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Obadiah, Book of


OBADIAH, BOOK OF (Heb. עֹבַדְיָה; "Servant of the Lord"). Obadiah, author of the shortest book in the Bible, is the fourth of the Minor Prophets. The same name is not necessarily a later pseudonymous designation of the book, for other persons in biblical times also had this name, including the father of an individual mentioned in Arad letter 10 (Ahituv, p. 68). The Rabbis identified Obadiah with the man of the same name who lived during Ahab's reign (i Kings 18:3–4), and they considered him an Edomite proselyte (Sanh. 39b). However, it should be noted that there is a clear similarity between Jeremiah 49:7–22 and Obadiah 1–11 (cf. Obad. 1–4, 5–6, 8 with Jer. 49: 14–16, 9–10a, 7). A careful comparison of the two recensions seems to indicate that the common elements have been derived from an older source. It may therefore be inferred that in his oracle on Edom the author of Jeremiah 49:7–22 incorporated passages from an anonymous source, which was still later included in the Book of Obadiah. This view, however, does not preclude the Obadian authorship of the second part of the book. Indeed, though its 21 verses are concerned almost entirely with Edom, its unity is disputed quite independently from its relationship with Jeremiah 49.

Some scholars (e.g., A. Condamin, C. von Orelli, S.O. Isopescul, J. Theis, A.H. Edelkoort, G.C. Aalders, M. Bič, and J. Scharbert) regard the book as one single prophetic speech. J. Scharbert takes it as a prophetic liturgy composed by a cultic prophet after the fall of Jerusalem in 587 b.c.e. (verses 1–18), whereas M. Bič interprets it as an expanded oracle for the enthronement festival of the Lord. A liturgical setting is also urged by Woolf, who sees the book as an oracle of assurance delivered by a cult prophet. J.A. Bewer and R. Augé assume that there are two sections, verses 1–14, 15b, and 15a, 16–21, both belonging to the same prophet. This literary division of the text corrects somewhat the view of J. Wellhausen who ascribed verses 1–14 to the prophet Obadiah and considered verses 15–21 as a later addition. G. Wildeboer and J.A. Thompson assume that verses 1–9 constitute a pre-Exilic oracle, and verses 10–21 are a post-Exilic complement. Part of the problem is due to the ambiguity of the prohibitions in vss. 12–14; some scholars interpret them as a reference to future events, while others refer them to the past in the sense "you should not have?" Some scholars divide the book into three (C. Steuernagel, W. Rudolph, D. Deden, M. Vellas, O. Eissfeldt), four (E. Sellin), five (C.-A. Keller), six (G. Fohrer), seven (W.O.E. Oesterley), or eight (T.H. Robinson) sections. There are some formal and stylistic reasons for a division into six oracles. The first is an oracle of woe against Edom (Obad. 1b-4), paralleled in Jeremiah 49:14–16, where, in some passages, more of the original text seems to have been preserved. It mentions the Edomite fortress of Sela ("Rock"; Obad. 3) captured by King Amaziah of Judah c. 800 b.c.e. (ii Kings 14:7). The second oracle of woe (Obad. 5–7) is paralleled in Jeremiah 49:8–10a, where the beginning of the poem (Jer. 49:8) is also preserved. It announces that the invader will this time penetrate the dwellings of Edom, identified there with Esau (Obad. 6), and that her allies will abandon her. Obadiah 7 refers to the displacement of Edom by a foreign (mazor) population (McCarter). In the third oracle (Obad. 8–11) the prophet first declares that yhwh has deprived Edom of her proverbial wisdom so that she is unable to prevent the ruin awaiting her (Obad. 8–9). Verses 10–11 state the reason for the curse, namely, the violence and outrage of which Edom had been guilty during Jerusalem's calamity in 587 b.c.e. Elements from the beginning (Obad. 8) of this poem are employed as an introduction to the oracles on Edom in Jeremiah 49:7–22. Another curse against Edom, related to the same events, is found in Obadiah 12–14, 15b. (Most scholars now think that verse 15a belongs to the following oracle, and verse 15b to the foregoing one.) In a series of eight imperative prohibitions the prophet summons Edom to desist from her inhuman delight at Judah's ruin, and he concludes with a threat expressed in the form of a law of retaliation.

