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In Genesis 26:34-35 (NASB)

When Esau was forty years old he married Judith the daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and Basemath the daughter of Elon the Hittite; 35 and they brought grief to Isaac and Rebekah.

in Genesis 28:9 (NASB)

and Esau went to Ishmael, and married, besides the wives that he had, Mahalath the daughter of Ishmael, Abraham’s son, the sister of Nebaioth.

and in Genesis 36:2-3 (NASB)

2 Esau took his wives from the daughters of Canaan: Adah the daughter of Elon the Hittite, and Oholibamah the daughter of Anah, the granddaughter of Zibeon the Hivite; 3 also Basemath, Ishmael’s daughter, the sister of Nebaioth.

Searching with the terms "esau's wives" in Google I get the following result

enter image description here

with

Spouse: Judith, Mahalath, Adah

Why is a Bashemath said to be daughter of Elon the Hittite in one place and of Ishmael in another? Why is Esau said to have married two different daughters of Ishmael, and two of Elon the Hittite? That’s possible, of course, but again, both men are said to have given Esau a Bashemath. It is possible he married two different Bashemaths; it could have been a common woman’s name at the time. Finally, why are only three wives mentioned here in Gen 36? Surely we are being told he had more; perhaps only these three had children.

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  • I like your question here. I started a subreddit at reddit.com/r/BibleVerseCommentary. Can I copy your question here and share it with the members of my subreddit? Of course, I will attribute the post to your name and hermeneutics.stackexchange.com :)
    – user35953
    Feb 1, 2023 at 13:37
  • @TonyChan that's fine with me :) Feb 1, 2023 at 17:35
  • 1
    Great. God bless you.
    – user35953
    Feb 1, 2023 at 19:03

3 Answers 3

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If I had to answer this question (nothing turns on the answer, although the process of answering may put to rest certain skeptical doubts), I would proceed on the following principles. Let us suppose that the text is not wholly corrupted and that the author was not, in fact, merely mistaken or confused. Let us also identify wives when plausible, but not when facts about them are wholly in conflict or better identities are possible.

Esau would not have had any more wives that gave him children than the ones listed in Gen 26, 28, and 36, unless, perhaps, they gave him only daughters. But the list in Gen 36 would certainly be a complete list of wives who gave Esau sons. So to begin with, we might say he had as few as three wives, and as many as six (and quite possibly more).

Now, in Gen 26 and 28, we have already been told of three women that Esau married before he moving to Seir. Again, he might well have married more. After all, the text simply dropped his narrative, except when it intersected Jacob’s in Gen 32, 33, and 35, so we cannot expect that those three women would necessarily be the only women Esau married.

Let us take the wives one at a time, then. We are told Judith was the “daughter of Beeri the Hittite” (26:34). She could not correspond to “Adah the daughter of Elon the Hittite” (36:2), and not just because both the father’s and the daughter’s names do not match.

There is a better identity to be drawn, namely, “Bashemath the daughter of Elon the Hittite” (26:34) is almost certainly identical to “Adah the daughter of Elon the Hittite” (36:2). She had two names: a common condition in the Genesis stories.

Very well. What of “the daughter of Ishmael”, called Mahalath (28:9)? Now, it is quite possible that Ishmael ended up giving Esau two daughters, both Mahalath and “Bashemath Ishmael’s daughter” (36:3). But let us concede that marrying two sisters was fairly rare even in Biblical times (Jacob's wives not withstanding), while again, the same characters are frequently referred to by multiple names, as we have already seen multiple instances of in the text.

Moreover, if we assume that Gen 26’s Mahalath was the same woman as Gen 36’s Bashemath, this helps explain why Adah was so called in Gen 36: we say simply that Gen 36’s Adah had Bashemath as a second name. So there were two wives, the first called Bashemath (ch. 26)/Adah (ch. 36) and second Mahalath (ch. 28)/Bashemath (ch. 36). By the time they entered Seir to live, the first was going by “Adah” and the second by “Bashemath.”

Now, in addition to all these, Esau married “Aholibamah the daughter of Anah, daughter [probably “son”] of Zibeon the Hivite [probably “Horite”], son of Seir”; that wedding probably took place after the three weddings mentioned in Gen 26 and 28, possibly when Esau was making raids on Seir, or possibly during a peaceful trading visit, or else it would have been mentioned in the earlier chapters.

