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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 36

Pett's Commentary on the BiblePett's Commentary


The Descendants and Allies of Esau (Genesis 36:2-43 )

This chapter now deals with the history of Esau prior to putting him to one side. This fits in with the compiler’s methods all through Genesis where he deals with secondary lines first before concentrating on the main line (e.g. the Cainite line and then the line of Seth - Genesis 4:0 & Genesis 5:0).

It is an interesting chapter and raises complex questions for the reader. We can understand why a record should be kept of the family of Esau, for he was closely connected with the family tribe at the time of the death of Isaac and was clearly on good terms with Jacob, but why should a record be kept of the genealogy of Seir the Horite (36:20-30) and of the kings of Edom (36:31-43)? For these records must finally have been in the hands of the family tribe in order to be compiled with the other records and be recorded here. The only time when these would have been of such interest was when Esau was in close contact with them and in the process of amalgamating with them (and was connected with them by marriage), or possibly if some Edomites were included among the slaves in Egypt and in the mixed multitude of Exodus 12:38.

There would appear to be a number of records utilised, all genealogical. These comprise Genesis 36:2-9, the sons of Esau; Genesis 36:10-19 the descendants and chiefs (or dukes) of Esau; Genesis 36:20-30 the sons and chiefs of Seir the Horite; Genesis 36:31-39, the kings who reigned in the land of Edom; Genesis 36:40-43, chiefs that came from Esau.

Verse 1

‘Now this is the family history of Esau, the same is Edom.’

Here again we have evidence of a colophon, a heading or final phrase that indicates content and ownership of a tablet. Esau was still the eldest son and head of the family and the family records would as such be his responsibility after the death of Isaac, Thus it may be that his name is now subscribed to the previous record to indicate ownership, although the actual recording would be made by a tribal member more suited to it. (Even if he did happily hand over the task to a tribal record keeper, or even to Jacob, the colophon would be in his name).

The fact that the later compiler had these covenant records available for putting together his narrative demonstrates how carefully they were preserved, some no doubt being read out at the family festivals as they renewed their covenant with Yahweh. It is significant that the last hint of a colophon and of covenant records occurs in Genesis 37:2. From then on we have a continual story. This is easily explained by the fact that that is basically the record of the life of Joseph, put together in Egypt as befitted such an important personage and written on papyrus. There were no longer then the limitations of clay and stone.

Alternately it may be a heading to define the content of the following genealogical history (compare ‘the same is Edom’ in Genesis 36:19, and ‘this is Edom, the father of the Edomites’ in Genesis 36:43). But Genesis 36:9 probably refers back to verse 8 and is therefore itself the colophon to that section. Thus we may have here the combination of a colophon and a heading, ‘this is the family history of Esau’ as the closing colophon and ‘Esau, the same is Edom’ as a heading. Either way they are evidence that we are dealing with written records.

If this latter be so then Genesis 37:1-2 a may be seen as originally ending the record we have just been looking at with chapter 36 being incorporated by the compiler in order to sum up the life of Esau after his mention in Genesis 35:29. The covenant record from Genesis 35:1 then ends with ‘this is the family history of Jacob’ (Genesis 37:2 a). This may seem more satisfactory from a modern point of view, for we like everything to fit a pattern, but it may not accord with ancient practise.

Verses 2-9

The Sons of Esau (Genesis 36:2-9 )

Genesis 36:2

‘Esau took his wives of the daughters of Canaan; Adah the daughter of Elon the Hittite, and Oholibamah the daughter of Anah, the daughter of Zibeon the Hivite, and Basemath, Ishmael’s daughter, sister of Nebaioth.’

In Genesis 26:34 Esau’s Cananite wives are named Judith the daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and Basemath the daughter of Elon the Hittite. Ishmael’s daughter is called Mahalath, sister of Nebaioth (Genesis 28:9). Thus Basemath has become Adah, Judith has become Oholibamah (Beeri the Hittite may well have been married to Anah), and Mahalath becomes Basemath.

One possibility we must consider is that on marriage Canaanite wives often took on another name indicating their change of status. Thus Judith may have become Oholibamah (‘tent of the high place’), a suitable marriage name due to its connection with the holy tent, and a name connected with her mother’s family, and Mahalath may have become Basemath (possibly ‘the fragrant one’). Basemath may have thus changed her name to Adah (meaning unknown).

