Bible Study: Who Was Keturah? Did Abraham Have an Interracial Marriage?


After this mornings Daily Bible Reading, I noticed something I had not before.  That’s why daily Bible study is so important.  You constantly are learning more, and you see things you’ve missed before.

As a result, I am updating two previous interrelated articles, correcting and clarifying some things that have recently become more obvious.

This comes up from time to time because some question whether or not the Bible condemns interracial marriage.  Trying to base your belief either way upon Abraham’s relationship to Keturah, however, is problematic at best.


25 Then again Abraham took a wife, and her name was Keturah.

2 And she bare him Zimran, and Jokshan, and Medan, and Midian, and Ishbak, and Shuah.

5 And Abraham gave all that he had unto Isaac.

6 But unto the sons of the concubines, which Abraham had, Abraham gave gifts, and sent them away from Isaac his son, while he yet lived, eastward, unto the east country.

~ Ge 25:1-2, 5-6

Notice that “concubines”, plural, is used in v 6.  This means that Abraham had more than one.  However, some see a passage in 1 Chronicles as proof that he only had one.

Was Keturah Another Name for Hagar?  Was Keturah a Wife or Concubine?

32 Now the sons of Keturah, Abraham’s concubine: she bare Zimran, and Jokshan, and Medan, and Midian, and Ishbak, and Shuah. And the sons of Jokshan; Sheba, and Dedan.

33 And the sons of Midian; Ephah, and Epher, and Henoch, and Abida, and Eldaah. All these are the sons of Keturah.

~ 1Ch 1:32-33

Some read this passage, and they see the singular “concubine”, and they assume from that that Abraham had only one concubine.  That would mean that Keturah had to be Hagar.

Abraham’s second wife, whom he married after the death of Sarah (Gen. xxv. 1; I Chron. i. 32). She was the ancestress of sixteen tribes, among which were Arabian and Midianite ones. In I Chron. i. 32 Keturah is called “the concubine of Abraham,” and, probably for this reason, she is identified in the Midrash (Gen. R. lxi., quoted also by Rashi) and in the Palestinian Targumim with Hagar, who was the first concubine of Abraham.

~ “Keturah”, JewishEncyclopedia.com

However, this contradicts the text we just read in Genesis.  There is no reason to believe that Abraham could not have remarried after the death of Sarah, and it would have been natural for a distinction would have been made regarding the mother of the son of promise vs any other.  The word “concubine” and “wife” could have used interchangeably in this case to distinguish between the level of Sarah and the level of Keturah for purposes of inheritance.  There is no need to force the idea that a “concubine” of Abraham required that it refer to Hagar.

Based upon the understanding of some that there is a distinction of the words “wife” (Hebrew ‘ iššâ) and “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.…

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.

~ Eric Lyons, M.Min., “Was Keturah Abraham’s Wife or Concubine?”, Apologetics Press

Lyons goes on to give examples of women where “concubine” and “wife” are used interchangeably for Jacob’s wives, Hagar and as we’ve already seen, Keturah.

It is obvious that the distinction was not as formalized as it became in the days of David and Solomon.  In fact, “concubine” pretty much became synonymous for a poor man’s marriage because the wife would stay at her father’s house.  Thus, we have Samson’s marriage where he goes to visit his wife.  Unfortunately for all concerned, when he had left in a huff, his father-in-law had given his wife to another because of his misunderstanding of Samson’s intent.

One more reason that they could not have been the same is because the lineages are kept separate, both in the Bible and in the Talmud.  Again, the JewishEncyclopedia.com article states:

Still it seems that such [that Hagar and Keturah were the same person] was not the opinion of the Talmudic doctors; for the children of Ishmael and the children of Keturah are kept distinct in the story of their complaints against the Jews before Alexander the Macedonian (Sanh. 91a).

Was Keturah a Canaanite?

Canaan was settled by many peoples, but Canaan himself was the son of Ham.

18 And the sons of Noah, that went forth of the ark, were Shem, and Ham, and Japheth: and Ham is the father of Canaan.

~ Ge 9:18

According to the Book of Jasher, Keturah was a Canaanite.

