Keturah and Abraham’s Other Children

His story being told, God grants Abraham something of a retirement for a job well done: roughly 35 years where he can settle down with a new wife, have six more children, and generally just stay out of the way. Isaac and his descendants will take the stage in a moment, but before that happens let’s take a brief look at Keturah, his new wife, and what the bible says about his new children. It’s not much, but anything the bible can do to flesh out the final days of the first great patriarch is welcome.

A mysterious new wife (that may have been an old wife)? New children who will lead great nations? Read on!

Is Keturah the same person as Hagar?

"Expulsion of Ishmael and His Mother by Abraham" by Gustave Doré (Source: Wikimedia Commons)
“Expulsion of Ishmael and His Mother by Abraham” by Gustave Doré (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

When it comes to describing Abraham’s new wife and children, the bible is very straight-forward. In fact, it doesn’t describe them at all:

Abraham had taken another wife, whose name was Keturah. She bore him Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak and Shuah. Jokshan was the father of Sheba and Dedan; the descendants of Dedan were the Ashurites, the Letushites and the Leummites. The sons of Midian were Ephah, Epher, Hanok, Abida and Eldaah. All these were descendants of Keturah.
Genesis 25:1-4

And that’s it, or nearly so. In fact, the Book of Chronicles also briefly covers this in their opening genealogy:

The sons of Abraham: Isaac and Ishmael. […] The sons born to Keturah, Abraham’s concubine: Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak and Shuah. The sons of Jokshan: Sheba and Dedan. The sons of Midian: Ephah, Epher, Hanok, Abida and Eldaah. All these were descendants of Keturah.
1 Chronicles 1:28,32-33

Eagle-eyed observers will note only two differences between those two lists: Keturah is called a “wife” in Genesis and a “concubine” in Chronicles, and the chronicler omits the tribes descended from Dedan. Neither Sarah nor Hagar are named in the chronicler’s account either, even though Keturah is. I find that odd, but can’t explain it. Truth is, Keturah is much more prominent in Jewish legends than she is in the Torah itself. The fact that she is called both Abraham’s “wife” and “concubine” has given commentators through the ages some pause; some speculate that she was first a concubine and then a wife. From there, it’s a relatively easy step to make the connections that Jews since antiquity have. Let me quote Rashi here:

This is Hagar. She was called Keturah because her deeds were as beautiful as incense, and because she tied her opening, for she was not intimate with any man from the day she separated from Abraham.

Abraham’s treatment of Hagar was shameful and it’s very easy for us as readers (today and in the past) to wish that she had been redeemed and that they could be happy together in their old age. And yet, tradition aside, there is scant textual evidence for that claim. If they were the same person, you might expect Chronicles to list Ishmael as one of her children, but it does not. It would be beautiful if Keturah was Hagar, but I cannot bring myself to believe that she is. You may make a different choice than I and still be in great company.

Abraham and Keturah’s Children

The descendants of Abraham and Keturah from Genesis 25
The descendants of Abraham and Keturah from Genesis 25

Some people find the “begats”, the seemingly endless lists of names that sometimes haunt Genesis and the later books, as being boring or unimportant. I cannot bring myself to find anything that is in the bible (and especially the Torah) unimportant, though it is sometimes challenging– but this particular set isn’t particularly difficult. You can discover some amazing things in the bible if you pay attention to the little details! For those of you that don’t find this all that interesting, I’ll try to keep it moving. Of the six named children, only Midian unambiguously has an impact on the rest of the story. Sheba, Dedan, and the Ashurites might be mentioned later, though it is unclear if the references (such as the famous “Queen of Sheba” who tests Solomon’s wisdom) are to these individual’s descendants or others with similar names. But why is that? Why are people as important as Abraham’s children not involved in the story? Because he wanted it that way:

But while he was still living, he gave gifts to the sons of his concubines and sent them away from his son Isaac to the land of the east.
Genesis 25:6

Abraham sent the rest of the children away, so they couldn’t interfere with the promise that God had made him. And if you think about it, that must have hurt him very much as a father, to see these children move far away– none of them were present even to bury him. And this verse implies that he may yet have had other concubines and other children which the Torah doesn’t name.