As Basemath probably means ‘fragrant’ it is also very possible that this was a nickname regularly used by Esau. He may have called Adah this as a love name, and later applied it to Mahalath when his affections varied (compare our use of ‘honey’ or ‘sugar’) causing confusion to the record keepers. Or he may have liked the name and when Basemath relinquished it on marriage have suggested it to Mahalath as a married name.

As mentioned Oholibamah means ‘tent of the high place’ suggesting a tabernacle similar to some extent to that later in use in by the Israelites. It is also the name of one of the ‘dukes of Edom’ (Genesis 36:41) and of one of the daughters of Anah the Horite (Genesis 36:25). The dual name theory would account for why a Canaanite woman bears an Edomite name due to Esau’s early connections with Edom prior to his marriages. Consider also how Beeri the Hittite appears to have been married to an ‘Edomite’ woman, Anah daughter of Zibeon the Hivite (compare Zibeon the Horite in Genesis 36:24 who also had a son called Anah. There seems to be some parallel between Hivites and Horites).

That Anah was an important person due to her connections comes out in the constant reference to her (Genesis 36:2; Genesis 36:14; Genesis 36:18). She was the daughter of Zibeon the Hivite (Genesis 36:2) who is probably the same as Zibeon, the son of Seir the Horite (Genesis 36:20). We do not know who the Hivites were but they are regularly mentioned as one of the tribes in Canaan, and their connection with the Horites is suggested here. Indeed the name may be an alternative rendering, ‘v’ instead of ‘r’, either as an error in copying or otherwise. The LXX of Genesis 34:2 and Joshua 9:7 renders Hivite as Horite which may suggest an original different reading.

Genesis 36:4-5

‘And Adah bore to Esau Eliphaz, and Basemath bore Reuel. And Oholibamah bore Jeush, and Jalam, and Korah. These are the sons of Esau who were born to him in the land of Canaan.

The sons born to Esau by his wives in Canaan are now listed. ‘Reuel’ appears to mean ‘friend of God’.

Genesis 36:6-8

‘And Esau took his wives and his sons and his daughters, and all the folk in his house, and his cattle and all his beasts and all his possessions which he had gathered in the land of Canaan and went into a land away from his brother Jacob, for their substance was too great for them to dwell together and the land of their sojournings could not bear them because of their cattle, and Esau dwelt in Mount Seir. Esau is Edom.’

This combination of genealogy and snippets of historical events is a feature of early genealogies, compare the Sumerian king lists where the same occurs.

As we have seen Esau had divided his time between his band of warriors in Mount Seir and helping his father in Canaan. But now that his father is dead, and we cannot doubt that he left a generous legacy to Esau, he removes to Mount Seir permanently. This was necessary anyway because their joint possessions were so great that there was not room for both Jacob and Esau. Once again we have brought home to us the wealth of the patriarchs and their sizeable ‘households’.

“Esau is Edom.” A constant refrain in this chapter. See Genesis 36:1, Genesis 36:19. Compare Genesis 36:9 and Genesis 36:43 where ‘Esau is the father of Edom’ that is of the Edomites. Esau was nicknamed Edom because of his red colouring, and this name passes on to those who are connected with him.

Genesis 36:9

‘This is the family history of Esau the father of Edom in mount Seir.’

Again we have a colophon showing to whom the tablet belongs. (Alternately it may head the following tablet).

Verses 10-19

The Descendants and Chieftains of Esau (Genesis 36:10-19 ).

Genesis 36:10

‘These are the names of Esau’s sons: Eliphaz the son of Adah the wife of Esau, Reuel the son of Basemath the wife of Esau.’

For these sons of Esau compare Genesis 36:4.

Genesis 36:11-12

‘And the sons of Eliphaz were Teman, Omar, Zepho, and Gattam and Kenaz. And Timna was concubine to Eliphaz, Esau’s son, and she bore to Eliphaz Amalek. These are the sons of Adah, Esau’s wife.’

This is a list of Esau’s grandsons through Eliphaz.

