Genesis (Part 160)

Welcome back to my study/review of Genesis. If you missed the previous parts of this study, you can find them HERE.

Genesis 36: 1-8

36 These are the generations of Esau (that is, Edom). Esau took his wives from the Canaanites: Adah the daughter of Elon the Hittite, Oholibamah the daughter of Anah the daughter of Zibeon the Hivite, and Basemath, Ishmael’s daughter, the sister of Nebaioth. And Adah bore to Esau, Eliphaz; Basemath bore Reuel; and Oholibamah bore Jeush, Jalam, and Korah. These are the sons of Esau who were born to him in the land of Canaan.

Then Esau took his wives, his sons, his daughters, and all the members of his household, his livestock, all his beasts, and all his property that he had acquired in the land of Canaan. He went into a land away from his brother Jacob. For their possessions were too great for them to dwell together. The land of their sojournings could not support them because of their livestock. So Esau settled in the hill country of Seir. (Esau is Edom.)


Genesis Chapter 36 is an extensive look at the descendants and legacy of Esau. For a summation of what this chapter is about, and textual controversies within it, we can look at a note from Ellicott’s Bible Commentary:

[Note: Full disclosure. I edited out a weird racial/racist aside in the following note wherein he describes conquered peoples as “inferior” peoples and then provides modern – relative to himself – equivalents to the conquered people within the text.]

Verse 1


(1) The generations of Esau.—This tôldôth, consisting of Genesis 36:1 to Genesis 37:1, is very remarkable, if it were only for the difficulties with which it abounds, and which have too often been aggravated by the determination of commentators to make Holy Scripture bend to their pre-conceived ideas as to what it ought to be, instead of dutifully accepting it as it is. It begins with an enumeration of Esau’s wives, in which the names are different from those given in Genesis 26:34Genesis 28:9. Next we have the genealogy of Esau, upon the same principle as that whereby the tôldôth Ishmael was inserted immediately after the history of Abraham’s death (Genesis 25:12-18); but this is followed, in Genesis 36:20-30, by a genealogy of the Horite inhabitants of Mount Seir. Among these Esau dwelt as the predominant power, but nevertheless on friendly terms, for a reason which we shall see hereafter. We next have a list of kings who are said to have reigned in Edom “before there reigned any king over the children of Israel.” This is not a prophetical portion of the Bible, but a dry genealogical table, and the attempts made to evade the plain meaning of the words, namely, that at the time when this list of kings was written there were kings in Israel, are painful to read, and can have no other effect than to harden sceptics in unbelief. Of these Edomite kings, it is remarkable that they do not succeed one another by hereditary succession, nor have they the same capital, but seem to belong to a time of anarchy, like that which existed in Israel under the Judges. During this period the Edomites and Horites were fused together, chiefly by conquest (Deuteronomy 2:12Deuteronomy 2:22), but partly also by the gradual dying out of the [conquered] race […] Finally, we have a list of the eleven dukes of Edom, “after their places.” As these dukes represented tribes or clans, this catalogue is geographical, and as such it is described in Genesis 36:43, and was intended to give the political arrangement of the land at the later date when this addition was made, and when considerable changes had taken place since the time of the first settlement.

These last two documents, forming Genesis 36:31-43, were probably added at the time when the Books of Samuel were composed; but as we find the list of the kings given also in 1 Chronicles 1:43-50, and as at that date great activity existed in completing the canon of Holy Scripture, some suppose that the lists in both places are by the same hand. It is entirely wrong to describe them as interpolations; for it was the rule to add to and complete genealogies; and besides there existed in the Jewish Church a living authority in the prophets who had the right and power to make necessary additions to the Divine record. It is to the “schools of the prophets” that we owe, under God’s providence, the existence of most of the Old Testament Scriptures, and the preservation of all of them; and they did not preserve them for the sake of the authors, but for the sake of what was written. And there is nothing derogatory to the authority or inspiration of Holy Scripture in believing that the prophets were from time to time moved by the Spirit to add to what had been written. The contents of the Old Testament bear witness everywhere to the scrupulous fidelity with which men guarded in the prophetic schools the sacred deposit entrusted to their care; but it is equally certain that we find notes inserted from time to time, as in Genesis 35:20. No one can doubt but that the remark that the pillar standing on Rachel’s grave “unto this day” was the same stone which Jacob had set up, was inserted at a later date, and apparently after the conquest of Canaan. So in Genesis 14:7 we have a note inserted subsequently to the establishment of the kingly office. Why should there be any difficulty in believing that these two lists of kings and dukes, added to complete a genealogy, belonged also to a time when there were kings in Israel?

