Glossary of Terms

Rebekah / Rebecca


Harper’s Bible Dictionary

edited by Paul J. Achtemier (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1985)

You are strongly recommended to add to your library the excellent revised edition of Harper's Bible Dictionary titled, The Harper Collins Bible Dictionary, Revised Edition [book review], edited by Paul J. Achtemeier, with the Society of Biblical Literature (NY: Harper Collins, 1996). It is currently the best one-volume Bible dictionary in English, and it is available at Border's Books, Christian Science Reading Rooms,, or

Rebekah, the wife of Isaac, the daughter of Bethuel (Abraham’s nephew), the sister of Laban, and the mother of Jacob and Esau. Genesis 24 recounts how Abraham’s servant came to his homeland to find a wife for Isaac, and how (in response to prayer) he found Rebekah at the well and she brought him home. Similar stories about Rachel (Gen. 29:9-12) and Zipporah (Exod. 2:16-20) indicate that girls could be found at the wells and were not enjoined from talking to strange men. The negotiations for Rebekah’s marriage were carried out by her brother Laban, an indication that Bethuel was old or infirm. Because of this and the curious episode in Gen. 26:6-11, in which Isaac claimed that Rebekah was his sister, some scholars have suggested that Rebekah entered into a special type of marriage, the ‘wife-sister’ marriage, which conferred special status on the wife; others have contested this interpretation.

Rebekah was barren for twenty years, but conceived the twins Jacob and Esau after Isaac interceded with God. During her pregnancy she received an oracle that the twins would beget separate nations, and that Jacob would be dominant despite Esau’s status as firstborn (Gen. 25:20-26; cf. Rom. 9:10-13). Jacob was clearly Rebekah’s favorite, and she instigated the plot by which she covered Jacob’s arms and neck with goatskins and sent him in to impersonate the firstborn Esau so that he would get Isaac’s blessing (Gen. 27:1-29); she then convinced Isaac to send Jacob to his kinspeople to find a wife in order to take him out of the path of Esau’s anger (Gen. 27:41-28:5). Nothing more is known about Rebekah other than the fact that she was buried in the Cave of Machpelah (Gen. 49:31). The only story about Rebekah and Isaac that does not deal with the succession of the patriarchs is the tale about Isaac pretending that Rebekah was his sister in the land of Abimelech, the king of Gerar (Gen. 26:6-11), which is a doublet of the story of Abraham and Sarah in Gerar (Gen. 20).


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