History of Esau


The Torah relates that Jacob and Esau, the twin sons of Isaac and Rebecca (Genesis 25:24), went on separate paths (Genesis 25:27), Esau the hunter and Jacob the man of tents. Later the Torah relates that Jacob disguised himself as his brother Esau to secure blessings from his father Isaac (ibid. 27:14-27). As a result of this deception Esau felt that Jacob had cheated him (ibid. 27:36), hated Jacob, and planned to kill him (ibid. 27:41). On the surface the narrative of Jacob vs. Esau appears as a case of sibling rivalry. However when delving into the oral Torah, this narrative has far reaching implications. This article will examine the historical impact of this conflict from its inception, through the biblical and post-biblical periods, and conclude with the messianic era. This analysis will use the written and oral Torahs (viz. scripture, Talmud, and Midrash with associated commentaries).

The article will analyze the role of Esau and his descendants through the following perspectives:

  • Prophetic verses that define the roles of Jacob and Esau.
  • World history from creation to the messianic era as seen as seen from the Talmud.
  • Characteristics of Esau to identify his successors who develop world empires.

Prophetic Verses

A companion article on this web site “Jacob vs. Esau” examined relevant verses in Genesis in detail. This article will also refer to some of these verses to determine the role of Esau through history as predicted by the bible.

Verse 1 – The Struggle

Verse 25:22 – “The children struggled within her.”

This verse relates that the unborn Esau and Jacob struggled in Rebecca’s womb indicating a difficult pregnancy portending to a struggle throughout the ages.

Verse 2 – The Prophecy

Verse 25:23 – “Hashem spoke to her (Rebecca): Two nations are in your womb; two regimes from your insides shall be separated; dominion shall pass from one regime to the other, and the elder shall serve the younger. “

At a literal level it is clear that these predictions were not fulfilled in the lives of Esau and Jacob as follows:

  1. Two nations – During their lifetimes the major powers in the Middle East were Egypt and to a lesser extent Babylonia. In fact Jacob and his children were too small in number to even conquer Canaan (Genesis 34:30).
  2. Two regimes – Neither the families of Esau nor Jacob established regimes in their lifetimes but were considered as clans by the inhabitants of Canaan (Genesis 36:19 and 34:21, respectively).
  3. Dominion shall pass from one to the other – After Jacob returned from Haran, Esau left for Seir and they had little contact with each other (Genesis 36:6-7).  
  4. Elder shall serve the younger – On the contrary Jacob was subservient to Esau when they met (Genesis 33:3) and never attempted to rule over Esau.

Rather this verse is a prophetic description of the roles of the descendants Esau and Jacob throughout the ages.

Verse 3 – Strengths of Jacob and Esau

Verse 27:22 – “Jacob drew near to Isaac, his father, who felt him and said: The voice is the voice of Jacob but the hands are the hands of Esau.”

At a literal level, this verse discusses Isaac’s reaction to his son seeking a blessing. Isaac is perplexed because this person has characteristics of both sons, the voice of Jacob and the hairy hands of Esau. Since Isaac was blind he could not see through the ruse. However this verse is a prophetic indication of the strengths of Jacob in his voice (i.e. prayer and Torah study) and Esau in his hands (i.e. war).     

Verse Set 4 – Isaac’s Blessings to Jacob

Verse 27:28 – “G-d shall give you of the dew of the heavens, richness of the earth, and abundant grain and wine.”

Verse 27:29 – “Nations will serve you. Major regimes will bow down to you, and be a leader to your brother.”

Although Isaac intended to give these blessings to Esau and therefore may not be applicable to Jacob, the Torah indicates that Isaac ratified these blessings to Jacob (Genesis 27:33). At a literal level these blessings were not fulfilled during Jacob’s lifetime because he did not take ownership of the land and was a shepherd and not a farmer. In addition Jacob and his sons did not rule over any nations. Rather these blessings refer to the future when the Israelites rule over the land of Israel and enjoy its abundance.   

Verse Set 5 – Isaac’s Blessings to Esau

Verse 27:39 – “Behold the richness of the earth shall be your dwelling and the dew of heavens above.”

Verse 27:40 – “By your sword you shall live, but your brother you shall serve (תעבד). However when you are aggrieved, you may cast off his yoke from your neck.”

Isaac at this point knew that Esau was unworthy of the blessings in verse set 4 and therefore blessed him in a manner suitable for his character and destiny which means blessings of prosperity and military might as follows: 

  • Prosperity – “Behold the richness of the earth shall be your dwelling.”
  • Military might – “Live by the sword”.
  • Serve Jacob – “Your brother you shall serve”.
  • Free from Jacob – “When aggrieved (תריד) you may cast off the yoke” meaning if Jacob’s descendants do not follow the Torah Esau can reclaim the blessings from Jacob.

Verse 6 – Esau’s Hatred of Jacob

Verse 27:41 – “Esau hated Jacob because of the blessing which his father had blessed him (i.e. Jacob). Esau thought: May the days of mourning for my father draw near, and then I will kill my brother Jacob.”

At a literal level this verse refers to Esau’s personal hatred of Jacob as a result of the blessings which Jacob obtained through a ruse. However the Midrash (Genesis Rabbah 67:8) accepts that this hatred transferred to Rome and led to decrees against the Israelites.

Verse 7 – The Encounter

Verse 33:4 – “Esau ran toward him, embraced him, fell upon his neck, and kissed him. Then they (both) wept.

The Torah records (Genesis 33:3-16) that Jacob encountered Esau and was subservient to him (ibid. 3). The next verse states that Esau ran to Jacob and hugged him and kissed him. Esau offered to escort Jacob to their father Isaac (ibid. 12) but Jacob politely declined (ibid. 13-15). Then Esau returned to his home in Seir (ibid.16). The Torah placed dots on all six letters of the word “kissed” (וישקהו) which means that the words convey a mixed message, meaning that sometimes Esau will approach with genuine love but other times with indifference or even hate.

