[This is an update and republished article after further study.]
Then again Abraham took a wife, and her name was Keturah.
And she bare him Zimran, and Jokshan, and Medan, and Midian, and Ishbak, and Shuah.
…And Abraham gave all that he had unto Isaac.
But unto the sons of the concubines, which Abraham had, Abraham gave gifts, and sent them away from Isaac his son, while he yet lived, eastward, unto the east country.
~ Ge 25:1-2, 5-6
Now the sons of Keturah, Abraham’s concubine: she bare Zimran, and Jokshan, and Medan, and Midian, and Ishbak, and Shuah. And the sons of Jokshan; Sheba, and Dedan.
And the sons of Midian; Ephah, and Epher, and Henoch, and Abida, and Eldaah. All these are the sons of Keturah.
~ 1Ch 1:32-33
So, we see that Abraham married Keturah after the death of Sarah. Little is known about her. We don’t even know her nationality.1
Some, including the Midrash, believe that Keturah is another name for Hagar.2 This is based upon the passage from 1 Chronicles where she is called Abraham’s “concubine”. Since the Hebrew is singular, some interpret this to mean he only had one concubine. However, there is no real proof of this, and it seems contradictory to the account. In addition, the lines of Ishmael and the children of Keturah were traditionally kept separate (which is not to mean there wasn’t intermarriage).
“Concubine” is also a term that can be applied to a wife in some cases. Concubines were legally married to the man, but the main difference is that they did not live together. Concubines were a type of “slave wife” or at least a wife of lesser stature. Therefore, “concubine” was probably used so that Keturah would not be elevated to the level that Sarah had.
While we do not know her nationality, we can deduce that she may have been a Semite from her descendants. Abraham sent her descendants away, and most of them settled in and around Arabia and Canaan. Midian was not far from Moab, and the Bible account indicates they had some type of international relations. Midian was also where Moses later fled and married.
According to Henry M Morris:
“Of Keturah’s six sons (all probably born early in Abraham’s thirty-five year period with her), Midian is the only one whose descendants, the Midianites, are adequately identified. The others probably mixed with the various descendants of Ishmael, Lot and Esau to become the modern Arabic peoples. Abraham sent them ‘eastward’ (Genesis 25:6) with adequate gifts to begin their own tribes, and this would correspond to Arabia” (Dr. Henry M. Morris, The Defender’s Bible).
~ op cit from Bible Encyclopedia3
However, it is far from clear, as Moses’ Cushite wife may or may not be the same as Zipporah, his Midianite wife!
The Bible does not seem to have a concept of race in the way we have today. Some point to the marriage of Abraham and Keturah as an example of a mixed marriage. However, the evidence is not that clear. There are mixed marriages in the Bible, especially Moses marriage to a Cushit, so either Keturah was a descendant of Cush or Moses had 2 wives.
- Keturah. (9 April 2009). In Wikipedia. Retrieved 21 April 2009, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Keturah
- Keturah. (2002). In JewishEncyclopedia.com. Retrieved 21 April 2009, from http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?letter=K&artid=190
- Midian. (n.d.). In WebBibleTM Encyclopedia. Retrieved 21 April 2009, from http://www.christiananswers.net/dictionary/midian.html