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One of the more neglected topics in the field of Biblical Geography involves the territorial extent of Edom's geographical domain. Earlier scholars have limited the geographical territories of Edom exclusively to Southern Transjordan's mountains of Edom (i.e. Edelman 1995: 2-3; Aharoni 1979: 40-41; Bartlett 1969: 1-20; Gleuck 1936: 152). Its boundaries included an area that lies between 'Wadi el-Hesa in the north, 'Wadi Arabah in the west, 'Wadi Hisma in the south and Transjordan's basalt desert in the east.

However, recent scholars have challenged this notion. They argue that the Edom's original territories also included the Negev's Central Highlands and southern portion (Meshel 2000: 104; 1974: 147-150, xii; MacDonald 1994: 230-246; Rasmussen 1989: 91-92; Liver 1982: 324-325; Crew 1984: 2-3; 1981: 110-150; Is 1971: 370-371; Eod-Awd 1963: 622; Cohen 1962: 25). Moreover, two recent archeological discoveries have provided additional support for this notion. The first is the discovery of a large system of Israelite forts and settlements in the Negev's Central Highlands that dates to David and Solomon's time in the 11th-10th Centuries B.C. (Meshel 2000: 104; Na'aman 1992: 73; 1974: 147-150; xii; Cohen 1979: 61-79). In particular, excavations at Kadesh Barnea ('Ein el-Quiderat) and Kuntillet Ajrud reveal a continuous period of Israelite settlement throughout the period of the Judean monarchy (Meshel 1993a: 1458-1464; 1993b: 1517-1520; Cohen 1983; 1976: 49-50). The second is the absence of a similar system in southern Transjordan's mountains of Edom. Archeological surveys from this region further show that any Israelite settlement occurred between the 9th-7th Centuries B.C. after which there was a noticeable decline (Na'aman 1992: 73; Bartlett 1992a: 290 ff; MacDonald 1994: 230-246; 1992: 296 ff; Weippert 1979: 29-30).

Thus the notion of an Edom whose geographical territories lay solely in southern Transjordan is no longer a universal assumption. Moreover, three OT passages provide additional insight into this matter. Two of these passages refer to the stationing of Israelite garrisons in Edom by King David during his reign (2 Sam 8:14; 1 Chr 18:13). The third passage alludes to a flight to Egypt by Hadad, a member of the Edomite royal family, as a result of David's military campaign in Edom where his forces under Joab's command slaughtered every living Edomite male (1 Kgs 11:14-22).


Therefore, if the original territories of Edom's geographic domain lay solely in southern Transjordan, then a serious conflict exists between these OT passages and the archeological evidence. In efforts to resolve this conflict, then, it is important to use an approach that examines ALL of the geographical information about Edom in Biblical and extra-Biblical texts. Often known as the 'self-consistency' approach, (Faiman 2000: 115-117; 1994: 90-102; 1986: 209-219), its main premise assumes that some form of logical continuity must exist for a given topic in Biblical and extra-Biblical texts. Moreover, this logical continuity displays a strong pattern of self-consistency in terms of its overall geographical and historical content.

The 'self-consistency' approach combines what is known as the 'traditional' approach in Judaism with new information from geographical and archeological explorations (Faiman 1986: 210-211). It assumes that the geographical and historical information from Biblical and extra-Biblical texts display problematic difficulties rather than inherent contradictions for a given topic. Therefore, it is important to carefully study all references that pertain to a given topic in Biblical and extra-Biblical texts before drawing any major conclusions when it comes to the interpretation of the geographical data so as to develop a complete picture about their respective contents (Faiman 1994: 91-93).

The 'self-consistency' approach contrasts with what has become known as the 'non-traditional' approach that has been used in more recent times Ancient Near Eastern and Biblical geographers as the main approach to the identification of Biblical sites (Faiman 1986: 211). In using the 'non-traditional approach', its adherents try to separate what they perceive as a kaleidoscope of different historical traditions written down at different times by different people and later edited into a series of contradictory, logically inconsistent statements by people known as redactors.

