Friday, May 23, 2008

Hidden Sons in the Bible

Alice C. Linsley

Having considered the biblical theme of 2 sons, we now turn to the equally important theme of 3 sons. The recurrence of 3 sons is less evident because this theme is under the surface and must be mined. The number 3 represents unity so seeing the bigger picture of Abraham's people requires looking at all 3 sons. In some case the 3 sons can be identified as a tribal unit by the similarities of their names. Consider these examples:

Three of Jacob's sons by Zilpah are Jimnah, Jishvah and Jishvi (Gen. 46:17). Here we see the alliterative naming so typical of the Horites clans.  Abraham's sons Yitzak (Isaac), Yishbak and Yishmael (Ishmael) are another example. Another example is Magog, Gog and Og, which also represents a tribal unity.

We find the 3-son configuration throughout Genesis, though not all involve alliterative names.

Gen. 4 - Cain, Abel, Seth
Gen. 4 - Jubal, Jabal, Tubal
Gen. 7 - Ham, Shem, Japheth
Gen. 11 - Haran, Nahor, Abraham
Gen. 22 - Huz, Uz, Buz

To this we must add the first-born sons of Abraham: Ishmael (by the concubine Hagar), Isaac (by his sister-wife Sarah) and Jokshan (by his cousin wife Keturah). The birth order is not clear, which is strange given the importance of primogeniture among Abraham’s people. We are told that Ishmael was born first, but rejected as the heir upon Sarah's insistence, though she had arranged the situation. It is not clear that Ishmael would have been heir to Abraham's office as chief, even with Sarah's scheme, especially if Keturah's son Joktan was born first.

We are told that Sarah couldn't conceive, but finally bore Isaac in her old age. Meanwhile, the order of the narrative implies that Abraham married Keturah after Sarah died, which can't be the case, since it was the pattern among Abraham's people for chiefs to maintain 2 wives in separate households at the northern and southern boundaries of their territories. Sarah was in Hebron and Keturah was in Beersheba to the south. That Abraham was recognized as a chief among the people is evident in Genesis 23:5 where the Hittites speak of Abraham as "a prince of God" among them.

So the question remains, who was Abraham's first-born son? My guess is Joktan, the first-born of Keturah, and that Abraham acquired Keturah as a wife when he went to the Negev (Gen. 12:9) after consulting the moreh (prophet) at the Oak in Mamre (Gen. 12:6).

The number 3 is a taunting symbol. It compels us to seek the hidden, just as Abraham sought guidance about his unknown future. At this very place in Mamre, he later looked up and saw 3 “men” coming to him and ordered 3 measures of flour to make cakes.  He brought to his visitors 3 gifts: curds, milk and a calf. And Abraham interceded for Sodom 3 times (Gen. 18).

Consider the mystery surrounding Isaac. On the surface there appears to be so little information about Isaac, compared to Abraham and Jacob. This led some biblical scholars to speculate that Isaac may be a fictional character, created to bridge the generations. We may dismiss this theory since Genesis provides more information about Isaac than is generally recognized and what we are given could not have been invented, nor could it be the product of an editor. The key to discovery is the seeking of the hidden third son.

The text presents us with this picture of Isaac: He had two wives, as did his father and his father’s father, Terah. Rebecca was his cousin wife and his first wife who was a half-sister (again following his father and grandfather) lived in the area of Beersheba (that is the "well of Sheba"). This is where Abraham settled after his experience at Mt. Moriah (Gen. 22:19). Isaac’s rule in Beersheba is evident in Gen. 26 where we are told that he reopened the wells dug by his father between Beersheba and Gerar. This explains why Abraham’s servant brought Rebecca to Beersheba rather than to Hebron, the home of Isaac’s mother.

There is a suggestion in the genealogical data that Isaac’s first wife was named Judith. This name is the feminine equivalent of Judah.

Just as Abraham needed 2 wives to establish himself in the land, so Isaac needed 2 wives to maintain the territory. The picture becomes clearer when we imagine Judith in Beersheba and Rebecca in the area of Hebron. We are now able to speculate that Isaac had 3 sons: Jacob and Esau by Rebecca, and by Judith a son who is not named in the text. However, since the kinship of Abraham’s people traces lineage through the father and the mother, this pushes the line of Judah back several generations. It also establishes a connection between the Aramaic house of Terah and the Hamitic house of Sheba.