The first four sections (Obad. 1–14, 15b) address Edom in the second person plural, proclaiming the "Day of the Lord" and announcing salvation on Zion (cf. Joel 3:5) and judgment on the nations, especially on Edom (Obad. 18). The clear mention of Edom, "the House of Esau" which will be exterminated on that Day, reveals that this oracle too reflects the situation after 587 b.c.e. The aid which the Edomites gave the Babylonians against Jerusalem in 587, and which is alluded to in Arad ostracon 24 (Ahituv, p. 78), could not be forgiven. The Edomites not only exulted at the humiliation of the Judahites but actively assisted their foes and sought to intercept and cut off the fugitives. The remembrance of these events inspires the fifth section, as well as the preceding ones, and also Isaiah 34; Jeremiah 49:7–22; Ezekiel 25:12–14; 35; Malachi 1:2–5; Psalms 137:7; Lamentations 4:21–22. These texts all seem to refer to the same events; their dominant thought is that at last Edom will receive its due punishment at the hand of the Lord. The actual disaster that befell Edom was most likely its invasion by the neighboring Arab tribes, which seem to have entirely taken over the land of Edom toward the end of the sixth century b.c.e. so that Edom remained without settled population throughout the Persian period. If so, the oracles of Obadiah 8–18, and 1–7 as well, which are not explicitly motivated by Edom's violence against Judah, may be assumed to belong to the end of the sixth century b.c.e. The opinion of scholars such as E. Sellin and J. Theis, who assign Obadiah 1–10, and especially 1–7, to the time of King Amaziah, about 800 b.c.e. (ii Kings 14:7; cf. ii Kings 8:20–22; Ps. 60:11–14), is based upon the fact that these verses contain no allusions to the special circumstances of 587 b.c.e. But the invitation addressed to "the nations" in Obadiah 1, the image of "robbers" in verse 5, and the probable allusion to the Babylonian allies of Edom in verse 7, may also suggest a connection between verses 1–7 and the Arab incursion of the sixth century. However, since the author of Jeremiah 49:7–22 seems to have known only Obadiah 1b-11, these verses may have been composed somewhat earlier than verses 12–18. The date and the composition of the last section (verses 19–21) are not known. Many scholars regard it as a later appendix, in which the fate of Edom is reduced to an episode of the eschatological triumph of the Jews: the territory of Judah is to be enlarged on all sides, with the inhabitants of the Negev possessing Edom, and Benjamin overflowing into Gilead. The victorious Israelites (read noshaʿim) will ascend Mount Zion to judge the Mountain of Esau, and the Lord's kingdom will be established.


W. Nowack Die Kleinen Propheten (19223); J. Wellhausen, Die Kleinen Propheten (18983); A. Cohen, The Twelve Prophets (1948); J. Trinquet, in: La Sainte Bible de l'Ecole Biblique de Jérusalem (19603); Th. Laetsch, The Minor Prophets (1956); J.A. Thompson, in: The Interpreter's Bible, 6 (1956); G.C. Morgan, The Minor Prophets. The Men and their Message (1960); E.G. Kraeling, Commentary on the Prophets, 2 (1966). special studies: W.W. Cannon, in: Theology, 15 (1927), 129–40; 191–200; W. Rudolph, in: zaw, 49 (1931), 222–31; S. Loewinger, in: rej, 111 (1951), 93–94; M. Bič, in: vt Suppl., 1 (1953), 11–25; J. Gray, in: zaw, 65 (1953), 53–59; W. Kornfeld, in: Mélanges bibliques rédigés en l'honneur d'André Robert (1957), 180–6; Kaufmann Y., Toledot, 4 (19675), 363–5. add. bibliography: E. Lipiński, in: vt, 23 (1973), 368–70; H. Wolff, Obadiah and Jonah (1976); P.K. McCarter, in: basor, 221 (1976), 87–91; D. Stuart, in: idem, Hosea-Jonah (Word; 1987), 402–22; M. Cogan, in: idem and U. Simon, Obadiah and Jonah (1992), 3–39; S. Ahituv, Handbook of Ancient Hebrew Inscriptions (1992); P. Ackroyd, in: abd, 5:2–4; R. Marrs, in: dbi, 1:219–21 (extensive bibl.); P. Raabe, Obadiah (ab; 1996); E. Ben Zvi, A Historical-Critical Study of the Book of Obadiah (1996).

[Edward Lipinski /

S. David Sperling (2nd ed.)]

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