World History

Before proceeding to the history of Esau, the author would like to present an historical overview of Hashem’s plan for the world based upon the Talmud (Sanhedrin 97a) which identifies three phases each with duration of 2,000 years. The following table provides the names of these phases in English and Hebrew, their start and end dates using both years from creation and secular counting. 

Phase (English)Phase (Hebrew)From CreationSecular
Emptinessתוהו1-20003761 BCE- 1760 BCE
Torahתורה2001-40001759 BCE – 240 CE

The difference between years of creation and secular counting is 3760. Therefore one obtains the current secular year from the creation year by subtracting 3760 for example 5782 – 3760 = 2022. 


This era, before the births of Esau and Jacob, corresponds to the first 11 chapters of Genesis. This era of emptiness ended when Abraham, at the age of 52, started to publicly preach and teach about monotheism. Although there were righteous individuals during these 2000 years (e.g. Noah and his son Shem) they did not reach out to the idolaters of that time and therefore the Talmud considers this era as spiritual emptiness. The sages comment on this emptiness as follows (Avot 5:2 in printed Mishna and 5:2-3 in the prayer book), “There were 10 generations from Adam to Noah who angered Hashem (by their idolatry and immorality) … until Hashem brought the flood (to destroy them). There were 10 generations from Noah to Abraham who also angered Hashem … until our forefather Abraham came and received the reward of all of them.”    


During most of the era of Torah, the roles of Jacob vs. Esau and their descendants follow the literal meaning of scripture, with Esau’s descendants a Semitic tribe in Jordan and Jacob’s descendants living in Israel. Later Esau transformed into a world power in Rome through the following stages:

  • Biblical era.
  • Second temple era.
  • Rome’s ascendancy.

Messianic Era

The messianic era of 2,000 years follows the 2,000 of Torah. The reader may ask, “Since the Torah certainly applies during the messianic era, what is the difference between these 2 eras with respect to Torah and the Israelites?”  In the opinion of the author the difference between these eras lies in the literal meaning of scripture and its application to the history of the Israelites as shown in the following table.

FeatureTorah Era (2001-4000)Messianic Era (4001-6000)
ScriptureLiteral – written TorahInterpretation – Oral Torah
Residence of IsraelitesIsraelDiaspora
TempleIn JerusalemDestroyed
PositionAscendency with TorahDependent on gentiles

In most of the Torah era, the life of the Israelites followed the literal meaning of the Torah implying that they lived in Israel with a functioning temple in Jerusalem (earlier in Shiloh), and political ascendance when following the laws of the Torah. By contrast in the messianic era the life of the Israelites did not follow the literal reading of the Torah. Rather the circumstances of their lives require significant interpretation of scripture through the oral Torah to correlate verses to their actual history. Since the Israelites were in exile without a Temple they were dependent upon the whims of gentile governments. However with the coming of the messiah the life of Israel will transform to the Torah era in splendour, meaning that the Israelites will live in Israel with a temple in Jerusalem and a king who will bring peace to the world and dominion for the Israelites as discussed in the section “Messianic Era – Advent of the Messiah”.

Characteristics of Esau’s Descendants

Before proceeding to the history of Esau, the author would like to present a means of identifying Esau and his descendants to interpret world history especially in the messianic era of 2,000 years. The application of these characteristics is explained in the section “Messianic Era – 20th Century”. To determine a successor to Esau one has to examine the many statements which are found in the oral Torah (e.g. Talmud and Midrash). The author has selected the following sources to specify the essential characteristics of Esau and his descendants:

  1. Military power (Gittin 57b).
  2. Economic power (Avodah Zara 2b).
  3. Political power (ibid.).
  4. Cultural leader (Ibid.).
  5. Theological leader (Lamentations Rabbah 2:6).
  6. Hatred of Jews (Sifrei Beha’Alotcha 69.)

At the zenith of the Roman Empire the sages of the Talmud recognized that Rome represented the role of biblical Esau based upon the above 6 factors. At other times the successors of Esau may not possess all of these characteristics. 

Military Power

The Talmud Gittin 57b identifies Rome as the prime descendant of Esau based upon the verse (Genesis 27:22), “The voice is the voice of Jacob and the hands are the hands of Esau.” The Talmud (ibid.) explains that these hands represent “The wicked kingdom of Rome that destroyed the temple complex (in Jerusalem), burned the Sanctuary, and exiled the Israelites from their land.” In addition the Talmud comments (ibid.) Jacob’s strength is in his voice (i.e. prayer) and Esau’s strength is in his hands (i.e. war). The Talmud (ibid.) recognizes that the extraordinary victories in war, especially against the Israelites, were a result of this prophecy. Hence Esau represents the country which is the military power of the world based upon the blessing Isaac inferred on Esau (Genesis 27:40), “By your sword you shall live.” 

Economic Power

The Talmud Avodah Zara 2b identifies Rome (Esau) as the economic power of the world using the expression “העולם בכל יצא שטבעה” which literally means that its currency circulates around the world (Maharsha). Therefore Esau represents the country which is an economic power and whose currency is accepted worldwide.

Political Power

The word טבעה also means influence indicating that the country which represents Esau has political influence across the world as a result of its military and economic might or in the vernacular “gunboat diplomacy”. 

Cultural Leader

The author would like to add that the word טבעה also means nature or culture indicating that the country which represents Esau has cultural influence across the world. In the time of the Talmud this meant language, entertainment, and sports.

Theological Leader

The Midrash Lamentations Rabbah 2:6 identifies 10 theological distinctions, granted by Hashem, that originally belonged to the Israelites, then transferred to Rome (based upon Lamentations 2:3), but will return to the Israelites at the time of the messiah. This will be discussed in detail in the section “Messianic Era – European Rule”

Hatred of Jews

The Sifre (Beha’Alotcha 69) and quoted by Rashi in Genesis 33:4 states that is a given fact (הלכה) that Esau hates Jacob which is a source of anti-Semitism. The Midrash (Genesis Rabbah 67:8) accepts that this hatred transferred to Rome and led to decrees against the Israelites as mentioned in verse 6. However as discussed in verse 7 – the encounter sometimes Esau will approach with genuine brotherly love but at other times with indifference or even hate hence this factor can vary between different countries that represent Esau through history.  

