Welcome back to my study/review of Genesis. If you missed the previous parts of this study, you can find the previous posts HERE. This post is a recap of the last few chapters, and topics we have discussed therein, in an FAQ form.
FAQ is probably being generous. We’ll say “Occasionally Asked Questions.” This is not a definitive list of questions for this material – not remotely. I reserve the right to add to this list and/or change my answers over time. I hope that this list of questions and answers will cover a lot of the more interesting bits of ground we have traveled in this section:
- What is the significance of the text mentioning Sarah’s age at the time of her death?
* She is the only woman in the Bible to have her age, at the time of her death, mentioned. That alone is significant.
* There may be some additional meaning to be found in the number of her age as well.
+ There is arguably some relationship between the number and gematria (see HERE)
- What is the history of the city of Hebron?
* Hebron is mentioned in Genesis 23:2 as the place where Sarah died.
* Gen. 23:2 And Sarah died at Kiriath-arba (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan
* Originally it was named Kirjath-arba, which means City of Four – with Arba being the Hebrew word for “four.”
* The name suggests that its building was the result of the union of four families; and afterwards, from the name of the city, Arba may have been often used as a proper name.
* Arba is called “the father of Anak” (Joshua 15:13)
* We see through the name Arba (Hebron) and Anak a connection to giants discussed elsewhere and frequently in the Bible – particularly in this region.
- Who are the Hittites?
* The Hittites, also spelled Hethites, were a group of people mentioned in the Hebrew Bible. Under the names בני-חת (bny-ḥt “children of Heth”, who was the son of Canaan) and חתי (ḥty “native of Heth”) they are described several times as living in or near Canaan between the time of Abraham (estimated to be between 2000 BC and 1500 BC) and the time of Ezra after the return of the Jews from the Babylonian exile (around 450 BC). Their ancestor was Heth (Hebrew: חֵת, Modern: H̱et, Tiberian: Ḥēṯ, ḥt in the consonant-only Hebrew script).
* Are the Hittites *the same* Hittites as those based in Anatolia? There is scholarly debate as to that point. You can read the wiki article HERE and find links to articles making either case.
- Where is Sarah buried?
* We do not know what the funeral rites looked like nor are we certain as modern readers where the location of this cave is currently located. Speculation points us in the direction that the likely location is a modern day mosque.
Wikipedia has a lengthy and informative article on The Cave of the Patriarchs that is worth reading for a baseline of background and subsequent history on this location.
- What characteristics was Abraham’s servant looking for in a potential wife for Isaac?
* a pleasing exterior, a kindly disposition, and the approval of God
* Specifically, the servant asked God that the woman would do the following upon meeting him (Gen 24:14):
Let the young woman to whom I shall say, ‘Please let down your jar that I may drink,’ and who shall say, ‘Drink, and I will water your camels’—let her be the one whom you have appointed for your servant Isaac. By this I shall know that you have shown steadfast love to my master.”
- What does the name Rebekah mean?
* Rebekah = רִבְקָה Ribqâh, rib-kaw’; from an unused root probably meaning to clog by tying up the fetlock; fettering (by beauty); Ribkah, the wife of Isaac:—Rebekah.
* Rebecca or Rebekah (Hebrew: רִבְקָה (Rivkah)) is a feminine given name originating from the Hebrew language. The name comes from the verb רבק (rbq), meaning “to tie firmly”; Jones’ Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names and the NOBS Study Bible Name List suggest the name means captivating beauty, or “to tie”, “to bind”. W. F. Albright held that it meant “soil, earth”
- Was Rebekah uniquely beautiful?
* The answer appears to be yes.
* Rebekah is one of the women whom the Bible specifically says was beautiful. The others are Sarah (Genesis 12:11-14), Rachel (Genesis 29:17), Abigail (1 Samuel 25:3), Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11:2), Tamar (2 Samuel 14:27), Queen Vashti of the Persians (Esther 1:11), Esther (Esther 2:7), and the daughters of Job (Job 42:15).
- Why was the role of Rebekah’s father Bethuel limited in the negotiation of her marriage?
