Biblical Studies Edom
Ernst Axel Knauf, Robin M. Brown
  • LAST REVIEWED: 09 December 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 March 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393361-0258


Edom was an Iron Age kingdom in southern Jordan and beyond. At the zenith of its territorial expansion in the first half of the 6th century BCE, it comprised Southern Jordan from Wādī l-Ḥasā to Elat (Tell Ḫuwēlifah/Tell Ḫwēlfeh), the Wādī l-ʿArabah, the Negev and parts of southern Judea (with Hebron), and the southern Shefelah (with Maresha). The Edomite Plateau is between Wādī l-Ḥasā and Rās an-Naqb, a strip of potential agricultural land narrowing to the south, and the southern hills of Judea from the southern extension of the Mediterranean climate zone. Sedentary agriculture is possible there, but not always feasible. Edomite society could never have been without a pastoral segment exploiting the steppe to the east and west (Wadi Arabah and Negev), which facilitated the penetration of neighboring areas. The Ḥismā south of Rās an-Naqb, Wādī l-ʿArabah, and the northern Negev belong to the semiarid climate zone, bordering on the desert of Sinai. The precipice toward the Wādī l-ʿArabah was densely wooded until the 1920s. It is unclear whether Edom extended beyond Elat into northwest Arabia at some time. Edomite independence was terminated by the last Babylonian king, Nabonidus, between 553 and 551 BCE. The beginning of Edomite state formation is disputed. The majority of researchers assert that the Edomite monarchy began under Assyrian tutelage at the end of the 8th century BCE. A minority believes it started in the 11th century BCE with the tribal industrial complex in Wādī l-ʿArabah (see section Early Edom). After Nabonidus, the Edomite Plateau became the heartland of the Arab Nabataean tribal confederacy, whereas the Persian and Hellenistic sub-province of Idumaea, with Maresha as its capital, preserved the name. Other aspects of the term “Edom” are briefly mentioned in the last section, Afterlife.

Comprehensive Works

Recently, the theory that there were kings in Edom “before any king reigned over the Israeliters” (Gen. 36:31, NRSV) has been revived by the discovery of a tribal copper production center in the Wadi Arabah in the 11th–9th centuries BCE, which exported copper to the northwest (Philistia) and north (the towns and cities of the Canaanite revival up to Laish [Tel Dan] along the Rift Valley), but it is disputed whether the early Iron Age copper industry had actually been “Edomite” (see further in the section Early Edom). In the standard works on Edom, the Arabah copper tribal industrial complex is not discussed, with the exception of MacDonald 2015. Bartlett 1989 is still a good starting point; the author also contributed the entry on “Edom” in the Anchor Bible Dictionary. Edelman 1995 and Bienkowski 1992 are basically monumental collective reviews of Bartlett 1989, with some supplements. The archaeological sites pertinent for the history of Edom east of Wādī l-ʿArabah are covered in MacDonald 2015. The best dictionary entry on Edom is still Weippert 1982. For a deeper understanding of the geography of Edom and its premodern economy and society, the travelogue Musil 1907 is still indispensable.

  • Bartlett, John R. Edom and the Edomites. Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, Supplement Series 77. Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Academic, 1989.

    The definitive monograph on Edom that has yet to be replaced; the articles on Edom by the same author listed in the bibliography cover some topics in more detail.

  • Bienkowski, Piotr, ed. Early Edom and Moab: The Beginning of the Iron Age in Southern Jordan. Sheffield Archaeological Monographs 7. Sheffield, UK: J. R. Collis, 1992.

    Proceedings of a conference on the occasion of the publication of Bartlett 1989, covering the ancient Near Eastern and archaeological evidence in more depth.

  • Edelman, Diana V., ed. You Shall Not Abhor an Edomite for He Is Your Brother: Edom and Seir in History and Tradition. Archaeology and Biblical Studies 3. Atlanta: Scholars, 1995.

    Proceedings of an ASOR/SBL Session in response to Bartlett 1989, focusing on historical topography, social and economic history, Edom in the Negev, religion, and language.

  • MacDonald, Burton. The Southern Transjordan Edomite Plateau and the Dead Sea Rift Valley: The Bronze Age to the Islamic Period (3800/3700 BC–AD 1917). Oxford: Oxbow, 2015.

    Summarizes the archaeological research (with rich bibliography); for Edom, only the section on the Iron Age and the Persian period (12th through 4th centuries BCE) is pertinent.

  • Musil, Alois. Arabia Petraea. Vol. 2, Edom: Topographischer Reisebericht. Vienna: A. Hölder, 1907.

    Musil traveled around the turn of the 19th century and into the 20th, covering the Edomite Plateau, Wadi Arabah, and the Negev. The ethnographic Volume 3, Ethnologischer Reisebericht (1908), pertains to both Edom and Moab.

  • Weippert, Manfred. “Edom und Israel.” In Theologische Realenzyklopädie. Vol. 9. Edited by Gerhard Krause and Gerhard Müller, 291–299. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1982.

    Good overview of the ancient Near Eastern textual sources on Edom; for the archaeology of Transjordanian Edom, see MacDonald 2015; for Edomite archaeology in the Negev, see Edom and Israel/Judah.

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