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Monday, 8 April 2013

The term Idumea derives from the Greek form of Edom (“red”).

The term Idumea derives from the Greek form of Edom (“red”). The change from Edomite to Idumean resulted from the conquests of Alexander the Great, which made Greek the common language of the area. 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 following the conquest by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 B.C. The country known as Idumea in the historical period between the Old and New Testaments (the intertestamental period) had its northern boundary at Bet-sur (Beth-zur), a few miles north of Hebron, and included some of the Shephelah (low country) extending down into the former Philistine country (1 Maccabees 4:15, 22, 61).

First known as Edomites, then as Nabateans, and finally as Idumeans, the ancestors of the Idumeans trace their lineage to the elder brother of Jacob, Esau, who was cheated out of both his birthright and his blessing (Genesis 27:1-45). This led to conflict between the children of Israel and the descendants of Esau throughout the entire biblical period.
It is not surprising, therefore, that the Edomites rejoiced when the Babylonians conquered Israel. The Edomites then occupied the territory vacated by the Israelites following the exile of the kingdom by the Babylonians after 586 B.C.

About 300 BC Arabian tribes invaded and took the Edomite capital Petra, forcing the remaining Edomites into the area south of Judah, which then became included in what was known as Idumea. The invaders, known as Nabateans, made Sela or Petra the center of their caravan trade both from east to west and north to south. These desert tradesmen, influenced now by Greek ideas, fashioned the bowl-like “crater” at Petra into a fantastic city with a concentration of rock-hewn temples, tombs, and buildings made from the colorful red sandstone of the area. In addition to creating the world’s most unique city, the Nabateans were excellent traders and farmers. As Josephus says, they were not warlike but skilled in commerce, art, and agriculture. The Nabateans created the strategic desert stronghold of Avedat, which, with Petra, commanded the caravan routes. The Nabateans flourished from about 100 BC to AD 100, when the Romans gradually caused their demise by changing the caravan routes from south of the Dead Sea to the area around Damascus and Palmyra.

During the intertestamental period, the returning Jews had border skirmishes with the Idumeans. Hebron was captured by Judas Maccabeus (1 Maccabee 5:65). John Hyrcanus compelled the Idumeans to become Jews and submit to circumcision. The governor of Idumea, Antipater, who had been made procurator of Judea by Julius Caesar, was an Idumean. Antipater assigned his son Herod as governor of Galilee. This paved the way for Herod to become king of Judea, under the title of Herod the Great. With the conquest of Judea by the Romans, first in AD 70, and later in AD 135, Idumea disappears from history. Only in recent years have archaeologists begun to uncover some of the secrets of the Idumeans and of the Nabateans, their conquerors.

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