Eating the Apple

Eve did it. Adam did it. Now it's my turn to take a bite. Why not? Hey! It's delicious.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Keturah, continued

In a previous post I pointed out a discrepancy between Genesis 25;1 and 1 Chronicles 1:32. The former says that Keturah was the second wife of Abraham; the latter says that she was a concubine. I did not try to resolve the issue. I left it for the reader to investigate the passage and draw his or her conclusions. Now it is time for me to state my conclusions.

First, what do we know for sure? Biblical tradition asserts that Moses wrote down the first five books of the Bible as dictated by God. Modern critical scholars take issue with that tradition. They believe, based upon the words of the text, that there were three source texts of Genesis (J, E, and P), and that these source texts were combined by a redactor, probably Ezra. The redaction occurred either during the Babylonian Exile or shortly thereafter. The author of Chronicles was either a contemporary of Ezra or lived shortly thereafter. Indeed, some authorities believe that the Chronicler was Ezra.

No matter what view you take concerning the possible Mosaic authorship of Genesis, one thing is clear -- Genesis has priority over Chronicles. It is clear that the chronicler relied upon the books from Genesis through Kings and some of the major prophets.

Thus, I conclude that 'wife' was changed to 'concubine' in Chronicles. I do not believe that the wording of Genesis was changed from 'concubine' to 'wife'. That would diminish the importance of Isaac.

The most interesting question is: why was this change made?

Some scholars have concluded that Keturah was not a wife, but a concubine. I do not accept such a conclusion. In the first place, such scholars would have to believe that Chronicles is more credible than Genesis. Second, if Keturah was a concubine, she was no ordinary concubine. She had a very high status in Abraham's household. She, and no other concubine after Hagar is named. Not only that, her sons and grandsons are named. This in a document that deprecates the importance of women.The attention paid to Keturah, in both Genesis and Chronicles, leads me to believe that she was truly a wife of Abraham.

Some scholars even suggest that Keturah was Hagar, the mother of Ishmael. I do not find this suggestion credible. In the first place, why would Genesis use a different name for Hagar? Second, Hagar and Ishmael had been expelled from Abraham's household as demanded by Sarah. Not only that, Sarah demanded that Ishmael be disinherited. [Genesis 21:8-10] Ishmael and Abraham were thus estanged. There is no indication that Ishmael ever returned to his father's house before his death. (Ishmael did return to bury his father.) Why then would Hagar leave her son's household and return to the man who cast her out and disinherited her son.

You might wonder, what is so important about this issue. What difference does it make whether Keturah was a wife or a concubine? My answer is that is does make an importance both theologically and politically. It was important the the Chronicler.

The main theological reason was to enhance the importance of Isaac and Jacob and diminish the importance of the other sons of Abraham.

A second theological issue applies to those who claim that the Scriptures are 'inerrant'. How can one defend the inerrancy of the Scriptures in the face of this discrepancy? What kind of verbal handstands are required to bridge this difference?

The political reason comes from the fact that Chronicles was written shortly after the Babylonian Exile. The Persian king Cyrus allowed the Jews to return to Jerusalem. But only a small of Jews left Babylon. As a result the new Jewish community in Jerusalem was weak and surrounded by enemies. Sometimes these Jews had to defend themselves against accusations of disloyalty to the Persian king.

Now let us recall the covenant between God and Abraham:
Genesis 15:18 In the same day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates.

Even today, many Jews understand this passage to mean that they have title to the land of Israel. Many of the Jews who were recently removed from Gaza believe that their government is violating the 'will of the Almighty'. In the Scriptures, there are several passages that recall God's promise of land to Abraham. For example,
Deuteronomy 1:8 Behold, I have set the land before you: go in and possess the land which the LORD sware unto your fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give unto them and to their seed after them.

However the language of the covenant applies equally to ALL of Abraham's seed. There is nothing in the covenant that distinguishes between the sons of wives and the sons of concubines. Nevertheless, both Jewish and Christian traditions rejects the claims of Ishmaelites because Ishmael was the son of a concubine. Also the claims of Edomites are rejected because Esau despised his birthright for a bowl of soup.

Having said this, it is worth noting that Jewish tradition accepts the claims to the promised land from ALL of the sons of Jacob in spite of the fact that Dan, Naphtali, Gad, and Asher were sons of concubines.

But in the post-exilic time, the Jews in Jerusalem may have had a particular problem. Suppose a band of foreigners should come to Jerusalem and say, "We are a Midianites." (maybe true, maybe not.) "Your holy books say that we, of Abraham's seed, own this land. We demand land!" Now the Jews of Jerusalem would not want to accept that claim. But what reason can they give for rejecting it?

During the time of King Solomon, when this passage of Genesis was probably written, the king could just say, "You have land east of the Gulf of Aqaba. Go there and leave us alone!" The land in question is part of the territory that God "gave" to Abraham.

But after the exile, these Midianites could have approached Persian officials and obtained an edict granting land in or near Jerusalem. The chronicler might have feared this possibility and might have rewritten the story of Abraham to forestall that possibility. If Keturah was a concubine, then the Midianite claim can be rejected on the same basis as the Ishmaelite claim. I suspect that this is the reason why the Chronicler says that Keturah was a concubine.

Like the author of Genesis 25, the Chronicler treats Keturah as a very special woman. He lists all of her sons and grandsons. I don't think that the Chronicler would pay that much attention to Keturah if she was just a concubine. This suggests to me that the Chronicler, in the back of his mind, really understood Keturah to be Abraham's second wife. Therefore, the Chronicler was 'economical with the truth'. Of course, I cannot know for sure what was going on in the mind of the Chronicler. Thus I cannot prove my thesis. I can only offer it as a plausible explanation for the inconsistancy between Genesis and Chronicles.

My final conclusion is that Keturah was the second wife of Abraham, and that the chronicler tried to rewrite history.

Note: Quotations are from the KJV. Theophilis 3 software was used in the research of this essay. (


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