History of Esau

This section will analyze the history of Esau using the discussion of the above sections. At each point in history the reader should bear in mind the following factors:

  • Hashem – as judge of the world.
  • Israelites – their connection with Hashem affects the judgment (Verses 1-7)
  • Esau – their merit or lack thereof which incurs Hashem’s judgment.   

 Hashem rules the world according to the prophetic verses and His (divine) world plan, taking into account the merit of the Israelites and the actions of Esau. In effect this analysis will meld these prophetic verses with the 3 eras of world history to gain an appreciation of world history through a Torah perspective. In addition the section “Characteristics of Esau” provides a framework to identity the successors to Esau and interprets current events from the perspective of Torah.       

Era of Torah

As mentioned above the era of Torah encompasses 2,000 years starting from Abraham’s calling and ending with the ascendancy of Rome. This section will focus on the following periods of the era of Torah:

  • Biblical – Pentateuch, Early Prophets, King David, King Solomon
  • Second Temple – Four Kingdoms (Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome)
  • Rome’s Ascendancy

Biblical Era


 Esau and Jacob were born in the year 2108 from creation or 1652 BCE. As mentioned above, when Jacob returned to Canaan to live with his father Isaac, Esau left for Seir and there was little contact between them especially when Jacob and his family went to Egypt. While the Israelites were enslaved in Egypt the Torah does not mention anything about the descendants of Esau with respect to the Israelites.  After the Israelites crossed the Sea of Reeds the Torah states (Exodus 15:15), “Then the chieftains of Edom were confounded.” The Torah emphasizes that instead of celebrating the deliverance of the Israelites, the leaders of Edom were upset. The Torah does record a battle (Exodus 17:8-13) between the Israelites and Amalek who are descendants of Esau’s grandson, but this article will focus on the nation of Edom in its entirety. A separate article on the nation of Amalek will appear on this web site.  

The Torah records the next incident with Edom about 40 years later in Numbers 20:14-21, when the Israelites were preparing to enter the land of Israel and sought passage through the land of Edom. The King of Edom refused passage and threatened to wage war against the Israelites (ibid. 20-21). Moses mentioned this encounter in Deuteronomy 2:4-5 and adds that Hashem instructed him to not wage war with Esau but rather pass by his land. Here we see another encounter with Esau’s descendants where they treat the Israelites with indifference and veiled hostility, indicating a missed opportunity to show brotherly love as indicated in verse 7.

Early Prophets

The kingdom of Esau did not play an important role neither during the conquest of Canaan by Joshua nor during the time of the judges. At this point neither the descendants of Esau nor Jacob were significant powers.

King David

The oscillation of power mentioned in verse 2 (Genesis 25:23) came into fruition during the reign of King David. As Midrash Lekach Tov (on Genesis 25:23) comments when Israel is great (i.e. in ascendancy) then Esau is subdued as the verse says (2 Samuel 8:14), “He (King David) placed governors in Edom and all of Edom became servants to David.” The following verses in 1 Kings Chapter 11 record the extant of King David’s victory:

Verse 15 – “When David was in Edom, Joab the commander of the army had slain every male in Edom.”

Verse 16 – “Joab and all of Israel remained there for six months until he had killed every male in Edom.”

The main battle which involved killing of the males was directed against Amalek based upon Deuteronomy 25:19 “Wipe out the memory of Amalek.” In addition to the military victory King David ruled with morality as the verse relates (2 Samuel 8:15), “David reigned over all Israel and administered justice and charity for all his people.”

King Solomon

Midrash Lekach Tov (on Genesis 27:28-29) notes that the blessings of peace and prosperity (verse set 4) are conditional upon following the ways of Hashem. During the King Solomon’s reign the Israelites enjoyed peace and prosperity as the following verses from Kings 1 relate:

Verse 4:20 – “Judah and Israel were many, as the sand which is by the sea in multitude, eating and drinking, and rejoicing.”

Verse 5:4 – “For he (Solomon) had dominion over all the inhabitants on this side of the river, from Tiphsah even to Gaza, over all the kings on this side of the river, and he had peace on all sides around.

Verse 5:5 – “And Judah and Israel dwelt safely, every man under his vine and under his fig-tree, from Dan even to Beersheba, all the days of Solomon.”

However when King Solomon departed from the ways of Hashem, Edom started to rebel against the Israelites as the following verses (1 Kings Chapter 11) indicate:

Verse 6 –“Solomon did what was displeasing to Hashem because he was not completely devoted to Hashem as was David his father.”

Verse 14 – “Hashem raised an adversary against Solomon, Hadad the Edomite, who was of royal lineage in Edom.”

Although Hadad was an enemy of the Israelites the power of the Israelites was still great and therefore Edom was not a significant threat. Rather the initial threat was in Israel itself which led to the division of Israel into the northern kingdom of 10 tribes and the southern kingdom of 2 tribes as a result of the sins of King Solomon as the following verse relate (ibid.):

Verse 11 – “Hashem said to Solomon: … since you have not observed My covenant and My statutes which I have commanded you, I will surely tear the kingdom from you, and I shall give it to your servant.”

Verse 12 – “However, in your days I will not do this, for the sake of David your father; from the hands of your son I shall tear it. “

Verse 13 – “I shall not tear the entire kingdom away from you. One tribe (i.e. Judah) I shall grant to your son for the sake of David My servant, and for the sake of Jerusalem, the city which I have chosen.” Redak on this verse includes the tribe of Benjamin which was smaller but also resided in Jerusalem and its environs.