Revisiting Gen. 10 and Gen. 11:10-26, we find confirmation of this connection. Terah and Sheba are descendents of Eber’s two sons Peleg and Joktan. Terah descends from Peleg and Sheba from Joktan. Now where have we heard that name “Joktan” before? This is the name of one of Abraham’s 3 sons, born of his cousin bride Keturah, who dwelt at the Well of Sheba. He is a hidden third son, and probably Abraham's first-born.

The motif of the hidden son is Christological.  The Son of God is the Holy One hidden and revealed.

Related reading:  The Holy One Hidden and Revealed

For related information, go here and here.


Rick Lobs said...

Alice, You are outdoing yourself with these two essays. Hope there is more to come. GRL3

Rick Lobs said...

Alice, both essays are posted in the Lobster Pot

They are to be found in the sidebar. Blessings. Rick

Alice C. Linsley said...

Thnaks, Father Rick. I recommend your wonderfully informative and thoughtful blog to everyone!

poetreader said...

I am having trouble with this one. Perhaps you could help us with a further identification of where and how one comes to some of your statements. For instance, though I've spent a lot of time in Genesis, I must admit the thoughts about Isaac having a first wife have got completely by me. I've preached many sermons on him, and have gone back to the text since reading your article, and haven't made the proper connections. Can you unpack that a bit? If I can see this as so, I will have to revise some of my favorite themes garnered from the stoiry as I've understood it.


FrGregACCA said...

Again, one cannot avoid the christological implications. Christ, the Eternal Son of the Father, is hidden until "the fulness of time" when He is manifested in the flesh, thereby revealing the Father "whom no one has seen".

Alice C. Linsley said...

Anthropological analysis of the kinship pattern of Abraham's people, using the information in Genesis, reveals that the chiefs had 2 wives. One was a half-sister and teh other was a patrilineal parallel cousin. These wives maintained separate households on a north-south axis and the chiefs did their business (metal working, herding, collecting tarrifs from those carrying cargo through their lands, and controlling waterways and wells.) The 2 settlements marked the northern and southern boundaries of the chief's territory. This is true of all the chiefs among Abraham's people, including Nahor, father of Terah, Terah, father of Abraham, Abraham, father of Isaac, and Jacob. The pattern is first found in Gen. 4 with Lamech whose 2 wives are Adah (dawn) and Zillah (dusk). Lamech, aspiring to be as God, maintained his wives on an east-west axis. This represents the highest spiritual arrogance because the east-west axis, the route of the sun, God's chariot or emblem, was perceived to be God's territory.

You might enjoy reading this essay:

Alice C. Linsley said...

Indeed, Father Greg, Jewish Christians have been exploring the mystical symbolism of Genesis for a long time and see this: the Only Begotten of the Father was hidden from before time and is revealed in time as the Incarnate Word. (John's Prologue)

I written on the mystical symbolism here:

You might enjoy reading this also:

Anonymous said...

I too had never heard of Isaac having two wives.

Reading this essay made me ask several questions...(always looking for Christological analogy, symbolism, meanings)... does Christ presently have 'two wives' (or more)?

In the early Church, were the 'two wives' the Jews and the Gentile believers?

And today, are the two the Orthodox and Catholic churches currently split by the filioque and years of separation, or perhaps the Orthodox/Catholic and the Protestant/Evangelical?

And if the Bride is divided at least as a physical entity now, will she ever be made One in Him?

Alice C. Linsley said...

It is important to remember that in Jesus Christ all things are one. The number 3 represents a unity in the Scriptures. There was even a name for God among the Afro-Asiatics that suggests Trinity -"Baal Shalisha" (The 3 God). Note also that the 3 sons have one father. The husband and his 2 wives are one territory, one kingdom.

