Who were Esau’s wives? Genesis 26:34 states that Esau had 2 Hittite wives: Judith (daughter of Beeri) and Basemath (daughter of Elon). In Genesis 28:9, it seems Esau tried to gain favor with his father by marrying Mahalath, Ishmael's daughter, who was also Nebaioth's sister. Yet, if you keep reading in chapter 36, it lists three wives of Esau and in great detail explains which one had which son, etc. We know from Gen. 26 that Esau had three wives, but these are not the same wives listed. It says that his wives were Adah, Oholibamah, and Basemath (only one name is the same). To make it more confusing, chapter 26 says that Basemath was the daughter of Elon the Hittite, but chapter 36 says that Adah was the daughter of Elon the Hittite. Chapter 28 says that Mahalath was Ishmael's daughter, and sister of Nebaioth, but chapter 36 says that Basemath was Ishmael's daughter and Nebaioth's sister (in direct contradiction of 26:34). Also in chapter 36:2, Oholibamah is said to be the granddaughter of Zibeon the Hittite but later in the same chapter (vv. 20-25), it says that Zibeon was a Horite (see also vv. 29-30). It sure seems that a scribe was a little tipsy copying all this stuff down and got it all mixed up.


The ancients were not immune to using nicknames. We are familiar with the nicknames of the disciples, but there are records that indicate that nicknames were used as far back as the Patriarchial era.

Basemath is a nickname that means “fragrant woman.” I think that it is likely that Esau had two different wives with this nickname. Notice that the passage in Genesis 26 is careful to note that Esau was forty when he took those two wives and that an undefined passage of time occurred between his marrying them and his marriage to Mahalel.

It may be that Esau lost Adah to death or through divorce and later remarried. In any case, I believe that Basemath (26:34) is Adah (36:2) and that Mahalel (28:9) was also nicknamed Basemath (36:3).

Of course, another possibility is that Elon the Hitite had two daughters named Basemath and Adah and that Ishmael had two daughters named Basemath and Mahalel. If that is the case, then Esau married two sets of sisters, something not completely unheard of in that era.

As to Zibeon the Hivite (36:2) and Zibeon the Horite (36:29) I believe they are two separate and unrelated individuals.

The author was very careful to be specific as to each lady’s origin (i.e daughter of, grandaughter of, sister of), leaving us sufficient information to be clear on their identity in spite of the use of nicknames. It would be foolish of him to develop a sudden carelessness about a man, especially in view of the less than gallant view these tribes often had of women!