Was Rebekah 3-10 Years Old When Married Off To Isaac?
Mohamad Mostafa Nassar
he Bible says yes. This article seeks to complement our previous article on the age of Rebecca when she was married off to Isaac. We showed evidence from the Bible, and earliest commentaries on the Bible that Rebecca was married at the age of 3-10 years old to Isaac.
Some Christian missionaries could not accept the article’s evidence that Rebecca was married off at a very young age. As such, we aim to give more crucial evidence from the Bible and earliest sources on Rebecca’s true age at the time of her marriage.
We explained and established in previous piece a number of facts:
1. Sarah gave birth to Isaac at the age of ninety (Genesis 17).
2. Isaac was in his thirties when the incident of Mount Moriah occurred with his father, Abraham (Genesis 22).
3. Immediately after Isaac and Abraham’s incident on Mount Moriah, Rebecca is born (Genesis 22).
4. As soon as Rebecca’s birth is mentioned in Genesis 22, few verses down (next chapter), we read that Sarah died at the age of 127 years old (Genesis 23:1-3).
5. At the time of Sarah’s death, Isaac would be have been 37-years-old.
6. Isaac married Rebecca at the age of 40 (Genesis 25:20), this would show from the Bible that Rebecca was only three years old, given that she was only born three years prior, just after the Mount Moriah incident and the death of Sarah.
With the above in context, we also provided many ancient to contemporary scholars and sources that agreed that Rebecca was married at a very young age, three years old exactly as the scholars said.
In this piece, we will try look at certain verse from Genesis account closer to see and establish from scholars what the age of Rebecca was when she was married off.
We showed from the previous piece that the incident on Mount Moriah (Genesis 22 to 23) and the death of Sarah occurred simultaneously.
How do we know that that these incidents all happened simultaneously, how do we know this? Well let’s look at the following verse:
“Sarah lived 127 years; these were the years of the life of Sarah. And Sarah died in Kiriatharba–the same is Hebron–in the land of Canaan; and Abraham CAME to mourn for Sarah, and to weep for her.” – Genesis 23:1-2
This verse shows that Abraham was absent when Sarah died. Abraham was not by Sarah’s side.
Some have speculated and claimed that Abraham was just a few feet away in another tent, this does not have support from the Bible nor any early historical record. We know that Abraham was absent, but where was he?
Abraham was in Beersheba when he heard that Sarah died and later came to bury her in Hebron. This shows that the sequence of events leading from Mount Moria incident, to the birth of Rebecca and the death of Sarah happened in around the same time.
Some of the earliest sources have recorded, the chronological order of events when Isaac and Abraham parted from Sarah to go to mount Moriah, for Isaac to be sacrificed tells the absent time between the chronological order, it debunks some of the interpretations proposed by some, suggesting that he was in another tent. If that was the case, the text would have told us, “Abraham came from his tent”.
The notice and highlight about Sarah’s age in the first verse in chapter 23 for Genesis tells us her death, which therefore must have taken place in connection with the incident of chapter 22, the sacrifice of Isaac on mount Moriah. We must therefore conclude here that a report or news reached Sarah about Isaac’s incident on the mount which led to her death. This has been the line of interpretation by the most ancient/medieval scholars.
Commentaries on Gen. 23:
Rabbi Jonathan Ben Uziel (1st Century BCE):
“Sarah was informed by Satan that Abraham had killed Isaac, ‘And Sarah arose and cried out, and was strangled, and died from agony.” (The Targums of Onkelos and Jonathan Ben Uziel on the Pentateuch, (Genesis – Exodus), volume 1, page 229)
Rabbi Hiyya said (180 – 230 CE):
“They have established this, for WHEN ISAAC WAS BOUND HE WAS THIRTY-SEVEN YEARS OLD; AND AS SOON AS HE WAS BOUND, Sarah died, as is written: Abraham came to mourn for Sarah and to weep over her (Genesis 23:2). FROM WHERE DID HE COME? FROM MOUNT MORIAH, after binding Isaac. Those thirty-seven years from the day Isaac was born until the time he was bound were Sarah’s true life, equivalent to the numerical value of … (va-yihyu), it endured –
it was thirty-seven years, corresponding to the span of time from when Isaac was born until he was bound.” (The Zohar, Pritzker Edition Translation and commentary by Daniel C. Matt, [Stanford University Press, Stanford, California, Zohar Education Project, Inc, 2004] (Parashat Hayyei Sarah), volume 2, page 209)
Rabbi Yose Ben Halafta (or Jose ben Halafta) – (2nd-Century CE):
“From where did he come? From Mount Moriah, for Sarah died because of that very anguish. Therefore the Aqedah appears adjacent to Sarah’s lifetime’ “[Genesis 23:1] (Gen. Rab. 58:5).
