There appears to be a Torah contradiction regarding the statement that Esav took his wives from among the women in the land of Cana'an as stated in Breishit 36:2.

verse 2 lists Adah, whom Rash"i says was Basmat bat Eilon (not to be confused with the "Basmat" mentioned in verse 3) and Ahalivamah, whom Rash"i says is Yehudit.

verse 3 mentions Basmat bat Yishma'el (whom Rash"i says is Machla)

Looking back at Breishit 26:34, we see that two of his wives, Yehudit and Basmat were, indeed from Cana'an. But in Breishit 28:8-9 it says that because Esav saw that his father didn't like the women from Cana'an, he specifically took Machalat as his wife. So Machalat, was not from the women of Cana'an. How does that reconcile with 36:2 that implies that all his wives were women from Cana'an?

2 Answers 2


To start with, there is the question of whether one accepts the Midrashic interpretation that he had a total of three wives who went by different names. However, whether or not one does, the question still stands. Genesis (36:2) states that his wives were from Canaan, while verse 3 says that בשמת was the daughter of Yishmael, who would not be thought of as a Canaanite. However, whether or not one identifies בשמת as מחלת, the question stands.

One simple reconciliation is that (36:2) which states that he married Canaanites refers specifically to the wives in that verse; Adah and Aholivama were are identified as being from the tribes of the Hitti and the Hivi. Verse 3, however, refers to a non-Canaanite wife; בשמת בת ישמעאל. Rav Saadya Gaon (Tafsir to that verse) seems to suggest this reading by rendering "Esav took his wives from Canaan," to "Esav took wives from Canaan". That is, the verse is just saying that he married wives from Canaan, not that all his wives were from Canaan.

This explanation stands whether or not one aligns Aholivama with Yehudit and Adah with בשמת בת אילון.

  • I thought of this explanation, esp. since Basmat / Machal was mentioned in a separate verse. However, I asked, anyway as I couldn't locate any source to support my thinking. Chazak Ve'amatz.
    – DanF
    Commented Dec 1, 2017 at 17:42

In addition to mevaqesh's answer, he married the Canaanite wives (or at least some of them, without the midrashic name flips) when he was 40. He didn't marry Machalat until 46 (midrash about Yaakov spending 14 years with Ever) or 60 (without that midrash) years later. That's about as long as many lifelong marriages last. They could have been called "his wives" just because they were his only wives for such a long time.

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