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The Land of Seir

Seir, from the Hebrew word pronounced say-eer, meaning rough or shaggy, as in a he-goat (interestingly, the word satyr is based on a related Hebrew word) was the name given to a large area of the mountainous territory south of the southeastern end of the Dead Sea. After it became the possession of Esau (see the Fact Finder question below), Seir, variously spoken of as "the land of Seir" (e.g. Genesis 32:3 RSV) or "Mount Seir" (e.g. Genesis 14:6 RSV), was also known as Edom (see Edom on the map below).

From The Land of "Cave Men" to "The Land of Esau"

In earliest times (prior to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah as indicated in the example below), Seir was occupied by the Horites (from the Hebrew word pronounced coe-ree, meaning cave men), a people who lived in the abundant limestone caves in Seir.


"In the days of Amraphel king of Shinar, Arioch king of Ellasar, Chedorlaomer king of Elam, and Tidal king of Goiim, these kings made war with Bera king of Sodom, Birsha king of Gomorrah, Shinab king of Admah, Shemeber king of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela, that is, Zoar. And all these joined forces in the Valley of Siddim, that is, The Salt Sea. Twelve years they had served Chedorlaomer, but in the thirteenth year they rebelled.

In the fourteenth year Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him came and subdued the Rephaim in Ashterothkarnaim, the Zuzim in Ham, the Emim in Shavehkiriathaim, and the Horites in their Mount Seir as far as Elparan on the border of the wilderness; then they turned back and came to Enmishpat, that is, Kadesh, and subdued all the country of the Amalekites, and also the Amorites who dwelt in Hazazontamar." (Genesis 14:1-7 RSV)

After the prosperous years spent with his uncle Laban (see the Fact Finder question below), the time came for Jacob to return home. Despite the time away, Jacob did not know what Esau would do, so Jacob sent gifts ahead in an attempt to appease his brother. Jacob knew that he was well protected, that he was being escorted by "God's army" (see below), so Jacob's attempt to keep Esau from attacking may have been intended to protect Esau's life as much as his own.

"Jacob went on his way and the angels of God met him; and when Jacob saw them he said, "This is God's army!" So he called the name of that place Mahanaim.

And Jacob sent messengers before him to Esau his brother in the land of Seir, the country of Edom, instructing them, "Thus you shall say to my lord Esau: Thus says your servant Jacob, 'I have sojourned with Laban, and stayed until now; and I have oxen, asses, flocks, menservants, and maidservants; and I have sent to tell my lord, in order that I may find favor in your sight.'" (Genesis 32:1-5 RSV)

As indicated in the verses above, Seir was by then known as "the land of Seir, the country of Edom," meaning that Esau, also known as Edom, was the ruler and possessor of Seir. Esau was not in need of anything from Jacob and he had apparently outgrown his rage against his brother (or he may have become aware of just how well-protected, by The Lord, that Jacob was). Esau courteously invited Jacob to Seir; Jacob accepted, but only as a ruse. As soon as Esau was out of sight, instead of proceeding south to Seir, Jacob (who the Lord renamed Israel) turned west toward the land that would be named after him, Israel. Both brothers had territories named after them.

"Let my lord pass on before his servant, and I will lead on slowly, according to the pace of the cattle which are before me and according to the pace of the children, until I come to my lord in Seir."

So Esau said, "Let me leave with you some of the men who are with me."

But he said, "What need is there? Let me find favor in the sight of my lord."

So Esau returned that day on his way to Seir.

But Jacob journeyed to Succoth, and built himself a house, and made booths for his cattle; therefore the name of the place is called Succoth. And Jacob came safely to the city of Shechem, which is in the land of Canaan, on his way from Paddanaram; and he camped before the city." (Genesis 33:14-18 RSV)

The connection between the land of Esau, Edom and Seir is plainly stated. From Esau came the Edomites.

"So Esau dwelt in the hill country of Seir; Esau is Edom. These are the descendants of Esau the father of the Edomites in the hill country of Seir." (Genesis 36:8-9 RSV)

Centuries later, after the Exodus, the descendants of Esau were still the lawful owners of the land of Edom, a deed guaranteed by The Lord who reminded the Israelites that "your brethren the sons of Esau" owned Edom (just as the people of Israel own Israel).

"Then The Lord said to me, 'You have been going about this mountain country long enough; turn northward. And command the people, You are about to pass through the territory of your brethren the sons of Esau, who live in Seir; and they will be afraid of you. So take good heed; do not contend with them; for I will not give you any of their land, no, not so much as for the sole of the foot to tread on, because I have given Mount Seir to Esau as a possession." (Deuteronomy 2:2-5 RSV)

"So we went on, away from our brethren the sons of Esau who live in Seir" (Deuteronomy 2:8 RSV)

Fact Finder: What happened between Jacob and his brother Esau that caused Jacob to flee from the land of Israel? Where did Jacob go to escape Esau's wrath?
See Jacob and Laban

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