Where do we find Edom, the biblical Israelites’ troublesome one-time enemy and recipient of prophetic curses (e.g. the Book of Obadiah), in the world today? A wide variety of answers is given by modern evangelical pastors and writers. Let us set aside our own opinions and give the answer from reputable scholars of the past and present.
James Usher (1581-1656) was famed as the author of “Usher’s chronology” and other works. He was the Irish Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland between 1625 and 1656, and was a prolific scholar and church leader. In his “Annals of the World,” we read, “John Hyrcanus took Adora and Marisa, which were cities of Idumea. When he had subdued all the Idumeans, he had them circumcised under penalty of losing their country. They loved their native country and so were circumcised and kept all the other Jewish laws, after which they were counted as Jews. (Josephus, Jewish War I.4.6.4.S.4; 3:241).”
Usher also referenced a famous early Greek geographer, philosopher, and historian: “Strabo stated that these Idumeans were originally Nabateans, but had been driven from there after some sedition. They had joined themselves to the Jews and submitted to their laws. (Strabo 1.16.c2.s.34, 7:281).” Strabo lived 64 B.C. to 24 A.D., and was well-respected then and now for his accurate scholarship.
The Greek Grammarian, Ammonius of Alexandria (ca. 435/445–517/526 A.D.) held the chair of philosophy at Alexandria, Egypt, and is believed by some scholars to have been a convert to Christianity later in his life. In his book, “De Differentius Verborum,” from Ptolemy’s first book, “De Rege Herod,” he noted this difference between the Idumeans and the Jews: “The Idumeans were not Jews from the beginning, but Phoenicians and Syrians who were conquered by the Jews. They were compelled to be circumcised, to unite their country to the Jews’ country and to be subject to their laws. Therefore they were called Jews.”
Ammonius continued, “They were called Jews, not because of their descent, but in regard to their religion and manner of life…Hence it was that the kingdom of Herod and his posterity were called, ‘The Kingdom of the Proselytes’, by the Hebrews…For among the Jews, the term ‘proselytes of righteousness’, as they called them, came to be used of the Idumeans at this time. These proselytes were always counted as and given the same honour as other Jews.” Indeed, as Ammonius said, Edom was a kingdom of proselytes to Judaism.
Among the most respected sources of modern Christian scholarship is “Eerdman’s Dictionary of the Bible,” edited by Dr. David Noel Freedman, et al. This source states, “Idumea was conquered by John Hyrcanus in 129 B.C.E., and its native population was forced to undergo circumcision and Judaization (I Maccabees 4:16-59; 2 Maccabees 10:1-8)…Idumea was incorporated into the Roman province of Judea. Soon after, it ceases to appear in contemporary records.” Thus it is a falsity for some today to insist that the Edomites all picked up and moved to Spain, or Italy, or some other place; they simply merged into the Jewish nation and were no longer known as a separate people or nation.
The Tyndale Bible Dictionary, edited by Walter A. Elwell, et al., adds some important additional information. “Idumea…The name was applied to the former country of the Edomites and to the portion of south Judah occupied by the descendants of Esau after the Jews had been deported to Babylon…by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 B.C.” (p.626) Other scholars have explained that most of the exiles of the House of Judah did not return to Palestine after the Babylonian captivity; according to the Tyndale Bible Dictionary, their place in Judea was taken by the Edomites, who became a significant portion of the Jews of Christ’s time.
Jewish authors say much the same thing. “A History of the Jewish People,” by Haim Hillel Ben-Sasson (Tel Dvir Publishing House, Tel Aviv, 1976) records, “Idumea, with its two main centres of Adora and Marissa, was annexed to Judea, and its population was converted to Judaism…the Idumeans of the Second Temple period lived in the ancient patrimony of biblical Judah…” (p.218-219) Again, this was because most of Judah did not return from the Babylonian exile! A great many of the residents of Judea were in fact Edomites. Some scholars estimate no more than ten percent of Judah ever returned.
Did indeed all of the Edomites convert to Judaism? It is popular today for Christians to claim that only a few did, and that the rest sailed away to Italy, Spain, or some other place equally unsupported by historical record. Instead, Professor Sasson stated, “The conversion of the Idumeans was the first of its kind, as it was of an entire race rather than a few individuals. The Jewish religion fell on fertile soil in Idumea; the Idumeans soon became an integral part of the Jewish nation, and before long their upper classes occupied key social and governmental positions…” (p.219) The “entire race” of Edom was converted to Judaism! This is why Christ’s genealogy is given twice, to show that even though from Judea, our Savior was of Israelite ancestry, not Edomite, in order to support his Hebrew and Davidic descent.
This is again verified in “Land and Economy in Ancient Palestine” by Jack Pastor (Routledge, London, 1997), which speaks of, “[John] Hyrcanus’ policy of ‘conversion or expulsion’ (Josephus, Antiquities 13. 157-8)” He adds, “In Idumea we can assume that much of the population converted and stayed…” (p.12)
Details of the Jewish conquest and conversion of Edom are given in the book, “All the People of the Bible,” by Richard R. Losch, published in 2008. He states, “Hyrcanus then started his expansion south, capturing Idumea, a region from about 15 miles south of Jerusalem all the way south through the old land of Edom. Most of the individuals of the southern part of this region were pagans of Arabic origin, and Hyrcanus forced them all to be circumcised and convert to Judaism…The Jews, however, never regarded the Idumeans as Jews, treating them all…as heathen Arab interlopers.” (pp.144-145) We can see this bitter, negative attitude toward the Edomites as ‘false Jews’ in the Book of Revelation 2:9, which speaks of “…the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan.” (cf. Rev. 3:9) The Edomites were long the bitter enemies of the Israelites, and the word, “Satan,” is a Greek term of Mideastern Chaldee origin meaning, “opposers,” or “accusers.” (Strong’s #4567). Interestingly, the Complete Jewish Bible interprets this verse as meaning, “I know the insults of those who call themselves Jews but aren’t — on the contrary, they are a synagogue of the Adversary.” The Edomites certainly were adversaries of the Israelites for many long centuries and had no ancestry in Judah. American Baptist pastor Jack Hyles, in his book, “Let’s Study Revelation,” ignores all scholarship and says, “Could this be referring to the British-Israel folks?” as if the British-Israel movement was founded in the first century in Judea while the Book of Revelation was being written! Nor do we call ourselves Jews!
We might be a bit surprised to learn that Dr. John F. Walvoord, who was widely considered the leading scholar of the Dispensational-Futurist movement in the last half of the twentieth century, taught that Edom was now a part of Jewry. In “The Bible Knowledge Commentary: Old Testament” he says this: “Later (ca. 120 B.C.) the Edomites there [in southern Judea], then called Idumeans, were subdued by John Hyrcanus, a Maccabean, who forced them to be circumcised and to follow Judaism (Josephus, The Antiquities of the Jews 13.9.1; 14.7.9).”
Various Dispensational-Futurist authors insist that modern Edom is in Europe, some saying Spain, others claim Italy, yet others Germany. However, every one of them reveres the late Dr. Walvoord, who disagreed with them all and truthfully said that Edom is found today within Jewry. Indeed it may be stated as a fact that Edom was “the kingdom of the proselytes” to Judaism.