Longer version, Genesis Rabbah:
“The midrash tells that Isaac was concerned about his mother’s welfare, and when he was tied to the altar and thought that he was about to die, he asked of his father: “Father, do not tell my mother [of my death] when she is standing by a pit or when she is standing on the roof, lest she cast herself down and die.” That moment a heavenly voice went forth and said to Abraham (Gen. 22:12):
“Do not raise your hand against the boy.” Satan went to Sarah and appeared to her in the countenance of Isaac. When she saw him, she said to him: “My son, what has your father done to you?” He answered her: “Father took me and raised me up to the mountains and brought me down into the valleys. He took me up to the top of one mountain, built an altar, arranged the woodpile, and placed the logs.
He bound me on the altar and took a knife to slaughter me. If God had not told him: ‘Do not raise your hand against the boy,’ I would already be slaughtered.” Satan did not finish speaking, and Sarah passed away (Tanhuma, Vayera 23). IT THEREFORE IS SAID (GEN. 23:2): “AND ABRAHAM PROCEEDED [VA-YAVO, LITERALLY, AND HE CAME] TO MOURN FOR SARAH”—WHERE DID HE COME FROM? FROM MOUNT MORIAH (Gen. Rabbah 58:5).
“WHEN ISAAC RETURNED TO HIS MOTHER, SHE ASKED HIM, ‘WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN, MY SON?’ HE ANSWERED HER, ‘FATHER TOOK ME, LED ME UP MOUNTAINS AND DOWN VALLEYS, took me up a certain mountain, built an altar, arranged the wood, bound me upon it, and took hold of a knife to slay me.
If an angel had not come from heaven and said to him, ‘Abraham, Abraham, lay not your hand upon the lad,’ I would have been slain.’ On his mother, Sarah, hearing these words, she cried out, and before she had time to finish her cry her sould departed. (Ecclesiastes Rabbah 9.7.1; and Pesikta de Rab Kahana, Piska 26.3).
Midrashic tradition, the Rabbis state:
“At the time of the Akedah, Satan appeared to Sarah in the guise of Isaac. When she saw him, she said: ‘MY SON, WHAT DID YOUR FATHER DO WITH YOU?’ ISAAC ANSWERED, ‘HE TOOK ME UP HILLS AND DOWN VALLEYS, until we reached the summit of a lofty mountain, where he arranged an altar, and bound me on it.
He then took a knife to slay me, and had it not been that God cried out to him, ‘Do not stretch forth your hand!’ I would already have been slaughtered.’ NO SOONER HAD SATAN/ISAAC UTTERED THAT LAST WORD, WHEN SARAH EXPIRED [FROM THE SHOCK].” (11. Midrash Tanchuma Sidra va-yeira, sec. 23.) (1,001 Questions and Answers on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur [Jason Aronson Inc. Northvale, New Jersey, Jerusalem, 1997] by Jeffrey M. Cohen, page 206)
ONKELOS on the Torah (commentary):
“2. SARAH DIED. Relying on Genesis Rabbah, Rashi states that Sarah’s death is mentioned immediately after the near sacrifice of Isaac because Sarah heard the news that Isaac was nearly slaughtered and died of shock. Targum Pseudo-Jonathan states, “’ABRAHAM CAME ‘FROM THE MOUNTAIN OF WORSHIP [MORIAH] AND FOUND THAT SHE [SARAH] HAD DIED.”