* From an article titled Rebekah Ran to her “Mother’s Household” – Where Was her Father?, by Dr. Rabbi Zev Farber, Rabbi Daniel M. Zucker at TheTorah.com:
+ The article linked above contains scholarly speculation, including the possibility Bethuel died during the negotiation.
- What are the three types of prayer in Judaism?
* Many Jewish sects require members to pray three times a day, once in in the morning, once in the afternoon and once in the evening. These daily prayers are called the shacharit, the minchah and the arvith, respectively. According to tradition, each of Judaism’s three patriarchs — Abraham, Isaac and Jacob — introduced one of these prayers. Jews perform these at synagogue to increase the bond between the members of the congregation. Often, the afternoon and evening prayers are combined into one service, which takes place around sunset. Different sects will conduct these prayers in different ways. For example, Orthodox services are austere and structured, while some Reform congregations allow for more freedom and personal expression during prayer.
* Isaac is doing the first type of prayer when Rebekah arrives with Abraham’s servant.
* שִׂיחַ sîyach, see’-akh; from H7878; a contemplation; by implication, an utterance:—babbling, communication, complaint, meditation, prayer, talk.
- Why does Rebekah veil herself when meeting Isaac?
* The origin of *why* is not entirely clear – though the practice seems to be something she brings with her from her homeland.
* That married ladies did not always use the yell when traveling appears from the case of Sarah (Genesis 20:16); but that brides did not discover their faces to their intended husbands until after marriage may be inferred from the case of Leah (Genesis 29:23, Genesis 29:25). Thus modestly attired, she meekly yields herself to one whom she had never before seen, in the confident persuasion that so Jehovah willed.
* Rebekah’s hurried veiling when meeting Isaac is the first instance of veiling in the Bible.
* veil = צָעִיף tsâʻîyph, tsaw-eef’; from an unused root meaning to wrap over; a veil:—vail.
- Was the consummation of Rebekah and Isaac’s wedding done before witnesses?
* The answer appears to be yes.
* The text says in Genesis 24: 67 Then Isaac brought her into the tent of Sarah his mother and took Rebekah, and she became his wife, and he loved her.
* We are not told that the other people occupying the tent left first. We are also aware that this custom existed throughout much of history. From an article at inspiredbylifeandfiction.com:
* In general, the act of bedding on the wedding night was not considered a private affair, but rather a public investment in a couple. It was common for families and friends to bring the couple to their bed as a way of endorsing the couple’s marriage (even when they didn’t stay to witness the consummation).
The practice of having witnesses applied primarily to royalty or important people who used marriages to form alliances and strategic advantages in wealth and power. In such cases it was important that the marital act signal an unbreakable union. Without consummation, the marriage could later be declared null and the couple could be granted an annulment. Thus witnesses could testify to the validity of the marriage, especially if anyone later questioned it. If the bride became pregnant on the wedding night, the witnesses also helped to defend the legitimacy of the heir.
- Who is Keturah?
* After Sarah dies, Abraham marries another woman named Keturah.
* Keturah = קְטוּרָה Qᵉṭûwrâh, ket-oo-raw’; feminine passive participle of H6999; perfumed; Keturah, a wife of Abraham:—Keturah.; קָטַר qâṭar, kaw-tar’; a primitive root (identical with through the idea of fumigation in a close place and perhaps thus driving out the occupants); to smoke, i.e. turn into fragrance by fire (especially as an act of worship):—burn (incense, sacrifice) (upon), (altar for) incense, kindle, offer (incense, a sacrifice).
* There is a tradition that Keturah and Hagar (the mother of Ishmael) are one and the same:
+ From the Jewish Women’s Archive:
+ The Lit. (from Aramaic teni) “to hand down orally,” “study,” “teach.” A scholar quoted in the Mishnah or of the Mishnaic era, i.e., during the first two centuries of the Common Era. In the chain of tradition, they were followed by the amora’im.Tannaim disagree regarding Keturah’s identity. According to one view, Abraham remarried after the death of Sarah and had a total of three wives: Sarah, Hagar, and Keturah. Another tradition identifies Keturah with Hagar, and thus Abraham married only twice. Each of these views finds Scriptural support for its position: the three-wife opinion relies on Gen. 25:1: “Abraham took another wife,” implying a third wife in addition to the first two. This school of thought is further bolstered by the fact that this wife also had a different name (Keturah); in addition, the plural wording of Gen. 25:6 (“to Abraham’s sons by concubines”) conveys that Abraham had at least two wives in addition to Sarah.
