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

The conversion of the Edomites (Idumeans)

According to Josephus (Antiquities XIII, 9, 1), the Hasmonean John Hyrcanus (Hyrcanus I) "conquered in Idumea the cities of Adora [Adoraim] and Marisa [Maresha] and subjected all the Idumeans [Edomites]. He allowed them to stay in the land, however, if they were willing to introduce circumcision and live by the other Jewish laws. In truth, out of love for their homeland they accepted circumcision with the other Jewish customs and were henceforth likewise Jewish."

This account has lately been qualified by Peter Richardson, pp. 54-62, following Aryeh Kasher, pp. 46-78: the Edomites already performed circumcision on their own, but indeed the cities of Adora and Marisa had become so thoroughly hellenized that their citizens had given up the practice. Josephus's account applies to these cities only. There are indications in Strabo and Ptolemy that Idumea was peacefully annexed by Hyrcanus. Many Idumeans (already circumcised) accepted Judaism voluntarily (partly, perhaps, in response to the missionary fervor of the Hasmonean revivalists), while others kept their old religion without leaving. Among the converts was a man who would be Herod's paternal grandfather. The descendants of the converts were caught, it would seem, between two identities. Josephus reports on Costobar, Herod's brother in law (the name is constructed with that of Cos, the chief Edomite God). Descended from priests of Cos, he hoped to lead his fellow Idumeans to independence from the Jews and Jewish customs. On the other hand, Josephus also reports on Idumeans who gave strong support to their fellow Jews in the first revolt against Rome.