Genesis 36:13

‘And these are the sons of Reuel: Nahath and Zerah, Shammah and Mizzah. These were the male descendants (sons) of Basemath, Esau’s wife.’

This is a list of Esau’s grandsons through Reuel. We note that they can be called ‘sons’ of Basemath for they are her grandsons, a regular usage of the word ‘sons’.

Genesis 36:14

‘’And these were the sons of Oholibamah, the daughter of Ana, the daughter of Zibeon, Esau’s wife. And she bore to Esau, Jeush and Jalam and Korah.’

For these sons of Esau compare Genesis 36:5.

Genesis 36:15

‘These are the chieftains of the sons of Esau, the sons of Eliphaz the firstborn of Esau. Chief Teman, Chief Omar, Chief Zepho, Chief Kenaz, Chief Korah, Chief Gatam, Chief Amalek. These are the chieftainss that came of Eliphaz in the land of Edom. These are the male descendants of Adah.’

For this list of chieftains compare Genesis 36:11-12. We note that Chief Korah is not mentioned there. He is thus related in some way to Adah but not one of her grandsons (although he may have slipped in somehow due to careless copying, from Genesis 36:5 or Genesis 36:18). In 1 Chronicles 1:36 a Timna is mentioned as a son of Adah additionally to the six, but he may have died in childbirth. So Esau’s sons and grandsons achieve chieftainship in Edom.

Genesis 36:17

‘And these are the sons of Reuel, Esau’s son: Chief Nahath, Chief Zerah, Chief Shammah, Chief Mizzah. These are the chieftains that came of Reuel in the land of Edom. These are the male decendants of Basemath, Esau’s wife.’

Compare Genesis 36:13 for these as grandsons of Esau.

Genesis 36:18

‘And these are the sons of Oholibamah, Esau’s wife: Chief Jeush, Chief Jalam, Chief Korah. These are the chieftains that came of Oholibamah, the daughter Anah, Esau’s wife.’

For these sons of Esau compare verses 5 and 14. The constant mention of Oholibamah’s mother Anah suggests that she was very important. She was related to the Hivites/Horites and possibly Esau’s marriage connection with her was very important in amalgamating the tribes to finally form Edom. No sons of these chieftains are recorded. It may be that they were childless when slain on a raid or in battle.

Genesis 36:19

‘These are the male descendants of Esau and these are their chieftains. The same is Edom.’

Thus ends the list of male descendants and chieftains of Esau, and once more we are reminded that they compose Edom.

Verses 20-30

The Descendants and Chieftains of Seir the Horite (Genesis 36:20-30 ).

Seir the Horite was leader of the tribe of Horites who dwelt in Seir, which was presumably named after him. His sons were their chieftains and the daughter of one of them had a daughter who became the wife of Esau. Thus Esau was connected with this powerful family. This explains his ready access to Seir and why he spent some considerable time there, while still helping his father Isaac in tribal affairs. (His connection with Ishmael was also important).

Genesis 36:20-21

‘These are the sons of Seir the Horite, the inhabitants of the land: Lotan and Shobal and Zibeon and Anah, and Dishon and Ezar and Dishan. These are the chieftains that came of the Horites, the children of Seir in the land of Edom’

We are now given the genealogy and status of the family of Seir the Horite. One of them is Zibeon, father of Anah whose daughter married Esau (Genesis 36:2). It is a very interesting fact that this genealogy is recorded in 1 Chronicles 1:38-42 even though they were not directly related to the patriarchs. They were somehow looked on as ‘family’.

Genesis 36:22

‘And the children of Lotan were Hori and Hemam, and Lotan’s sister was Timna.’

The children of the eldest son are mentioned first. The mention of his sister Timna may suggest that among the Horites women had a more prominent place than usual.

Genesis 36:23

‘And these are the children of Shobal: Alvan and Manahath and Ebal, Shepho and Onam.’

These are the children of the second son.

Genesis 36:24

‘And these are the children of Zibeon: Aiah and Anah. This is the Anah who found the hot springs in the wilderness as he fed the asses of Zibeon his father.’

The historical reference to the finding of an important water source is again typical of ancient genealogies.

