The early history of Edom, a small Iron Age Kingdom southeast of Judah, is obscure. It flourished under the Assyrians (eighth–seventh centuries BCE) and was destroyed by the Babylonians in about 550 BCE. The Hebrew name Edom (“red”) primarily referred to the mountains south of the Dead Sea and east of the Wadi ῾Arabah, but Edomites also settled in the region west of the Wadi ῾Arabah, their western boundary abutting Judah's between Qadesh and the southern end of the Dead Sea (cf. Nm. 34:3ff.; Jos. 15:1–4; Dt. 2:8). This western region was called Seir (cf. Jos. 11:17; 1 Chr. 4:42ff.), a name in some biblical texts virtually synonymous with Edom (cf. Gn. 32:3, 36:8ff.; Jg. 5:4).

Scholarly exploration of Edom began in the nineteenth century with Ulrich J. Seetzen (1806–1807); Jean Louis Burkhardt (1812), who rediscovered Petra; Charles Leonard Irby and James Mangles (1818); Léon de Laborde (1828); Edward Robinson (1838); and others. Louis Lartet and Edward Hull published geological studies (1876, 1883). Alois Musil (1896–1898, 1900–1902), and Rudolf Ernst Brunnow and Albert von Domaszewski (1897–1898) recorded visible ruins. In 1933–1935 Nelson Glueck explored Edom; In 1937–1938 he excavated the Nabatean site of Khirbet et-Tannur and In 1938–1940 the Iron Age Tell el-Kheleifeh. In the 1950s and 1960s Diana Kirkbride excavated at Beidha, Peter Parr at Petra, and Crystal-M. Bennett at Umm el-Biyara, Tawilan, and Buṣeirah. In the 1980s Stephen Hart excavated in south-central Edom, Manfred Lindner explored west-central hilltop sites, and Andreas Hauptmann and others studied mining sites in the ῾Arabah. The 1970s and 1980s saw important surveys in the Wadi el-Hasa region (Burton MacDonald, Manfred Weippert), at Ras en-Naqb (Hart), in the Ḥisma region (William Jobling), and in the Ghor and northern Wadi ῾Arabah (Walter Rast and Thomas R. Schaub, and MacDonald).

Edom's prehistoric sites have been researched by Donald Henry, Mary O. Rollefson, and others. Human activity is evidenced through the Lower, Middle, and Upper Paleolithic, Epipaleolithic, Neolithic, and Chalcolithic periods (c. 100,000–3,000 BCE), especially in more moist periods when settlement could spread from the terraces of the scarp to the central plateau, where grazing animals might be hunted. A number of Epipaleolithic-Natufian sites are known from the eleventh–tenth millennia in the Wadi el-Hasa, near Petra, and in the Wadi Judaiyid. The Pre-Pottery Neolithic period is well evidenced at Beidha. There is little Pottery Neolithic, but Chalcolithic sites appear south of Ras en-Naqb and in the Wadi ῾Arabah, where copper was mined and smelted.

Early Bronze Age sherd scatters on the plateau evidence temporary settlements and pastoral activity. Surveys show an absence of MB pottery, but a handful of sites with late Bronze pottery suggests the start of renewed population growth. In the Wadi ῾Arabah, however, carbon-14 datings from charcoal suggest smelting activities at Khirbet en-Naḥas in MB II and at Feinan in LB II. Smelting took place at Timna῾ under the Egyptian nineteenth and twentieth dynasties. The Egyptians knew Edom and Seir's inhabitants as shosu (“wanderers”), bellicose pastoralists who migrated to Egypt in times of hardship. LB Transjordan was subject to Egyptian control and lay on the very fringe of the wealthier Aegean world, whose trade reached the Jordan Valley.

In Iron Age I, the population and number of settlements increased. Terraces, houses, small farms, a cemetery, a possible village, and a possible fortress suggest an agricultural community, mainly in the west-central region. In Iron II the population grew significantly. Surveys reveal buildings, hamlets, unwalled villages, a significant number of fortresses on the plateau, and a number of mountaintop settlements in the west (cf. Ob. 3). Defense seems to have been important, with the fortresses perhaps defending official interests in trade and agriculture and the minor clifftop settlements defending the local population against intruders. Crystal-M. Bennett excavated a short-lived seventh-century BCE domestic settlement on the top of Umm el-Biyara, an eighth–fifth century BCE unfortified agricultural town at Tawilan, and an eighth–fifth (?) century BCE major city at Buṣeirah (biblical Bozrah), with a casemate town wall, domestic buildings, and an enclosed acropolis with an Iron II palace or temple, succeeded by a smaller “winged” building possibly built for the Persian administration. Glueck excavated Tell el-Kheleifeh, assigning it five occupation levels from Solomon to the Persian period; however, recent study has demonstrated two levels, a casemate-walled fortress and a larger, solid-walled fortress, dated by the Iron II pottery to the eighth–fifth centuries BCE. The site is now identified with Uzziah's Eilat (2 Kgs. 14:22), rather than with Solomon's Ezion-Geber (1 Kgs. 9:26). Evidence of an Iron II copper industry, active from the eighth to the fifth centuries BCE, perhaps encouraged by the Assyrian administration, appears at Feinan and elsewhere in the ῾Arabah (cf Jb. 28:1–4); it produced enough copper to leave 100,000 tons of slag.

