In Genesis 25:1-2 we see:

"Abraham had taken another wife, whose name was Keturah. She bore him Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak and Shuah".

But even before that in Genesis 17 it says:

'Abraham fell facedown; he laughed and said to himself, “Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?” '

Then in Hebrews 11:12 we read:

"And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore. "

If the birth of Isaac is considered a miracle when Abraham was as good as dead, how is the birth of children for him in Keturah explained? A normal reading implies that the marriage with Keturah subsequent children happens after the birth of Isaac.

All quotations from the NIV.


6 Answers 6


There is nothing in the text that particularly indicates when the relationship to Keturah took place. The accounts we read in Genesis are not necessarily in Chronological order, and the text surrounding that bit reads more like a summary of what he had when he died rather than an account of how he came by it.

Even if the children born by her happened after the events with Sarah, there would be nothing particularly contradictory about that. If God did something to Abraham's body so that he was still able to produce children even at an advanced age, there is no reason to expect it to only work with Sarah. In fact you see the same thing happening by Haggar who also bore him a son before Sarah's womb was opened.

The miracle involved a specific promise to Abraham that he would bear children by Sarah, and whatever was done to their bodies was done to both of them, although not necessary at the same time and not necessarily for one shot.

Also note that Issac, as the child of his first wife, is treated differently than the children by Haggar and Keturah. In fact the exact nature of these relationships is not known. It was not uncommon in that culture for a man of enough means to take a second wife or have a mistress, but these texts don't exactly define what the relationship to Keturah was, although she seems to be treated as more like a concubine. In any event her children were recognized as sons of Abraham but not on the same level as Issac, who received the whole inheritance rather than the token gifts given to the other children.

  • You could also note that male and female fertility work slightly differently. Nov 3, 2011 at 22:27
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    The problem with this thesis is that it is explicitly stated that Abraham had Isaac at 99, and that he was his first son other than Ishmael.
    – Ron Maimon
    Apr 14, 2012 at 15:56
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    @Ron please can you give chapter and verse for that? Apr 14, 2012 at 17:45
  • @JackDouglas: It's a bunch of verses. 16:15 says Ishmael is born when Abram is 86. 17:1 says he becomes "Abraham" at 99, and the remainder of the chapter details his amusement at the idea of Isaac's birth to a centenarian. 17:18, when God says Abraham will have a son, says "would that Ishmael would live in your presence" so that his son would be a believer (no mention of other sons, Jokshan, Zimran, Medan, Midian, Ishbak, or Shuah). 17:26 says "on that day, Abraham and Ishmael his son were circumcized. 21:8, when Isaac and Ishmael are playing, Sarah says to evict Ishmael (not others).
    – Ron Maimon
    Apr 15, 2012 at 0:36
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    22:2, after the eviction of Ishmael, has Isaac as "your son, your only" (meaing only son). No mention of Ishmael (this is E), but one could (wrongly) interpret this to say that since Abraham sent Ishmael away, Isaac is the only inheritor. There is no mention of other sons. Even ch. 25 itself has the other wife's children as happening right before his death, with the description that he gave them gifts right before he died. There is no doubt that these sons post-date Isaac, and definitely Ishmael (who is not present in the E section). 25:9 has Isaac and Ishmael as his sons, presumably his only.
    – Ron Maimon
    Apr 15, 2012 at 0:39

The simplest reading should always be the first consideration: and in this case that implies Keturah was married after Sarah's death, and the multiple children came at the end of Abraham's life.
This straight forward interpretation is upheld by other text considerations, like: There are no other children or wives mentioned in the events surrounding the circumcision, sacrifice of Isaac, kicking out of Ishmael & Hagar (only), "let Ishmael stand before you!", etc.

So the question seems to fundamentally come down to the interpretation of the Hebrews passage "one as good as dead". Most commentators seemingly blindly assume this means Abraham was unable to procreate. But this does not have to be assumed. The texts show that Sarah is clearly barren, and a miracle was required to open her long-closed womb. But there is nothing in the greater texts to warrant the assumption that Abraham was also barren, outside this one verse in Hebrews. It makes little sense to assert that Abraham was later miraculously made fertile, when he had a son by Hagar before the later visitation, Keturah's obvious fertility, and that ~90 years for a man at that time was not at all old physically when we see the large number of children born in Genesis to much-older men.