But there is here a slight puzzle. Anah has the same name as Anah the daughter of Zibeon (Genesis 36:1). We note that the word ‘children’ is now being used and not ‘sons’ and had it not been for the masculine verbs in this verse we might have thought that this was Anah the daughter. Indeed we must ask whether this is not the case in spite of the verbal use. Perhaps in Seir among the Horites certain women were treated as men and spoken of accordingly.

In the Hebrew of Genesis 36:2 Anah is the daughter of Zibeon. However the Samaritan Pentateuch, the LXX and the Syriac all read ‘son’ (thus RSV). But that is the easier reading and the reason for the change is obvious. It is to remove a problem. This would equate him with Beeri the Hittite and ‘beer’ does mean ‘well’ so that Beeri may have been a name given to him on the discovery of these important springs. The idea is attractive but fails to take into account how the then very difficult rendering ‘daughter’ ever got into the text. Thus it would seem to us that a better solution lies in seeing the Horites as giving women a special prominence not accorded elsewhere.

Alternately it may be a coincidence of names. If Anah the daughter was given the same name as Anah the son, and Anah the uncle (Genesis 36:20) it is not inconceivable that Anah’s daughter might take the same name on marriage as Anah the uncle originally gave to his daughter. Its strangeness or its religious meaning may have appealed to her.

Genesis 36:25

‘And these are the children of Anah: Dishon and Oholibamah.’

The parallel verses show that these are the descendants of Seir’s fourth son Anah not of the Anah in the previous verse. Anah was clearly a popular name among the Horites.

Genesis 36:26

‘And these are the children of Dishon: Hemdan and Eshban and Ithran and Cheran.’

These are the children of Dishon, Seir’s fifth son, not of Anah’s son Dishon. Repetition of names was clearly popular with the Horites, as elsewhere.

Genesis 36:27

‘These are the children of Ezer: Bilhan and Zaavan and Akan.

These are the children of Seir’s sixth son.

Genesis 36:28

‘These are the children of Dishan: Uz and Aran.’

These are the children of Seir’s seventh son.

Genesis 36:29-30

‘These are the chieftains that came of the Horites: Chief Lotan, Chief Shobal, Chief Zibeon, Chief Anah, Chief Dishon, Chief Ezer, Chief Dishan. These are the chieftains who came of the Horites according to their chieftains in the land of Seir.’

This confirms Genesis 36:21. Repetition was common in narratives in the Ancient Near East. Possibly the fact that chieftainship stops with the sons suggests that authority then passed over to Esau and his descendants, but it may simply arise from the fact that the tablet was written before the chieftainship could be passed on.

Thus in these tablets we are given a full picture of the leadership of the confederate tribes in Edom over two generations. Esau was clearly proud of his sons’ achievements and of his extended family.

Verses 31-39

The Kings Who Reigned in the Land of Edom (Genesis 36:31-39 ).

We have no means of knowing over what period these kings reigned other than that it was before a king reigned over the children of Israel. The kingship was clearly a kingship that depended on the quality of the candidates rather than on dynastic succession. It was necessary for the king to be a capable war leader for the people needed to be able to defend themselves and themselves probably engaged in raids. With people like Esau to contend with they had to be capable. The switch from Genesis 36:39-40 may suggest a time before the chieftainships of Esau’s sons. The section is transferred, with few changes, en bloc to 1 Chronicles 1:0.

Genesis 36:31

‘And these are the kings that reigned in the land of Edom before there reigned any king over the children of Israel.’

This phrase does not necessarily require that at the time of writing there was now kingship in Israel. The promise to Jacob (Genesis 35:11), and the promise to Abraham before him (Genesis 17:6; Genesis 17:16), which Esau would know well, was that their descendants would be kings. Thus this boast could well have been made by Esau in the light of that fact to point out that while there were, and had been, kings in Edom, and thus settled statehood, none such had yet arisen among the children of Israel, thus demonstrating his own status. Indeed the very unusual phrase ‘king over the children of Israel’ (only here and 1 Chronicles 1:43 where it is copied from this verse) is a sign of the age of the narrative. We could argue that later generations would have used the regular stereotyped phrase ‘king over Israel’.

