1902 Encyclopedia > Idumea


IDUMEA (_____) is the Greek form of the Hebrew Edom (_____), a district south of the Holy Land. The name Edom is restricted in the Bible to the mountain country south-east of the Dead Sea, and to the chain of Mount Hor near Petra. The word means " red," and the title was no doubt derived from the red colour of the cliffs of Nubian sandstone, which form the greater part of this chain. The coast or desert of Edom was bounded by the desert of Zin (the present 'Arabah) on the W., by the desert of Paran on the S.W., and extended as far as Ezion-geber and Eloth, at the head of the Gulf of Akabah. It is identified with Mount Seir, the possession of Esau (Gen. xxxii. 3). In later times, however, we find that the term Idumea receives a considerable extension, embracing all the pastoral country south of Judaea, and extending even within the borders of Philistia. Bethsura (Beit Stir), Acra-battine (Acrabbim), and Hebron are in 1 Mace. iv. and v. alluded to as within or near its limits.

By Josephus the term Idumea is used with this more extended meaning, embracing an area of 3000 square miles. It answers to the Biblical term Negeb (" dry ") applied to the south country, where the formation is a soft chalk, and which is inhabited by nomadic pastoral tribes. Josephus divides the Idumean district into minor divisions, viz., (1) Gobalitis ("mountains"), the original Seir or Edom ; (2) Amalekitis (" the land of Amalek "), west of the former; (3) Acrabattine (" the scorpion land"), the ancient Acrabbim south-west of the Dead Sea. The frontier towns on the north were Tekoa, Bethsura, and Bethgubrin (Beitjibrin), and among the more important places within the district were Hebron, Petra, Arad, Malatha (Tell el Milk), Beersheba, Rehoboth, Elusa (Khalasah), Eboda ('Abcleh), &c. Josephus speaks of Upper Idumea, apparently the district round Hebron, and enumerates Begabris (Beit jibrin) and Caphar Topha (Tiiffuh, near Hebron) among its towns.

In the Talmud Eleutheropolis (Beit jibrin) is placed in Idumea (Midrash Yallcut, Gen. xxxiii., and Bereshith Babba, ch. vi.). Jerome defines Idumea as extending from
Eleutheropolis to Petra and Eloth. The south boundary of the Holy Land, as defined in the Talmud, included Idumea, the reason being that the Idumeans had embraced Judaism about 140 B.C. (Joseph., Ant., xiii. 9, 1). Strabo (lib. xvi.) speaks of the Edomites as of Nabathean or Arab origin. Pliny (H. If., v. 12) makes the country extend southwards to the Serbonian bog (near the present Port Said). Ptolemy (v. 15), in the middle of the 2d century, restricts the name to a district west of Jordan, including Elusa (Khalasah) and Gemmaruris (probably Jemrdrah in the Hebron hills). The original Edom is called by this geographer Arabia Petraea.

The aboriginal inhabitants of Idumea were the Horim or " cave dwellers " expelled by Esau. Mount Seir is said to have been named after one of their chiefs (Gen. xxxvi. 20, Deut. ii. 12). Jerome speaks of the natives of this country as still dwelling in caves, and in common with the Talmudic writers attributes to them the great caverns at Eleutheropolis. The inhabitants appear to have been always nomadic and pastoral, they were mingled with the Jews (tribe of Simeon) and with the Hittites. At the time of the great siege of Jerusalem the Idumeans fought in concert with the Jews (Jos., B. J., vi. 8, 2), and the Romans applied the name Idumea very loosely to the whole of southern Palestine, including even Jerusalem. At the present day the habit of living in caverns is very marked in this district, the rock being soft and easily excavated. Thq soil is generally a soft white marl, producing a rich herbage in spring, and supporting numerous flocks. (c. R. C.)

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