It is probable, however, that the list of kings given here is of an earlier date than that in the first chapter of Chronicles, for Hadar (more correctly, in Chronicles, Hadad) seems to have been living when this document was composed, and hence the full information about his wife.” In Chronicles (1 Chronicles 1:51) there is added “Hadad died-also.” And if he really were alive when this catalogue was written, he had by that time been dead for centuries; for its date would then be one comparatively early.

This chapter is thus a big clue to scholars about how the text of Genesis was compiled and edited.

From The Pulpit Commentaries:

Genesis 36:2Genesis 36:3

Esau took his wives of the daughters of Canaan;—i.e. who were of the daughters of Canaan (vide Genesis 26:34)—Adah—”Ornament,” “Beauty” (Gesenius); the name also of one of Lamech’s wives (cf. Genesis 4:19)—the daughter of Elon—”Oak” (Gesenius)—the Hittite, and Aholibamah—”Tent of the High Place” (Gesenius)—the daughter of Anah—”Answering” (Gesenius)—the daughteri.e. the grand-daughter, though, after the LXX. and the Samaritan, some read the son, as in Genesis 36:24 (Gesenius, Kalisch, Furst, et alii)of Zibeon—”Colored” (Gesenius); “Wild,” “Robber” (Furst)—the Hiviteand Bashemath—”Sweet-smelling” (Gesenius)—Ishmael’s daughter, sister of Nebajoth—”High Place” (Gesenius). The difference between this account and that previously given (Genesis 26:34Genesis 28:9) will appear at a glance by setting the two lists of wives in parallel columns:—

1. Judith, daughter of Beeri the Hittite.

1. Aholibamah, daughter of Anah, daughter of Zibeon the Hivite.

2. Bashemath, daughter of Elon the Hittite.

2. Adah, daughter of Elon the Hittite.

3. Mahalath, daughter of Ishmael, sister of Nebajoth.

3. Bashemath, Ishmael’s daughter, sister of Nebajoth.

The two lists agree in saying

(1) that Esau had three wives,

(2) that one of them was the daughter of Elon the Hittite,

(3) that another of them was Ishmael’s daughter, the sister of Nebajoth, and

(4) that the name of one of them was Bashemath.

The discrepancy between the two is greatest in respect of the first wife, who appears with a different name and a different parentage in the two lists; while with reference to the second and the third wives, it is only the difference of name that requires to be accounted for. Now since the two lists belong to the so-called Elohistic document (Tuch, Bleak, Stahelin, Davidson, et alii), the hypothesis must be discarded “that the Hebrew text, though containing several important coincidences, evidently embodies two accounts irreconcilably different” (Kalisch)—a conclusion which can only be maintained by ascribing to the author the most absolute literary incompetence. Equally the conjecture must be set aside that the two lists refer to different persons, the second three being names of wives which Esau took on the decease of the first. The solutions that appear most entitled to acceptance, though all are more or less conjectural, proceed upon the supposition that Esau had only three wives, or at most four.

1. On the hypothesis that Esau had not more than three wives, it is only needful to presume that each of them had two names, a not unusual circumstance in Oriental countries (Rosenmüller, Havernick)—one of them, probably that contained in the present list, bestowed on the occasion of marriage; and that Anah, the father of Aholibamah, was the same person with Beeri, or the Well-Man, who received that cognomen from the incident related in verse 24, viz; that he discovered certain hot springs while feeding his father’s asses (Hengstenberg, Keil, Kurtz)—the peculiarity that in one place (Genesis 26:34) he is styled a Hittite, in another (Genesis 36:2) a Hivite, and in a third (Genesis 36:20) a Horite, being explained by the conjecture that the first was the generic term for the race, the second the specific designation of the tribe, and the third the particular name for the inhabitants of the district to which he belonged (Keil, Lange, ‘Speaker’s Commentary).

2. Another solution gives to Esau four wives, by supposing Judith to have died without issue (Murphy, Jacobus), or, in consequence of being childless, though still living, to have been passed over in silence in the former genealogical register (Quarry), and Aholibamah to have been the fourth partner whom Esau espoused. The Samaritan version reads Mahalath for Bashemath in the second list, which it regards as an error of transcription (WL. Alexander in Kitto’s ‘ Cyclopedia’); while others think that Adah has been written by inadvertence for Bashemath (Inglis)’; but such conjectures are as unnecessary as they are manifestly arbitrary.

The note here points out and then attempts to explain the intra-textual inconsistency between this list of wives for Esau and the information given earlier in the book.

I will point out that solving this inconsistency is not necessarily an act of covering up “mistakes” within the Bible. There is no doubt that this text was read and studied at the time during which it was written. Why would a “mistake” have persisted without “correction” unless the text was not perceived to be a mistake at the time it was released? It seems quite reasonable then to look for explanations which harmonize the different lists – as they would have been harmonized for the original audience.