Regardless of how Esau wed Aholibamah, the entire list of Esau’s wives is, therefore: Judith daughter of Beeri the Hittite, who produced no sons; Bashemath/Adah the daughter of Elon the Hittite; Mahalath/Bashemath the daughter of Ishmael; and finally, Aholibamah, great-granddaughter of Seir. So I count four wives mentioned in the Biblical text, although it is possible he had others, and concubines, including some who were either barren or who produced only daughters.

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  • I don't agree that nothing turns on the answer. It makes a difference whether Esau married a Hittite's daughter rather than a daughter of Ismael. This doesn't help us solve the riddle, but it does affect how the Edomites would be seen. Is the nation of Edom an enemy nation or a cousin/brother nation. Sep 4, 2022 at 2:06
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    Deuteronomy 23:7 “You shall not abhor an E′domite, for he is your brother; Sep 4, 2022 at 13:54
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At least two of Esau's wives were giants from the Hittite and Hivite Nephilim tribes described as 'daughters of Canaan,' in Genesis 36:1-2:

"This is the account of Esau (that is, Edom). Esau took his wives from the daughters of Canaan: Adah daughter of Elon the Hittite, Oholibamah daughter of Anah and granddaughter of Zibeon the Hivite."

The Land of Canaan is famous for the time Moses sent spies to get a report on the region they were headed in Numbers 13:33 says:

"We even saw the Nephilim there--the descendants of Anak that come from the Nephilim! We seemed like grasshoppers in our own sight, and we must have seemed the same to them!"

Plus, remember what Esau's twin brother was told in Genesis 28:1:

"So Isaac called for Jacob and blessed him. Then he commanded him: 'Do not marry a Canaanite woman.'"

Those are the same people Noah spoke so harshly to in Genesis 9:25:

"Then he (Noah)cursed Canaan, the son of Ham, he said: "Cursed be Canaan! May he be the lowest of slaves to his brothers."

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  • Your welcome! I know the truth isn't always very popular. However, the thing that connects the giant tribes to the giants is their genealogy that states ALL of the tribes of Canaan were giants. Plus, I never said, Esua was not to marry giants. However, my statement about Jacob is to establish that Isaac and Rebbeka were not merely racists but have a legitimate reason to forbid Jacob to marry so-called aliens, Hebrew! Apr 10 at 22:35
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The issue is best understood if we refer to source criticism.

According to the Interpreters' Bible One-Volume Commentary, the list in Gen. 27 comes from the P source, which is particularly concerned with purity laws. It is part of the same story cycle that emphasizes the distress of Esau's parents over his marriage to Hittite women.

When Esau was forty years old, he took to wife Judith the daughter of Be-e′ri the Hittite, and Bas′emath the daughter of Elon the Hittite; 35 and they made life bitter for Isaac and Rebekah. (Gen 26:34-35)

The genealogy in Gen. 36 comes from a different strand of the text. It represents the culmination of the story of Jacob. In Gen 35, Jacob returns to Bethel, the death of Rachel and the birth of Benjamin are reported, and then the death of Isaac is recounted. In this tradition there is no mention of Isaac and Rebekah's grief over the Hittite women. And as the OP mention's Bas′emath is the daughter of Ishmael - Isaac's cousin - instead of the daughter of Elon the Hittite. This version of the story does not harshly denigrate Esau's marriage to these women. After all, as we soon learn, the Canaanite Tamar would soon become the mother of entire nation of Judah [Ex. 38].

Rather than attempting to solve the mystery of who Esau's wives really were, it is probably better to simply accept that we have two different sources here, which don't entirely agree with each other. The first source takes a dim view of intermarriage because it is looking back at the story through priestly eyes, aware that God disapproves of Israelites intermarrying. The second source does not see it quite the same way. It lists the genealogies with out reference to the grief the marriages cause Esau's parents. This difference between the sources does not mean that God wasn't involved in the editing process. It may be that both traditions were included in the final version to remind us that God's ways are higher than our own.

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  • I have a friend, Chris, who married another woman, Kathy, after his first wife, Deborah, died. So a story written about Chris might refer to his second wife Kathy and another, earlier, story about Chris might refer to his first wife, Deborah. This might indeed be a mystery to future generations. A neighbor down the street also has a wife named "Kathy" but (confusingly) she also calls herself "Katy." My conclusion is that many people's lives tend to be complex, if not chaotic. A book that keeps all this detail straight, would not only be insufferably boring, but also incredibly long.
    – Dieter
    May 9 at 3:17

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