Catholic Encyclopedia – Abdias

Article

A Minor Prophet. This name is the Greek form of the Hebrew ‘Obhádhyah, which means “the servant [or worshipper] of Yahweh”. The fourth and shortest of the minor prophetical books of the Old Testament (it contains only twenty-one verses) is ascribed to Abdias.

In the title of the book it is usually regarded as a proper name. Some recent scholars, however, think that it should be treated as an appellative, for, on the one hand, Holy Writ often designates a true prophet under the appellative name of “the servant of Yahweh”, and on the other, it nowhere gives any distinct information concerning the writer of the work ascribed to Abdias. It is true that in the absence of such authoritative information Jews and Christian traditions have been freely circulated to supply its place; but it remains none the less a fact that “nothing is known of Abdias; his family, station in life, place of birth, manner of death, are equally unknown to us”. The only thing that may be inferred from the work concerning its author is that he belonged to the Kingdom of Juda. The short prophecy of Abdias deals almost exclusively with the fate of Edom as is stated in its opening words. God has summoned the nations against her. She trusts in her rocky fastnesses, but in vain. She would be utterly destroyed, not simply spoiled as by thieves (1-6). Her former friends and allies have turned against her (7), and her wisdom shall fail her in this extremity (8, 9). She is justly punished for her unbrotherly conduct towards Juda when foreigners sacked Jerusalem and cast lots over it (10-11). She is bidden to desist from her unworthy conduct (12-14). The “day of Yahweh” is near upon “all the nations”, in whose ruin Edom shall share under the united efforts of “the house of Jacob” and “the house of Joseph” (16-18). As for Israel, her borders will be enlarged in every direction; “Saviours” shall appear on Mount Sion to “judge” the Mount of Esau, and the rule of Yahweh shall be established (19-20).

Date of the prophecy of Abdias

Besides the shortness of the book of Abdias and its lack of a detailed title such as is usually prefixed to the prophetical writings of the Old Testament, there are various reasons, literary and exegetical, which prevents scholars from agreeing upon the date of its composition.

Many among them (Keil, Orelli, Vigouroux, Trochon, Lesêtre, etc.) assign its composition to about the reign of Joram (ninth century B.C.). Their main ground for this position is derived from Abdias’s reference (11-14) to a capture of Jerusalem which they identify with the sacking of the Holy City by the Philistines and the Arabians under Joram (2 Chronicles 21:16,17). The only other seizure of Jerusalem to which Abdias (11-14) could be understood to refer would be that which occurred during the lifetime of the prophet Jeremias and was effected by Nabuchodonosor (588-587 B.C.). But such reference to this latter capture of the Jewish capital is ruled out, we are told, by the fact that Jeremias’s description of this event (Jeremiah 49:7-22) is so worded as to betray its dependence on Abdias (11-14) as on an earlier writing. It is ruled out also by Abdias’s silence concerning the destruction of the city or of the Temple which was carried out by Nabuchodonosor, and which, as far as we know, did not occur in the time of King Joram.

A second argument for this early date of the prophecy is drawn from a comparison of its text with that of Amos and Joel. The resemblance is intimate and, when closely examined, shows, it is claimed, that Abdias was anterior to both Joel and Amos. In fact, in Joel 3:5 (Hebrews 3:5) “as the Lord hath said” introduces a quotation from Abdias (17). Hence it is inferred that the prophecy of Abdias originated between the reign of Joram and the time of Joel and Amos, that is, about the middle of the ninth century B.C. The inference is said also to be confirmed by the purity of style of Abdias’s prophecy.

Other scholars, among whom may be mentioned Meyrick, Jahn, Ackerman, Allioli, etc., refer the composition of the book to about the time of the Babylonian Captivity, some three centuries after King Joram. They think that the terms of Abdias (11-14) can be adequately understood only of the capture of Jerusalem by Nabuchodonosor; only this event could be spoken of as the day “when strangers carried away his [Juda's] army captive, and foreigners entered into his gates, and cast lots upon Jerusalem”; as “the day of his [Juda's] leaving his country . . . . the day of their [the children of Juda's] destruction”; “the day of their ruin”; etc. They also admit that Abdias (20) contains an implicit reference to the writer as one of the captives in Babylon.

Others again, ascribe the present book of Abdias to a still later date. They agree with the defenders of the second opinion in interpreting Abdias (11-14) as referring to the capture of Jerusalem by Nabuchodonosor, but differ from them in holding that (20) does not really prove that the author of the book lived during the Babylonian exile. They claim that a close study of Abdias (15-21), with its apocalyptic features (reference to the day of the Lord as being at hand upon all nations, to a restoration of all Israel, to the wonderful extent of territory and position in command which await the Jews in God’s kingdom), connects necessarily the prophecy of Abdias with other works in Jewish literature [Joel, Daniel, Zechariah 9-14] which, as they think, belong to a date long after the return from Babylon.

These, then are the three leading forms of opinion which prevail at the present day regarding the date of composition of the book of Abdias, none of which conflicts with the prophetical import of the work concerning the utter ruin of Edom at a later date and concerning the Messianic times.

MLA Citation

  • Francis Gigot. “Abdias”. Catholic Encyclopedia, 1913. Saints.SQPN.com. 31 August 2014. Web. 28 December 2014. <>