Did King David do battle with the Edomites? The Bible says he did. It would be unlikely, however, if Edom was not yet a sufficiently complex society to organize and field an army, if Edom was just some nomadic Bedouin tribes roaming around looking for pastures and water for their sheep and goats.
Until recently, many scholars took this position: In David’s time Edom was at most a simple pastoral society.1 This gave fuel to those scholars who insisted that ancient Israel (or rather, Judah) likewise did not develop into a state until a century or more after David’s time. Ancient Israel, they argued, was just like the situation east of the Jordan—no complex societies in Ammon, Moab or Edom.
According to this school of thought, David was not really a king, but a chieftain of a few simple tribes. And of course Judah was not really a state because it never reached the level of social complexity that is the hallmark of a state.
The land of Edom figures largely in the Hebrew Bible; it is mentioned no fewer than 99 times. But just how much reliable history is embedded in these Biblical references?