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Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary


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a province of Arabia, which derives its name from Edom, or Esau, who there settled in the mountains of Seir, in the land of the Horites, south-east of the Dead Sea. His descendants afterward extended themselves throughout Arabia Petrea, and south of Palestine, between the Dead Sea and the Mediterranean. During the Babylonish captivity, and when Judea was almost deserted, they seized the south of Judah, and advanced to Hebron. Hence that tract of Judea, which they inhabited, retained the name of Idumea in the time of our Saviour, Mark 3:8 . Under Moses and Joshua, and even under the kings of Judah, the Idumeans were confined to the east and south of the Dead Sea, in the land of Seir; but afterward they extended their territories more to the south of Judah. The capital of east Edom was Bozrah; and that of south Edom, Petra, or Jectael. The Edomites, or Idumeans, the posterity of Esau, had kings long before the Jews. They were first governed by dukes or princes, and afterward by kings, Genesis 36:31 . They continued independent till the time of David, who subdued them, in completion of Isaac's prophecy, that Jacob should rule Esau, Genesis 27:29-30 . The Idumeans bore this subjection with great impatience; and at the end of Solomon's reign, Hadad, the Edomite, who had been carried into Egypt during his childhood, returned into his own country, where he procured himself to be acknowledged king, 1 Kings 11:22 . It is probable, however, that he reigned only in east Edom; for Edom south of Judea continued subject to the kings of Judah, till the reign of Jehoram, son of Jehoshaphat, against whom it rebelled, 2 Chronicles 21:8 . Jehoram attacked Edom, but did not subdue it. Amaziah king of Judah, took Petra, killed a thousand men, and compelled ten thousand more to leap from the rock, upon which stood the city of Petra, 2 Chronicles 25:11-12 . But these conquests were not permanent. Uzziah took Elath on the Red Sea, 2 Kings 14:22 ; but Rezin, king of Syria, retook it. Some think that Esar-haddon, king of Syria, ravaged this country, Isaiah 21:11-17 ; Isaiah 34:6 . Holofernes subdued it, as well as other nations around Judea, Judith 3:14. When Nebuchadnezzar besieged Jerusalem, the Idumeans joined him, and encouraged him to rase the very foundations of that city. This cruelty did not long continue unpunished. Five years after the taking of Jerusalem, Nebuchadnezzar humbled all the states around Judea, and in particular Idumea. John Hyrcanus entirely conquered the Idumeans, whom he obliged to receive circumcision and the law. They continued subject to the later kings of Judea till the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans. They even came to assist that city when besieged, and entered it in order to defend it. However, they did not continue there till it was taken, but returned into Idumea loaded with booty. The prophecies respecting Edom are numerous and striking; and the present state of the country as described by modern travellers has given so remarkable an attestation to the accuracy of their fulfilment, that a few extracts from Mr. Keith's work, in which this is pointed out, may be fitly introduced:—

2. There are numerous prophecies respecting Idumea, that bear a literal interpretation, however hyperbolical they may appear. "My sword shall come down upon Idumea, and upon the people of my curse, to judgment. From generation to generation it shall lie waste, none shall pass through it for ever and ever. But the cormorant and the bittern shall possess it; the owl also and the raven shall dwell in it: and he shall stretch out upon it the line of confusion, and the stones of emptiness. They shall call the nobles thereof to the kingdom; but none shall be there, and all her princes shall be nothing. And thorns shall come up in her palaces, nettles and brambles in the fortresses thereof; and it shall be a habitation of dragons, and a court for owls. Seek ye out of the book of the Lord and read; no one of these shall fail, none shall want her mate; for my mouth it hath commanded, and his Spirit it hath gathered them. And he hath cast the lot for them, and his hand hath divided it unto them by line; they shall possess it for ever, from generation to generation shall they dwell therein,"

Isaiah 34:5 ; Isaiah 34:10-17 . "I have sworn by myself, saith the Lord, that Bozrah" (the strong or fortified city) "shall become a desolation, a reproach, a waste, and a curse; and all the cities thereof shall be perpetual wastes. Lo, I will make thee small among the Heathen, and despised among men. Thy terribleness hath deceived thee, and the pride of thine heart, O thou that dwellest in the clefts of the rock, that holdest the height of the hill: though thou shouldest make thy nest as high as the eagle, I will bring thee down from thence, saith the Lord. Also Edom shall be a desolation; every one that goeth by shall be astonished, and shall hiss at all the plagues thereof. As in the overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrah, and the neighbour cities thereof, saith the Lord, no man shall abide there, neither shall a son of man dwell in it,"

Jeremiah 49:13-18 . "Thus saith the Lord God, I will stretch out mine hand upon Edom, and will cut off man and beast from it, and I will make it desolate from Teman." "I laid the mountains of Esau and his heritage waste for the dragons of the wilderness. Whereas Edom saith, We are impoverished, but we will return and build the desolate places; thus saith the Lord of hosts, They shall build, but I will throw down; and they shall call them, The border of wickedness," Malachi 1:3-4 .

