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 Rebekah 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 narrative doublets, duplicates of the same event believed by critics to be told by two different sources.

While I appreciate this professor’s observations, I disagree with his conclusion. Isaac’s historicity can be verified by analysis of the Hebrew kinship pattern. Kinship patterns as complex as that of the early Hebrew are not found with fictional characters. Further, the kinship pattern of Abraham's people reveals a good deal of information about the principal figures of Genesis.

According to the marriage and ascendancy pattern of the early Hebrew, Isaac was Abraham's proper heir because he was the firstborn (only) son of Abraham's principal wife, his half-sister bride, Sarah. When Abraham died, Isaac became the ruler over Abraham's territory which extended on a north-south axis between Hebron and Beersheba (shown on this map).

After the binding of Isaac, Abraham and Isaac were living in Beersheba, and it was to the region of Beersheba in the Negev (Gen. 24:62) that Abraham’s servant brought Rebekah to meet her betrothed. 

Beersheba was the settlement of Abraham’s cousin wife, Keturah. Isaac probably had already married his first wife, a half-sister. That wife was a daughter of Abraham and Keturah. By his first wife Isaac had sons and daughters who became the marriage partners of the sons and daughters born to Isaac by Rebekah. All of these persons were Hebrew and the Hebrew were a ruler-priest caste that practiced endogamy.

The kinship pattern of the early Hebrew provides the essential information to draw this conclusion and to justify it on the basis of the text alone.

It is possible to trace some of Isaac's children by his first wife through the cousin bride’s naming prerogative. Rebekah’s father was Bethuel (Gen. 22:23), a son of Nahor, Abraham’s brother. Why didn’t she name her firstborn 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. Isaac's proper heir according to the Hebrew marriage and ascendancy pattern was Esau.

Rebecca is central to Isaac’s claim as the heir to Abraham’s territory and to the divine promises, yet she did not name her firstborn son after her father, as was the practice for the sons of cousin brides who were to be rulers in the territories of their maternal grandfathers. This suggests that Isaac had another firstborn son by another wife. His proper heir was the firstborn son of his first wife, a daughter of Keturah.

Tracking Firstborn Sons

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 and Yitz and Yish, which recall the 3-son confederations of the ancient Kushite rulers.

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, indicating that he was a sent-away sonHe 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: The Hebrew Hierarchy of Sons; The Hebrew Were a Caste; Terah's Two WivesMoses' Two Wives; Three-Clan Confederations of the Bible; Hebrew Rulers with Two Wives


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.


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.

Alice C. 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

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

Alice C. Linsley said...

I'm having doubts about my thinking in this article. I'm beginning to look in another direction for data concerning Isaac's first born son by his half-sister wife. This son was Isaac's proper heir and would have ruled over Edom when Isaac died. I'm beginning to think that his proper heir was Seir the Horite (Genesis 36).

Abraham's son Isaac was likely much younger than Nahor's first born son Huz. This is the son of Milcah (Gen. 23:20-24). Huz had a brother named Buz. Huz/Buz and Uz ae a 3-clan Horite confederation. Nahor's other so was Kemuel. He is associated with the Horite city of Hebron in 1 Chronicles 26:30 and 1 Chronicles 27:17. Uz's daughter married Dishan and named her first born son Uz after her father. Uz the Younger is listed in Genesis 36 as a chief of the Horite clan of Seir, the ruler of Edom. This would make Seir the age that he would have been born to Isaac and his first wife, his half-sister.

Rhona Silverbush said...

I found this because I was curious about how, when Isaac and Esau discover Jacob's theft of the blessing, Isaac says to Esau, "I made him a master over you, and I gave him all his brothers as servants". Made me wonder if Isaac had other children, perhaps through concubines, who may not have rated as highly as Esau and Jacob did in the hierarchy of the culture of that place and time.

Alice C. Linsley said...

Rhona, you are asking good questions.

I recommend reading this short piece:

Best wishes,