However, the primary problem with the 'non-traditional approach' rests in the fact that as newer and more subsequent knowledge emerges, any earlier theories are often viewed as obsolete and then discarded, thus losing any relevancy in relation to a given question. As a result, the 'non-traditional' approach has led to a process that has created a constant state of flux in the construction of logical and coherent theories on the identification of Biblical sites. According to its main premise, there can be no degree of consistency or understanding about geographical and historical information from Biblical and extra-Biblical texts for any given topic since the conclusions based upon earlier facts are often invalidated by the individual application of subjective presuppositions, each with their own interpretation of the geographical and historical data.


One example of a case where the 'self-consistency' approach can be applied to Biblical texts for answers to the identification of Biblical sites involves passages that provide geographical information on the location of Edom's geographical domain in the hill country of Seir (Gen. 36:20-21; Num 24:18; Deut 2:1-12; Judg 5:4; 1 Chr 1:38-43; 2 Chr 25:11,14; Ezk 25:8,12-14). A number of these passages in Biblical texts equate Seir and Edom with place-names that are synonymous with one another (Gen 32:3; 36:6-9). Therefore, the passages suggest that Seir and Edom comprise an entity should be viewed as one and the same in terms of their respective geographical locations.

However, in using the 'non-traditional' approach to this question, J.R. Bartlett (1992a: 287-295; 1992b: 13-19; 1969: 3-5) rejects Seir's equation with Edom. Bartlett contends that Seir and Edom comprise two different geographical entities that lay at separate locations. The hill country of Seir existed in the Negev's Central Highlands while the territory known as Edom was confined to southern Transjordan's mountains of Edom. Bartlett further argues that Seir's identification with Edom resulted from later additions to Biblical texts that were made by a redactor sometime after the Edomites migrated into the Negev's Central Highlands between the 8th-6th Centuries B.C.

However, in contrast to Bartlett's use of the 'non-traditional approach for this question, the 'self-consistency' approach permits the gleaning of additional geographical information from other Biblical passages on Edom's original geographical domain (Gen 36:20-21; Deut 1:12, 22; 1Chr 1:38-43). This additional information shows that the use of Seir as a geographic place-name resulted from the earlier settlement of the Negev's Central Highlands by a prominent family who came from a group of people known as the Horites (Deut 1:12, 22). Following the Edomites' migration into the region, they expelled the Horites from their former homeland and changed the name of the Horites' former homeland to Edom (Edelman 1995: 9-10). As a result, the newer place-name Edom became a permanent fixture as its new occupants remained in the region over a longer period of time.


The use of the 'self-consistency' approach to the location of Edom's geographical domain further helps to resolve other problematic difficulties in Biblical and extra-Biblical texts on the location of the original territories of Edom's geographical domain. A military campaign against the Horites in the hill country of Seir by a group of Mesopotamian kings makes logical sense if the original territories of Edom's geographical domain included the Negev's Central Highlands and southern portion (Gen 14:6-7). However, if Edom's original territories were limited solely to southern Transjordan, then it requires the re-location of Kadesh Barnea (earlier known as En-Mispat) in order to provide a proper geographical setting for this passage. This relocation is untenable in light of Kadesh Barnea's long-established identification at 'Ein el-Quiderat' somewhere along the western edge of the Negev's Central Highlands. Moreover, the Wilderness of Paran lies within the central portion of the Negev as opposed to southern Transjordan's mountains of Edom. It reaches originate from deep within the Sinai Peninsula before draining eastward into 'Wadi Arabah (Edelman 1995: 9; Baly 1974: 247-248; Karmon 1971: 287; Orni and Efrat 1966: 15, 20).

The Simeonite campaign against a remnant band of the Amalekites at Mt. Seir also encounters problems if the original territories of Edom's geographic domain were limited solely to southern Transjordan (1 Chr 4:42-43). This would have placed the Simeonites' tribal allotment a considerable distance away from the Negev's northwest portion, part of an area that belongs to the Biblical Negev and exists in closer proximity to the Negev's Central Highlands (Rainey 1984: 100-101). It is highly unlikely that the Simeonites would have gone to so much trouble to eliminate a small Amalakite band living in southern Transjordan's mountains of Edom because it would have posed no immediate military threat to the Simeonites. In addition, the Judahite clans who lived in the Biblical Negev would have provided a solid buffer zone against any attack from this remmant of the Amalakites.