Continuing with The Pulpit Commentaries:

Genesis 36:4Genesis 36:5

And Adah bare to Esau Eliphas;—”The Strength of God” (Gesenius); afterwards the name of one of Job’s friends (Job 2:11Job 4:1Job 15:1)—and Bashemath bare Reuel;—”The Friend of God” (Gesenius); the name of Moses’ father-in-law (Exodus 2:18)—and Aholibamah bare Jeush,—”Collector” (Furst, Lange); “whom God hastens” (Gesenius); afterwards the name of a son of Rehoboam (2 Chronicles 11:19)—and Jaalam,—”whom God hides” (Gesenius); “Ascender of the Mountains” (Furst)—and Korah:“Baldness” (Furst, Gesenius); the name of a family of Levites and singers in the time of David to whom ten of the psalms are ascribed—these are the sons of Esau, which wore born unto him in the land of Canaan—not necessarily implying’ that other sons were born to him in Edom, but rather intimating that all his family were born before he left the Holy Land.

Genesis 36:6

And Esau took his wives, and his sons, and his daughters, and all the persons (literally, souls) of his house, and his cattle (mikneh), and all his beasts (behemah), and all his substance (literally, all his acquisitions)which he had got in the land of Canaan; and went into the country—literally, into a land; not ἐκ τῆς γῆς (LXX.), or in alteram regionem (Vulgate), but either into the land, so. of Seir (Keil), or, taking the next as a qualifying clause, into a land apart (Murphy, Lange)—from the face of—or, on account of (Rosenmüller, Kalisch)—his brother Jacob.

You might remember that Esau was already in Seir at the time that Jacob encounters his brother, during his return from self-imposed exile with Laban. You could look at the forty years of Jacob’s absence as necessary for God to lead Esau (and his heart) to lands beyond those of his father. He greets Jacob warmly upon Jacob’s return because he no longer wants or needs the birthright of Isaac.

From Ellicott on Verse 5:

(5) In the land of Canaan.—We find Esau with a band of armed men in Seir on Jacob’s return from Padan-aram, but he still had his home at Hebron with his father until Isaac’s death, twenty-two years afterwards. Evidently he had taken Aholibamah home thither, and she had borne him three sons. After Isaac’s death the land of Seir had so great attractions for him that he migrated thither with his share of Isaac’s wealth, and left Hebron to Jacob, who now moved down thither from the town of Eder, and took possession of the homestead of his fathers. And thus the inheritance of the birthright came finally to Jacob by. Esau’s own act, and would doubtless have so come to him; only his father’s blessing and the transference to him of the Abrahamic promises would have been given him, not at the time of Isaac’s temporary illness, but on his deathbed.

Continuing with The Pulpit Commentaries through the end of this section. The note comments on the timing of Esau’s relocation and how it likely began before Jacob finally resettled in Hebron. This resettlement in fact seems to have begun before Jacob set out from Padan-aram:

Genesis 36:7

For their riches were more than that they might dwell together; and the land wherein they were strangers—literally, of their wanderings (cf. Genesis 28:4Genesis 37:1)—could not bear them because of their cattle. This does not necessarily imply that Jacob was established in Canaan before Esau removed. Esau may have recognized the impossibility of two so rich and powerful chieftains as himself and his brother occupying Canaan, and may have retired Before Jacob actually took possession (Keil, Inglis).

Genesis 36:8

Thus dwelt Esau in mount Seir (Genesis 32:3Deuteronomy 2:5Joshua 24:4): Esau is Edom (vide Genesis 25:30). The obvious continuation of this verse m to be found in Genesis 37:1, so that Gen 37:9 -40 are parenthetical in their character; but whether originally written by Moses, or inserted by a late redactor, as some maintain, may legitimately be regarded as an open question.

Ellicott includes an additional note on Seir:

(8) Mount Seir.—The land of Idumea extends from the southern extremity of the Dead Sea to the Gulf of Elath, and consists of a chain of mountains running parallel to the Akaba, or continuation of the deep depression through which the Jordan flows till it loses itself in the Dead Sea. The hills are of limestone, with masses here and there of basalt; and though large portions are so covered with stones as to be barren, the rest is moderately fertile, not indeed in corn, but in figs, pomegranates, and other fruits. The climate is pleasant, the heat in summer being moderated by cool winds, but the winters are cold. The border of it was distant only some fifty or sixty miles from Hebron, so that Esau’s transference of himself thither was an easy matter. (Comp. Note on Genesis 27:39.)

We will continue on with Esau and his legacy through the rest of this chapter.