Those who identify Keturah with Hagar have rejoinders to each of these proofs. First, the wording “another [va-yosef]” in 25:1 teaches that these marriages were in fulfillment of a divine command; the proponents of this view learn this from Isa. 8:5: “Again [va-yosef] the Lord spoke to me,” where the word appears in the context of divine revelation. Second, the wife’s new name of Keturah does not necessarily teach that this was a different woman; rather, it was a name given to Hagar in recognition of her good qualities (see below). Third, the word pilegshim (concubines) in Gen. 25:6 is spelled deficiently, without the letter yod. The intent of the Torah was thus to only a single concubine, Hagar (Gen. Rabbah 61:4).
The view that was widely accepted by the Rabbis is the one which identifies Keturah with Hagar, and it appears in various midrashim.
+ In addition, from Wiki:
+ Keturah is mentioned in two passages of the Hebrew Bible: in the Book of Genesis, and also in the First Book of Chronicles. Additionally, she is mentioned in Antiquities of the Jews by the 1st-century Romano-Jewish historian Josephus, in the Talmud, the Midrash, the Targum on the Torah, the Genesis Rabbah, and various other writings of Jewish theologians and philosophers.
Louis Feldman has said “Josephus records evidence of the prolific non-Jewish polymath Alexander Polyhistor, who, in turn, cites the historian Cleodemus Malchus, who states that two of the sons of Abraham by Keturah joined Heracles‘ campaign in Africa, and that Heracles, without doubt the greatest Greek hero of them all, married the daughter of one of them.”
* Abraham has six new sons by Keturah: Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak, Shuah
- Is Abraham’s death described in the text before it occurs in the timeline of events?
* Yes. The funeral of Abraham is described before the births of Jacob and Esau are described, however, the stated years of Abraham’s life give us a timeline where he dies well after both Jacob and Esau are born.
* From TheTorah.com – “Abraham’s Premature Obituary“
+ Abraham’s death is recorded in Genesis 25:8 and the birth of Jacob and Esau is recorded only later on in the same chapter. However, matters are more complicated than that.
According to Genesis 25:7, Abraham lived to the age of 175 and according to Genesis 21:5 Abraham was 100 years old when Isaac was born, which means that Isaac was 75 years old when his father died. Since Isaac was forty years old when he got married and sixty when his twin sons were born, Abraham had 35 years to spend with his married son and daughter-in-law, and fifteen years to spend with his grandsons. Considering this, it seems more than a little odd that Abraham’s death notice should appear before the account of the birth of his grandsons, as if once Isaac got married Abraham and his 35 more years of life made no difference at all.
- How many sons does Ishmael have?
* Twelve: Nebaioth, the firstborn of Ishmael; and Kedar, Adbeel, Mibsam, Mishma, Dumah, Massa, Hadad, Tema, Jetur, Naphish, and Kedemah.
* An article “Ishmael: King of the Arabs” by Professor Yairah Amit, goes into more detail regarding Ishmael and his descendants.
- Was Rebekah considered barren?
* Among the many things she has in common with Sarah, barrenness is among them. She and Isaac did not conceive any children for the first twenty years of their marriage.
- When did Rebekah find out that the younger of her twin sons would rule over the older of her twin sons?
* She found out before the two babies were born.
* Genesis 25:23:
23 And the Lord said to her,
“Two nations are in your womb,
and two peoples from within you shall be divided;
the one shall be stronger than the other,
the older shall serve the younger.”
- Are Esau and Jacob the first twins we meet in the Bible?