Thus, early Edom was primarily a rural society of subsistence farmers and pastoralists, presumably tribal in structure. Central administration was probably first imposed by Judah (2 Sm. 8:14). The “Edomite king list” of Genesis 36:31–39, an Israelite compilation of monarchic date or later, offers uncertain evidence for the early period but may suggest some regionalism in Edom, Bozrah, and the land of the Temanites (the southern region?) being clearly well known. Political development could begin only when Judah's rule ended; monarchy was established in about 850 BCE (2 Kgs. 8:20). Population expansion, the appearance of villages, hilltop settlements, fortresses, towns, a major city, the copper industry, and evidence of foreign trade belong, together with vassaldom to the Assyrians, to the eighth–seventh centuries BCE; Edomite tribute is mentioned in the records of Adad-Nirari I, Tiglath-Pileser III, Sargon II, Sennacherib, Esarhaddon, and Ashurbanipal; the last two kings required military service also. Assyrian rule may help explain Edom's relative prosperity and security.

Edom's material culture was similar to that of its Transjordanian neighbors. Standard pottery shapes include platters, bowls, cups, cooking pots, jugs and juglets, storage jars, and lamps. Plain coarse ware is found everywhere, but fine painted ware, presumably for the wealthier classes, is found especially at Buṣeirah (and also at some Iron II sites in the Negev). Assyrian bowls and cups are also found. More decorative objects include cosmetic palettes, carved tridacna shells, seals, beads, and jewelry. Major inscriptions are lacking, but the seventh–sixth-century BCE seals, seal impressions, and ostraca, with some fifth–fourth-century BCE evidence from Tell el-Kheleifeh, suggest that the script was of Phoenician origin, increasingly influenced by the Aramaic script used by the Assyrian administration. The language was a variant of Northwest Semitic, close to Hebrew, Ammonite, and Moabite.

Archaeological evidence for religious practice is limited. Buṣeirah's building B, with its courtyard, cisterns, and steps flanked by pillar bases leading to an inner room, was probably a palace rather than a temple (cf. Am. 1:12). Censers witness a common cultic practice, female figurines perhaps indicate devotion to Astarte, and a scarab from Tawilan picturing a crescent on a pole may symbolize the moon god Sin of Harran in Syria. The evidence of seals, ostraca, and biblical Edomite names suggests that the deities Baal, Hadad, and El were known. The element qws in theophoric names from later seals, ostraca, and inscriptions suggests that Qos (personifying the bow?) was worshiped in Edom. Qos was a war or weather god of North Arabian origin, but when this cult was introduced into Edom is not clear. The Israelites knew Edom as the home of Yahweh (Jgs. 5:4) and recognized the Edomites as their brothers and fellow Yahweh- worshipers (Dt. 23:8; 1 Sm. 21:7).

[See also Beidha; Buṣeirah; Feinan; Kheleifeh, Tell el-; Tawilan; and Umm el- Biyara.]


  • Bartlett, John R. Edom and the Edomites. Sheffield, 1989. First major scholarly synthesis of the evidence for the history of Edom since Frantz Buhl's Geschichte der Edomiter (Leipzig, 1893), with detailed bibliography of the scholarly literature. Find it in your Library
  • Bienkowski, Piotr, ed. The Art of Jordan. Stroud, England, 1991. Series of scholarly articles accompanying an exhibition of artifacts from Jordan, including ancient Edom. Note especially the chapters on sculpture, pottery, art and technology, and writing. Find it in your Library
  • Bennett, Crystal-M. “Excavations at Buseirah.” Levant 5 (1973): 1–11; 6 (1974): 1–24; 7 (1975): 1–15; 9 (1977): 1–10. Reports of excavation at Edom's major city. Find it in your Library
  • Burckhardt, Jean L. Travels in Syria and the Holy Land. London, 1822. Classic of early exploration, full of well-observed detail. Find it in your Library
  • Glueck, Nelson. Explorations in Eastern Palestine. Vols. 1–3. Annual of the American Schools of Oriental Research, 14, 15, 18/19. New Haven, 1934–1939. Glueck's surveys in Edom, Moab, and Ammon. Glueck based his results on a pottery classification that has since been considerably refined. His work must now be interpreted in the light of subsequent field research by Burton MacDonald, Stephen Hart, Manfred Lindner, Manfred Weippert, William Jobling, and others. Find it in your Library
  • Glueck, Nelson. The Other Side of the Jordan (1940). Rev. ed. Cambridge, Mass., 1970. Popular account of Glueck's surveys and excavations in modern Jordan in which he revises some of his original conclusions. Find it in your Library
  • Hadidi, Adnan, ed. Studies in the History and Archaeology of Jordan. Vols. 1–3. Amman, 1982–1987. Presentations delivered at three international conferences by leading scholars of the history of Jordan. Note especially papers by Peter J. Parr, Manfred Weippert, and Crystal-M. Bennett in volume 1; and E. Axel Knauf and C. J. Lenzen, Manfred Weippert, and Gerrit van der Kooij in volume 3. Find it in your Library
  • MacDonald, Burton. The Wadi el Ḥasā Archaeological Survey, 1979–1983, West-Central Jordan. Waterloo, Ontario, 1988. Results of a detailed survey of the region immediately south of the Wadi el-Ḥaṣa in northern Edom. Find it in your Library
  • MacDonald, Burton. “Archaeology of Edom.” In The Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol. 2, pp. 295–301. New York, 1992. Survey, with a detailed bibliography of literature in archaeological journals. Find it in your Library
  • Sawyer, John F. A., and David J. A., Clines, eds. Midian, Moab, and Edom: The History and Archaeology of Late Bronze and Iron Age Jordan and North-West Arabia. Sheffield, 1983. Includes important studies on Edomite pottery (Marion F. Oakeshott) and “Midianite” pottery (Benno Rothenberg and Jonathan Glass). Find it in your Library

This entry is based mainly on archaeological reports and research published in archaeological journals. Full bibliographies will be found in the works of Bartlett and MacDonald cited below.

John R. Bartlett