Rebekah in Nahor’s Genealogy

Traces of Editorial Hands in Genesis 22

For the Korean version of the post, click here

Gen 22:20   Now after these things it was told Abraham, “Milcah also has borne children, to your brother Nahor:  21 Uz the firstborn, Buz his brother, Kemuel the father of Aram,  22 Chesed, Hazo, Pildash, Jidlaph, and Bethuel.”  23 Bethuel became the father of Rebekah. These eight Milcah bore to Nahor, Abraham’s brother.

Genesis 22:20-22 introduces Nahor’s eight sons to the reader, and v. 23 says, “These eight Milkah bore to Nahor, Abraham’s brother.” This seems to conclude the genealogy. But in v. 24 the narrator continues to tell us four more sons born from Nahor’s concubine, indicating Nahor, like Jacob, became the father of twelve sons, or the ancestor of twelve tribes.

Obviously, the passage is originally a genealogy of Nahor, but strangely the passage mentions Bethuel’s daughter Rebekah in the list of Nahor’s sons. She is the only granddaughter mentioned in this genealogy. Not even a single grandson of Nahor is mentioned including Laban. But Rebekah, the last son’s daughter, is mentioned. The insertion of the name Rebekah is intentional, and it suggests that the final text of Nahor’s genealogy inserted in Gen 22:20-24 is a result of an editorial process. The editor or the writer of the story needed the name, Rebekah for the flow of the larger story. Otherwise, there is no reason that Nahor’s granddaughter’s name Rebekah appears in the list of Nahor’s twelve sons.

The reason that the narrator wanted the name Rebekah to appear here is simple. God promised Abraham that his descendants will become as numerous as stars in the sky. In Gen 22, however, Isaac was almost killed, and God’s blessings promised to Abraham could have been put in danger. But since Isaac survived after all, Isaac had to carry on his duty to fulfill God’s promises. He had to marry someone and produce offsprings. Thus, the narrator wanted to give some hints at who is going to be the bride of Isaac, the one who actually bears children and fulfills God’s blessings. That is why the name Rebekah appears right after Isaac survives the human sacrifice event and before his marriage.

The narrator used an extant genealogy of Nahor to introduce Rebekah. Its original form is not known to us. But as the number “twelve” always symbolizes something important, positive, perfect, authoritative, etc as is the case with Israel’s twelve sons, Nahor’s genealogy was meant to emphasize the number twelve and Nahor himself. The last son Bethuel should have had no importance here, and Rebekah should not even have been there. But by inserting the name Rebekah and placing it in the current context, the editor or writer spotlights Bethuel and his daughter, and foreshadows the imminent fulfillment of God’s promise, that it, the continuation of Abraham’s lineage through the marriage of Isaac and Rebekah

In conclusion, we find editorial activities in the passage of Gen 22:20-24. The genealogy was once an independent document or an oral tradition. Still, the writer (or editor), who is perhaps Jahwist according to Joel Baden (The Composition of the Pentateuch, 2012), edited it and inserted it in the right place so that the story (probably J story) of God’s promises and the fulfillment is foreshadowed.

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