A 14th Century B.C. reference from the El-Amarna letters (No. 288) further mentions the loss of Egyptian control over an area in the land of Canaan that extended from the sites of Gath-Carmel in the north to Mt. Seir in the south (Prichard 1955: 488). The geographical setting for this El-Amarna letter suggests that Mt. Seir's location lay somewhere in the vicinity of southwestern Canaan in closer proximity to Egypt as opposed to southern Transjordan's mountains of Edom (MacDonald 1994: 231-233). Moreover, the appearance of Mt. Seir in this El-Amarna Letter occurs in connection with several known cities and towns of Canaan's southern Coastal Plain and western Shephelah regions but contains no reference whatsoever to cities and towns located in southern Transjordan's mountains of Edom (Edelman 1995: 9). That represents a rather strange coincidence if Mt. Seir's location lay solely in southern Transjordan rather than the Negev's Central Highlands.

  Jebel Harun: The most prominent mountain in the area of Petra (Jordan) is Jebel-Harun (The Mountain of Aaron). Josephus identified this mountain as the burial place of Aaron. However, the Bible places Mt. Hor on the border of Edom close to Kadesh Barnea (Nm. 20-22-28; Dt. 32:50)

A Biblical passage from the Israelite Exodus and Wilderness Wanderings also places the location of Kadesh Barnea right on the border with Edom (Num 20:16). The passage states that Moses dispatched messengers to the king of Edom from this location to request safe passage for the Israelites along a road known as the 'King's Highway'. If Edom's original territories were limited to southern Transjordan's mountains of Edom, then the Israelite messengers would have had to traverse the entire east-west length of the Negev's Central Highlands in order to meet with the king of Edom. This possible scenario conflicts directly with the geographic information contained in this passage.

In addition, there are only three-four references to the title of the King's Highway in Biblical texts, all of which are associated with the Israelites' request for safe passage through non-Israelite territorial domains (Num 20:17, 19; 21:22; Deut 2:27). Yet this title is strangely absent from other ancient sources that pertain to the history of kingdom and city-states that lay in southern Transjordan. It is also important to note that the route passing through the Negev that connects the site of Kadesh Barnea to 'Wadi Arabah is known in Arabic as the 'Darb es- Sultan', which literally means 'Way of the King' (Glueck 1959: 228-229). Recent studies have shown that this title was used as an appelative to designate a public or high road in antiquity, a phenomenon that appears in Aramaic and Akkadian sources during Assyrian times (Weippert 1979: 23; Obed 1970: 182). Thus the title that is displayed in these Biblical passages could have easily denoted the ancient route that crossed the east-west length of the Negev's Central Highlands, as well as the north-south route that traverses Transjordan's eastern highlands (Rasmussen 1989: 91-92, 242).

Furthermore, Biblical texts state that the burial place of Moses' brother Aaron lay at Mt. Hor right along the border with Edom somewhere in the immediate vicinity of Kadesh Barnea (Num 20:22, 23; 33:37-39). The passages state that Mt. Hor comprised the first location at which the Israelites camped following their departure from Kadesh Barnea. The writings of Flavius Josephus place Mt. Hor in southern Transjordan's mountains of Edom at a location traditionally identified with Jebel Harun's twin peaks (Antiquities IV.4.7, hereafter noted as Antiq. in the Loeb Classical Library). However, the later writings of Josephus are viewed as being in error whenever they conflict with information from earlier historical sources such as Biblical texts (Roth 1992: 287).

If the site of Kadesh Barnea exists at 'Ein el-Quiderat along Negev's Central Highlands' western edge, though, then it makes logical sense to place Mt. Hor somewhere in its immediate vicinity. There are a number of suitable candidates that exist in closer proximity to 'Ein el-Quiderat as compared with Jebel Harun's twin peaks in terms of prospective sites for Mt. Hor. These include Jebel Madurah or 'Inaret el-Khoreisheh (Cleave 1994: 212; Roth 1992: 287; Rasmussen 1989: 91; Aharoni 1979: 202, 436), Jebel 'Araif en Naqa (Faiman 1986: 213-214), and Mt. Ramon (Har-El 1983: 430).