Second Temple Era

Four Kingdoms

Scripture at a literal level discusses the fate of the Israelites until the beginning of the second temple when prophecy ceased (Yoma 9b) and therefore cannot provide a literal history of Esau during the second temple era. However there are many prophecies in scripture about Esau which require collation and interpretation. The book of Daniel provides the most organized view of this period though his predictions about the 4 kingdoms (i.e. Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome) that would achieve world status in the Middle East and influence the history of the Israelites. Before proceeding to identify which nation represents the role of Esau, the author would like to elaborate on the predictions in the book of Daniel. The reader must keep in mind that unlike secular history which provides names, dates, and places, these predictions are purposely vague and require interpretation of the Talmud and Midrash based upon the verse (Psalms 25:14), “The secret of Hashem is with those who revere Him.” However the reader must also realize that these predictions originate from Hashem who knows the future. Therefore these verses are true and not merely political projections. The author will quote the following verses from Daniel (Chapter 7) to familiarize the reader with the enigmatic style of Daniel and provide context. He portrays these kingdoms as beasts with last one relevant to Rome and its successors,


7:3 – “Four huge beasts came out of the sea, each one different from the other.” This verse indicates that each kingdom is from a different nationality with a unique historical role, especially with respect to the Israelites and the land of Israel.


7:4 – “The first one was like a lion, and it had the wings of an eagle, until its wings were plucked. Then it was taken from the earth, it stood on feet like a man, and was given the heart of a mortal.”

The Midrash (Leviticus Rabbah 13:5) identifies this beast as the kingdom of Babylonia which roared like a lion (Jeremiah 4:7) and then with the speed of an eagle (Jeremiah 48:40) destroyed the first temple and exiled the Israelites. However this empire was overcome by the Persians as indicated by the verse that its wings were plucked and was taken from the earth.


7:5 – “And behold a second beast, resembling a bear. It stood to one side, and there were three ribs in its mouth between its teeth. They say to it: Get up and eat much meat.”

The Talmud (Kiddushin 72a) and Midrash (Leviticus Rabbah 13:5) identify this beast as Persia/Media with the three ribs referring to three prominent monarchs that ruled this empire (viz. Cyrus, Ahasuerus, and Darius). The consumption of much meat refers to the wealth of this empire (e.g. Esther 1:3-6). The verse does not mention the destruction of this empire, although they were overrun by Alexander the Great, because the Persians allowed the building of the second temple (Yoma 10a).    


7:6 – “After this, I saw another one like a leopard which had four wings of a bird on its back, four heads, and dominion was given it.”  

The Midrash (Leviticus Rabbah 13:5) identifies this leopard as the Greek empire founded by Alexander the Great. The four heads represent the division of the empire after his death into four kingdoms (viz. Phillip to Macedonia, Ptolemy to Egypt, Seleucus to Assyria/Babylon, and Antigonus to Persia). Similar to the Persians the verse does not mention the destruction of this empire because the cultural aspects of this empire prevailed during the Roman conquests. In addition the Roman Empire did not extend to Babylon and Persia. 


These 3 visions occurred within one night. By contrast the next vision concerning Rome occurred on a different night indicating that this empire would last much longer and be different from the other 3.

7:7 – “After this, I saw in the visions of the night; a fourth beast, awesome, dreadful, and exceedingly strong with huge iron teeth. It ate and crushed, and trampled the rest with its feet. It was different from all the beasts that were before me, and it had ten horns.” 

As opposed to the 3 previous verses, this verse does not mention the name of this beast because this empire is not comparable to any of the previous empires both in extent of land and duration. The verse describes this empire as “awesome, dreadful (ואימתני), and exceedingly strong”. These adjectives refer to the brutality (i.e. placing fear on their enemies), meticulous planning (i.e. the word ואימתני is related to מתונים which means careful and deliberate Avot 1:1) and enormous military strength (Mayanei HaYeshua 8:5 –  commentary on Book of Daniel by Rabbi Don Isaac Abarbanel and Malbim on Daniel). (These adjectives describe the evil government of Germany during the Second World War.)

The commentators differ over the enigmatic phrase, “It had ten horns.” Rashi explains this phrase in reference to the Caesars that ruled Rome before the destruction of the Second Temple. Rabbi Saadia Gaon, a prominent rabbi, philosopher, and exegete in 10th century Babylonia, explains this phrase in reference to the different provinces of the Roman Empire after the destruction of the Second Temple to the present. Along these lines, the author would like to interpret this phrase in reference to the many empires that performed the role of Esau after the fall of Rome including the present. The Midrash (Lamentations Rabbah) 2:6 identifies these horns as special distinctions from Hashem that originally belonged to the Israelites, then transferred to Rome (based upon Lamentations 2:3), but will return to the Israelites at the time of the messiah. This Midrash will be explained in more detail in the section of European Rule – Role of the Church.

In the following verses (7:8-15) Daniel continues his vision but without a clear explanation. In fact Daniel himself was troubled with this vision (ibid. 15) and asked an angel to explain its meaning (ibid. 16). The angel responds (ibid. 17) that these huge beasts, which are four, are four kingdoms, which will arise from the earth. In particular Daniel inquires about the fourth beast as follows:

7:19 – “Then I wished to determine the truth of the fourth beast, which was different from all of them- excessively dreadful. Its teeth were of iron and its nails of copper. It ate and crushed to powder and the rest it trampled with its feet.”

7:23 – “So he (the angel) said: The fourth beast represents a fourth kingdom that will be on the earth, which will be different from all the kingdoms, since it will devour the whole land, trample,  and crush it.”

The Talmud Avodah Zarah 2b cites this verse as an indication of the power of Rome and its impact on the world.  

7:24 – “And the ten horns that sprout from that kingdom represent ten kings that will rise. The last one will rise after them for he will be different from the first and humble three kings.”

