“Red” in Genesis 25:25

And the first came out red, all over like an hairy garment; and they called his name Esau. (KJV)

The first one emerged red, like a hairy mantle all over; so they named him Esau. (NJPS)

אַדְמוֹנִי (2 ×), אַדְמֹנִי (1 ×) Sam.M25 ʾādāmūnī: אדם; BL 501y: reddish (Gradwohl 14f; “sheep’s skin, the leather side of which has been dyed a brownish red” Seetzen 2:340): Esau at his birth Gn 2525, David (skin or hair ?) 1S 1612 1742. †

Koehler, L., Baumgartner, W., Richardson, M. E. J., & Stamm, J. J. (1999). The Hebrew and Aramaic lexicon of the Old Testament. Leiden; New York: E.J. Brill.

“The first who came out was ruddy.” One expects that he be named after this quality and the name could only be “Edom.” But a second quality is mentioned, “hairy all over like a cloak of hair” (cf. Zech. 13:4*; the “hairy cloak” of the prophet Elijah, 2 Kings 2, and of John the Baptist, Mt. 3:4*); one expects him to be named accordingly, שׂער, Se‘ir (Gen. 35:8*, 9*, the land of Edom, the mountain range Se‘ir); but what follows is: “they called him Esau,” which follows neither of the qualities mentioned. The only explanation can be that analogy with v. 26* required an explanation of the name of the other twin; but because the narrator at that time could not explain the name Esau, just as we today cannot, he advances instead two allusions which presuppose the equation, well known to his listeners, Esau = Edom and Seir as the land of Edom. These explanations can have been of different origin. The word אדמוני “reddish” or “ruddy,” occurs elsewhere only in 1 Sam. 16:12* and 17:42* to portray the handsome youth David. It will have had a meaning like this as well in the etymology at hand to Gen. 25:25*.

Westermann, C. (1995). A Continental Commentary: Genesis 12–36 (p. 414). Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press.

Hebrew ʾadmoni is also used—admiringly—of David in 1 Samuel 16:12 and 17:42. The term, therefore, is not likely to mean redheadedness, which was popularly associated with the sinister and the dangerous. More likely, a ruddy complexion is intended. This may well be connected with the convention found in Egyptian and Cretan art, as well as in the Ugaritic texts, that equates red skin with heroic stature. At any rate, there is here an undoubted implicit word play between ʾadmoni and Edom, which is another name for Esau, as noted in verse 30 and other texts. It is likely that the origin of the name Edom may lie in the characteristically reddish hue of the Nubian sandstone and crystalline rocks of that country.

Sarna, N. M. (1989). Genesis (p. 180). Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society.

The first came forth red: many languages have words to designate the first and second of a pair of twins. Came out refers to the baby coming out of the mother’s birth canal. Some languages use the expression “the first to see light,” “the first to cry out.” Red (Hebrew ’admoni) is the first of two characteristics of the firstborn twin. The word describes the color of the child’s skin. It is a reddish color, but not red like the color of blood. Because color terms are difficult to translate, it is often useful to use a comparison “red like.…” The color term or the comparison must be one that can be applied to a newborn infant, even though in experience it may be rare. This characteristic is linked by the sound of the Hebrew words to the name Edom, which is the tribal name of Esau’s descendants. See also comments on verse 30.

Reyburn, W. D., & Fry, E. M. (1998). A handbook on Genesis (p. 581). New York: United Bible Societies.

When she was delivered, there were twins; the first-born was reddish, i.e., of a reddish-brown colour (1 Sam. 16:12; 17:42), and “all over like a hairy cloak,” i.e., his whole body as if covered with a fur, with an unusual quantity of hair (hypertrichosis), which is sometimes the case with new-born infants, but was a sign in this instance of excessive sensual vigour and wildness.

Keil, C. F., & Delitzsch, F. (1996). Commentary on the Old Testament (Vol. 1, p. 172). Peabody, MA: Hendrickson.

The Hebrew word for “red,” admoni, is used elsewhere only of David (1 Sam 16:12; 17:42). It may refer to skin or hair color, and is the basis for “Edom,” the nation identified with the descendants of Esau. The association is verified by matching the names in 36:10–14 with people and place names ranging from the southern borders of Canaan (Judah) to Midian in northwest Arab

Barry, J. D., Grigoni, M. R., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Mangum, D., & Whitehead, M. M. (2012). Faithlife Study Bible (Ge 25:25). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

אָדֹם (ʾādōm), אָדֵם (ʾādēm). To be red. The RSV and ASV translate the same.
Ugaritic ʾadm is the rouging done by the nobility after bathing. Also note Old Akkadian ʾadāmu “dark red,” as of a garment, Akkadian adamātu “dark red soil” and adamu “red blood,” and Aramaic ʾādam, as of blood. The biblical stative describes the color of skin (like coral, Lam 4:7), war shields (parallel to scarlet, Nah 2:3 [H 4]), fermented wine (Prov 23:31), sin (Isa 1:18), and tabernacle curtains (Ex 25:5). The verbal form occurs ten times.

Coppes, L. J. (1999). 26 אדם. (R. L. Harris, G. L. Archer Jr., & B. K. Waltke, Eds.)Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament. Chicago: Moody Press.

The Rabbis emphasize the fact that Esau’s “hairy” appearance marked him a sinner (Gen. R. lxv.) and his “red” (“edom”) color indicated his bloodthirsty propensities (“dam” = “blood”; Gen. R. lxiii.)

Singer, I. (Ed.). (1901–1906). In The Jewish Encyclopedia: A Descriptive Record of the History, Religion, Literature, and Customs of the Jewish People from the Earliest Times to the Present Day, 12 Volumes. New York; London: Funk & Wagnalls.

Esau was the first to see the light, and with him all impurity came from the womb; Jacob was born clean and sweet of body. Esau was brought forth with hair, beard, and teeth, both front and back, and he was blood-red, a sign of his future sanguinary nature. On account of his ruddy appearance he remained uncircumcised. Isaac, his father, feared that it was due to poor circulation of the blood, and he hesitated to perform the circumcision. He decided to wait until Esau should attain his thirteenth year, the age at which Ishmael had received the sign of the covenant. But when Esau grew up, he refused to give heed to his father’s wish, and so he was left uncircumcised. The opposite of his brother in this as in all respects, Jacob was born with the sign of the covenant upon his body, a rare distinction. But Esau also bore a mark upon him at birth, the figure of a serpent, the symbol of all that is wicked and hated of God.

Ginzberg, L., Szold, H., & Radin, P. (2003). Legends of the Jews (2nd ed., p. 253). Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society.

The name Edom can have grown up as description of a landscape, especially in view of the red (אָדֹם) rock of the rugged country east of the Arabah, particularly the region round Petra. Genesis 25:30* (cf. v. 25*) already connected the name Edom with the color red. But although the area in which the Edomites lived was called the red country, we should remember that for the ancients “red” was a color that included a wide spectrum, from pale yellow to dark brown; cf. W. F. Albright, BASOR 89 (1943) 14, n. 36, and his contribution to JBL 63 (1944) 229, n. 128; R. Gradwohl, Die Farben im Alten Testament, BZAW 83 (1963) 4–16, 26f.; F. Bender, Geologie von Jordanien (1968) 40f.; M. Weippert, “Edom,” diss. Tübingen (1971) 393.

Wolff, H. W. (1986). A Continental Commentary: Obadiah and Jonah (p. 45). Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House.


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