This Midrashic view of the sequence of events implies that Isaac was 37 at the time of the near sacrifice, since Sarah was 90 at his birth and died at 127.’ …” (ONKELOS on the Torah: Understanding the Bible Text – Genesis, including English translation of Targum Onkelos, commentary, Appendix, Onkelos Highlights, ‘Beyond the Text’ and Translation of the Haphtarot from the Aramaic Targumim by Israel Drazin and Stanley M. Wagner, [Gefen Publishing House, 2006 / 5767] page 141)
Midrash – Tanchuma Vayera:
“Rabbi Zechariah said: The ram that had been created at the twilight of the sixth day of creation was running to and fro in its eagerness to be offered in place of Isaac, but Sameal [Satan] kept blocking him in order to make Abraham’s substitute offering impossible, with the result that both the ram’s horns got entangled in the branches of a tree. What did that ram do then? It stretched out its foreleg to tap Abraham’s cloak.
Abraham looked behind him, saw the ram, extricated him, and brought him as an offering instead of his son. AT THE TIME ISAAC WAS BOUND, SATAN WENT TO SARAH, APPEARING TO HER IN THE FORM OF ISAAC. WHEN SARAH SAW HIM, SHE ASKED, ‘MY SON, WHAT DID YOUR FATHER DO TO YOU?’
HE REPLIED, ‘MY FATHER TOOK ME, LED ME UP HILLS AND DOWN INTO VALLEYS, until finally he brought me up to the summit of a high and towering mountain, where he built an altar, set out the firewood, bound me upon the altar, and grasped a knife to cut my throat.
Had not the Holy One said to him, ‘Lay not your hand upon the boy,’ I would have been slaughtered. EVEN BEFORE SATAN FINISHED HIS WORDS, SARAH’S SOUL LEFT HER. (Tanchuma Vayera, paragraph 23, Ecclesiastes Rabbah, 9:7). (Every Person’s Guide to Death and Dying in the Jewish Tradition [Jason Aronson Inc. Northvale, New Jersey, Jerusalem, 1999] by Ronald H. Isaacs page 97 – 98)
Rabbi Menahem Ben Solomon Ben Isaac (11/12th century):
“When the sword touched [Yitzhak’s/Isaac’s] throat his soul flow up into Gan Eden and he beheld the soul of his mother Sarah, who had died in the interim because Samael [Satan] had gone and informed her [that] … Avraham [Abraham] had already slaughtered Yitzhak [Isaac]. Whereupon she let out a scream and the soul departed.” (Midrash Sechel Tov, p. 64)
Hasidic commentary, Rabbi Israel of koznitz (1733 – 1814):
“When she heard of the Akedah, that Abraham was binding her son Isaac as a burnt offering to God, and in her holiness she understood that thereby a great and holy unification was being effected, and that the place was too far for her to go to join in devekut the father and his son in the holiness of unification, she at least from afar gave over her soul in love and purity to separate from this world at a propitious and holy moment.
And God agreed to her wish, and her soul left her in holiness. (Avodat Yisrael (Bne Brak, 5733), p. 7b.) (Hason Nahum – Studies in Jewish Law, Thought, and History Presented to Dr. Norman Lamm on the occasion of His Seventieth Birthday (edited by Yaakov Elman and Jeffrey S. Gurock) [MSYU, The Michael Scharf Publication Trust of the Yeshiva University Press, New York, 1997], by Yehudah Gellman, page 415 – 416)
As this brief article shows, the event of Mount Moriah, the birth of Rebekah (Genesis 22) and the death of Sarah (Genesis 23:1-3) happened simultaneously at the same time. This interpretation that these events occurred at the same time is accepted by some of the earliest ancient/medieval scholars, thus showing that Isaac was in his 30s when his mother died.
Isaac was born when Sarah was 90 years old (Genesis 17:15-22). Sarah died at the age of 127, this would make Isaac 37 at the time of her mother’s demise (Genesis 23:1-3). Rebecca was born when Isaac was in his late 30s (Genesis 22). Isaac married Rebecca when he was 40-years-old (Genesis 25:20) This means, that Rebekah was between the ages of 3 to 10 years old when she was married off to Isaac.
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