1. And it was at that time that Abraham again took a wife in his old age, and her name was Keturah, from the land of Canaan.

~ Jasher 25:1

There is no other evidence that Keturah was a descendant of Ham.  In fact, it doesn’t make sense to marry a Canaanite woman.

24 And Abraham was old, and well stricken in age: and the Lord had blessed Abraham in all things.

2 And Abraham said unto his eldest servant of his house, that ruled over all that he had, Put, I pray thee, thy hand under my thigh:

3 And I will make thee swear by the Lord, the God of heaven, and the God of the earth, that thou shalt not take a wife unto my son of the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I dwell:

~ Ge 24:1-3

Abraham was adamant that Isaac not marry a Canaanite.  How much sense would it make for him to now turn around and marry one?

The Book of Jasher is not a canonical book of the Bible.  Therefore, it is a mistake to take what it says for the inspired Word of God.  Therefore, we must treat it as we would any other secular source.  As we will see, it doesn’t hold up to scrutiny.

Keturah’s Ancestory Not Given

Frankly, we are never told Keturah’s ancestory.  However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t clues.  We do know the sons that Abraham had by her, and we know the general area they settled in.

In Biblical times, there were certain nations who were specifically identified as the descendants of Keturah, such as the nation of Midian. Today, however, the children of Keturah have more or less assimilated in with the children of Ishmael.

~ Rabbi Baruch S Davidson, “What happened to Abraham’s other descendants?”, Chabad.org

“Of Keturah’s six sons (all probably born early in Abraham‘s thirty-five year period with her), Midian is the only one whose descendants, the Midianites, are adequately identified. The others probably mixed with the various descendants of Ishmael, Lot and Esau to become the modern Arabic peoples. Abraham sent them ‘eastward’ (Genesis 25:6) with adequate gifts to begin their own tribes, and this would correspond to Arabia” (Dr. Henry M. Morris, The Defender’s Bible).

~ op cit from Bible Encyclopedia

In general, they all became Arabs!  While it is questionable how much or how little they intermingled with the descendants of Ishmael, it should be clear that if we look at the Arabs today, we can use induction to extrapolate back in time to their ancestors.

Josephus wrote of “How The Nation Of The Troglodytes Were Derived From Abraham By Keturah”:

Now, for all these sons and grandsons, Abraham contrived to settle them in colonies; and they took possession of Troglodytis, and the country of Arabia the Happy, as far as it reaches to the Red Sea.

Wikipedia uses the following image from NASA (which should mean public domain, but the licensing is rather confusing):

What we see is the territory of Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Oman.  Saudi Arabia is ethically 90% Arab, and Yemen inhabitants “are mainly of Arab origin” as when North and South Yemen united, most other minority groups left.  Oman is the most racially diverse, with their main ancestry as being Bluchistan or East African.  Bluchistan is a major ethnic group in Pakistan, and it is also one in parts of Iran and Afghanistan.   Oman has historically been a sea port, so this diversity should not be surprising.

It should be noted that according to the Census in the US, Arabs typically have been identified as “white/Caucasian”.  They are also generally viewed as a “Semitic peoples” (ibid.).

None of this is to say there haven’t been intermarriages, as there always have been, but it should be readily evident that the predominant ancestry would have been from Seth, and not from Ham through Canaan.

What Is Race?

All of this sort of begs the question of what is race, anyhow?  It is pretty much a classification system based upon heredity and ethnicity.  You are born into a race.  However, all classifications are human made.  Not only that, but actual race, as in being based upon skin color, is a somewhat modern invention.

The Bible does not seem to have a concept of race in the way we have today.  Some point to the marriage of Abraham and Keturah as an example of a racially mixed marriage.  However, the evidence for that is not convincing.  In fact, the evidence is that it was just the opposite.

Having said all this, none of this is proof that mixed marriages are wrong according to the Bible.  If it were wrong, though, one would think more attention would have been paid to the ancestry of the patriarchs.

In fact, there are mixed marriages in the Bible.  Most especially Moses married a Cushite (“Ethiopian” in the KJV).  So, the fact that his first marriage was to a Midianite, a descendant of Keturah, is evidence that Moses had a second wife.