Monday, October 26, 2009

Isaac's Three Sons

Alice C. Linsley

When I was in seminary, my Old Testament professor told the class that he doubted Isaac’s existence because there is so little information about Isaac. He noted that the story of Isaac pretending that Rebecca was his sister parallels the story of Abraham asking Sarah to say that she is his sister. He concluded that Isaac is a literary construction reflecting the author’s love of doublets. Doublets are duplicate narratives of the same event, which source critics believe is a single story told by two different authors.

My professor also noted the limited genealogical information about Isaac (Yitzak). He is presented as an only son after his half-brother Ishmael was sent away. He has only one wife, unlike his ancestors, and she is barren until God hears Isaac's prayers and she conceives twins.

While I appreciate this professor’s observations, I disagree with his conclusion. Isaac’s historicity can be verified by his adherence to the kinship pattern of his ancestors. We don't find kinship patterns as complex as this surrounding fictional characters. Further, the kinship pattern of Abraham's people reveals a good deal of information about the principle figures of Genesis.

We note that after the binding of Isaac, Abraham and Isaac are found living in Beersheba and it was to Beersheba in the south (Gen. 24:62) that Abraham’s servant brought Rebecca to meet her betrothed. Beersheba was the settlement of Abraham’s wife Keturah. Had Isaac married a half-sister or a cousin other than Rebecca, he would have married someone from the line of Abraham by Keturah. The evidence points to him marrying a daughter of Yishbak. Yishbak was one of Abraham's sons by Keturah.

The evidence for Isaac’s other wife is rather hidden, as is the identity of Abraham’s mother. The final editors of Genesis wanted to preserve the claim of Isaac as the son of promise through whom Israel would claim the Land. It wouldn’t do to admit that Isaac had other children by an Arabian wife of the house of Sheba, or that Abraham’s mother was Canaanite. Yet the kinship pattern of Genesis provides the essential information to draw these conclusions and to justify them on the basis of the text alone.

It is likely that Isaac had other sons and daughters besides Jacob and Esau. It is possible to trace them through the cousin bride’s naming prerogative. Rebecca’s father was Bethuel (Gen. 22:23), a son of Na’Hor, Abraham’s brother. Why didn’t she name her first-born son Bethuel after her father? This is the pattern for those who were to rule. We are given this explanation: Jacob grasped his twin brother’s heel as he was born (Gen. 25:26) “so his name was called Jacob.” It is also possible that Rebecca didn’t name her first-born son after Bethuel because this son was not the one who would rule after Isaac’s death.

Rebecca is central to Isaac’s claim as the heir to Abraham’s territory and to the divine promises, yet she doesn’t name her first-born son after her father, as was the common practice for sons who were to be rulers. This suggests that Isaac had another first-born son by another wife.

How do we track Isaac’s first-born by his other wife? We must look for the hidden third son, which involves looking for linguistic similarity as in the case of Og, Magog and Gog. When we do this, we find three sons of Abraham: Yitzak (Isaac) by Sarah; Yishmael (Ishmael) by Hagar, and Yishbak (Ishbak) by Keturah. We note the parallel names Yish and Yitz, which recall the 3-son confederations of the ancient Kushite rulers. [1]

Yishbak the elder would have had a grandson name Yishbak. This younger Yishbak is the first-born of Isaac by a daughter of Yishbak. She named their first-born son Yishbak after her father, according to the naming prerogative of the cousin bride.


Yishbak’s name means he will leave. He is likely one of the sons to whom Abraham gave gifts before sending them away to the east (Gen. 25:6). Yishbak’s descendants lived in the lands to the east of Canaan. Assyriologist Friedrich Delitzsch identified the name Ishbak with Iasbuk found on cuneiform inscriptions from a land whose king was allied with Sangara of Gargamis (Carchemish) against Assur-nazir-pal and Shalmaneser II (c. 859 B.C.). This Ishbak or Yisbak was likely a descendant of Abraham and Isaac.
It is fairly safe to conclude that Isaac had at least three sons and their names were: Jacob, Esau and Yishbak, the last being named by the cousin bride after her father, according to the cousin bride's naming prerogative. All three appear to have been rulers over their own territories.

