Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Why Eliezer was Abraham's Heir

William Dyce's oil painting of Eliezer (1860) is on permanent exhibit at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.

Alice C. Linsley

Abraham said, "O my Lord, what would you give me seeing that I am going to die accursed [Hebrew: ariri], and the one to inherit my household is Dam-Mesek." Genesis 15:2

The Hebrew is challenging as apparently there is an attempt at play on the sound ben meshek (meseq) with dam mesek, or more likely a parallel between the terms ben and dam. However, the two mean the same thing: the one born to Masek.

The reference to Masek as a "handmaid" is clear in the Orthodox Study Bible, based on the Septuagint. Genesis 15:2 reads: "And Abraham said, 'Lord, what will You give me, seeing I go childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus, the son of Masek, my domestic maid servant." The "of Damascus" is probably a mistake, but the Orthodox Study Bible committee decided to leave the place name.

It appears that Abraham had two concubines, Hagar and Masek. This was not unusual among the Habiru rulers. Consider Jacob's two concubines.

A reader has raised this question about Eliezer, son of Masek, a maidservant in Abraham's household.

Granted that biblical events are not always listed in strict chronological order, but one aspect of the original question you refer to does not seem to be addressed at all. The writer stated that Ishmael had already been born. But this concern Abraham expressed about a possible future heir occurs before the birth of Ishmael, who does not come on the scene until later in the narrative.

Isaac was born after the conversation Abraham had with God about Eliezer being the heir to Abraham's throne in Genesis 15. In the passage cited above God reassures Abraham that he will have a son by Sarah.  In the marriage and ascendancy pattern of the rulers among Abraham's people, the firstborn son of the half-sister wife ascended to the throne of his biological father. Sarah was Abraham's half-sister and their only child was Isaac, Abraham's heir.

Abraham had a firstborn son already by his cousin wife Keturah. However the firstborn son of the cousin wife rules in the territory of his maternal grandfather, after whom he was named.

Ishmael had already been born, but the firstborn son of a concubine would not be an heir to the throne of his father if their were a firstborn son by a half-sister wife. Ishmael would have been Abraham's heir by adoption according to Horite/Hurrian law. According to this practice, the concubine gave birth on the lap of the half-sister wife, as was the case with Hagar's delivery of Ishmael, whereby Sarah built a family through Hagar (Gen. 16:2).

By this time Abraham was well-established as a "mighty prince" (Gen. 23:6) among the Canaanites. That is inferred from Abraham's defeat of the kings who had attacked his Horite people (Gen. 14:6) and the status of being served by Melchizedek, the ruler-priest of Salem (Gen. 14:18), who with wine and bread, came to make atonement for Abraham's blood guilt and to give thanks for the victory.

Remember that Abraham had two wives, as was the pattern for all Horite rulers. His father Terah had two wives. Sarah was Terah's daughter by one wife and Abraham was Terah's son by the other wife. This pattern of two wives meant that there were always two firstborn sons; one by the half-sister wife and the other by the cousin/niece wife. The firstborn son of the cousin/niece wife ascended to the throne of his maternal grandfather, after whom he was titled/named. So Esau the Younger ascended to the throne of Esau the Elder (Gen. 36).

The firstborn of the half-sister wife ascended to the throne of his biological father, so Isaac was Abraham's heir. However, he was not Abraham's firstborn. Neither was Ishmael. Ishmael was conceived late in Abraham's life, after Abraham had married Keturah. Keturah's firstborn son was Joktan (Yaqtan), the head of the Joktanite Tribes of Arabia. As Keturah was Abraham's cousin wife, Joktan ascended to the throne of his maternal grandfather. As Sarah was barren, Abraham was still desperate for an heir. This is when he prayed about having an heir and received the promise (Gen. 15:4) that a son would come from his own "loins" (meaning blood descent from him and his half-sister).

Eliezer, as the firstborn of Masek, one of Abraham's concubines, was Abraham's only natural heir. Clearly before Isaac arrived, Eliezer was considered Abraham's rightful heir according to the Horite marriage and ascendancy pattern.

The name Eliezer/Eleazer appears twice in the Horite ancestry of Jesus Christ. The word ben-Maseq

Related reading: Abraham's Complaint; Abraham's SonsWho Were the Horites?; The Marriage and Ascendency Pattern of Abraham's People; Abraham's Cousin Wife; Abraham's Concubines; Answers to More Questions

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