I have been looking for an authentic Jewish approach to the question of the unique instance of the highly specific future reference in Breishit 36:31:

ואלה המלכים אשר מלכו בארץ אדום לפני מלך־מלך לבני ישראל
These are the kings who reigned in the land of Edom before any king reigned over the Israelites.

but I can only find Christian commentators. Are there Jewish sources that discuss this issue (e.g. did the Jewish people know the future Edomite kings before they came to power, why are there no other similarly specific references to the future in the Chumash, is the text authentic or addition, etc.).

  • 1
    (Most of it) isn’t a revelation of the future- moshe wrote it down, not someone who lived at the time that b’reishis took place. – Lo ani Oct 24 '19 at 16:00
  • There are 8 kings mentioned in those pesukim, which is about the amount of generations from Yacov to dor hamidbar (Yacov, Levi, kehas, amram, Aharon, elazar, pinchas, and since pinchas was old enough to kill Zimri, he could well have had kids). – Lo ani Oct 24 '19 at 16:12
  • @Loani Maybe we can compare this to Gid Hanasheh - was it written anachronistically, or was it written in its place (Chullin 100b)? – DonielF Oct 24 '19 at 17:46
  • @DonielF I guess so. But because of this question, it seems more likely that it was written by moshe. – Lo ani Oct 24 '19 at 17:54

Ibn Ezra on the verse notes that some say this verse was written prophetically.

He also quotes, and forcefully dismisses, the opinion of Yitzhaki that this verse was written in the days of Yehoshaphat.

Finally, he himself believes that in truth the king referred to here is none other than Moshe, such that the verse is not a future reference at all but is rather listing the Edomite kings who reigned before Moshe's time.

  • +1 But this would be a more week rounded answer if it addressed Rashi's opinion that these Edomite kings went up until the days of Yehoshaphat. Certainly a long time in the future. Barring the words of Yitzchaki in the Ibn Ezra. – user6591 Nov 26 '19 at 19:20
  • Presumably ibn Ezra understands that opinion believes that the verse was written prophetically... – Joel K Nov 26 '19 at 19:26
  • Agreed. I think I remember looking in the mefarshei Rashi one time hoping one of them would state that obvious fact, and I don't think anyone spoke about it. It's strange because it's an unprecedented prophecy. No prophet ever have sucha detailed account of any future event. – user6591 Nov 26 '19 at 19:38
  • sefaria.org.il/Isaiah.45.1?lang=bi – Joel K Nov 26 '19 at 19:41

Similar to the Ibn Ezra's view brought by @JoelK, Rabbi Alexander Hool wrote in an article titled "Who Was The Pharaoh of Yetzias Mitzrayim?", published in Ami's Double Pesach Issue, and which I surmise is a condensed version of his book "Pharaoh: Biblical History, Egypt and the Missing Millennium":

"When Yaakov came back from Charan to live with his father Yitzchak in Chevron, the verse says that there wasn't enough pasture for the flocks of both Yaakov and Esav, so Esav left with his family. Intriguingly, it doesn't divulge where he went, mentioning only later that he went to Har Se'ir. The pasuk also specifies that the chieftains of Odah and Bosmas lived in the land of Edom, but doesn't do so with regard to the chieftains of his third wife, Oholivamah.

From excavations at Avaris, we now know that just around this time there was an influx of Canaanites to the north of Egypt, an area rich in pasture that is close to Chevron. They prospered there for several centuries, turning Avaris into one of the largest cities in the ancient world. Archeologists have also found a sculpture from that period of a red-haired Canaanite wearing a multicolored coat [I think it's this one], reminiscent of the red-haired Esav wearing the coat of many colors that the Midrash says he took from Nimrod.

What seems to have happened is that Esav moved first to Avaris and sometime afterwards left for Se'ir, later to be called Edom, leaving behind the family of Oholivamah. This might have been a tactical move, as Oholivamah was the granddaughter of Se'ir, whose people, the Chori, Esav went on to destroy (Devarim 2:12). Had they gone with Esav, they might have sided with the Chori. What this means is that throughout Bnei Yisrael's sojourn in Egypt they were actually living side-by-side with the descendants of Esav in neighboring Avaris. Indeed, Chazal tell us the people who lived in the same region as Bnei Yisrael were much worse than those in the rest of Egypt. We now know why. They weren't Egyptian but Edomites from Canaan whose behavior was repulsive.

Now let's go back to the Sixth Dynasty Hyksos rulers.

According to the ancient historian Manetho, Teti, the first of the Sixth Dynasty rulers, was not an Egyptian...Why would a Hyksos king set up his capital there [in Avaris]...unless he himself was an Edomite? This may be what the Torah is alluding to at the end of Parshas Vayishlach. The pasuk lists eight kings that ruled in Edom "before the reign of the king over Bnei Yisrael"...in light of the above, we can now suggest that it might also be alluding to the other kings of Esav, who ruled over Bnei Yisrael in Egypt. Accordingly, Teti would have been the first of the Dynasty of Edomites who ruled over the north of Egypt, and it was he who started the subjugation of Bnei Yisrael..."


Easiest interpretation is it was written in the time of Moses, either referring to Moses himself serving as a king of sorts, or even more simply -- while the Jews still hadn't yet obtained any monarchy. The whole point is that Esau has chosen himself a shortcut through history without the whole messy difficulty-and-destiny thing. Consequently, while the Jews were just barely out of Egypt, and hadn't yet even had one king, Esau's folks had quite a few.

  • Is this different from the Ibn Ezra's explanation? – Harel13 Apr 5 at 22:38
  • Ibn Ezra -- "before Moses came along and became king." Minor twist would be Moses writing "the Jews still haven't had any kings at all, and here's how many Esau has already gotten." – Shalom Apr 6 at 14:09

This is the launching point of Midrash HaNe'elam, a lofty book within the Zohar. The kings of Edom allude to the primordial Olam haTohu, World of Astounding Disorder where relationships could not be maintained. Very approppos to Sefirat HaOmer right now btw

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