Here the verse identifies these horns as kingdoms that arise from Rome with the debate amongst the commentators whether these kingdoms arose before or after the destruction of the Second Temple.

Rome’s Ascendancy


Initially the descendants of Esau were a Semitic tribe who lived in the era of modern day Jordan (Genesis 35:8 and 31-43). This tribe did not play a significant role in the history of the Middle East until a century or two before the Common Era. The reader may ask, “Since the Romans are not a Semitic people and are in fact descended from Japheth (Genesis 10:2-5) how did the sages link Esau with Rome?” Nachmanides (Numbers 24:22-24) quotes Jossipon Chapter 2 that Zepho the grandson of Esau (Genesis 36:11 and 15) left his native Jordan, settled in Rome, and eventually became a leader of the Roman tribes. (The author of the Book of Jossipon, a chronicle of Jewish history from Adam to Titus, is a matter of academic dispute. Some place the author as a contemporary of Josephus while others place the author in 10th century Italy. Perhaps the origins of this work date back to the Roman Empire with the work completed in the 10th century.) In addition Rabbi David Kimchi (Redak), 12th and 13th century scholar, biblical commentator, and philosopher, mentions the association of Esau’s descendants with Rome in his commentary on Joel 4:19 and Obadiah 1:1.  Over time more of Esau’s descendants settled in Rome and assisted Rome to become a world power.


The Talmud (Sanhedrin 21b) identifies the formation of Rome through the sin of Solomon marrying the daughter of Pharaoh as follows. “When Solomon married Pharaoh’s daughter the angel Gabriel descended from Heaven and implanted a pole in the sea which gradually produced a sandbar … on which the great city of Rome was built.” Since the Torah does not permit this marriage, because converts from Egypt must wait 3 generations before marrying into Israel (Deuteronomy 23:9), this act was sinful for Solomon.  

The formation of Rome reflects the prophecy of verse set 2; dominion shall pass from to the other (i.e. downfall of Israel and rise of Rome) and verse set 6; “when aggrieved (תריד) you may cast off the yoke” meaning if Jacob’s descendants do not follow the Torah then Esau can reclaim the blessings from Jacob.


During the time of scripture Rome was not a significant force in the Middle East therefore scripture does not explicitly link Rome to Esau. However the Talmud (Gittin 57b) clearly identifies the victories of Rome with Esau by noting that the strength of Esau is in his hands to wage victorious wars based upon Genesis 27:22, “The hands are the hands of Esau.” The Talmud (ibid.) further comments that the “hands of Esau” correspond to “the wicked kingdom of Rome that destroyed our Temple (complex), burned our Sanctuary, and exiled us from our land.” On the same verse the Talmud states that the voice of Jacob relates to the suffering of the Israelites inflicted by the hands of Esau (i.e. the Romans) at the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem and the tragic losses as a result of the failed Bar Kochva rebellion. There are similar references to Rome as Esau in the Midrash (e.g. Genesis Rabbah 65:21).     

Messianic Era

This section will analyze the history of Esau and his descendants though the following eras:

  • Roman rule
  • European rule.
  • 20th century to present.
  • Advent of the messiah.

Roman Rule

The transition from the era of Torah to the messianic era may be gradual so that there is overlap between these two eras. Hence the Roman Empire emerged as a world power towards the end of the era of Torah and lasted 200 years in the messianic era.

The reader may ask, “If Esau (Rome) is so destructive why Hashem tolerates his existence?” The Midrash (Deuteronomy Rabbah) addresses this question and provides the following insights:

  • Government – Hashem uses Esau’s descendants to rule the world (1:16).
  • Blessings – Isaac with Hashem’s consent blessed Esau (1:18).
  • Messiah – Israel cannot take over until the messiah arrives (1:20).


Hashem allows Esau (Rome) to become a world power to administer secular government and where necessary punish the Israelites if they do not follow Hashem’s ways, as explained in verse sets 5 and 6 respectively.   


The Midrash states that the blessings of Jacob and Esau (verse sets 4 and 5) are intertwined. If the Israelites wish to disavow the blessings of Esau then they must also disavow their own blessings because both sets of blessings were sanctioned by Hashem.


However in the messianic era the Israelites, with the co-operation of righteous gentiles, will assume leadership of the spiritual world and hence the blessings of Esau which involve cruel military might and abusive temporal power, will come to an end as the verse says (Obadiah 1:18), “The house of Jacob shall be fire and the house of Joseph a flame. Then the house of Esau shall become stubble, they shall ignite them and consume them. The house of Esau shall have no survivors for Hashem has spoken.” The Midrash (ibid.) adds that the Israelites must fill the void left by the destruction of Esau through their judges and saviours as the verse states (Obadiah 1:21),” And saviours shall ascend Mt. Zion to judge the mountain of Esau and Hashem shall have the kingdom. “

European Rule

The reader may ask, “After Rome fell, which nation or nations assumed the role of Esau?” This question cannot be answered definitively because the Talmud was completed around the time of the fall of Rome. In addition Daniel gave a view of world history through the 4 kingdoms albeit in a vague manner.  A clear successor to Rome as a world power did not emerge at that time because Europe entered the dark ages with small and diverse kingdoms. However the above 6 characteristics of Esau will guide the discussion and provide a lens for examining world history with respect to the bible. The author would like to point out a successor to Esau may not share all of these 6 characteristics depending upon Hashem’s plan.  

In the middle ages different European nations assumed, to a certain extent, the role of Esau (e.g. France, Germany, and Spain) with the aid of the Catholic Church. During this era none of these countries developed an empire or world domination in terms of military or economic might. However this era was characterized by hatred of the Israelites as witnessed by the many persecution and expulsions (e.g. Crusades and Inquisition).  