Midian and the Midianites

"The Women of Midian Led Captive by the Hebrews", watercolor by James Tissot, c1890-1900
“The Women of Midian Led Captive by the Hebrews”, watercolor by James Tissot, c1890-1900 (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Of Abraham’s six sons, only Midian ends up with some dubious prominence later in the bible. Midian will become the patriarch of the Midianites, a tribe and religion that will feature prominently in the biblical story: Joseph was sold by his brothers to Midianites, Moses’s father-in-law was a priest of the Midian religion, and Israel will later fight a war (and fail to genocide) the Midian people. Actually, that’s worth dwelling on for a moment because it’s one of the more shameful passages in the whole of the bible. It saddens me to even remember it:

They fought against Midian, as the Lord commanded Moses, and killed every man. […] The Israelites captured the Midianite women and children and took all the Midianite herds, flocks and goods as plunder. They burned all the towns where the Midianites had settled, as well as all their camps. […] Moses was angry with the officers of the army—the commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds—who returned from the battle. “Have you allowed all the women to live?” he asked them. [..] Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man.
Numbers 31:7-18

Some Midian women had led Israelites astray, so God commanded that every Midianite man be slaughtered. It hardly seems fair, but I’ll get to that eventually when we get to the Book of Numbers. If there is any good here, it’s that the genocide failed. God later used the Midianites to punish the Israelites, so I guess what goes around comes around:

The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord, and for seven years he gave them into the hands of the Midianites.
Judges 6:1

Why did the Midians become such a thorn in the Israelite side? I think the answer lies in geography. While Abraham sent his later children away to the east, at least some Midianites emigrated west. Moses found his father-in-law quite near Egypt and Midianite merchants were with the Ishmaelites that Joseph was sold to. By the time of the judges though, the Midianites were an eastern people (Judges 6:3) so they must have been pushed back by their war with Israel.

Sheba, and Dedan, and the Ashurites

"The Queen of Sheba Kneeling Before King Solomon", painting by Johann Friedrich August Tischbein (Source: Wikimedia Commons)
“The Queen of Sheba Kneeling Before King Solomon”, painting by Johann Friedrich August Tischbein (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Of Abraham’s five remaining sons, not one is mentioned again in the bible– but there are three of his descendants, Sheba, Dedan, and the Ashurites– that might possibly be related to tribes later but probably aren’t. This is because none of those are the first times those names are used in the Torah and when they are used later, textual evidence points at the earlier figure as being the patriarch. While Genesis often tells us that such-and-such is the father of a tribe, it just as often doesn’t. So for Midian, for example, we are left to infer that the Midianites are related to him rather than being explicitly told so.

Sheba, Abraham’s grandson through Jokshan is a great example of this. You probably associate Sheba with the Queen of Sheba, a woman who visited the court of King Solomon to discover his wisdom. Was Abraham’s grandson Sheba the patriarch of that tribe? It’s difficult to know. The Torah speaks of three people named Sheba:

  1. Sheba, the son of Raamah in Genesis 10:7, a descendant of Cush and four generations after Noah. Had a brother named Dedan.
  2. Sheba, the son of Joktan in Genesis 10:28, a descendant of Shem and seven generations after Noah.
  3. Sheba, the son of Jokshan in Genesis 25:3, Abraham’s grandson and twelve generations after Noah. Had a brother named Dedan.

Which of these three is the patriarch of the tribe of Sheba? My money goes on the first one. Extra-biblical sources place the Queen of Sheba as being from roughly Ethiopia, biblically Cushite territory. But look at those “coincidences”: Two of the Shebas had brothers named Dedan, and a different two had fathers named (roughly) Joktan! This suggests to me that we have some cut-and-paste going on by the original writers of Genesis, perhaps to give Abraham credit for fathering those tribes or perhaps just by the accident of similar names. If you are looking for a less meta-textual explanation, you could always just say that Abraham’s grandchildren were named in honor of the sons of Ramaah.

Similar stories exist for Dedan (the two mentions above plus additional others that suggest he was descended from Esau) and the Ashurites (listed as descendants of Shem as well as the name of an Assyrian god). If anyone is interested, I can trace those references to show the ambiguity, but I suspect that’s only interesting to me.