Moreover, the description of the ancient boundaries between Israel and Edom further state that the kingdom of Edom bordered Israel on the south rather than the east according to the geographical information found in Biblical texts (Num 34:3-5; Josh 15:1-4, 21-32). The border began at the Dead Sea's southern tip, moved up the Ascent of Akrabbim and then turned westward. It passed through the Wilderness of Zin and touched the sites of Hazzaraddar, Azman and Kadesh Barnea before reaching the Brook of Egypt, a landmark commonly associated with 'Wadi el-Arish. From these border descriptions in Biblical texts, it is clear that the boundary between passed through the Negev's Central Highlands but barely touched southern Transjordan's mountains of Edom to the east (Aharoni 1979: 67-72).

The OT passages alluding to David's conquest of Edom have already been mentioned earlier in this article (i.e. 2 Sam 8:14; 1 Kgs 11:14-22; 1 Chr 18:13). The system of Israelite forts and settlements discovered in the Negev's Central Highlands displays at least 45 different sites that can fit anywhere from two-four different classifications according to size, layout and function (Finkelstein 1989: 189; Cohen 1979: 61-78). Moreover, a large number of these sites display wheel-made Israelite pottery, a type that strongly resembles characteristics common to ceramic ware found at other locations in ancient Israel (northern, southern), including the Biblical Negev, during this period of archeological settlement (Herzog 1983:41; Cohen 1979:61-78). A large number of these Israelite forts and settlements also contain agricultural installations that entailed the farming of dry wadi beds in the Negev's Central Highlands via a form of desert agriculture known as 'runoff farming' (Evenari, Shanon and Tadmor 1982; Cohen 1979:61-78).
In addition, it is important to note that this line of forts and settlements along the eastern edge of the Negev's Central Highlands bears a striking resemblance to the border descriptions as displayed in Biblical texts between the southern Israelite tribe of Judah and Edom (Cohen 1979: 77-78). The nature of these forts and settlements further suggests that they possessed some form of sedentary capabilities, although the exact degree and extent remains the subject of intense debate (Finkelstein and Perevolotsky 1990: 67-88; 1989: 189-201; Crew 1981: 103-108; Cohen 1979: 61-78). These forts and settlements in the Negev's Central Highlands could have also been manned by tribes who were loyal to the ancient Israelites and had inhabited the Biblical Negev since earlier times (i.e. Simeonites, Judahite clans). Their semi-nomadic lifestyle and loyalty to the United Monarchy would have enabled them to quickly adapt to life as soldier-farmers in a desert environment (1 Sam 27:6-12). Moreover, incentives from the United Monarchy could have induced individuals of these groups to settle in the Negev's Central Highlands, particularly along Israel's southern border with Edom.

If the Negev's Central Highlands and southern portion are included in the original territories of Edom's geographical domain, then an ensuing harmony occurs between the geographical information contained in these passages and the available archeological evidence. In addition, it would provide a vital clue as to why the Israelites under David and Solomon would have gone to so much trouble to construct a large system of forts and settlements in the Negev's Central Highlands (Na'aman 1992: 73-74). These forts and settlements would have been needed to subdue an Edomite population that was hostile to the Israelites, as well as protect the trade routes that passed through the Negev before linking up with other land routes to the Orient via the Arabian Peninsula.


 Aerial View of Ein el-Qudeira, identified by most scholars as Kadesh Barnea

Hadad's escape to Egypt and subsequent return during Solomon's reign also fits a geographical location that is better suited to an original Edomite geographical domain whose territories included the Negev's Central Highlands and southern portion (Na'aman 1992: 74-79). Otherwise Hadad's escape would have required an arduous trip across an area already occupied by an Israelite enemy. David's forces could have effectively cut Hadad's escape route to Egypt by controlling the main access points from southern Transjordan that passed through the Negev Central Highlands and southern portion. Furthermore, Hadad's later alliance with Egypt via marriage would have given the Egyptians a vital source of intelligence on troop strength and movements along the Israelites' southern flank. This would have greatly aided the planning and execution of a surprise attack by Shishak against Israelite forts and settlements in the Negev's Central Highlands during Rehoboam's reign (1 Kgs 14:25-26). The sudden destruction of Israelite forts and settlements in the region during this period supports such a possible scenario (Na'aman 1992: 81-83; Aharoni 1979: 327-330).

