There is a certain verse from the Pentateuch which I have been asked about on several occasions, and so I have decided to write a commentary of my own which I hope will clear up any confusion about this topic. Emahiser and Finck make the case that Deuteronomy 23.7 contains a scribal error confusing Arammiy (H761) and Edomiy (H130) due to the similarity of the dalet and resh in Hebrew. I however believe that our interpretations of Scripture ought to rely on the assumption of the inerrancy of the extant texts of our Scriptures and I do not believe any interpretation of Scripture ought to rely on a revision of the text where there is a unanimous reading.
The Hebrew, Greek and Latin text of Deuteronomy 23.7 all contain the specific word concerned (Ιδουμαίον and Idumeum in the Greek and Latin respectively). Furthermore the Edomites are refered to as brethren of the Israelites on several other occasions (Numbers 20.14, Deuteronomy 2.4, Amos 1.11, Obadiah 1.10) and so I will offer my interpretation based on the premise that Deuteronomy 23.7 rightly contains an instance of Edomiy. In Deuteronomy 23.7 we read that an Edomite is not to be abhorred:
“Thou shalt not abhor an Edomite, because he is thy brother; thou shalt not abhor an Egyptian, because thou wast a stranger in his land.”
This passage confuses many since the prophets are replete with condemnations of Edom. Ostensibly God himself came to abhor these Edomites (Isaiah 34, Malachi 1.2-4, Romans 9.13, Obadiah, Ezekiel 35, 25.13-14, Joel 3.19 et al.). One Scripture even tells us it was a blessed thing for the Israelites to slay the children of the Edomites in the time of David (Psalm 137.9). If God himself despises the Edomites then why was Israel commanded not to abhor an Edomite in the time of Moses?
In the second part of Deuteronomy 23.7 we are also told “thou shalt not abhor an Egyptian” but in later times they are portrayed as an alien people which Israel is chastised for mingling with (Jeremiah 2.16-22, Ezekiel 16.23-26, Ezra 9.1 et al.). In Ezekiel 30.5 the Egyptians are listed among “all the mixed multitude” alongside Ethiopia and Libya. Isaiah 43.3 has Egypt along with Seba and Ethiopia as nations God has forfeit to preserve Israel, these nations having served as a buffer between the non-Adamic sub-Saharan tribes to their South and the Israelites to the North.
It can be demonstrated that Edom suffered a similar fate, as Esau’s offspring all came to be mixed with the cursed nations. Even the first generation of Edomites consisted largely of Canaanite halfbreeds and Esau’s miscegenation was a source of great grief to his parents:
“34And Esau was forty years old; and he took to wife Judith the daughter of Beoch the Chettite, and Basemath, daughter of Helon the Chettite. 35And they were provoking to Isaac and Rebecca.”
Rebecca was so distraught by Esau’s choice of wives that she saw no worth in her life if Jacob were to marry racial aliens like his brother:
“46And Rebecca said to Isaac, I am weary of my life, because of the daughters of the sons of Chet; if Jacob shall take a wife of the daughters of this land, wherefore should I live?”
At the behest of his father Jacob went to the house of his uncle Laban (meaning “White”, Strong’s and Gesenius’ s.v.) to find his wives Rachel and Leah who would bear children of the promise.
“1And Isaac called Jacob, and blessed him, and charged him, saying: Take not a wife of the stock of Chanaan: 2But go, and take a journey to Mesopotamia of Syria, to the house of Bathuel, thy mother’s father, and take thee a wife thence of the daughters of Laban, thy uncle. 3And God almighty bless thee, and make thee to increase and multiply thee: that thou mayst be a multitude of people. 4And give the blessings of Abraham to thee, and to thy seed after thee: that thou mayst possess the land of thy sojournment, which he promised to thy grandfather. 5And when Isaac had sent him away, he took his journey and went to Mesopotamia of Syria, to Laban, the son of Bathuel, the Syrian, brother to Rebecca, his mother.”
