Analysis of the marriage and ascendancy structure of Abraham's Horite people reveals that the rulers had two wives. The first was a half-sister, as was Sarah to Abraham. The second wife was usually a patrilineal cousin, as was Keturah to Abraham. The wives maintained separate households in quite distant settlements on a north-south axis. Sarah resided in Hebron and Keturah, of the royal House of Sheba, resided at Beersheba to the south.
Alice C. Linsley
According to Genesis 25:1, Keturah is described as Abraham’s wife. The word here in Hebrew is ishshah, which means woman or wife. However, according to I Chronicles 1:32, Keturah was Abraham’s concubine. The Hebrew here is piylegesh or piyegesh meaning concubine. Keturah can’t be both a wife and concubine, so which is she? I Chronicles reflects a time long after the events described and is not consistent with the overwhelming evidence that Keturah was a wife. The confusion may be due to the Chronicles' post-exilic reading of Genesis 25:6: "To the sons of his concubines Abraham made grants during his lifetime, sending them away from his son Isaac..." It was the custom to sent away sons who would rule. Abraham was himself one of these sent-away sons. So were Moses and Jacob.
Keturah was Abraham's second wife which means that she was his patrilineal cousin who he married at a later age. Analysis of the marriage and ascendency pattern of Abraham’s people makes it clear that Keturah was a wife. Rulers among Abraham’s Kushite people had two wives. The first wife was the wife of the man's youth and his half-sister (as was Sarah to Abraham). The second wife was a patrilineal cousin or niece (as was Keturah to Abraham).
The name "Ketu-rah" refers to the Ketu division of the Jebusites. The Jebusites had two main divisions: the Nago-Jebu and the Ketu-Jebu. Of the Ketu-Jebu there is a good deal of information in Genesis. This division resided in Palestine and Arabia. Abraham payed tribute to the Ketu-Jebu priest Melchizedek, who was the ruler of the Jebusite city of Salem (Jerusalem). Ketu-rah was of this division of Jebu, as evidenced by her name. She resided at Beer-Sheba, which took its name from the great patriarch Sheba who controlled the well there. (Beer means well.) Ketu-rah's firstborn son was Joktan, the progentior of the Joktanite clans of Arabia. So the clans of Jebu, Sheba and Joktan are related, but what was their western boundary? It appears from historical records that it was in Nigeria at the confluence of the Niger and Benue rivers which in the time of Abraham's ancestors were very great rivers.
Abraham and Keturah are descendants of Sheba, the great grandson of Ham. They are also descendants of Shem, as the lines of Shem and Ham intermarried. Sheba was a contemporary of Eber, Shem's great grandson. Eber’s son Joktan married a daughter of Sheba. We know this because Joktan’s first-born son was named Sheba, after his cousin bride’s father. This naming prerogative of the cousin bride was already a custom in the time of Lamech (Gen. 4). Lamech’s daughter Naamah married her patrilineal cousin Methuselah and named their firstborn son Lamech after her father. Lamech the Younger would ascend to the throne of his maternal grandfather.
Keturah likewise named her first-born son Joktan, after her father. So Abraham had two first-born sons by his wives: Isaac and Joktan. He also had firstborn sons by his two concubines Masek and Hagar. By Masek he had Eliezar and by Hagar he had Ishmael. Contrary to common belief, Ishmael was not Abraham's firstborn.
The assumption that Keturah was a concubine runs contrary to the biblical information about her relationship to Abraham and her status. Instead, we should recognize that Keturah and Sarah were wives whose firstborns sons would rule over different territories. Hagar and Masek were Abraham's concubines whose subordinate status we can discern from studying Jacob's relationship to Bilhah and Zilpah and the subordinate status of their sons to the firstborn sons of Rachel (Joseph) and Leah (Reu-ben).
The Pattern of Keturah Parallels the Pattern of Naamah
According to Gen. 10:24-30, Keturah’s father had a brother named Peleg. The text makes much of the implications of Peleg’s name which means “division”, “because it was in his time that the earth was divided” (Gen. 10:25). There are different possible explanations for this division, but the most likely is that expressed in the pattern of genealogical information. The daughter of Sheba who married Joktan and named her firstborn son Sheba is the last bride named of Ham’s line. In this respect she parallels Naamah, the last bride named of Cain’s line.
Ketu-rah’s father was Joktan and her paternal uncle was Peleg, who is said to be the “first” son. This means that Joktan, like Abraham, was not to receive the rights of primogeniture by which he would become chief after his father’s death. So Joktan, Abraham’s firstborn by Ketu-rah, would not be chief after his death. That would fall to Isaac, the son of Sarah. Nevertheless the Joktanites would become a powerful presence in the Sinai and by their skills and generosity would enable the Israelites to come out of Egypt and survive in the wilderness.
Genesis 10: 26 tells us that Joktan had 13 sons. Almodad appears to be the first-born, as his name is listed first. If Joktan followed the pattern of his fathers, his two wives would have maintained separate households on a north-south axis. This may be the meaning of the sites mentioned in Gen. 10:30: Mesha and Sephar, although “sephar,’ which means “numbering,” might refer to the cosmology of Abraham’s people rather than to a specific location.
Some of the descendants of Joktan and Sheba hold an annual autumn feast at an oasis in the wilderness to celebrate the date harvest. This is the one time of the year that women and men may dance together. The date palm (“tamar”) is a symbol of prosperity and fertility. The ‘Id el-Tamar is a festival when the unmarried check out the pool of available matches. As is the custom from time immemorial, wife selection takes place at a well or an oasis.
The Evidence of the Well
Wells and oases are where boy meets girl in the Bible. There are several incidents of wives being found at wells. Abraham’s servant found Rebecca at a well. Moses met Zipporah, his future wife, at a Midianite well. In none of these stories is the woman a concubine. Keturah could not have been a concubine because Abraham met her at the well of Sheba (Beer-Sheba) according to the pattern of wives.
The Horite priests among Abraham's people established their shrines near rivers and wells. They needed the water to sustain their flocks and it was from these flocks and herds that they selected animals to sacrifice. The evidence of the Bible indicates that the rulers among Abaham's people married the daughters of priests. Moses married Zipporah, the daughter of a priest named Jethro. He was of the clan of Midian. Midian was another son born to Abraham by Ketu-rah.
Abraham had nine sons, according to the Septuagint. Here is a list of sons:
Sarah, daughter of Terah (Gen. 20:12)
Hagar the Egyptian (Sarah’s handmaid)
Yismael (Ishmael) was Egyptian, since ethnicity was traced through the mother and Hagar was Egyptian. Tracing ethnicity through the mother rather than the father is still required to establish Jewish identity today. This pattern is recognized in Egypt as well, which is why the Egyptian government has made it illegal for Egyptian men to marry Jewish women.
Ketu-rah, daughter of Joktan (Gen. 25)
Joktan – Keturah’s firstborn son
Masek (Keturah’s handmaid)
Eliezar of Damascus