And that’s it! 1600 words devoted to Abraham’s final children. I’m very glad that God gave him this retirement after all of his troubles. Although he’s not mentioned in the stories, Abraham lived until Jacob and Esau were around fifteen, so he very well could have been in the background of those stories, a loving but silent grandparent.

Up next: One of my favorite tiny stories in the Torah

12 thoughts on “Keturah and Abraham’s Other Children”

  1. Further information about Abraham, Keturah, and their descendants can be found in “The Antiquities of the Jews” by Flavius Josepheus, Book 1, Chapter XV. Hope this helps.

  2. I agree it is difficult to swallow Keturah as the sexually loyal Hagar. Does disloyal to religion, Abram’s religion, by teaching her son to be Egyptian not Abram’s faith, does that insure that she would remain sexually loyal in divorce? hmm And why would you take her back so that she could continue to say at Abram’s death the inheritance will be Ishmael’s not Isaac’s.

  3. Doing research on the Parables and Riddles of old relating to Keturah & stumbled upon this. Thank you for publishing. “YaHUaH bless you Joe and guard you Joe: YaHUaH make His face shine upon you Joe, and show favour to you, May YaHUaH lift up His face upon you Joe and give you peace. ShLUM.

  4. Unless primordial geography of the Bible is discovered, we cannot find out the truth behind all the names we come across in the holy books.
    A K Sahoo

  5. Your research is quite interesting and drove me into a deeper study on the topic. In my opinion Hagar can not be Keturah because of age. We have got to accept God s word as it is pure. He gave us a part and pattern to follow , not to question. Thank you.

    1. i see nothing of what Hagar and Keturahs age has to do with her ability to have children Hagar when Abram is 86 and Keturah when he is 140 does not say that women cannot have children 54 years apart. YOU do not know if Hagar was a mere child of 15 when given to Sarah so as to be 26 when bearing child for Abram and 54 years later have 6 more sons at age 80. Sarah was not barren at age 75, she was barran at age 17 and for 48 years remained barran until age 65 at which time 10 years later she not God proved she would be barren even with a cease of menstruation which presumed no egg released, However, if one ovary stops so that the cramps are only one side ever 2 months, the hormone level has dropped enough to cease the the blood cycle but not stop the one-side from releasing an egg. It was Sarah who decided to stop sex. It was Sarah who laughed that sex without blood could implant an egg. ( I have cats who share babies, and as moms they will dry up for a week and then make milk again all based on who wants to nurse the kittens again or more.) So Sarah’s dry-up at 75 means nothing about Hagar’s age. When she was 75 in 1933bc, Eber was age 370 (do you think his wife, sister, cousin if 370 was barren 280 years ago at age at 90? if you think os then you are not looking at a natural biological science as God-created).

    1. However,—Abraham was only 85 years old,—when Sarah “gave” Hagar to Abraham in,— 2033AM, 1859BC,— and Ishmael was born in the next year,—2034AM, 1858BC,—when Abraham was 86 years old and Sarah was 76 years old.

      So,—obviously,—there are 54 years between the “giving” of Hagar and Kenturah’s marriage with Abraham,—when he was140 years old,—3 years after the death of Sarah,—in her 127th year,—2085AM, 1807BC.

      1. Hi Joseph,
        So, apparently Abraham, at 140 years old, married Kentura in the same year that Isaac married Rebecca! 2148am in 1878bc (not 2088AM, 1804BCE).

        This doesn’t require the extra extrapolation since Isaac was born when Abram was 100 and then married when Isaac was 40. Abram gave Isaac the Shiloh’s (Shelah) common 137-year blessing when Sarah died.

        However,—Abraham was only 85 years old,—when Sarah “gave” Hagar to Abraham in,— 2093am in 1933bc (not 2033AM, 1859BC),— and Ishmael was born in the next year,—2094am in 1932bc (not 2034AM, 1858BC),—when Abraham was 86 years old and Sarah was 76 years old.

        So,—obviously,—there are 54 years between the “giving” of Hagar and Kenturah’s marriage with Abraham,—when he was 140 years old, 2148am in 1878bc—3 years after the death of Sarah,—in her 127th year,—2145am in 1881bc (not 2085AM, 1807BC).

