NOTE: I'm posting this question here, rather than on History.SE since many (most?) historians deny the existence of an historical Abram and certainly don't think the Abram narrative in Scripture is historically accurate. I'm interested in an answer from a perspective with a more serious approach to Scripture.

My question is: What do we know about Abram's mother? I'm looking for background information from Scripture and Jewish historical documents. Was she a Canaanite? I have heard rumor that she was a Horite priestess... is there any validity to this?

I'm asking because I find it interesting that in discussions about the displacement of the Canaanites by the Israelites in Scripture, it is seldom mentioned that those displacing the Canaanites were themselves Canaanites by heritage. I guess what I'm wondering is just how "Canaanite" their father Abram really was, and I'm hoping some background on his mother will help with this investigation.

  • I believe that if you are not interested in the historical perspective because historians generally believe Abram did not exist, then everything outside the Bible is midrash or speculation. The Bible tells us nothing about Abram's mother. The information you have seen about "those displacing the Canaanites were themselves Canaanites by heritage" is based on archaeology and is supported by the majority of historians - which brings us full circle to the historical perspective. – Dick Harfield Feb 23 '15 at 3:55
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    @DickHarfield My point was simply that this question wouldn't make it very far on that site because they don't even believe Abram existed. The sources I've seen respected the historicity of Abram and suggested he was a Canaanite. I'm wondering if there's any evidence behind that assertion. Hope that helps... – Jas 3.1 Feb 23 '15 at 4:48
  • Understood - you can't get answers if your question is closed. I haven't looked into whether a hermenetical/historical answer would work, but I think that's the only way you can go from here. I could give it a try, except that you seem to require "a perspective with a more serious approach to Scripture." – Dick Harfield Feb 23 '15 at 8:55
  • The bible does not say who his mother was... – user22655 Dec 23 '18 at 0:54

In regard to the specific request regarding background information from scripture about Abram's the mother one has to say the bible is virtually silent

The Bible does not identify Abram's mother, only his father.

Gen 11:26-27 Now Terah lived seventy years, and begot Abram, Nahor, and Haran.This is the genealogy of Terah: Terah begot Abram, Nahor, and Haran. Haran begot Lot.

In fact the only reference to her is found in Gen 20:12 we reads: "But indeed she [Sarai]is truly my sister. She is the daughter of my father, but not the daughter of my mother; and she became my wife.

However considering that Abram was called out of Ur (with his father) it is most likely that his mother was a local girl rather then one brought on a long journey from Canaan.

If the detail of Abram's mother was significant to the story I think the blanks would be filled in. I appreciate this is akin to an argument from silence but this is a hermeneutics board and one principle of biblical hermeneutics is that if the bible doesn't give us a detail that detail is not pertinent to our understanding of the story.

In regards to other Jewish sources in the Talmud (Baba Batra 91a) we read that her name was Amathlai, here is one translation of that portion of the Talmud

R. Hanan b. Raba further stated in the name of Rab: [The name of] the mother of Abraham [was] Amathlai the daughter of Karnebo;

Source: http://www.come-and-hear.com/bababathra/bababathra_91.html#PARTb

Kernebo could be 'lamb of nebo' and a reference to the mount Nebo, which is the place Moses stood upon to look into the promised land (Deut 34:1) which could, if the source is reliable, potentially suggest a close racial link, i.e. make her a canaanite. However that is supposition. Nor do I the know dating or reliability of this document in regards to historical details like this.

There is also one Midrashic legend about the birth of Abraham that can be found in Midrash Avraham Avinu, found in Ozar Midrashim (ed. Eisenstein, 1969, vol.1, pp., 2-3). Another, slightly different version of this story appears in Sefer Hayashar, P. Bereishit, pp.18-21. (source http://www.jewishmag.com/162mag/abraham_mother/abraham_mother.htm)

  • Could you please explain the answer has been marked down. If you don't how else am I able to address your concerns? – Jonathan Chell Feb 23 '15 at 19:06
  • Can you join me in "Chat"? – John Martin Feb 23 '15 at 19:13
  • @john martine I hope this is more in line with the what you would consider an answer to a question :-D – Jonathan Chell Feb 23 '15 at 20:28
  • Thanks for the answer. Can you expand on "daughter of Karnebo"? Would that make her a Canaanite? A Horite priestess? If you can address this I can accept the answer and vote it up. Thanks. – Jas 3.1 Feb 23 '15 at 21:49
  • I have expanded upon the "daughter of Karnebo" but I don't have any knowledge of ancient texts that suggest she was a horite priestess but as a Christian theologian my access to ancient Jewish literature is limited and would be happy to be proved wrong. – Jonathan Chell Feb 24 '15 at 8:47

The question of Abram’s ethnicity is interesting from an historical perspective, but the biblical writers offered no information about his early life aside from the names of a few family members and the place they left (Gen.11:26-32). As noted by Jonathan Chell, however, the Talmud includes a great deal more information, even his mother’s name and several heroic childhood stories, and from this tradition some have surmised a family connection to the Horim of southern Canaan.
http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/112063/jewish/Abrahams-Early-Life.htm http://jandyongenesis.blogspot.com/2008/12/abrahams-canaanite-mother.html

But this possible connection was not the interest of biblical writers who instead presented Abram as a foreigner in Canaan. The Israelite tribes who crossed the desert to conquer Canaan some 600 years later were likewise presented as foreigners, as a wholly separate people whose culture and religion was distinct from the Canaanites. The historicity of these claims is contradicted by the physical evidence, but that is not the concern or perspective of the biblical writers.


To my best of knowledge, Canaan is the son of Ham (son of Noah). The border of the Canaanites was from Sidon, as far as Gaza; and toward Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah and Zeboiim, as far as Lasha:

Genesis 10:19 ... and the borders of Canaan reached from Sidon toward Gerar as far as Gaza, and then toward Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah and Zeboyim, as far as Lasha. (NIV)

Abram on the other hand is a descendant of Shem (son of Noah).The dwelling of Shem was from Mesha as you go towards the Mountain of the East.

I assume Abram's mother was also a descendant of Shem and not Ham, meaning nether him nor her was a Canaanite. Keep in mind that Canaan (son of Ham) was seriously cursed to be a servant of servants:

Genesis 9:25 ... he said, "Cursed be Canaan! The lowest of slaves will he be to his brothers." (NIV)

And yet when God is blessing Abram He Says:

Genesis 12:3 ... and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.(ESV)

This alone proves that Abram was not a Canaanite and that Terah his father would not have found it godly/wise to take a wife from a cursed people.

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