Although Keturah is mentioned only four times in the Bible (in two different sections of
Scripture—Genesis 25:1,4; 1 Chronicles
1:32-33), her relationship to Abraham has come under severe scrutiny. Skeptics have charged the
Bible writers with erring in regard to
their portrayal of Keturah. Allegedly, Genesis 25:1 and 1 Chronicles 1:32 are contradictory,
because the first passage indicates
Keturah was Abraham’s “wife,” while the other says she was “Abraham’s
concubine.” Based upon the
understanding of some that there is a distinction of the words “wife” (Hebrew ‘
“concubine” (pilegeš) during the monarchic period, even some Bible believers may
be somewhat perplexed at the
different titles given to Keturah. Was she Abraham’s wife, or was she his concubine? Many are
aware that during David’s reign
as Israel’s king, he had “wives” and “concubines” (2 Samuel 19:5). Also,
during Solomon’s kingship,
“he had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines” (1 Kings 11:3).
In these contexts, the terms “
wives” (‘iššâ) and “concubines” (pilegeš) are distinct
terms that rarely, if ever, are used
interchangeably. Such begs the question, “Why was Keturah called Abraham’s wife in one
passage, and his concubine in
another?” Are these two sections of Scripture really contradictory, as Bible critics would
have us believe?
First, for Genesis 25:1 and 1 Chronicles 1:32-33 to be a contradiction, one must know whether
or not these passages are referring to
the same time. It is possible that Keturah was Abraham’s “concubine” in the
beginning, and then became his
“wife” at a later time. If such were the case, Bible writers could legitimately use both
terms when describing her.
Second, although it was unusual for the terms “wives” and “concubines” to
be used interchangeably during the
monarchic period, evidence indicates that in patriarchal times, using these terms to refer to the
same person was somewhat normal.
Consider the following:
- Bilhah, Rachel’s maid (Genesis 29:29), was one of Jacob’s “concubines”
(35:22). But, she also was called
his “wife,” both before and after she gave birth to two of Jacob’s sons (30:4;
- Genesis 16:3 calls Hagar Abraham’s “wife” (‘iššâ), while
Genesis 25:6 implies that Hagar,
Sarah’s maidservant, also was his “concubine” (pilegeš).
- Although Genesis 25:1 says, “Abraham again took a wife” (Keturah), verse 6 of
that same chapter indicates Keturah
also was his concubine.
And Abraham gave all that he had to Isaac. But Abraham gave gifts to the sons of
the concubines which Abraham
had; and while he was still living he sent them eastward, away from Isaac his son, to the country
of the east (25:5-6, emp. added).
Isaac, son of Sarah, was set apart from all of Abraham’s other sons, which were born to him
by his concubines. By
implication, Keturah, who was not the mother of Isaac, was described as a concubine (cf. 1
Hebrew scholar Victor Hamilton believes this concubine-wife relationship to be dissimilar to
what was seen during the days of David
and Solomon. It is reasonable to conclude that this “coidentification” in Genesis
indicates “that the concubines of
Abraham and Jacob were not pilagšîm [concubines—EL] in
the later sense, but that no term was
available for that type of concubinage; thus pilegeš and ‘iššâ were used
as synonyms to describe these women
in the patriarchal narratives” (1990, p. 446). In an article that the late Semitist Dr. Chaim
Rabin wrote regarding the origin
pilegeš, he stated: “By alternating the terms within the easily apprehended framework of
a story, a similar impression of
‘in-betweenness’ was created” (1974, p. 362).
Keturah was a concubine-wife. Its seems that she was more than a concubine (often considered a
second-rate wife of servant status),
but not on a par with Sarah, Abraham’s first “wife,” and mother of the promised son
(Genesis 17:15-22). Just as Bilhah,
Jacob’s concubine-wife, did not rival Rachel or Leah, Keturah was not equivalent with Sarah.
Thus, Bible writers were not mistaken
when referring to Keturah and Bilhah as both wives and concubines; they simply used two words to
indicate the “in-between”
position the women held.
Hamilton, Victor P. (1990), The Book of Genesis: Chapters 1-17 (Grand Rapids, MI:
Rabin, Chaim (1974), “The Origin of the Hebrew Word Pilegeš,” Journal of
Jewish Studies, 25:362.
Copyright © 2003 Apologetics Press, Inc. All rights reserved.
We are happy to grant permission for items in the "Alleged Discrepancies" section to be reproduced in their entirety, as long as the following stipulations are observed: (1) Apologetics Press must be designated as the original publisher; (2) the specific Apologetics Press Web site URL must be noted; (3) the authors name must remain attached to the materials; (4) any references, footnotes, or endnotes that accompany the article must be included with any written reproduction of the article; (5) alterations of any kind are strictly forbidden (e.g., photographs, charts, graphics, quotations, etc. must be reproduced exactly as they appear in the original); (6) serialization of written material (e.g., running an article in several parts) is permitted, as long as the whole of the material is made available, without editing, in a reasonable length of time; (7) articles, in whole or in part, may not be offered for sale or included in items offered for sale; and (8) articles may be reproduced in electronic form for posting on Web sites pending they are not edited or altered from their original content and that credit is given to Apologetics Press, including the web location from which the articles were taken.
For catalog, samples, or further information, contact:
230 Landmark Drive
Montgomery, Alabama 36117
Phone (334) 272-8558