Finally, Biblical texts describe a military expedition against Moab by Israel, Judah and Edom that transpired during the 8th Century B.C. (2 Kgs 3:6-27). According to Biblical texts, the invasion route passed through the Wilderness of Edom and they include a prophetic word given by the prophet Elisha, which stated that the valley in which the invading armies stood would fill up with water but the armies would see neither wind nor rain (2 Kgs 3:16-17, 20, 22).

Elisha's description of the climate conditions aptly describes the erratic rainfall patterns that characterize the Negev's Central Highlands during its winter season (Evenari, Shanon and Tadmor 1982: 2-6, 63-70). Rains frequently fall in higher and more distant elevations but their floodwaters are conveyed to lower elevations where sunny skies exist with little or no rainfall. This geographical phenomenon is particularly evident along 'Wadi Arabah's western side since it lies in a rain shadow created by the presence of higher elevations along the eastern edges of the Biblical Negev and southern Judean hill country.

However, the climatic conditions in southern Transjordan's mountains of Edom and 'Wadi Arabah's eastern portion are much different than those found in the Negev's Central Highlands. The mountains of Edom are two-three times higher in elevation and receive more than twice the amount of annual rainfall (Baly 1974: 233-236; Karmon 1971: 291-293; Orni and Efrat 1966: 29-32, 88, 92-95). Moreover, the rain shadow that exists in 'Wadi Arabah's western portion is noticeably absent from its eastern counterpart (Baly: 1974: 59-64, 203; Karmon 1971: 317, 331-333). As a result, then, the cliffs along 'Wadi Arabah's eastern portion would not block out the physical effects of rainstorms that pass through the region from the Mediterranean Sea during the winter months.

In addition, the wadis that comprise the landscape in southern Transjordan's mountains of Edom are oriented east-west rather than north-south, thus resulting in weather conditions that are much different from those found in Biblical texts (Murakami 1995: 69-70, 78-79; Baly 1974: 234; Orni and Efrat 1966: 92-95). Due to the absence of a rain shadow effect in southern Transjordan's mountains of Edom, any invading army marching into Moab could have easily observed and/or experienced the effects of approaching winter storms from the Mediterranean Sea (i.e. rains, winds). Thus the geographical setting for the invasion route as described in Elisha's prophecy fits a geographical context that is better suited to the physical environment of the Negev's Central Highlands rather than southern Transjordan's mountains of Edom, particularly along Wadi 'Arabah's northwest portion.


Green Pastures: The Oasis at Kadesh Barnea


The 1st Century writings of Flavius Josephus also provide an additional source of geographical information on the extent of the original territories in Edom's geographical domain. Josephus writes that Esau first lived in the hill country of Seir following his departure from Hebron, an Isrealite town located in the Judean hill country's southern portion (Antiq. IV:2:1-3). According to Biblical texts, Essau was the first son of Issac who later became the founding father of the Edomites (Gen 36:9). However, by the time of Josephus, the area formerly known as the hill country of Seir now belonged to a people known as the Idumaeans, or remaining Edomite remnant. Josephus further mentions in another passage that the prophet Elijah passed through the town of Beersheba during his flight from Jezebel (Antiq. VIII.13.7). Josephus states that the town of Beersheba comprised the southernmost town that belonged to the Israelite tribe of Judah, whose territory now lay right on the border of a country that belonged to the Idumaeans. Finally, in a third passage, Josephus refers to the location where the Israelites under Moses leadership had first tried to enter the land of Canaan from the south as an area of land that now bordered the country belonging to the Idumaeans or former Edomite remmant (Antiq. IV.4.5).