* This appears to be the case though the Midrash provides a different answer:
* According to the Midrash, Cain was born with a twin sister and Abel was born with two sisters.7 In fact, according to some traditions, Cain and Abel each married a woman born with them, and their lethal quarrel was over who would marry Abel’s remaining triplet.8
Alternatively, Cain and Abel were themselves twins. One opinion in the Midrash sees evidence for this in Scripture itself. Regarding Cain’s birth, we read, “And [Eve] conceived and bore Cain.”9 The next verse simply states, “And she continued to bear his brother Abel,” implying that the births followed a single conception.10
- Is there significance to Esau’s red appearance?
* Possibly but it is speculative. Esau is described as a red, hairy, baby. That’s… strange. Red hair among Semitic people is unusual though not unheard of. Hairiness on a baby is quite odd. Is this supposed to make the reader think of something?
* There is an extra-Biblical association between red hair and giantism and not all of it originating in the Middle East:
+ Red-haired giants of Lovelock Cave, in Nevada USA
+ Red-haired sea-faring giants of the Pacific
+ Red-haired people on the coast of Peru (arguably related to the red-haired Pacific sea folks)
+ Red-haired mummies of China
* The connections between red hair and giantism are thin and do not prove anything with regard to our text here. What we would need to read more into Esau’s red hair is an association between red hair and giantism among the audience of Genesis… at the time it was written. That does not mean the association can be dismissed entirely but it lacks (to my knowledge at least) a textual connection within the Bible or within other time-period works from the region.
* That said, I have wondered why some regional helmet armor (Middle East but especially Mediterranean) includes red-haired helmet crests – almost as if those design choices are mimicking the appearance of tall men with red hair.
* It is also possible to interpret the text as describing Esau as “ruddy.” This would be more of a description of his skin coloring. King David is described as ruddy as well. However, it is Jewish tradition that Esau had red hair.
- Was Esau actually starving when Jacob bought his birthright or was Esau ravenous and greedy?
* Mendy Kaminker writes an article at chabad.org titled “Esau Sellls His Birthright for a Mess of Pottage” and provides some textual and extra-textual analysis of this event.
+ The article provides evidence that Esau may have been “exhausted” because he had just killed someone (see #20 below.)
+ The article also provides that Jacob may have desired the birthright, while Esau did not, because the birthright entailed service to God.
* Some of the extra-textual context places this event on the heels of Abraham’s death.
- Who did Esau allegedly kill shortly before selling his birthright to Jacob?
* WeAreIsrael.org provides a fascinating article on the ancient belief that Esau killed Nimrod. From the article:
+ Relatively few people have ever heard that Esau killed Nimrod, and then despised his birthright. We are going to see today that Esau, like Nimrod, had a desire to rule the world; what would an extra portion over his brother matter to Esau in light of world domination?
Again, it is the book of Yasher that has provided “the rest of the story.”
+ Yasher 27:4 And on a certain day Esau went in the field to hunt, and he found Nimrod walking in the wilderness with his two men. 5 And all his mighty men and his people were with him in the wilderness, but they removed at a distance from him, and they went from him in different directions to hunt, and Esau concealed himself from Nimrod, and he lurked for him in the wilderness. 6 And Nimrod and his men that were with him did not know, and Nimrod and his men frequently walked about in the field at the cool of the day, and to know where his men were hunting in the field. 7 And Nimrod and two of his men that were with him came to the place where they were, when Esau started suddenly from his lurking place, and drew his sword, and hastened and ran to Nimrod and cut off his head. 8 And Esau fought a desperate fight with the two men that were with Nimrod, and when they called out to him, Esau turned to them and smote them to death with his sword.
+ Nimrod ruled with the garments which Elohim made for Adam and his woman
Nimrod had the garments that Yehovah made for Adam and his woman; they had been handed down to him through Ham and made him strong. It was these garments that were coveted by Esau.