Role of the Church

The Midrash (Lamentations Rabbah 2:6) identifies the 10 horns as special distinctions from Hashem that originally belonged to the Israelites, then transferred to Rome (based upon Lamentations 2:3), but will return to the Israelites at the time of the messiah. These privileges are listed below and provide an effective means of identifying the successor of Rome in a theological sense: 

  • Biblical identification (3) – Abraham, Isaac, and Joseph.
  • Torah Law (2) – Moses and the Torah itself.
  •  Temple and hierarchy (4) – Priests, Levites, Prophets, and the Temple itself. 
  • Chosen people (1) – Israelites.

The Midrash finds verses with the word horn (קרן) or a derivative form for all of these privileges. Certainly the Midrash does not mean that Hashem will abandon the Israelites for there are many verses in scripture that state the contrary as follows:

Leviticus 26:44 – “But despite all of this (i.e. corrective actions from Hashem and suffering) … I will not annul My (divine) covenant with them i.e. the Israelites).”  

Jeremiah 30:11 – “For I am with you, says Hashem, to save you. I will make an end of all the nations (i.e. enemies of the Israelites during the final war of Gog and Magog) where I dispersed you. However I will not make an end of you (i.e. Israelites). Rather I will chasten you in a gradual measure (for your sins) but not completely destroy you.”

Rather the Midrash means it appears that Hashem has abandoned the Israelites to Rome and its successors by granting them these privileges and bestowing them great success. Hence this Midrash identifies the successor to Rome as a nation or empire which follows a religion that:

  • Identifies with the bible.
  • Follows some of its laws in a literal manner.
  • Possess a well defined hierarchy (e.g. pope, cardinals, bishops, and priests).
  • Does not fully recognize the current Israelites as direct spiritual heirs of the Israelites of the bible.

Throughout the history of the Common Era, the major churches of the world met these conditions though their theology, hierarchy, and success. By contrast Islam does not follow a well defined hierarchy. It is interesting to note that the evangelical churches actually shun a well defined hierarchy and recognize the importance and need of the state of Israel controlled by Israelites as predicted in the bible.

Role of Islam

The reader may also ask, “What is the role of Islam as a successor to Rome?” Some commentators (e.g. Ibn Ezra) recognize Islam as the fourth kingdom, especially after its stunning success in the middle Ages. However most commentators accept that a number of European kingdoms in association with the Catholic Church were the successor to Rome. Nachmanides, in his commentary on Numbers 24:20, explains that the four kingdoms of Daniel share the following characteristics:

  • Ruled over Israel from the First to Second Temple.
  • Were involved with the temple in Jerusalem (either to build or destroy).
  • One empire immediately followed the other.

Hence Islam which flourished more than 700 years after the destruction of the temple does not fit this pattern even though Islam is a major world religion.

After the inquisition of Spain in the late 15th century, the following events shaped world history for the next 6 centuries:

  • Division of the church.
  • Discovery and subsequent colonization of the Americas.

Division of the church

The reader may ask, “If Hashem uses Esau’s descendants to rule the world and will not destroy Esau until the advent of the messiah, what Hashem will do if they abuse their power?” In the opinion of the author Hashem will divide Esau’s power among his descendants to mitigate an abuse of power. The author finds an allusion to this division of power in Midrash Leviticus Rabbah 13:5. This Midrash links the 4 kingdoms (i.e. Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome) as described in Chapter 7 of Daniel, to the 4 non-kosher animals respectively listed in Leviticus 11:4-7. Each of these animals possesses only one of the two kosher symbols of a mammal, either chewing its cud or a split hoof. Through this linkage Rome, the 4th kingdom, is compared to the 4th animal listed (i.e. the pig). The pig is unique in that it is the only non-kosher animal with split hooves. This Midrash notes that a split hoof is a visible sign of kosher status and refers to the hypocrisy of Rome, claiming to be a legal authority while abusing its courts to kill “suspected’ enemies of the state and confiscating their property. In the opinion of the author the split hooves of the pig allude to the splitting of the power of Esau to temper his aggression and provide a balance of power in the world. 

As explained by the metaphor of the split hoof, the excesses of the Catholic Church were tempered by the reformation when the Church of England broke away from the authority of the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church in the early 16th century. In addition to the splitting of the power of the church the reformation led to a moral liberal attitude in England and greater separation of church from state.

Maimonides (Laws of Kings 11:4) explains the role of the Church and Islam in spreading the knowledge of the bible and messiah as follows, “Ultimately, all the deeds of the Church and Islam will only serve to prepare the way for messiah’s coming and the improvement of the entire world, motivating the nations to serve Hashem together as the verse states (Zephaniah 3:9): I will transform the peoples to a pure language that all will call upon the name of Hashem and serve Him with one purpose.”

(Note: Due to the controversial nature of comparative theology this excerpt from Maimonides has been censored from many editions of Maimonides.)

Hence the splitting of the Church does not negate its teachings and influence in the world. Rather this splitting serves to mitigate its excesses and potential abuse of power. 

Discovery of America

In the opinion of the author the discovery of America by the Europeans in the same year as the inquisition was not a coincidence. Rather this discovery was part of Hashem’s plan to divide the power of Esau between his descendants in Europe and those that would later settle in the Americas, especially the United States of America. The religious tolerance, freedom of expression, and economic opportunity in the United States led to the United States becoming a world power and a safe haven for the Israelites.

20th Century to Present


In the 20th century, America especially after the Second World War emerged as a world leader in 4 of the 6 characteristics of Esau (i.e. military, economic, political, and cultural). With its separation of church from state and religious tolerance, America does not assume the role of theological leader. In addition the American government does not harbor any feelings of anti-Semitism. In fact America hosts the largest population of Diaspora Israelites and is a major supporter of Israel. In addition America serves as counterbalancing force against totalitarian regimes and religious intolerance, especially in the 20th century thereby fulfilling the role of splitting Esau’s power. The different forms of the Protestant Church in America have led to the development of several evangelical movements that are very supportive of the land of Israel, albeit for reasons that differ from Judaism.     