Related reading: Moses' Two Wives


NOTES

1. This pattern is like that of the Kushite rulers. The Kushite ruler Piye united Nubia and Egypt and established the 25th Dynasty. Before his death, Piye divided his kingdom between his 3 first-born sons, whose names are linguistically similar. Sheba-qo ruled in Thebes, Shebit-qo ruled in Napata, and Ta-har-qo ruled in Memphis. Shebaqo revived the office of high priest, which he awarded to his son Hori-makhet who was high priest in Thebes.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

I just discovered this blog a few days ago, hence I did not see this post until today. Sorry to be commenting on old material, but that's the reason.

Anyway, I'm afraid the argument in favor of Isaac having a second wife does not strike me as convincing, or even a valid argument. All that has been proven is that IF Isaac had a second wife, THEN she would have to have been of a certain ancestry and given her son a certain name. However, the original question, as to whether Isaac actually had another wife besides Rebecca, has not been established.

I hope these comments prove helpful!

Alice C. Linsley said...

Yes, this is not proof of Isaac having 2 wives, but it is evidence that suggests he did.

It focuses the question of why Isaac would NOT have 2 wives since it was the pattern of the ruling sons to do so. Maybe Isaac wasn't the ruling son?

I tend to accept the biblical claim that Abraham made Isaac the ruler over his territory before he died. If true, this explains Abraham's urgency for Isaac to have a second bride, preliminary to his becoming the next chief. It also explains why Rebecca was brought to Beersheba instead of to Hebron.

yemitom said...

Genesis 25:22: The children struggled together within her. She said, “If it be so, why do I live?” She went to inquire of Yahweh.
Genesis 25:23: Yahweh said to her,
“Two nations are in your womb.
Two peoples will be separated from your body.
The one people will be stronger than the other people.
The elder will serve the younger.”
Genesis 25:24: When her days to be delivered were fulfilled, behold, there were twins in her womb.
Genesis 25:25: The first came out red all over, like a hairy garment. They named him Esau.
Genesis 25:26: After that, his brother came out, and his hand had hold on Esau’s heel. He was named Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when she bore them.




That Esau and Jacob were twins is very easy for me to accept as fact partly because of my Yoruba (Jerubaal? Judges 6:32) ancestry. Yorubas have the highest twinning rates in the world and the second child (named Kehinde) to be delivered is always regarded as the senior while the first (named Taiye or Taiwo) is regarded as second in seniority. Twins and multiple births in general have long been revered by the Yorubas as recorded in the Ifa literary corpus. Ifa literature says a lot about the first becoming last and vice versa.

Alice C. Linsley said...

YT, The word "Yoruba" appears to be a 19th Century term given by Europeans and is very broadly applied. I'm not sure that it is connected to Jerubaal, but that is certainly a possibility worth exploring. I think there are many similar connections to suggest an African context for Genesis. Ijebu = Jebusite; Nok = Enoch; Bor'No = Land of Noah; and many place and tribe names with the root KN = Kain. I also think you are correct in associating Edo and Edom, but this too needs more research.

Your explanation about twins and Yoruba custom is very helpful and interesting. Certainly the text indicates that Jacob and Esau were twins, but the part about two nations suggests that they were firstborn sons of different wives.

Genesis 36 gives us the geneological data for Seir the Horite and his contemporary Esau (Issa) the Elder. Esau the Younger was Jacob's brother, either a twin or a half-brother (having the same father, Isaac). Esau the Younger appears to be named after Esau the Elder. This would mean that his mother was Issac's cousin or niece bride. It was the cousin or niece wife who named her firstborn son after her father. Since Rebecca was Isaac's cousin wife, we might assume that Esau was her first born as indiccated in the text, but her father is called "Bethuel" in Genesis. I suspect that this is a priestly title and not his name. Maybe his given name was Esau. This would connect the Aramean Horites to the Edomite Horites.