Instead, I assume the Hebrews passage about "good as dead" is an assertion about Abraham's (and thus any man's) inability to procreate a spiritual birth or inheritance, and not directly about a physical birth. This seems to be an overarching theme of the whole context of Hebrews. Galatians 4 (vs 21-31) also focuses on the comparison of the two children, one of a promise and the other of a physical birth. Note that the other children of Abraham are not mentioned in Galatians 4, nor is Keturah and her children. It is a contrast of physical & spiritual. Abraham was clearly unable to bring about the fulfillment of the promised child through Sarah.

So then a spiritual birth must be the meaning in the Hebrews passage, instead of about Abraham's physical fertility. And then we have no reason to accept any other answer but that Abraham married Keturah after Sarah's death.


Samuel Davidson, D.D undertook a comprehensive study of the Book of Genesis in An Introduction to the Old Testament, Critical, Historical, and Theological, Containing a Discussion of the Most Important Questions Belonging to the Several Books (published 1862). In this he looks at Abraham's marriage to Keturah from different points of view.

Davidson reminds us (page 69) that Abraham was somewhat incredulous about the fact of having a son at the age of one hundred years, when it was announced to him (Genesis 17:17). Yet after Sarah's death, and about forty years later, he took Keturah to wife and had six sons by her (Genesis 25:1-2). According to Davidson, one author could hardly have written both accounts. Therein lies the explanation for the puzzle.

The Documentary Hypothesis was in its infancy when Davidson wrote, and he attributes Genesis chapter 17 to the 'Jehovist' (Yahwist), but it is now properly attributed to the Priestly Source. Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges says the whole of chapter 17 is from P (the Priestly Source).On the other hand, according to the Documentary Hypothesis, Genesis 25:1-2 comes from another anonymous source now known as the Elohist. Genesis 25:1-2 becomes clearer when we understand that the Elohist did not know of all the facts asserted in Genesis chapter 17.

Noting that normally the children of Abraham and Keturah ought to have a share in Abraham's inheritance, Davidson says (page 140) that the patriarch did not allow any claims of these children to interfere with the title of Isaac and his line to the undivided territory of Canaan. Again, this is explained by the Elohist, author of Genesis 25:1-2, being unaware of the tradition that the Priestly Source reports.


Sarah had gone thru Menopause and was a. Old woman of 90. Abraham could still procreate and did so with Keturah and prob other Concubines.

It was a miracle with Isaac because Sarah was long past childbearing age.

Abraham was still capable even at 137!


This is easily resolved by the documentary hypothesis. Although Chapter 25 does not mention God by name, the style is that of the Elohist author, and the Elohist author continues into Chapter 26.

I don't believe this, but it is possible that there is a separate geneologist author, there are geneologies with a distinctive style. But one can assign the geneologies to E with no contradiction. The E narrative is separate from the J narrative, and identifies Ketura as Abraham's concubine. J identifies Hagar.

In Islam, Muhammed's interpretation of the passage is that Ketura is another name for Hagar. This interpretation is plausible, since the E narrative tends to have corresponding figures have somewhat different names (the most prominent example being Jethro).


The simple and obvious answer is that Abraham's (youngest) six sons (and perhaps even daughters?) were sired after Sarah's death (when Abraham was 137) by his other wife, Keturah--Abraham's body having been miraculously rejuvenated decades before.

Interesting also that Jacob was already well up in years (70 or so) when he left to seek a wife and met Rachel (who was much younger) at Haran, spending two decades with Laban. Isaac was still living even when Joseph was sold into Egypt. And much earlier, Methuselah had died around the same year as the great flood.

A more important consideration is that the New Testament states plainly that the seed and children of Abraham in God's sight are those who receive Christ in faith and obedience, becoming heirs to all God's promises to Abraham's descendants. We who belong to Christ are the true descendants of Isaac and Abraham, and what God desires is the circumcision of the heart, not of the flesh. God calls all men to repentance and salvation. Only those who hear and truly respond to his call are the "chosen people," destined to salvation: the true "Israel of God," his church. In Christ, there is no male/female, slave/free, Jew/Gentile distinction; God treats all mankind alike, accepting all who will do his will and come to him in repentance.

  • 2
    Sir, I'm afraid your answer doesn't really solve the difficultly raised by the question.
    – Kazark
    Jun 24, 2012 at 3:53

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