Edomite Cache Puzzles Archaeologists
From the BASNY Explorer
One of the most spectacular finds of recent decades in all of
Israel, declared Rudolf Cohen and Yagal Yisrael, excavators at
the site of En Hatzeva. What they are referring to is a cache of
artifacts, many of which appear to be Edomite, and dating to the
Seventh to Sixth century B.C.E. The cache was found in a pit between
a cult site and an ancient fortress both dating to that time period.
The location of the materials raises some troubling questions for
scholars and is subject to some debate. The problem is that the
fortress is in what was then the territory of Judah, outside of Edom.
What are Edomite artifacts doing there?
A number of theories have been suggested. One is that the Edomites
there were just a group of merchants with some economic influence but
not politically in control. Another is that the Edomites successfully
invaded portions of Judah and established some footholds. In support
of the latter view, archaeologists note that the late seventh and
early sixth centuries B.C.E. were a time of substantial weakness in
Judah. It is at about that time that the Babylonians invaded Judah
and destroyed Solomons temple (587 B.C.E.) On the other hand,
there is no clear evidence that all of the material is Edomite. Many
of the items have counterparts in Canaanite, Philistine and
Located slightly southwest of the Dead Sea, En Hatzeva lies at an
ancient commercial crossroads linking east to west and north to
south. Although the discovery of the fortress was a surprise, the
site itself had been known as the location of a Roman fortress since
about 1902. Expecting to explore more of the Roman material, they
found seven distinct layers of inhabitation, the Roman period being
the second. Level 1 dated to the Byzantine-Early Islamic period of
about the seventh century C.E. The Roman period belongs to about the
third to fourth century C.E. and below that was a Nabataean community
from the first century C.E. The site under discussion constitutes
Level 4, and below that were other fortresses, one from about the
ninth to eighth century B.C.E. and one to the tenth century B.C.E.,
(which may have been contemporary with King Solomon.)
In the pit were about 75 items, all smashed, but with every piece
still present, suggesting that the items were deliberately placed in
the pit and broken. Cohen and Yisrael believe that the breaking may
have been due to the religious reforms of King Josiah. The pieces
were gathered together and all were reassembled.
Among the most interesting of the items are a stone sculpture with
stylized human features, possibly a god; seven limestone incense
alters, similar to ones found in some Israelite sites; and three clay
cult stands with human shapes. All the other items are made from
clay. The cache includes a number of bowl shaped items and some of
them are decorated with projecting triangles (called denticulated
fringe decoration.) This triangle pattern is similar to patterns
found at a site that is clearly Edomite but which has also been found
at the Israelite site of Kadesh-Barnea.
This is not the first site in ancient Judah containing Edomite
materials. A significant Edomite presence is known at Qitmit, about
27 miles to the north. Qitmit is more clearly Edomite and there some
differences between it and En Hatzeva. Most significant is that the
Qitmit materials were found on the floor of the shrine whereas the En
Hatzeva cache was buried and broken in a pit, casting doubt on how
significant the Edomite presence in En Hatzeva was.
Nevertheless, we have precious few materials for the Israelites and
Edomites prior to this time period. Both peoples seem to have
emerged, archaeologically, around 1200 B.C.E. The bible portrays a
great deal of enmity between the two peoples. The Edomites are
allegedly descended from Esau, Jacobs twin brother, who began
fighting even in the womb. Esau was born first but according to the
bible, Jacob tricked him out of his inheritance, becoming Isaacs
heir, and Esau threatened to kill him.
Later, in the aftermath of the Exodus, the Hebrews asked the Edomites
for permission to cross their territory, but the Edomites refused,
threatening military retaliation. Over the next few centuries, the
bible shows the Israelites sometime defeating the Edomites and the
Edomites sometimes defeating the Israelites.
The Greeks conquered Edom around the fourth century B.C.E. and
renamed it Idumea. This new political unit appears to have included
those portions of Judah containing the Edomite sites referred to
above. King Herod was the son of an Idumaean mother, which some
scholars see as an ironic touch, reuniting the heirs of Jacob and Esau.