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Why Edom? On the hostility towards Jacob's brother in prophetic sources

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image of Vetus Testamentum

This contribution offers a new approach to explain the hostile attitude of the biblical sources towards Edom. It is suggested that the relations between Edom and Israel are influenced by the way in which Israel perceived the meaning of the struggle between their fathers—Esau and Jacob. The constant conflict between Edom and Judah may well have been connected by the inhabitants of Judah, consciously or subconsciously, with the conflict between Esau and Jacob over the birthright, and over the control of the promised land. Edom's aspirations to occupy areas in Israel may have been interpreted as Edom's wish to reverse the situation and to restore the election and the birthright to Esau. Following the events in Judah of 587 BCE the people were in despair because they assumed that God had cast off his people forever. They interpreted the destruction of the temple and the expulsion from their land as severance of the relationship between God and his people. The people's exile because of their sins could also be interpreted as the people's loss of their status as the chosen people. Two facts supported their thoughts that they were rejected and Edom was now chosen by God. The first was the Edomite participation in the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple and the expulsion of Judah from their country. And the second was the colonization of the land of Judah by the Edomites. It was not Edom's participation in the destruction or even in the colonization of Judah that led to the exceptional attitude towards Edom in the Biblical sources. The ideological and theological significance that Judah assigned to Edom's acts is what led the prophets to focus on Edom. The anti-Edomite oracles were meant to instil into the hearts of the people that, despite the destruction, Israel is still the chosen people and the sins of Edom against Judah would not remain unpunished.


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