views updated


BETHUEL (Heb. בְּתוּאֵל = בֵּית אֵל; "house of God," cf. Batiilu in the *Tell el-Amarna letters or – מתואל, "man of God"), the youngest son of *Nahor and Milcah (Gen. 22:21–22) and the father of Laban and *Rebekah (22:23, 24:15, et al.). In the list in Genesis 22, Bethuel appears as head of a tribe of Nahor's descendants and brother of Kemuel the father of Aram. Bethuel does not play as important a part in the biblical story of Rebekah as does Laban (24:28ff., et al.), and it appears that Bethuel was no longer alive, this being the reason that Laban received Abraham's servant, since in the organization of the patriarchal society that emerges from this story, the firstborn brother was regarded as head of the family. Bethuel is only mentioned in the discussion of the marriage and, even there, only after Laban (24:50). It is quite possible, as has been suggested by scholars, that this is a later addition, for even when Rebekah commences her journey, the members of the family salute her as "Our sister!" (24:60).

In the Aggadah

Bethuel was the king of Haran (Yal., Gen. 109). Bethuel's apparent disappearance in the middle of the negotiations with regard to Rebekah (cf. Gen. 24:50, 55) is explained by the assumption that he died suddenly while they were in progress. There are two Midrashim. According to one, when Bethuel saw the treasures Eliezer had brought with him, he tried to kill him by placing poisoned food before him. While he was telling his story, however, the angel who accompanied Eliezer changed the dishes so that the dish intended for Eliezer was set before Bethuel, who ate it and died (Yal., Gen. 109). According to the other account, Bethuel had introduced the jus primae noctis and his subjects declared themselves ready to submit to this outrage on the condition that his own daughters should not be exempt from it. He was about to exercise this right on Rebekah, but to spare her this shame, God caused his death (ibid.). With her approval Eliezer refused to let Rebekah remain in her father's house during the week of mourning (Gen. R. 60:12). From the fact that Rebekah was consulted before she accompanied Eliezer, the rabbis conclude that a fatherless minor girl may not be given in marriage without her consent (ibid.).


E.A. Speiser, Genesis (Eng., 1964), 181, 184; de Vaux, Anc Isr, 29; Maisler (Mazar), in: Zion, 11 (1946), 7–8 (incl. bibl.); W.W. Baudissin, Kyrios als Gottesname…, 3 (1929), 300, 304. inthe aggadah: Ginzberg, Legends, 1 (1942), 294–6; 5 (1947), 261–2; L. Rabinowitz, in: jqr, 58 (1967/68), 143–61.