+ Yasher 7:24 And the garments of skin which God made for Adam and his woman, when they went out of the garden, were given to Cush. 25 For after the death of Adam and his woman, the garments were given to Enoch, the son of Jared, and when Enoch was taken up to God, he gave them to Methuselah, his son. 26 And at the death of Methuselah, Noah took them and brought them to the ark, and they were with him until he went out of the ark. 27 And in their going out, Ham stole those garments from Noah his father, and he took them and hid them from his brothers. 28 And when Ham begat his first-born Cush, he gave him the garments in secret, and they were with Cush many days. 29 And Cush also concealed them from his sons and brothers, and when Cush had begotten Nimrod, he gave him those garments through his love for him, and Nimrod grew up, and when he was twenty years old he put on those garments. 30 And Nimrod became strong when he put on the garments
+ Yasher 27:10 And when Esau saw the mighty men of Nimrod coming at a distance, he fled, and thereby escaped; and Esau took the valuable garments of Nimrod, which Nimrod’s father had bequeathed to Nimrod, and with which Nimrod prevailed over the whole land, and he ran and concealed them in his house.
- Is there reason to believe that Isaac’s sojourn with Rebekah, to Gerar, did not happen?
* Due to the story’s shared details with Abraham and Sarah’s trip to Gerar, there is some belief among scholars that this serves as evidence that the second tale is made up.
* In my opinion, that opinion discounts the differences in the stories.
* The behavior of Abimelech here in this second account betrays a certain wariness of learned experience in dealing with Abraham’s family.
- Did God give the patriarchs laws and statutes before He gave them to Moses?
* Yes. Genesis 26:5 says: “because Abraham obeyed my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.”
* The laws and statutes which pre-date Moses are sometimes called the “Seven Laws of Noah.”
+ The seven Noahide laws as traditionally enumerated in the Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 56a-b and Tosefta Avodah Zarah 8:4, are the following:
1. Not to worship idols.
2. Not to curse God.
3. Not to commit murder.
4. Not to commit adultery, bestiality, or sexual immorality.
5. Not to steal.
6. Not to eat flesh torn from a living animal.
7. To establish courts of justice.
+ According to the Talmud, the seven laws were given first to Adam and subsequently to Noah. However, the Tannaitic and Amoraitic rabbinic sages (1st-6th centuries CE) disagreed on the exact number of Noahide laws that were originally given to Adam. Six of the seven laws were exegetically derived from passages in the Book of Genesis, with the seventh being the establishment of courts of justice.
The earliest complete rabbinic version of the seven Noahide laws can be found in the Tosefta:
- How should we view Isaac’s deception of Abimelech re: referring to Rebekah as his sister?
* Unlike when Abraham made this claim, in similar situations with Sarah, there is no truth to the statement that Rebekah is his sister.
* God does not appear to punish Isaac for this deception.
* One potential way to view this is to view it as a test of the local ruler, rather than a deception of the local ruler (or you could view it as both.) If one assumes that kidnapping a sister is wrong, then we can also assume that Abraham and then Isaac may have preferring to find out whether the local ruler is the sort of person who kidnaps a sister or whether he is good. By referring to her as a sister, both patriarch lessen the likelihood that finding out whether the local ruler is a god man or not takes their own life in the process.
* Another way (and the most common way) of viewing this story is that the deception was unnecessary. This argument holds that God would have protected the patriarch and his wife without the deception. This seems true. However, I return to the fact that neither Abraham nor Isaac are punished for their subterfuge. This may serve as some evidence (however thin) that God may have authorized this as a test of the local ruler.
* Not only is Isaac not punished, he is blessed richly: Genesis 26: 12 And Isaac sowed in that land and reaped in the same year a hundredfold. The Lord blessed him, 13 and the man became rich, and gained more and more until he became very wealthy. 14 He had possessions of flocks and herds and many servants, so that the Philistines envied him.
- If the Philistines are strangers to the region, where did they come from?
* Some link them with The Sea Peoples:
* And HERE
* And HERE
- What’s the deal with Beersheba?
* The implication of Genesis 26 is that the city is named Beersheba due to the name of the well for which Isaac only now supplies a name. However, only a few verses back (verse 23) we are told that Isaac travels to Beersheba.
