Timna, concubine of Eliphaz: Midrash and Aggadah

by Tamar Kadari

In Brief

After being denied conversion by the men of Abraham’s household, Timna becomes the concubine of Eliphaz. The Rabbis portray this action as proof of her genuine desire to convert, and Israel is punished for the Patriarch’s actions. Another midrash uses Timna to clarify an issue of lineage, ultimately showing that Esau’s descendants were born of adultery.


Timna was the sister of Lotan, one of Esau’s chiefs, and therefore the daughter of royalty. The Rabbis relate that she sought to convert and join Abraham’s household. She went to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but since they would not accept her, she went and became the concubine of Eliphaz. She declared: “Better for me to be a handmaiden to this nation [Israel], and not a noblewoman of that nation [the chiefs of Esau]” (A type of non-halakhic literary activitiy of the Rabbis for interpreting non-legal material according to special principles of interpretation (hermeneutical rules).Midrash  Tannaim on Deut., 32:47).

The Rabbis assert that Timna’s willingness to exchange her status of noblewoman for that of concubine attests to her pure intent to convert. The Patriarchs did not understand her true aim; instead of rejecting her, they should have drawn her to the bosom of Judaism. They were accordingly punished, for her union with Eliphaz produced Amalek, who would cause Israel to suffer (BT Sanhedrin 99b).

According to another tradition (TanhumaVayeshev 1), the description of Eliphaz’s “marriage” to Timna teaches of corruption and degeneration among the descendants of Seir. This midrash is based on the inconsistency concerning Timna’s lineage between Gen. 36:20–22, in which she is presented as the sister of Lotan (the son of Seir), and I Chron. 1:36, that mentions her as the daughter of Eliphaz. The Rabbis reconcile this discrepancy by explaining that Timna was indeed Eliphaz’s daughter, as a result of his adulterous relations with Seir’s wife; to compound his sin, Eliphaz took his own daughter as his concubine. The Torah she-bi-khetav: Lit. "the written Torah." The Bible; the Pentateuch; Tanakh (the Pentateuch, Prophets and Hagiographia)Torah  charts the lineage of Esau’s descendants at length, in order to show that this lineage was founded in adultery.

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How to cite this page

Kadari, Tamar. "Timna, concubine of Eliphaz: Midrash and Aggadah." Shalvi/Hyman Encyclopedia of Jewish Women. 27 February 2009. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on April 17, 2024) <http://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/timna-concubine-of-eliphaz-midrash-and-aggadah>.