A Semitic people who, during OT times, inhabited the highlands east of the araba, south of the Dead Sea. Their territory was bounded on the north by the Zared (Zered) Valley, beyond which dwelt the moabites. The name Edom (Heb. 'ědōm ) is derived from the Semitic root meaning red and was given to the land because of the reddish color of the sandstone of that district. Israelite folklore gave the name first to the eponymous ancestor of the Edomites (whom they identified with esau) but, by a popular etymology, derived it from the red stew for which he sold his birthright to the Patriarch jacob (Gn 25.29–34). The Genesis stories concerning the relations between the twin brothers Jacob and Edom-Esau (25.19–34; 27.1–28.9; 32.4–33.20) reflect the Israelite consciousness of close kinship with the Semitic Edomites as well as the rivalry that existed between these peoples throughout much of their history. The passing of the birthright and blessing from the first-born twin to his junior was seen as an indication of divine election (see Mal1.2–5) but also reflects the barren nature of the Edomite territory as compared to Israel's and the ascendancy of Israel during much of their history (see Gn 27.24–40).
Little is known with certainty of the origins of the Edomite kingdom. Archeological investigations, especially those of N. Glueck, have shown that nomadic invasions (c. 1900 b.c.) destroyed the civilization that had flourished earlier in this region. The invaders may have continued to live there as nomads and may have been the Horrites whom Dt 2.12 says the Edomites drove out when they settled there. At any rate, there was again a settled population there before the close of the 13th century b.c. This archeological finding accords with the Biblical tradition that the Israelites en route to the invasion of Palestine were forced, by the determined opposition of the inhabitants, to detour around Edom (Nm 20.14–21; Dt 2.1–7). A list of eight Edomite kings who ruled before the Israelite monarchy was established is given in Gn 36.31–39 and one Chr 1.43–54, and Gn 36.1–19 lists the clans and subclans of Edom.
The Israelites, under david, conquered the Edomites and annexed their territory (2 Sm 8.13–14). This was a great step forward for the Israelite economy, since the conquest gave them access to trade with Arabia, both overland and through the port at Asiongaber (Eziongeber) on the Gulf of Aqaba; it also gave them access to the rich mineral deposits along the Araba. Solomon exploited these advantages by mining ore and erecting an extensive copper refinery (not mentioned in the Bible) and by building tharsis (i.e., seagoing) vessels for the Red Sea trade (1 Kgs 9.26–28).
The Edomites, to whom this subjection was hateful, tried on several occasions to rebel against Israel, but as long as Israel remained a united kingdom they were unsuccessful (see 1 Kgs 11.14–22). After the division of the kingdom it would seem that Juda continued to exercise control as far south as the Gulf of Aqaba and may have continued to hold parts of Edom. King Josaphat (c. 849 b.c.) ruled Edom and continued to use Asiongaber (1 Kgs 22.48–49); he was able both to pass through Edomite territory when aiding Joram, King of Israel, in his attempt to subdue Moab and to count Edom's king as an ally in this venture (2 Kgs 3.1–27). Under Joram, King of Juda (c. 849-c. 842 b.c.), Edom successfully revolted (2 Kgs8.20–22), but was reconquered by Amasia (c. 800-c. 783 b.c.); Amasia's son Azaria (c. 783-c. 742 b.c.) reopened Elath—either near Asiongaber or identical with it—and the Red Sea trade (2 Kgs 14.7, 22). During the 8th century b.c. the Edomites, like all their neighbors, came under the power of the ever-expanding empire of the Assyrians; they are listed (see J. B. Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament [2d rev. ed Princeton 1955] 182) as paying tribute to Tiglath-Pileser III (745-728 b.c.). When the Assyrian Empire had been defeated by the Babylonians, the Edomites became subject to the latter. Later, when the people of Judah had been conquered and exiled by the Babylonians, the Edomites saw an opportunity to take for themselves at least a portion of the defenseless land and they occupied part of the Negeb, thus extending their territory to the west of the Araba. For their hostile attitude toward the Israelites, the Edomites were strongly denounced by the Prophets (Is 34.5–7; 63.1–6; Ez 25.12–14; Book of abdia).
In NT times the Edomites, now a mixed people known as Idumeans were ruled by the Herod family.
From this dynastic family came herod the great, to whom is attributed the slaughter of the Holy innocents; his son herod antipas, while tetrarch of Galilee, mocked Christ during His Passion and sent Him back to Pilate to be condemned to death.
Bibliography: Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Bible, tr. and adap. by l. hartman (New York 1963) 620–624. l. grollenberg, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner, 10 v. (2d new ed. Freiburg 1957–65) 3:663–664. m. noth, Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart (3d ed. Tübingen 1957–65) 2:308–309. f. m. abel, Géographie de la Palestine, 2 v. (Paris 1933–38) 1: 280–285. a. legendre, Dictionnaire de la Bible, ed. f. vigouroux (Paris 1895–1912) 3.1:830–837. a. musil, Arabia Petraea, 3 v. in 4 (Vienna 1907–08), v. 2 Edom. v. maag, "Jakob-Esau-Edom," Theologische Zeitschrift 13 (1957) 418–429. n. glueck, "The Civilization of the Edomites," Biblical Archaeologist 10 (1947) 77–84. w. f. albright, "The Horites in Palestine," From the Pyramids to Paul, ed. l. g. leary (New York 1935) 9–26.
[w. m. duffy]