Is there any country once inhabited and opulent, so utterly desolate? There is, and that land is Idumea. The territory of the descendants of Esau affords as miraculous a demonstration of the inspiration of the Scriptures as the fate of the children of Israel. A single extract from the Travels of Volney will be found to be equally illustrative of the prophecy and of the fact: "This country has not been visited by any traveller, but it well merits such an attention; for, from the report of the Arabs of Bakir, and the inhabitants of Gaza, who frequently go to Maan and Karak; on the road of the pilgrims, there are, to the south-east of the lake Asphaltites, (Dead Sea,) within three days' journey, upward of thirty ruined towns absolutely deserted. Several of them have large edifices, with columns that may have belonged to the ancient temples, or at least to Greek churches. The Arabs sometimes make use of them to fold their cattle in; but in general avoid them on account of the enormous scorpions with which they swarm. We cannot be surprised at these traces of ancient population, when we recollect that this was the country of the Nabatheans, the most powerful of the Arabs, and of the Idumeans, who, at the time of the destruction of Jerusalem, were almost as numerous as the Jews, as appears from Josephus, who informs us, that on the first rumour of the march of Titus against Jerusalem, thirty thousand Idumeans instantly assembled, and threw themselves into that city for its defence. It appears that, beside the advantages of being under a tolerably good government, these districts enjoyed a considerable share of the commerce of Arabia and India, which increased their industry and population. We know that as far back as the time of Solomon, the cities of Astioum Gaber (Ezion Geber) and Ailah (Eloth) were highly frequented marts. These towns were situated on the adjacent gulf of the Red Sea, where we still find the latter yet retaining its name, and perhaps the former in that of El Akaba, or ‘the end of the sea.' These two places are in the hands of the Bedouins, who, being destitute of a navy and commerce, do not inhabit them. But the pilgrims report that there is at El Akaba a wretched fort. The Idumeans, from whom the Jews only took their ports at intervals, must have found in them a great source of wealth and population. It even appears that the Idumeans rivalled the Tyrians, who also possessed a town, the name of which is unknown, on the coast of Hedjaz, in the desert of Tih, and the city of Faran, and, without doubt, El-Tor, which served it by way of port. From this place the caravans might reach Palestine and Judea, (through Idumea,) in eight or ten days. This route, which is longer than that from Suez to Cairo, is infinitely shorter than that from Aleppo to Bassorah." Evidence, which must have been undesigned, which cannot be suspected of partiality, and which no illustration can strengthen, and no ingenuity pervert, is thus borne to the truth of the most wonderful prophecies. That the Idumeans were a populous and powerful nation long posterior to the delivery of the prophecies; that they possessed a tolerably good government, even in the estimation of Volney; that Idumea contained many cities; and these cities are now absolutely deserted; and that their ruins swarm with enormous scorpions; that it was a commercial nation, and possessed highly frequented marts; that it forms a shorter route than the ordinary one to India; and yet that it had not been visited by any traveller; are facts all recorded, and proved by this able but unconscious commentator.

3. A greater contrast cannot be imagined than the ancient and present state of Idumea. It was a kingdom previous to Israel, having been governed first by dukes or princes, afterward by eight successive kings, and again by dukes, before there reigned any king over the children of Israel, Genesis 36:31 , &c. Its fertility and early cultivation are implied not only in the blessings of Esau, whose dwelling was to be the fatness of the earth, and of the dew of heaven from above; but also in the condition proposed by Moses to the Edomites, when he solicited a passage for the Israelites through their borders, that "they would not pass through the fields nor through the vine-yards;" and also in the great wealth, especially in the multitudes of flocks and herds, recorded as possessed by an individual inhabitant of that country, at a period, in all probability even more remote, Genesis 27:39 ; Numbers 20:17 ; Job 42:12 . The Idumeans were, without doubt, both an opulent and a powerful people. They often contended with the Israelites, and entered into a league with their other enemies against them. In the reign of David they were indeed subdued and greatly oppressed, and many of them even dispersed throughout the neighbouring countries, particularly Phenicia and Egypt. But during the decline of the kingdom of Judah, and for many years previous to its extinction, they encroached upon the territories of the Jews, and extended their dominion over the south-western part of Judea.

4. There is a prediction which, being peculiarly remarkable as applicable to Idumea, and bearing reference to a circumstance explanatory of the difficulty of access to any knowledge respecting it, is entitled, in the first instance, to notice: "None shall pass through it for ever and ever. I will cut off from Mount Seir him that passeth out, and him that returneth,"