Europe (EU)

In the opinion of the author the European countries represent the other side of Esau, as explained in the split hoof metaphor (i.e. division of power between America and Europe). The European nations also possess military, economic, and political power especially through the European Union (EU) and Russia. These nations are also world cultural leaders especially in the high end of cars, fashion, and entertainment. By contrast the Americans are the leaders in the mass market of consumerism with their world wide brands (e.g. Coca Cola, McDonalds, and Disney). The Catholic Church in the Vatican represents theological leadership for which there is no counterpart in America. Although the hatred of the past towards the Jews is significantly mitigated in Europe these countries do not provide the same degree of military and political support of Israel as America. In addition the Holocaust remains a stain on European history and in the opinion of the author warranted the splitting of Esau into the American and European branches of Esau. This split mitigated the effects of anti-Semitism and facilitated the emergence of Israel as a major force in the Middle East and a safe haven for Israelites.    

The following table provides a list of the characteristics of Esau and the difference between the American and European branches of Esau. Since there are many nuances in world politics this table should be viewed as an overview of Esau’s role and the reader may hold differently on certain points. In addition the nations that fulfill the role of Esau may not have all of these characteristics.   

Military Power
Economic Power
Political Power√ (to some extent)
Cultural Leader√ (mass market)√ (high end)
Theological LeaderX
Anti-SemitismX√ (In the past)

As mentioned in verse set 2 “dominion shall pass from one (Jacob) to the other (Esau)” would seem to imply that Jacob and Esau must contend until the wicked part of Esau is destroyed. However as described above the United States of America with its military and economic might represents one side of Esau’s descendants and is supportive of Israel which would seem to contradict the prediction of the switching dominions because both America and Israel are growing in their respective domains. Hence it is possible for both Esau and Jacob’s descendants to prosper when they co-operate as described in verse set 7 the encounter.   

In addition to the split hoof metaphor as discussed above, the Midrash (Leviticus Rabbah 13:5) indentifies Esau with the pig because the Hebrew word for pig (חזיר) shares the same letters as the verb (חזר) which means to return. By linking these two words the Midrash concludes that Esau will help in returning the crown to the Israelites during the messianic era. There are many interpretations to this enigmatic saying with the most straightforward stating that after (the evil side of) Esau falls the messiah will reign. In the opinion of the author and using the split hoof metaphor the Midrash may be implying that both branches of Esau will precipitate the advent of the messiah and building a lasting and peaceful state in Israel. The favourable branch of Esau, now identified with America, may provide the economic and military aid to defend Israel against its enemies. In addition the European nations may also support Israel to some extent even though their past support in terms of arms and economic aid is much smaller than that of America. The evil side of Esau which persecuted the Jews in the past may be drawn into a war against Israel as predicted by the prophet Ezekiel (38:1-39:29).


After the Second World War, America and Russia emerged as the superpowers of the world each with nuclear capability.  Hence both powers played the role of Esau in terms of military, economic, and political power. However Russia did not succeed in becoming a cultural or theological leader indicating that a nation that assumes the role of Esau may not fulfill all of Esau’s characteristics. Although Russia initially supported Israel by voting for the partition of Palestine in 1947 at the United Nations the Russian government turned against Israel and armed several Arab states resulting in several wars in the Middle East. Recently Russia has changed its policy and maintains a neutral stance on Israel.

After the collapse of the Russian Federation in the 1990s, the European Union assumed the role of Esau in an economic sense as a major trading block. Recently Russia has tried to regain its empire by military action and threats as witnessed by the tragedy in Ukraine. The author will generally avoid political statements because there are others with more expertise in this area. Rather the author will focus on Torah topics and application to daily life. However in the case of Ukraine the author feels compelled to point out that this tragic and brutal war does not correspond to the war of Gog and Magog as predicted by the prophets because that war must meet the following conditions (based upon the prophet Ezekiel and the Talmud):

  1.  In Israel (Ezekiel 38:8).
  2. Against the Jews (ibid. 38:16).
  3. Against the messiah son of Joseph (whom we don’t have today) (Sukkah 52a).
  4. With an alliance between major powers in Europe (Ezekiel (38:4-6 and 15).
  5. On a world basis (ibid. 38:22-23 and 39:21).

An article on the war of Gog and Magog will appear in the future on this web site based upon primary sources (e.g. Ezekiel 38:1 -39:29, Zachariah 14:1-21, and Talmud Sukkah 52a). 

This war does show the brutal and destructive side of Esau as Daniel (7:19) describes, “Then I wished to determine the truth of the fourth beast, which was different from all of them- excessively dreadful. Its teeth were of iron and its nails of copper. It ate and crushed to powder and the rest it trampled with its feet.” May Hashem grant the leaders of the Western World the wisdom and fortitude to bring this war to its end and minimize loss of human life.

Advent of the Messiah

The advent of the messiah will be characterized by the following events:

  • Destruction of (the wicked side of) Esau.
  • Peace and prosperity for the world including the good side of Esau.
  • Worldwide acceptance of Hashem.
  • Recognition of the Israelites as the chosen people and Israel as their land. 


Method of Arrival

However the method of arrival of the messiah is dependent upon the merit of the Israelites as follows. Daniel (7:13-14) predicts the arrival of the messiah as a cloud:

Verse 13 – “I saw in the visions of the night and behold with the clouds of the heaven one like a man (i.e. messiah) was coming. He came up to the Ancient of Days (Hashem) and was brought before Him.

Verse 14 – “And Hashem gave him dominion, glory and a kingdom. All peoples, nations, and tongues shall serve him. His dominion is an eternal dominion.”

By contrast Zachariah (9:9) predicts his arrival on a donkey:

Verse 9 – “Behold! Your king (messiah) shall come to you. He is just and victorious yet humble and riding a donkey.”