But who were these kings? We neither know that nor when they reigned. Their lives may well have been fairly brief for they were war leaders in rugged territory, and the fact that they came from so many backgrounds and reigned in different ‘cities’ suggests the nature of the people they ruled. It may well be that as Esau integrated with the tribes in Edom, eventually to become their leader, ‘the father of the Edomites’, he came across a record of these kings or heard their lineage recited at the installation of a new king, and boastfully included it here to demonstrate that his new people were more civilised than those of his family tribe.

Genesis 36:32-34

‘And Bela the son of Beor reigned in Edom, and the name of his city was Dinhabah. And Bela died and Jobab the son of Zerah of Bozrah reigned in his place. And Jobab died, and Husham of the land of the Temanites reigned in his place.’

The ‘city’ of Dinhabah need only have been a group of dwellings or even a tent encampment. Bozrah similarly, although a long time later it was an established city. Whether the Temanites were named after Teman (Genesis 36:11), or Teman was named after the Temanites, we do not know. Eliphaz the Temanite was one of Job’s comforters (Job 2:11). Much later on Teman was an established city (Jeremiah 49:20).

Genesis 36:35

‘And Husham died and Hadad, the son of Bedad, who smote Midian in the field of Moab, reigned in his place, and the name of his city was Avith. And Hadad died and Samlah of Masrekah reigned in his place.’

The fact that Hadad smote Midian in the countryside of Moab dates him after the time when Midian and Moab were established as tribes. Midian was a son of Abraham by Keturah and Moab was the son of Lot, but there were tribes in Moab in settled villages before that and they probably gave their names to the tribes they eventually took leadership over. How easily a capable leader from any background could take over a tribe in the right circumstances here in Edom is demonstrated by this king list.

Genesis 36:36-39

‘And Hadad died and Samlah of Masrekah reigned in his place. And Samlah died and Shaul of Rehoboth by the River reigned in his place. And Shaul died and Baalhanan, the son of Achbor reigned in his place. And Baalhanan the son of Achbor died and Hadar reigned in his place, and the name of his city was Pau, and his wife’s name was Mehetabel the daughter of Matred, the daughter of Me-zahab.

If The River means the Euphrates as it usually does in Scripture then Shaul has come some distance, but it is quite possible that people would enter this warring, raiding tribe from many sources. Alternately it may refer to a local river known as The River. We note again that daughters are important in this area and may well have been influential.

Verses 40-43

The Chieftains Descended From Esau (Genesis 36:40-43 ).

Genesis 36:40-43 a

‘And these are the names of the chieftains who came of Esau, according to their families, after their places, by their names. Chief Timna, Chief Alva, Chief Jetheh, Chief Oholibamah, Chief Elah, Chief Pinon, Chief Kenaz, Chief Teman, Chief Mibzar, Chief Magdiel, Chief Iram. These are the chieftains of Edom according to their habitations in the land of their possession.’

The introduction may suggest that once there were place names present in the lists as with some of the kings previously. But it may simply be pointing out that they ruled in different places, descended from one or other of the sons, not one after the other. The placing of the names may suggest that these chieftains followed and replaced the kings. Both Timna (Genesis 36:12) and Oholibamah (Genesis 36:25) have previously been females. This may well confirm the idea that women were influential in this society. Apart from these only Kenaz is elsewhere mentioned (Genesis 36:11; Genesis 36:15) and he may not have been the same one. We may therefore assume that these are later descendants of Esau, possibly great-grandsons.

Genesis 36:43 b

‘This is Edom the father of the Edomites.’

This may well be a concluding colophon showing that the tablet belongs to Esau, possibly with Genesis 36:1 as the opening heading. ‘The father of the Edomites’ simply indicates that he became their patriarch (but see Genesis 37:1). Alternately note the unusual phrases that occur in the chapter which appear abruptly, ‘the same is Edom’ (Genesis 36:1 a), ‘Esau is Edom’ (Genesis 36:8), ‘the same is Edom’ (Genesis 36:19), ‘this is Edom the father of the Edomites’ (Genesis 36:43 b). These may well be remnants of headings and colophons.

Bibliographical Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Genesis 36". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/pet/genesis-36.html. 2013.
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