For several hundred years, from the late Iron Age to the end of the 2nd century BCE, the southern neighbor of Judea was “Idumea”, populated by descendants of Edomites, together with Qedarite and other Arabs and a mix of additional ethnicities. This paper examines the known data on the identity, especially religious identity, of these Idumeans, using a wide range of written sources and archaeological data. Within the Bible, “Edom” is presented as Israel’s twin and its harshest enemy, but there are hints that the Edomites worshipped the God of Israel. While the origins of the “Edomite deity” Qaus remain obscure, as does the process of their migration into southern Judah, the many inscriptions from the Persian period show that Qaus became the most widely worshipped deity in the area, even if other gods, including Yahweh, were also recognized. The Hellenistic period brought heightened Greek and Phoenician influence, but also the stabilization of “Idumea” as an administrative/ethnic unit. Some of the practices of this period, such as male circumcision, show an affinity to the Judaism of the time. This paper also discusses the outcome of the Hasmonean conquest of Idumea and the incorporation of its inhabitants into the Jewish nation.
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