In chapter 21, Hagar and Ishmael wander into the wilderness of Beersheba. Later in Chapter 21, during Abraham’s covenant with Abimelech, we read that he names a place Beersheba, also due to the creation of a covenant with the Philistines.
- Who are Esau’s Canaanite wives?
* When Esau was forty years old, he took Judith the daughter of Beeri the Hittite to be his wife, and Basemath the daughter of Elon the Hittite, and they made life bitter for Isaac and Rebekah.
* This episode plays some role in explaining Rebekah’s subsequent actions on behalf of Jacob (both encouraging him to dress as Esau to take Esau’s blessing AND to leave for her homeland to find a wife and hide from Esau.)
* The text implies that marrying Canaanites specifically is a problem for Abraham’s family. Some commentators imply that the issue is with idolaters specifically, however, we are not told that Bethuel and Laban’s families are free of idolatry themselves. There appears to be more to the issue with the Canaanites more specifically than their religious practices alone.
* As we discussed earlier in Genesis, the Canaanites are replete with giant clan bloodlines in their midst. Perhaps this plays a role, too (though that is admittedly speculation on my part.)
- Did Isaac attempt to give Esau the blessing that Jacob stole or was he intending to give Esau a different blessing?
* This is a point of contention among scholars. Some argue that Jacob’s actions fooled and angered Isaac while others argue that Isaac became aware that “Esau” was Jacob and blessed his younger son accordingly and as he intended all along.
* An article from chabad.org “The Stolen Blessings” by the Chassidic Masters makes the argument that Isaac was aware of the deception as it was occurring. If that is the case, then it implies that we should not be so certain as to Isaac’s initial intentions when sending Esau out to hunt game and make him a delicious meal. It is possible that Isaac intended to give him a lesser blessing all along and that the subsequent verses, which recount him shaking violently, are recording grief concerning Esau and not surprise at Jacob.
* The argument here is that Isaac wished, perhaps, to give Esau material prosperity and to give Jacob spiritual prosperity.
* The article from Chabad.org mentioned above adds one more element to this situation. It is possible that Rebekah knew that Isaac was not going to give Esau the spiritual blessing that he ultimately grants to Jacob. Perhaps it was her intent that Jacob receive both the spiritual and material blessings.
+ Rebecca disagreed: both worlds must be given to Jacob. There cannot be “two departments,” for the material world cannot be entrusted to materialists. Only one who is steeped in the Divine wisdom can know how to make proper use of G‑d’s world. Only one who possesses a spiritual outlook and value system will be able to master the physical reality rather than be mastered by it.
- Why did Isaac give his sons their blessings so long before his own death?
* That is unclear. From the text, it appears that Isaac’s failing eyesight may have played a role. It is also possible that Isaac is ill at the time of these events but then subsequently (unexpectedly) recovers. We know that Isaac lives not just additional years, but additional decades.
* Perhaps the intervening and unexpected decades with his father, with Jacob out of sight, helped to cool Esau’s anger toward his brother.
- Why did Isaac give Jacob a second blessing?
* This most obvious reason for this would be to remove any cloud from the way by which Jacob obtains the first blessing.
* TheTorah.com provides an article discussing the second blessing of Jacob. The Source of Jacob’s Two Blessings by TABS Editor.
+ The problem with the second blessing serving as only a removal of the cloud from how it was obtained is that the two blessing are not entirely the same.
+ Second, Isaac, immediately after finding out that it was not Esau, had already confirmed the blessing, “now he must remain blessed.” Third, the interaction between Isaac and Jacob doesn’t really imply any of this. There is no statement on Isaac’s part along the lines of “now I understand” or “I forgive you,” or “this time I give you the blessing freely.” There is nothing said by Jacob either asking for forgiveness, defending his behavior, or thanking Isaac for his understanding.
* We can perhaps assume then that the second blessing is the one Isaac intended to give Jacob all along. In any case, I highly encourage reading the article linked above.
And with that, I will conclude this section. I reserve the right to amend answers, change answers, delete questions/answers, or add new questions/answers at a later date if they occur to me.