I’m confused by the names of Esau’s wives



I have a question regarding the question asked to you: "Was Mahaleth a Canaanite and did Esau marry her to get back at his father Isaac?" Part of your reply mentioned Genesis 28:9, "so Esau went to Ishmael and took Mahalath the daughter of Ishmael." In my Bible, it says that Esau took two Canaanite wives, Adah and Aholilbamah, and a third wife, Ishmael's daughter, Basemath. What am I missing, who is Mahalath?

Thank you.


"When Esau was forty years old he married Judith the daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and Basemath the daughter of Elon the Hittite; and they brought grief to Isaac and Rebekah" (Genesis 26:34-35).

"So Esau saw that the daughters of Canaan displeased his father Isaac; and Esau went to Ishmael, and married, besides the wives that he had, Mahalath the daughter of Ishmael, Abraham's son, the sister of Nebaioth" (Genesis 28:8-9).

"Esau took his wives from the daughters of Canaan: Adah the daughter of Elon the Hittite, and Oholibamah the daughter of Anah and the granddaughter of Zibeon the Hivite; also Basemath, Ishmael's daughter, the sister of Nebaioth" (Genesis 36:2-3).

Summarizing what these passages say, Esau married:

  • Judith ("praising God") was also known as Oholibamah  ("tent of the high place")
    • Her father's name was Beeri ("well") and he was a Hittite
    • Her mother's name was Anah ("answer") and she was a Hittite
    • Her grandfather's name was Zibeon ("colored") and he was a Hivite
  • Basemath ("incense") was also known as Adah ("jewelry")
    • Her father's name was Elon ("oak") and he was a Hittite
  • Mahalath ("God pardons") was also known as Basemath ("incense")
    • She was a descendant of Ishmael
    • Her brother's name was Nebaioth ("high place")

It is not unusual for people to have multiple names. Often people were named for circumstances around their birth, but things change and another name becomes more appropriate.

  • Abram ("father") was renamed by God to be Abraham ("father of many")
  • Jacob ("heel catcher") was renamed by God to be Israel ("wrestles with God")
  • Benami ("son of my sorrow") was renamed by his father, Jacob, to be Benjamin ("son of my right hand")
  • Simon was called Peter ("stone") by Jesus and was also known as Cephas ("stone" in Greek)
  • Esau ("hairy") was commonly called Edom ("red") because he sold half of his inheritance to Jacob for a bowl of red bean stew.

A likely situation is that Esau renamed his wives in an attempt to appease his parents. Their real names hint at idolatry. Thus, the names in Genesis 36:2-3 are likely the women's actual names and the other names are the ones Esau assigned them to make it appear he was marrying godly women.


Thank you for that!🙂

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