Biblical “Road of Edom” Discovered?
According to a scholarly article published in Palestine Exploration Quarterly, the biblical “Road of Edom,” mentioned in 2 Kings 3, may have been discovered. The proposal follows the recent excavation of Gorer Tower, a Judean outpost in the Judean Desert that archaeologists date to the Iron Age II period (c. 1000–586 B.C.E.). Based on the excavation, the team, led by archaeologists from Ben-Gurion University and the Israel Antiquities Authority, has proposed a new reconstruction of the ancient road system that connected the kingdoms of Judah, Edom, and Moab.
According to the article, there existed several different roads through the Judean Desert during the time of the Kingdom of Judah. These roads would have descended southward from the Judean highlands to the Dead Sea. Archaeological excavations have shown that the road system included several Judean fortresses, which the southern kingdom would have used to monitor the eastern routes coming from Moab and Edom. The Gorer Tower excavation brought to light one of these small defensive outposts, which features a large tower, roughly 20 feet in diameter. Such fortifications were built at regular intervals along the roadway to ensure the monitoring of all possible routes and vantage points along the path.
The “Road of Edom” is mentioned several times in the Hebrew Bible, most notably in the story of Israel and Judah’s war against the rebellion of Mesha, king of Moab (2 Kings 3). According to the story, upon receiving messengers from Jehoram, the king of Israel, inviting Judah to join them in invading Moab, King Jehoshaphat replied by asking “‘By which way shall we march?” Jehoram answered, “By the way of the wilderness of Edom”’ (2 Kings 3:8).
During the Iron Age II, Moab was located on the high plains above the eastern shore of the Dead Sea, making it necessary for the Judean army to march either north through Israel or south through Edom to reach Moab. As 2 Kings 3 mentions that Edom was allied with the kingdoms of Israel and Judah at this time, it seems that while Israel attacked Moab from the north, Judah would have taken the southern road, where they joined forces with Edom and attacked Moab from the south.
The team is quick to point out, however, that there is no way of knowing exactly what road the Judean army took. Their analysis showed that several well-suited roads existed during this period, as evidenced by Jehoshaphat’s question about which road his army should take.
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Did King David do battle with the Edomites? The Bible says he did. It would be unlikely, however, if Edom was not yet a sufficiently complex society to organize and field an army, if Edom was just some nomadic Bedouin tribes roaming around looking for pastures and water for their sheep and goats.
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