Many claim that intermarriage between diverse peoples was only forbidden in the Bible on purely religious grounds. The example of Jacob’s imperative to marry a woman of his mother’s tribe refutes this. Laban’s family was actually pagan (Genesis 31.19-35) as their Hebrew forebears were before the time of Abraham (Joshua 24.2, 15). If Jacob’s parent’s only concern was for their son’s religious fidelity they would not have sent Jacob to take a pagan wife. If race was of no concern then Jacob may just as well have married Canaanites like his brother. Ostensibly their concern was for their racial posterity.
Esau had forfeit his birthright and scorned his heritage, but he hoped that he might find redemption in his parent’s eyes by taking a wife of the Ishmaelites (Genesis 28.6-9), a people descended from Abraham and his Egyptian concubine Hagar. In Genesis 28.9 Esau’s Ishmaelite wife is named as Mahalath, but in Genesis 36.3 she is named as Bashemath, the same name as Esau’s Hethite wife mentioned at Genesis 26.34.
Perhaps both women were originally named Bashemath and Esau changed his Ishmaelite wife’s name to Mahalath so as not to have two wives of the same name. Perhaps Esau simply had two Ishmaelite wives, one of whom happened to share a name with his Hethite wife. In any case, it is apparent that Esau had fully Adamic offspring by one of his wives.
I would posit that the Edomite lineage descended from Esau and Mahalath must be the source of the Edomite who is the object of Deuteronomy 23.7. By law a mongrel is excluded from the congregation of the Lord (Deuteronomy 23.2) and so an Edomite line from Esau by a Canaanite woman is precluded from being the object of Deuteronomy 23.7.
Now one might wonder why the Law would not be more specific in regards to which Edomite tribes were acceptable for intermarriage. I would point out however, that Egypt is mentioned in the very same verse, and Egypt was by this time a nation which was largely racially compromised, much like Edom. The Israelites must have been expected to scrutinize the lineage of any Edomite or Egyptian drawn to them to become a proselyte and potentially to exclude them according to Deuteronomy 23.2.
It is apparent elsewhere in the Pentateuch that the Israelites were expected to be able to distinguish alien races from the the other Adamic peoples. In Exodus chapter 12 we read “This is the law of the passover: no stranger [allogenes, Strong’s G241 meaning literally “of another race” i.e. a non-Adamite] shall eat of it.” (vs. 43) A little further on we read “if any proselyte shall come to you to keep the passover to the Lord, thou shalt circumcise every male of him … he shall be even as the original inhabitant of the land” (vs. 48).
These laws offer no further instruction as to how one can distinguish between the licit proselyte and the illicit alien. Ostensibly the Israelites were expected to scrutinize the racial purity of potential converts judging them by their works, countenance and/or genealogical records and this would naturally apply to Edomite and Egyptian proselytes who are mentioned at Deuteronomy 23.7.
Interestingly Yahweh was worshiped in ancient Edom and He is called “Yahweh of Teman” (Teman is an ancient Edomite city) in an inscription at Kuntillet Ajrud (Anthony Bonanno, Archaeology and Fertility Cult in the Ancient Mediterranean, University of Malta p. 238 ff.).
In Genesis 36.3-13 we can trace the sons of Esau by Mahalath/Bashemath through Reuel (“friend of God”, Strong’s and Gesenius’ s.v. Reuwel) down to Zerah, mentioned as an early Edomite duke in vs. 17. Interestingly the line of Esau by his Ishmaelite wife through Zerah is mentioned again in one other place, only found in the ancient Septuagint. There his name is rendered into Greek as Ζαρέ, the same rendering used in Genesis 36:
“17And Job died, an old man and full of days: and it is written that he will rise again with those whom the Lord raises up. This man is described in the Syriac book as living in the land of Ausis [Uz], on the borders of Idumea and Arabia: and his name before was Jobab; and having taken an Arabian wife, he begot a son whose name was Ennon. And he himself was the son of his father Zare, one of the sons of Esau, and of his mother Bosorrha, so that he was the fifth from Abraam. …”
-Job 42 (LXX)
Ostensibly these prestigious Adamic Edomite lineages came to be mingled with the corrupted offspring of their father or other cursed tribes, just as the Egyptians mentioned alongside them in Deuteronomy 23.7 also had. God’s promises to tribes depend upon the legitimacy of their seed, and the corrupted seed of Esau surely forsook any favour they once found with God and Israel.