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Book of Obadiah

The book of Obadiah is a book in the Hebrew Bible; Jewish tradition ascribes authorship of this book to a prophet named Obadiah. It is part of the Bible commonly called the Minor Prophets.

This book, which bears the title "The Vision of Obadiah," consists of but twenty-one verses, which are devoted to a prophecy against Edom. The prophecy is usually divided into two parts: verses 1-9 and 10-21. In the first section Edom is pictured as sore pressed by foes. She has become "small among the nations," and God is to bring her down from "the clefts of the rock" where she dwells. Edom is further said to be overrun with thieves; and her own allies are destroying her.

In the second part it is declared that because of violence done by Edom to his brother Jacob, and especially because of the part taken by Edom on the day when "foreigners entered into his gates, and cast lots upon Jerusalem" (verse 11), "the house of Jacob shall be a fire, and the house of Joseph a flame, and the house of Esau for stubble, and they shall burn among them, and devour them" (verse 18). The prophecy concludes with the declaration that Israelite captives shall return from Sepharad and possess the cities of the South (Negev), that saviors shall return to Mount Zion to judge Esau, and the kingdom shall be God's

Verses 1 to 6 closely resemble a number of verses in Jeremiah (xlix. 7-22), which also consist of a prophecy against Edom.

Relation to Jeremiah

Arguments have been presented for the priority of Obadiah. In Obadiah the opening of the prophecy seems to be in a more fitting place, the language is terser and more forcible than in Jeremiah; and parallels to the language of these passages appear in other parts of Obadiah, while they do not appear in Jeremiah. For these reasons some scholars believe that the passage appears in Obadiah in its more original form. As the passage in Jeremiah dates from the fourth year of the reign of Jehoiakim (604 B.C.), and as Ob. 11-14 seems clearly to refer to the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar (586 B.C.), it appears that the Book of Obadiah did not lie before Jeremiah in its present form. This appears also from the fact that in Ob. 10-21 there is much material which Jeremiah does not quote, and which, had he known it, would have suited his purpose admirably. On the other hand, some scholars hold that the Jeremiah passage is dependent upon Obadiah, and also hold that Obadiah is post-exilic.

Most biblical critics hold that verses 11-14 refer to the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar. As the Assyrians and Babylonians are not referred to, it is probable that the "nations" who were plundering Edom were Arabic tribes. The reference made in verses 1-15 may be to the same epoch of Edom's history as that referred to in Mal. i. 2-5, and that the inroads of these "nations" were the beginning of the northern movement of the NabatŠans. If this be correct, this part of the prophecy comes from the early post-exilic period.

Some hold that the references to the Negeb in the concluding verses of the prophecy indicate for the latter part of the book a date considerably later than the Exile, after the Edomites had been pushed out into the Negeb and southern Judah. The position of the Edomites would indicate that the verses date from the Greek period; and the approaching conquest of the Idumean Negeb points to a Hasmonean date.

Where is Sepharad?

The captivity in Sepharad (verse 20) has occasioned much discussion. In ancient times "Sepharad" was believed to be a name for Spain. The Targum of Onkelos renders it Hispania. Schrader identifies it with Saparda, a town in Media mentioned in the inscriptions of Sargon. If there was a Jewish colony of captives here, however, nothing is otherwise known of it; nor are any circumstances evident which would render probable the existence at this point of a colony of sufficient importance to be referred to in the terms used by Obadiah.

Some writers have identified it with the Saparda which Darius in his inscriptions mentions between Cappadocia and Ionia as though it were, like them, a province. It is mentioned again in an inscription of the thirty-seventh year of the kings Antiochus and Seleucus, i.e., 275 B.C. This region was somewhere in the neighborhood of Phrygia, Galatia, or Bithynia. When it is remembered that Joel (Joel iii. 6) had complained that Hebrews were being sold to Greeks, it does not seem improbable that the late writer who added the appendix to Obadiah predicted the return of these captives and foretold the Israelite conquest of Idumea which John Hyrcanus (c. 130 B.C.) accomplished.

Obadiah, meaning servant of the Lord, is also the name of several people from the Hebrew Bible. See the Obadiah entry for more details.

This article uses text from The Jewish Encyclopedia (1901-1906)