Polite Israel and impolite Edom

Israel's request to travel through Edom in Numbers 20.14-21

Edward Bridge*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

5 Citations (Scopus)


In Num. 20.14-21, Israel requests passage to pass through Edom but is denied. Of interest are the elements that add to Israel's request (e.g. historical preamble, and self-imposed conditions to encourage Edom to accept their request). Using politeness theory, this article finds these elements to be strategies of politeness, and also show that Israel has a strategy of increasing politeness during the communication with Edom. In contrast, Edom is impolite, which indicates it wishes to be superior to Israel. This is consistent with the Bible's portrayal of Edom as a 'bad brother' to Israel. The ability of politeness theory to bring out subtleties in communication in the Bible shows that it is a useful heuristic device to assist with the interpretation of biblical texts.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)77-88
Number of pages12
JournalJournal for the Study of the Old Testament
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2010

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