In the Hebrew Bible this book occupies the fourth place among the "Twelve", being placed after Amos and before Jonah.
This position is retained in the Peshitta, the Vulgate and the modem versions.
In the Septuagint, however, it stands fifth in this collection, following Joel and
Among the tribes that remained outside Israel, yet were akin to them, Edom,
to the south of the Dead Sea, was that which was held to be nearest.
This people had attained to an ordered government before the foundation of the Hebrew monarchy, and, when David established his kingdom on a firm basis, the conquest of Edom was one of the steps that he took to protect his southern frontier.
Its subjugation was also necessary if the southern trade, especially through the Red Sea port of Ezion-geber, was to be maintained, and the assertion of its independence in the reign of Solomon was an important factor in the decline of Israelite prosperity.
Throughout the period of the monarchy the mark of a strong king of Judah
was that he conquered Edom;
but Judahite hold on the country was never secure.
Edomites took a prominent part in the attacks on Jerusalem, which preceded the fall of the city,
and took advantage of the partial desolation of the land during the Exile to press northwards.
The rivalry and hostility continued until about 127BC;
John Hyrcanus subdued Edom, and compelled its people to become Jews.
The Herod family was of Edomite origin.
The book of Obadiah is a collection of oracles directed against Edom, and resembles such collections as those found in Jer.xlvi-li.
Two of the oracles that appear in the Edom section of the Jeremiah collection appear also here, though only a fragment represents one of the two.
It would seem that the following oracles or fragments were originally distinct:
|1-4||(=Jer.xlix.14-16) condemning the pride of Edom;|
|5,||a fragment from an oracle, which appears in fuller form in Jer.xlix.7-11, where the completeness of the destruction of Edom is emphasized;|
|6-7||Describe the foes arrayed against Edom;|
|8-9||predict the doom of the wise men for whom Edom was famous;|
|10-11||ascribe the punishment to the part Edom had played in the humiliation of Jerusalem;|
|12-17||(which may include some later additions at the end) deal with the same theme, though the metre and style are rather different from the preceding; finally,|
|18-21||foretell the part that Israel will play in carrying out vengeance on Edom. This also seems to have suffered from accretions at the end.|
It is impossible to be certain that all the oracles included in this collection
are to be ascribed to the same prophet, or even to the same time.
But the age in which the hostility between Judah and Edom was most strongly developed was that which followed the fall of Jerusalem, and even the forcible conversion of the Edomites to Judaism by John Hyrcanus did not end the sense of antagonism.
These oracles might have come from almost any time between the end of the sixth and the middle of the second centuries BC, though an earlier date rather than a later is the more probable.
Of the author we know nothing.
We do not know that a prophet Obadiah ever existed.
The name is one which might easily have been applied to a collection of anonymous prophecies, since it means simply "Servant of Yahweh", and the inclusion of two of the oracles in the book of Jeremiah proves that these were known in one form, at any rate, as anonymous.
This, however, does not preclude the possibility that there were other prophecies,
which were known to have been uttered by a man of this name.
The text of this book has been, on the whole, badly preserved; much of it
is obviously corrupt.
Some help may be derived from the Septuagint, and some from parallels in Jeremiah, though, it must be admitted, the text as it stands in that book is in no better condition.