        Obviously you follow the Terah 39 when Haran born and 70 when Abram born, but Terah is 70 when Haran born and 130 when Abram born. His 130 Julian years proves 130-year Mars (Marduk) is 128 of 360-day, his 205 years proves to be Marduk’s 208 of 360-day (4x 52 year) return to seasons 2148bc July 18 to 1943bc July 22 and confirmed by the fact Jewish Seder Olam Rabbah continues it as 1943bc July 22 to 1738bc July July 26 as Terah’s death (145) with Abram (75) in Egypt at end of the 205 mistaken with Joseph’s birthday (30) in 1738bc. Genealogy is nothing without the astronomy, and astronomy is destroyed by Jewish calendar worship that ignores all other calendars and all other astronomy as if pagan.

  6. Moslem claim that Keturah is a new name for Hagar would indicate Abram’s moral concept of sex and marriage. Terah had two wives (Nahor and grandson Haran had 69 wives, Lot’s mother gave birth to avoid being part of Ur’s suicide which contains 68 women killed by the 6 guards to join Peleg in heaven). Terah’s 2nd wife was taken only to have children because the first wife was barren; this fact is implied by the fact that despite Haran losing the inheritance from self-suicide and murder of his wives so that he could not give Terah’s rights to his son Lot, that nor did Nahor’s grandson Nahor II get Terah’s rights despite his being NEXT, and despite thus being named after grandpa Nahor. Instead Abram who apparently is the only child of his mother to whom all others Haran, Nahor and Sarai were half-sibling of. If Jasher were correct to say Haran and Nahor were twins, then Terah waited only 30 years (age 39-69) to try again with his first wife. So why did Abram wait 75 years in a marriage of 48 years from age 27 to 75? On the other hand Abram was born to his mother 60 years after brother Haran was born and 11 years after brother Nahor II (and nephew Lot) were born. If his father could wait 60 years then certainly the 48 that Abram had waited from age 27-75 were nothing, just as the 14 after Ishmael were nothing. This is why Abram refused polygamy and regarded Hagar as a medical surrogate concubine of just one intimacy and child. But such a man was not only convinced by his wife that menstruation menopause means both ovaries have stopped, and that his uncircumcized dirt could never be cleaned, nor heal her allergy to him (causing the imflammation which aborted implantation) he was still yet convinced that by his own faith that he was monogamous. AND this would be the reason he would marry the celibate Hagar to continue his moral monogamy by marrying the surrogate mother, so that as by name Keturah her six sons are full blood brothers to Ishmael (according to Moslems). Islam means The Truth so we should not always be quick to accuse all they have written as being The Lie.

  7. This is the problem with people who use math facts only when they wish to. Abram is 10 years older than Sarah so how is it that he lives 175 and she only lives 127. It means she was not old at 90, but rather merely insisted she was past the physical years which today women claim as 40-50 yet just 50 years ago in the 1970s women claimed it was 30-40 and dare do not have at 40 or you it will kill you. Having this attitude at 75-90 does not mean the woman is a wrinkled ole weak prude for 37 more years to age 127. She clearly has the same longevity as 175 year old Abram. Look at Isaac who at 137 blessed his 77 year old twins because his brother Ishmael had died 14 years ago at age 137 and how could he even imagine he would outlive dad by 5 years to be 180. Why would you be biased and think the women dies at half the age, at 90, or presume Isaac from 90 to 180 lived a weak old diapered man. Numbers are being thrown into claims to suit anyone’s intent. You do not prove Keurah wasn’t Hagar but rather you prove her 6 sons were born in her 70s and 80s. This explains why it is Ishmael who succeeded in 12 sons, not Abram thru Hagar. Even Jacob failed 12 sons from one woman. And so Isaac dies satisfied, like father Abram dies satisfied, yet Jacob says he is dying miserable with all the crap his own family pulled on him besides that of the world. Cannot blame him because he should have been able to leave Harran Syria with one barren wife Rachel, and her servant to become his concubine for children until surprised by two sons born, Joseph and Ben.

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