Was Rebekah a child when she married Isaac?

Did Isaac marry a three-year-old?  If you've never pondered this question, it's because nothing in the straightforward reading of the text would suggest that Rebekah was a toddler or that their marriage was arranged.

Even so, a couple of verses out of context could be used by skeptics to prove anything.  While perusing the web for a related topic, however, I found a thread stating that the Bible isn't against the raping of children.  The cited evidence was this issue, the claim being that Isaac engaged in pedophilia.

The question comes from the fact that Genesis 22:23 announces the birth of Rebekah after the binding of Isaac.  Tradition states that Isaac was then thirty-seven, and Scripture says that the two wed when Isaac was forty (Gn 25:20).  Hence, Isaac robbed the cradle.

The whole theory is fraught with assumptions, the primary being that Scripture never records a age marker for Rebekah.  Further complicating the matter, however, is Jewish tradition, which speculates that she was either three or fourteen at the time of their marriage.  There are some indicators, which we'll look at in a moment.

Tradition aside, let us not ignore another problem with the theory: we do not really know how old Isaac was when Abraham offered him.  Isaac was anywhere between several months old up to five years of age when Genesis 21 closes, roughly the time frame of a child's weening in that culture.  We know he could not have been any older than thirty-seven, because Sarah dies sometime after this event at the ripe of age of 127 (Gn 23:1), when he would have been thirty-seven (she bore him when she was 90).  We also know that he wasn't a small child, since Genesis uses the term "young man" of him (Gn 22:5).  Beyond these markers, the text simply does not say how old Isaac was or how many years, if any, he had left with his mother after Moriah.

Thus, it is conceivable that there was not quite the age gap between Isaac and Rebekah that the skeptic presents.  While that does no help the charge of pedophilia, as the thought of a three-year-old girl and say, an adolescent male, is no less comforting, it does demonstrate an unchallenged assumption with the theory.

Another, as previously noted, is that Scripture does not lay any mile markers for Rebekah's age.  While Abraham finds out about her birth after the akedah, that is obviously not when she was born.  Logic dictates that she was born at some point before this messenger was sent to Abraham.  This fact alone places her birth at the very least two months prior to the offering of Isaac, which was the  travel time between the these two dwellings.

We are left to wonder how much earlier her birth could have been.  Let's look at the message again, highlighting a key point:
Behold, Milcah also has borne children to your brother Nahor: Uz his firstborn, Buz his brother, Kemuel the father of Aram, Chesed, Hazo, Pildash, Jidlaph, and Bethuel. (Bethuel fathered Rebekah.) These eight Milcah bore to Nahor, Abraham's brother. Moreover, his concubine, whose name was Reumah, bore Tebah, Gaham, Tahash, and Maacah.  (Genesis 22:21-24)
The point of this message was not to announce Rebekah's birth, but the birth of her father and his siblings to Abraham's brother Nahor.  Thus, far from the message being sent with haste to announce the birth of this great-niece, this message is at least a generation late in announcing the birth of nephews!  We can only wonder late the message could be.  Rebekah may well already be of age, as nothing here indicates the actual time of her birth.

Moreover, we do not even know if the parenthetical statement "Bethuel fathered Rebekah" was in the original announcement or added later by Moses to help us know the importance of Bethuel.  This means that Abraham might not have even known about Rebekah's birth at this point. He would have justifiably presumed that there would have been several women for his son in this family.  Clearly, with Abraham's lack of naming Rebekah in his Genesis 24 commission and Eliezer's prayer for divine guidance, neither had any foreknowledge or of who Isaac was to marry, let alone betrothal plans in place for a Rebekah of any age.

That brings us to the biggest problem with this theory, which is not the major holes extant in the timeline.  The theory falls apart by simply reading the actual narrative.  When Elizer fetches Rebekah, he finds her carrying a water jug on her shoulder (Gn 24:15).  He notes her to be a "very attractive" "young woman" or "maiden" (v. 16), and she proceeds to draw water from the well for him and his camels (vv. 17-20).

Now, preschoolers can learn chores, certainly those at that time, but this task is too physical for a small child.  The average weight of a healthy, American, 3-year-old girl is 25-38 pounds, and a five-gallon jar of water would be 40 pounds, plus the weight of the jar.  Giving her even a one-gallon jar in her hand (eight pounds of water), she still may have drawn some 250 gallons of water for those ten, thirsty camels.  This is a feat of strength and stamina even for an adult, let alone a little girl who may have only recently weened from her mother.

The story doesn't end there.  Eliezer later speaks with her mother and brother (had Rebekah's father already passed away, leaving her older brother the patriarchal responsibilities?).  They too call her "a young woman" and let her decide whether to leave home with this stranger to marry another stranger, Isaac (vv. 57-58).  If she were only three, this would be the earliest and most extreme example of permissive parenting known to the world.

Reading verses in context and asking good questions are essential components to understanding the Bible.  No one reading the text carefully would ever wonder if Rebekah were a child; she was a lady of consenting age.

And yes, God clearly condemns all sexual activity between adults and children in Leviticus 18.  The fact that the original marriage of Adam and Eve included the command to procreate should be hint enough that God intended marital relations to exist only between the two adults married to one another.

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