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The Many Wives of Esau

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Have you ever wondered who Esau married? In fact, Esau’s marital history is explicitly detailed in Genesis:

“And when Esau was forty years old, he took as his wife wife Judith (also known as Oholibamah) the daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and Basemath (also known as Adah) the daughter of Elon the Hittite. And they were a bitterness of spirit to Isaac and to Rebecca” (26:34-35).

So disruptive were these women to the household that the Bible reports:

“And Rebecca said to Isaac: ‘I am weary of my life because of the daughters of Heth. If Jacob takes a wife of the daughters of Heth, such as these, of the daughters of the land, what good shall my life do me?’” (27:46).

Perhaps when Esau married Judith and Basemath, he assumed that they would be acceptable because his own mother, Rebecca, was the daughter of idolators. When Rebecca came to marry Isaac, however, she accepted the way of life established by Abraham and Sarah. The Hittite women, however, never gave up their idolatrous practices.

When Esau overheard Isaac and Rebecca instructing Jacob not to take a wife from the daughters of Canaan,  he realized that his parents disapproved of his Hittite wives. He immediately set out to resolve the situation by going to Ishmael, his father’s brother, and marrying his daughter. 

“And Esau saw that the daughters of Canaan pleased not Isaac his father; so Esau went to Ishmael, and took, in addition to his wives, Mahalath, the daughter of Ishmael, Abraham’s son, the sister of Nebaiot, to be his wife” (28:8-9).

On this decision, the commentaries have been divided. Some say that this act brought Esau atonement. Others, however, say that because “he took Mahalath in addition to his wives, [he was] adding grief to grief” (Genesis Rabbah 67:13).

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