The Talmud (Sanhedrin 98a) on verse 13 notes that the messiah will float like a cloud if the Israelites are worthy. The simile of a cloud indicates that his arrival will be swift, unimpeded, and above worldly matters. By contrast if the Israelites are not worthy then the messiah will arrive on a donkey which means his arrival will be slow, impeded, and dragged down in worldly matters.    

Destruction of Esau

At the time of the messiah the wicked part of Esau will be destroyed as the prophet Obadiah predicts (Obadiah 1:18),”The House of Jacob will be a fire and the House of Joseph a flame and the House of Esau like straw. They will kindle and consume them. There will be no survivor (of the evil side) of the House of Esau.” The Talmud (Avodah Zarah 10b) clearly states that this prophecy only applies to the evil side of Esau and does not apply to those of Esau who support the Israelites. Similarly Daniel (7:26) in his vision of the four beasts predicts the end of the evil side of Esau, “Judgment shall be established. They (from heaven) will remove his (Esau’s) dominion to be destroyed and annihilated until the end.”

Daniel (in Chapter 7) also predicts the downfall of the fourth beast and the emergence of the messianic era through Hashem’s miraculous intervention and His angels as explained in Appendix 1 – Destruction of Esau.

Peace and prosperity

The messianic era, as predicted by the prophets, will usher in an era of unprecedented peace and prosperity as Maimonides describes (Laws of Kings 12:5), “In that era, there will be neither famine nor war, envy nor competition for good will flow in abundance and all the delights will be freely available as dust.” 

Worldwide acceptance of Hashem

At that point there will be worldwide acceptance of Hashem as the prophet Zachariah (14:9) predicts, “Hashem will be king over the world. On that day Hashem will be one and His name will be one.” Rashi on this verse explains that the nations will recognize the unity of Hashem and there is no other deity with Him.  Redak on this verse adds that the nations will call Hashem by His name as mentioned in scripture. Maimonides adds (ibid.), “The occupation of the entire world will be solely to know Hashem.”    

Recognition of the Israelites and Israel

In the messianic era the world will recognize the importance of the Israelites and the land of Israel as granted by Hashem. The prophet Isaiah (61:5) predicts, “Strangers shall stand and pasture your sheep, and foreigners shall be your plowmen and your vinedressers.” These strangers may include the good side of Esau who will survive the war of Gog and Magog. The author would like to point out the next verse (ibid. 61:6) as a continuation of this theme, “You shall be called the priests of Hashem and servants of our G-d. The possessions of the nations you shall eat and bask in glory.” Hence in the messianic era the nations will recognize the Israelites as the people of Hashem and honour them physically and spiritually as Daniel (7:27) predicts, “The kingdom, dominion, and greatness of the kingdoms under all the heavens will be given to the people of the high holy ones (i.e. Israelites). Its kingdom is a perpetual kingdom, and all dominions will serve and obey it.” Maimonides (Laws of Kings 12:5) in this vein writes, “Therefore, the Israelites will be great sages and know the hidden matters, grasping the knowledge of their Creator according to the full extent of human potential, as Isaiah 11:9 states: The world will be filled with the knowledge of God as the waters cover the ocean bed.”   


This article analyzed the history of Esau and his descendants from the biblical era through to the present and concludes with the advent of the messiah. This analysis drew from scripture and the oral law to interpret world history from a Torah perspective. In addition the author identified significant characteristics of Esau to understand current history and obtain a glimpse of the messianic era.

As mentioned in this article the method of redemption is dependent upon the actions of people, both Jews and gentile. Hence the Talmud advises (Sanhedrin 98b), “What shall a person do to be spared from the pains preceding the coming of the Messiah? Rabbi Elazar said to them: They shall engage in Torah study and acts of kindness.”

Appendix 1 – Destruction of Esau

This appendix provides additional information about the destruction of the wicked side of Esau at the time of the messiah based upon the verses in Daniel 7:9-11.

7:9 – “I (Daniel) was looking until thrones were set up and the Ancient of Days (Hashem) sat. … His throne was sparks of fire and its wheels were a burning fire.”

The Talmud (Chagigah 14a) notes that the verse first mentions thrones in plural and then concludes with a single throne leading to the following explanations:

  • One throne for Hashem the other for King David (i.e. messiah).
  • One for strict justice the other for charity (i.e. kindness).
  • One for Hashem’s chair the other for Hashem’s footstool.

Hashem and the Messiah

The Talmud rejects the first explanation because it is improper to compare the majesty of Hashem with the majesty of flesh and blood. In the opinion of the author the Talmud wishes to dispel the notion that the messiah is the son of Hashem.

Justice and Charity

Rashi on this verse explains that strict justice applies to the hostile gentiles that will not accept the messiah and charity applies to the Israelites. In the opinion of the author this charity will extend to those nations that will accept the messiah and help the Israelites. The Maharsha on Chagigah 14a comments that Daniel predicts strict justice in verse 7:26, “Judgment shall be established and they (from heaven) will remove his dominion (Rome) to be destroyed … until the end.” The charity to Israel is described in the following verse, “The greatness of the (gentile) kingdoms under all the heavens will be given to the people of the high holy ones (i.e. Israelites). Its kingdom is a perpetual kingdom, and all dominions will serve and obey it.” Although these verses describe the destruction of Rome and the emergence of the Israelites at the time of the messiah the exact method of this transference of power is not described but will depend upon heavenly intervention as indicated in verses 10 and 11 as follows.

Verse 10 – “A river of fire was flowing … from Hashem. Thousands of thousands (angels) served Him and ten thousands of ten thousands (angels) arose before Hashem. Justice was established, and the books were opened.”

Verse 11 – “I looked until the (fourth) beast was slain (i.e. Rome). Its body was destroyed and given to a flame of fire.”

Chair and Footstool

The metaphor of chair and footstool is clearly anthropomorphic with the intent that Hashem’s judgment originates in heaven (i.e. chair) but extends to the earth (i.e. footstool), based on Isaiah 66:1, “The heaven is My (Hashem’s) throne and the earth is My footstool.”  

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