While the information on earlier Biblical events found in Josephus does not always match the descriptions for these same historical events from Biblical texts, nevertheless one thing is perfectly clear. The geographical information contained in the writings of Josephus that pertains to Seir and Edom (Idumaea) location remains consistent with a geographical setting in which the original territories of Edom's geographical domain must have included the Negev's Central Highlands and southern portion. Thus Josephus preserves the geographical context found in Biblical texts which depict an Edom whose original territories were not limited solely to southern Transjordan.


Through the use of the 'self-sufficiency approach', then, it is possible to conclude that the geographical information contained in Biblical and extra-Biblical texts overwhelmingly support the inclusion of the Negev's Central Highlands and southern portion into the original territories of Edom's geographical domain. The geographical and historical details that appear in ALL of those references that pertain to Edom in Biblical and extra-Biblical texts displays a pattern that is too self-consistent to have otherwise been the case. Such a conclusion would also explain the appearance of Seir and Edom together in passages such as Deut 33:2 and Judg 5:4, whose geographical setting fits a context other than the Arabian Peninsula (Heiser 1998: 1-11). The appearances of Seir and Edom in conjunction with Mt. Paran and Mt. Sinai in these two passages also provide a single and coherent geographical unit that is better suited to the Negev-Sinai region. Thus the location of Mt. Sinai somewhere in the Sinai Peninsula's western-central portion is totally consistent with the inclusion of the Negev's Central Highlands and southern portions into the original territories of Edom's geographical domain (Franz 2000: 101-113; Faiman 2000:115-118; Rasmussen 1989: 88-90; Har-El 1983: 242-275)

Finally, all of these conclusions are consistent with the data that has been compiled as a result of geographical and archeological research during the past 30-40 years in the Negev's Central Highlands and southern portion, together with southern Transjordan's mountains of Edom. Moreover, the inclusion of the Negev's Central Highlands and southern portion in the original territories of Edom's geographic domain provides a clue as to the identity of the earlier EBIV-MBI inhabitants in the Negev's Central Highlands. Biblical texts state that prior to the settlement of the Edomites in the hill country of Seir, the Horites inhabited the region (Deut 2:12). No other ancient sources (Biblical or extra-Biblical) provide even the slightest hint as to the identity of these earlier inhabitants for the Negev's Central Highlands and southern portion.

The later appearance of the Nabateans in the Ancient Near East is also easier to understand when their ascendance is viewed in the context of an Edomite geographical domain whose original territories included the Negev's Central Highlands and southern portion1. The location of the Nabateans' former homeland in the Arabian Peninsula's northwest portion would have placed them in an ideal position from which they could have taken control of those territories that formerly comprised ancient Edom prior to its destruction by Nebuchadnezzar (Bartlett 1979: 64-66). The Nabateans could have easily exploited the resulting political and cultural chaos in order to acquire supremacy over all of the other Ancient Near Eastern nomadic tribes. More than anything else, it was the Nabateans' control of the trade routes that connected their capital at Petra in southern Transjordan with the Mediterranean port at Gaza via the Negev's Central Highlands that provided them with their wealth and prestige as a geo-political power in the Ancient Near East.
On the other hand, the surviving Edomite remnant migrated into the Biblical Negev and southern portion of the Judean hill country following Edom's destruction by Nebuchadnezzar. This Edomite remnant later became known as the Idumeans, who were incorporated into neighboring Judea during the 2nd Century B.C. following their conquest by John Hyrcanus I (Edelman 1995: 5). It is only against this geographical and historical backdrop that the Nabateans' subsequent ascendance and control of the Negev's Central Highlands, together with its southern portion, can best be understood.


1 The Nabateans' ascendance as a geo-political power in the Negev and Ancient Near East is a subject that must be left for a future article. In particular, the role of the geographical-historical setting of the Nabateans in fostering the birth of early Christianity comprises a noteworthy topic.



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Weippert, M.
1979 The Israelite Evidence from Transjordan. Pp. 15-34 in Symposium Celebrating the Seventy-Fifth Anniversary of the American Schools of Oriental Research, ed. F.M. Cross Jr. Cambridge (Mass.): American Schools of Oriental Research.

Posted 3/14/03.

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