#68. Do Esau and his descendants live with the Horites in Mount Seir OR did they dispossess them and destroy them? (Gen 36:6-8, 20-21 vs Deut 2:12)


The Bible employs 2 different land-settlement models when speaking about the conquest of the promised land and its environs: a co-habitation or displacement model and a butcher’em and burn’em up model, man, woman, children, and livestock! You’ll be happy to know that both are narrative constructs, each one composed by different authors.

Both Genesis 36:1-30 and Deuteronomy 2:12 preserve 2 settlement stories about the land of Edom or Seir as it is often referred to.

The Priestly material in Genesis 36 tells how after Jacob and Esau bury their father (#60), Esau, who disqualified himself from the inheritance of the promise of the land of Canaan on account of his exogamous marriages, settles outside the land in what becomes Edom (#48). Esau is the eponymous father of the Edomites. We are therefore informed in this tradition that Esau’s descendants live with the peoples of Mount Seir, the Horites. In other words, the Horites are presented living with the children of Esau in Edom/Seir

This settlement story, however, contradicts the one found in Deuteronomy 2, where we are informed that the children of Esau came into the land of Seir and

dispossessed them [the Horites] and destroyed them in front of them and lived in their place, as Israel did to the land of its possession that Yahweh gave them.

In other words, the Deuteronomist ‘s settlement story depicts the descendants of Esau as conquering the land and destroying all of its indigenous people, and living in their place rather than living with them as in the Priestly tradition. This tradition the Deuteronomist, through the mouthpiece of Yahweh, creates himself, and for a particular reason. In fact, the purpose of these unique Deuteronomic creations

“I [Yahweh] will not give you of their land so much as a foot can tread on, because I have given the hill country of Seir as a possession to Esau… And the Horite lived in Seir before, but the children of Esau dispossessed them and destroyed them. (2:5…12)

“I will not give any part of the land of the Ammonites to you as a possession; I have given it as a possession the the descendants of Lot. It too was thought to be the land of the Rephaim… but Yahweh destroyed them and they dispossessed them and live in their place.” (2:19-22).

is to legitimate where this narrative is heading: the Israelite conquest of the land of Canaan, which the Deuteronomist substantiates in similar terms: this is the land that Yahweh gave as a possession to the Israelites!

In addition to this, each one of these passages about the land of Edom, Moab, and Ammon, also describe how the original inhabitants—since Yahweh decreed these lands to the descendants of Esau and Lot—were dispossessed and destroyed, again, just as the Israelites will “exterminate,” “devour,” “put an end to,” and “utterly destroy” all the peoples of Canaan.

“You shall doom them to destruction. You shall grant them no terms and you shall not spare them” (7:2); “you shall devour all the peoples whom Yahweh your god delivers to you. You shall show them no pity” (7:16).

And all of this is endorsed and backed by divine decree! This is how ancient Near Eastern peoples legitimated and justified their possession of land—through narratives that assigned them the land through the decrees of their deity.

We will talk more about this when we get to the book of Deuteronomy and we will see other ancient Near Eastern literature do the same, namely what scholars have labeled the Mesha stela, where Chemosh, the god of the Moabites, contrary to the claims of the Deuteronomist above, has his god Chemosh decree the possession of Moab for his people as well as the slaughtering of its indigenous inhabitants! This is how political ideologies were supported and legitimated in the ancient world. And it’s about time we started to read these texts as products of their historical and literary worlds—a literary genre of divinely sanctioned political propaganda!

One thought on “#68. Do Esau and his descendants live with the Horites in Mount Seir OR did they dispossess them and destroy them? (Gen 36:6-8, 20-21 vs Deut 2:12)

  1. ‘Wow’ was the word that fell from my lips as I finished reading this post. A kind of unsettling and horrific Wow. Like wow I never knew, like wow this is the Bible, like wow I need to think about this. I’m still saying it… wow is my only response.

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