Isaiah 34:10 ; Ezekiel 35:7 . The ancient greatness of Idumea must, in no small degree, have resulted from its commerce. Bordering with Arabia on the east, and Egypt on the southwest, and forming from north to south the most direct and most commodious channel of communication between Jerusalem and her dependencies on the Red Sea, as well as between Syria and India, through the continuous valleys of El Ghor, and El Araba, which terminated on the one extremity at the borders of Judea, and on the other at Elath and Ezion Geber on the Elanitic gulf of the Red Sea, Idumea may be said to have formed the emporium of the commerce of the east. A Roman road passed directly through Idumea, from Jerusalem to Akaba, and another from Akaba to Moab; and when these roads were made, at a time long posterior to the date of the predictions, the conception could not have been formed, or held credible by man, that the period would ever arrive when none would pass through it. Above seven hundred years after the date of the prophecy, Strabo relates that many Romans and other foreigners were found at Petra by his friend Athenodorus, the philosopher, who visited it. The prediction is yet more surprising when viewed in conjunction with another, which implies that travellers would "pass by" Idumea: "Every one that goeth by shall be astonished." And the Hadj routes (routes of the pilgrims) from Damascus and from Cairo to Mecca, the one on the east and the other towards the south of Idumea, along the whole of its extent, go by it, or touch partially on its borders, without passing through it. The truth of the prophecy, though hemmed in thus by apparent impossibilities and contradictions, and with extreme probability of its fallacy in every view that could have been visible to man, may yet be tried.

5. "Edom shall be a desolation. From generation to generation it shall lie waste," &c. Judea, Ammon, and Moab, exhibit so abundantly the remains and the means of an exuberant fertility, that the wonder arises in the reflecting mind, how the barbarity of man could have so effectually counteracted for so many generations the prodigality of nature. But such is Edom's desolation, that the first sentiment of astonishment on the contemplation of it is, how a wide extended region, now diversified by the strongest features of desert wildness, could ever have been adorned with cities, or tenanted for ages by a powerful and opulent people. Its present aspect would belie its ancient history, were not that history corroborated by "the many vestiges of former cultivation," by the remains of walls and paved roads, and by the ruins of cities still existing in this ruined country. The total cessation of its commerce; the artificial irrigation of its valleys wholly neglected; the destruction of all the cities, and the continued spoliation of the country by the Arabs, while aught remained that they could destroy; the permanent exposure, for ages, of the soil unsheltered by its ancient groves, and unprotected by any covering from the scorching rays of the sun; the unobstructed encroachments of the desert, and of the drifted sands from the borders of the Red Sea; the consequent absorption of the water of the springs and streamlets during summer,—are causes which have all combined their baneful operation in rendering Edom "most desolate, the desolation of desolations." Volney's account is sufficiently descriptive of the desolation which now reigns over Idumea; and the information which Seetzen derived at Jerusalem respecting it is of similar import. He was told, that at the distance of two days' journey and a half from Hebron, he would find considerable ruins of the ancient city of Abde, and that for all the rest of the journey he would see no place of habitation; he would meet only with a few tribes of wandering Arabs. From the borders of Edom, Captains Irby and Mangles beheld a boundless extent of desert view, which they had hardly ever seen equalled for singularity and grandeur. And the following extract, descriptive of what Burckhardt actually witnessed in the different parts of Edom, cannot be more graphically abbreviated than in the words of the prophet. Of its eastern boundary, and of the adjoining part of Arabia Petrea, strictly so called, Burckhardt writes: "It might, with truth, be called Petrea, not only on account of its rocky mountains, but also of the elevated plain already described, which is so much covered with stones, especially flints, that it may with great propriety be called a stony desert, although susceptible of culture; in many places it is overgrown with wild herbs, and must once have been thickly inhabited; for the traces of many towns and villages are met with on both sides of the Hadj road between Maan and Akaba, as well as between Maan and the plains of the Hauran, in which direction are also many springs. At present all this country is a desert, and Maan (Teman) is the only inhabited place in it: ‘I will stretch out my hand against thee, O Mount Seir, and will make thee most desolate. I will stretch out my hand upon Edom, and will make it desolate from Teman.'" In the interior of Idumea, where the ruins of some of its ancient cities are still visible, and in the extensive valley which reaches from the Red to the Dead Sea, the appearance of which must now be totally and sadly changed from what it was, "the whole plain presented to the view an expanse of shifting sands, whose surface was broken by innumerable undulations and low hills. The sand appears to have been brought from the shores of the Red Sea, by the southern winds; and the Arabs told me that the valleys continue to present the same appearance beyond the latitude of Wady Mousa. In some parts of the valley the sand is very deep, and there is not the slightest appearance of a road, or of any work of human art. A few trees grow among the sand hills, but the depth of sand precludes all vegetation of herbage." "If grape gatherers come to thee, would not they leave some gleaning grapes? If thieves by night, they will destroy till they have enough; but I have made Esau bare. Edom shall be a desolate wilderness." "On ascending the western plain," continues Mr. Burckhardt, "on a higher level than that of Arabia, we had before us an immense expanse of dreary country, entirely covered with black flints, with here and there some hilly chain rising from the plain." "I will stretch out upon Idumea the line of confusion, and the stones of emptiness." Such is the present desolate aspect of one of the most fertile countries of ancient times! So visibly even now does the withering curse of an offended God rest upon it!

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Bibliography Information
Watson, Richard. Entry for 'Edom'. Richard Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary. 1831-2.

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