he be,
who takes and dashes your little ones against the rock.

After Babylon sent the Judaeans into exile, the Edomites poured in, taking over the southern cities as far north as Maresha and Hebron. They were still the dominant population in the south when the Hasmonean king John Hyrcanus conquered them, giving them the choice of converting to Judaism or leaving. Among those choosing to convert was the paternal grandfather of Herod, later called the Great.