The names Gog and Magog are linked as in most minds, but a deeper investigation reveals a third: Og. Three represents a unity, and two represents a tension between 2 groups or 2 geographical points. There is unity of three alluded to in Revelation: Og, Gog and Magog. This theme of unity is represented in other triads:
Cain Abel Seth (Gen. 4-5)
Ham Japeth Shem (Gen. 5-9)
Og Gog Magog (Gen. 10, Nu. 21:33)
Haran Nahor Abraham (Gen. 11-12)
Ishmael Jokshan Isaac (Gen. 16, 21, 25)
Jeush Jalam Korah (Gen. 36: 4-18)
Dedan Tema Buz (Jeremiah 25)

Let us look more closely at this last group: Dedan, Tema and Buz.

Uz is the homeland of Job according to Job 1:1 and is associated with the hill country of Edom. Genesis 22:20-21 tells us that Buz was one of Nahor’s sons by Milcah. This means that Buz was a contemporary of Ishmael. Since the preferred marriage arrangement was patrilineal parallel cousins, the Ismaelites and the Arameans intermarried. These were what we today call the Arab Bedouins. Here is how they are described in Jeremiah 25: "Dedan and Tema and Buz, all the desert dwellers who shave their temples."

Notice all the groups of 3 in Jeremiah 25:15-26. “For thus said the LORD, the God of Israel, to me: Take this cup of foaming wine from my hand, and have all the nations to whom I will send you drink it. They shall drink, and be convulsed, and go mad, because of the sword I will send among them. I took the cup from the hand of the LORD and gave drink to all the nations to which the LORD sent me: Jerusalem, the cities of Judah, her kings and her princes, to make them a ruin and a desert, an object of ridicule and cursing, as they are today. Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and his servants, his princes, all the people under him, native and foreign; all the kings of the land of Uz; all the kings of the land of the Philistines, Ashkelon, Gaza, Ekron, and the remnant of Ashdod; Edom, Moab, and the Ammonites; all the kings of Tyre, of Sidon, and of the shores beyond the sea; Dedan and Tema and Buz, all the desert dwellers who shave their temples; all the kings of Arabia; all the kings of Zimri, of Elam, of the Medes; all the kings of the north, near and far, one after the other; all the kingdoms upon the face of the earth…”

Buz is related to Uz and is grouped with the northern Arabian groups of Dedan and Tema. Lacking information about Abraham’s nephew, Huz (Gen. 22:21), the confederation is not identified as Uz, Huz and Buz, but rather as Dedan, Tema and Buz because this familial confederation was easily identified by appearance and life style. Dedan means cave dwellers.

All the peoples mentioned in Genesis 10 are peoples of the Afro-Asiatic language family, organized in 3 group familial confederations. Other familial confederations are suggested by the names Sab-tah (Gen. 10:6) and Sab-teca (Gen. 10:7), and Le-hab (Gen. 10:13) and Le-sha (Gen. 10:19). We are able to identify Le-tu (Gen. 25:3) as the third group in the “Le” confederation. Letu is an 8th generation descendent of Noah through his sons Shem and Ham.

The Christological implications are evident, especially in St. Paul's writings: All things are made through Him, sustained through Him and held together as one reality (the Pleroma) in Him. To Christ, the bridegroom is given the Kingdom. The Kingdom includes the Church (as wife) and those who put their hope in Christ's appearing but died before He was revealed (as wife).

Living the Biblios said...

Georgia said...

"I too had never heard of Isaac having two wives."

Me neither.

Alice, would you kindly elaborate or proof text?

Alice C. Linsley said...

Pastor Ted, I like your blog!

The idea that Isaac likely had 2 wives is based on the fact that this is the normal pattern for the chiefs among Abraham's people. Textual evidence includes the fact that Terah, Abraham, and Jacob had 2 wives. Why would Isaac not have 2wives when this is the pattern for chiefs among his people? There is also Abraham's urgency about getting Isaac a (second) wife before his death so that Isaac could assume rule over Abraham's territory. Two wives were required to establish and maintain a territory. The servant brought Rebecca to Beersheba, the home of Isaac's half-siblings, children of Abraham by Keturah. This is where Isaac was dwelling when he was to become chief. It is likely that he was dwelling there with his first wife. First wives were half-sisters and second wives were patrilineal parallel cousins (such as Rebecca).

When you have time read the essays on Kinship listed in the Index.

Susan Burns said...

Gudit (Judith) is also a Sabean/Ethiopic title for queen.