Then we have the question of Jacob's mother, if he was the firstborn of another wife. She would have been Isaac's half-sister and his first wife; a daughter of Abraham and Keturah and she would have been living in Beersheba in the Negev. Note that this is where Abraham's servant brings Rebecca. Note also the urgency of Abraham to find a second wife for Isaac before he dies. Isaac needed two wives to ascend to Abraham's throne.

The diagram of Gen. 36 suggests that Esau the Younger's mother was the daughter of Esau the Elder and that she named her firstborn son after her father in keeping with the cousin bride's naming prerogative. Now the question remains was this woman Rebecca? If so, her father's given name was Esau and he was a contemporary of Seir the Horite. Perhaps this woman was not Rebecca. If not, Isaac had two wives. This would be in keeping the with pattern of his Horite forefathers. I see no reason why Isaac would have only one wife when the rulers of Genesis 4 and 5, Abraham, Terah, Nahor and even Amram (Moses' father) had two wives.

Lot's to think about. Any thoughts on this?

yemitom said...

"Yoruba" is not a 19th century term from the Europeans but an be traced to the middle east whose present tribes chased away the Yoruba people. For sure outsiders identified the with that name.

Anonymous said...

I'm slightly confused, Alice. Did Isaac have a half-sister bride? If I'm understanding correctly, you are surmising that his two wives were 1)his niece-wife (the daughter of his half-brother Yisbak) and 2)his cousin-wife (Rebecca). No sister-bride?

Thank you,
Susan

Alice Linsley said...

Okay. Let's take a step back and review what we know about the marriage and ascendancy of all the Genesis Horite rulers (called "Horim" by the Jews). These men had two wives. The first was a half-sister, as was Sarah to Abraham. This was the wife of the man youth. The second wife was taken shortly before the heir took over for his father. Isaac (Yitzak) was Abraham's proper heir (http://jandyongenesis.blogspot.com/2013/04/abrahams-complaint.html) The second wife was usually a partilineal cousin, as was Keturah to Abraham and Rebekah to Isaac.
There was some urgency on Abraham's part to fetch the cousin bride for Isaac because Abraham's death was approaching. Isaac's half-sister bride would have been living in Beersheba, where Abraham lived with Keturah. That is where Isaac was living when Rebekah arrived from Padan-Aram. The evidence suggests that Isaac was living with his first wife when the servant went to fetch his second wife. This is consistent with the two-wife pattern of the Horite rulers.

There is more on this here:
http://jandyongenesis.blogspot.com/2013/10/isaacs-second-marriage.html

Anonymous said...

Alice, thank you for replying. I do follow what you're saying. My question, though, was that you had referred to Isaac's first wife as possibly having been the daughter of his brother Yitbak. Which would have made her, not his half-sister, but his cousin. I was just wondering if it were possible that instead of having one half-sister wife and one cousin wife, he may have had two cousin-wives instead. And if so, if you had any ideas why that may have been the case.
Thanks again, Susan B.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, niece-wife, not cousin. SB

Alice Linsley said...

Hi, Susan. That is possible. Jacob had two cousin wives, but Jacob's marriage appears to have been irregular and he was not Isaac's proper heir. That was Esau. Esau or Yeshu was indeed a great Horite ruler whose marriage pattern corresponds exactly to the Horite ruler-priest pattern. This is Esau the Elder, a contemporary of Seir the Horite of Edom. See http://jandyongenesis.blogspot.com/2010/02/two-named-esau.html

There are two possibilities concerning Issac's first wife. Either she was a half-sister (daughter born of Keturah) or a patrilineal niece (born of the wife of one of his brothers). In the second case, Yitbak would be my educated guess.

Cousin brides and niece brides were common among the Horites. Neither would have been regarded as irregular. There is some indication that both were classified as "cousins" which followed the practice of the Egyptians royalty.

I now lean toward the view that Isaac's first wife was a half-sister, given Isaac's status as Abraham's proper heir. The pattern of first wife (half-sister) and second wife(patrilineal cousin/niece) appears to apply to Isaac.

Anonymous said...

Very helpful. Thank you for answering. And thank you for sharing so much of your research with us here online. I'm finding it fascinating to read and ponder. Susan