Those darn Edomites!
Haftorah for Vayishlach
In this passage, the prophet Obadiah outlines a litany of horrible things that will invariably befall the Edomites for yet again participating in some pretty horrible stuff. In what I think of as an epic fist-shaking-in-the-air moment, Obadiah warns: “If you go up high like an eagle, and if you place your nest among the stars, from there I will bring you down, says the Lord.”
This time the Edomites watch as their Judean cousins are being attacked and slaughtered, then worse, participate in the mayhem by looting the victims’ belongings, before stepping up their evilness a bit more and cutting off routes of escape for the fugitives of the attack and delivering survivors back to their attackers.
This is not the first time the prophets have condemned Edom and the “children of Edom,” the Edomites. So who were these dastardly evildoers?
They show up in the Tanakh as fighting (and loosing) against King Saul in about the 11th century B.C.E. Four decades later they get trounced again by King David in the “Valley of Salt” which historians takes to mean likely by the Dead Sea.
By the time Nebuchadnezzar II comes around, there is reference to the Edomites helping to plunder a Juerusalem under attack yet again, creating another wave of prophetic denouncement.
Reference to what is taken to mean the Edomites in both Assyrian cuneiform inscriptions and ancient Egyption texts seem to refer to them as a roving band of nomadic raiders, who generally weasel in when tribes were under attack to loot and plunder.
So held in contempt were these people, that some rules about marriage and conversion in the Helach were written just to deal with them. One hotly contended issue was just how many generations would have to pass before someone with an Edomite in their heritage could be married to a Jew. Some Jewish scholars said no less than four generations must past; some argued that this should only apply to men and less to female descendants. Special rules governing the conversion of Edomite descendants were specified to settle these arguments.
And just to bring it all home, the aforementioned prophet Obadiah whose vision is this week’s Haftorah, was himself, a convert.
Casey (Kefira) McCarty is a published author living in Ohio. She is the Assistant Director of the Columbus Idea Foundry, a community workshop space, and is an artisan who crafts jewelry, Judaica and fine art available online and in Central Ohio galleries and boutiques. You can find her online shop at www.sinemetudesigns.etsy.com