The 'Iscah' of Genesis 11:29
The name 'Iscah' is mentioned only once in Scripture.
Gen 11:29 Then Abram and Nahor took wives: the name of
Abram's wife was Sarai, and the name of Nahor's
wife, Milcah, the daughter of Haran the father
of Milcah and the father of Iscah.
In this verse every other name mentioned is of biblical significance, so
the name 'Iscah' may also refer to someone of some biblical relevance.
Observing that her sister, Milcah, had married Nahor (Abraham's brother)
many have thought Iscah may be merely another name for Sarai (ie Sarah),
Abraham's wife. That is to say, that each brother had married a daughter
of their other brother Haran.
The meaning of the name 'Iscah', according to Strong's Concordance, is
'to watch' or 'observant'.
Those who have thought Iscah was Sarah have considered the meaning of the
name may refer to the well documented beauty of Sarah.
WHY ISCAH IS PROBABLY NOT SARAH
1) Genesis 20:12 - Relationship to Terah
A critical text which has to be considered is Abraham's explanation of why
his wife was also his sister.
Gen 20:12 But indeed she is truly my sister. She is the
daughter of my father, but not the daughter of
my mother; and she became my wife.
This verse suggests that Abraham's father, Terah, was married to at least
two women. To a lady who was the mother of Abraham and to another lady who
was the mother of Sarah.
[ Since the word 'father' in Hebrew can also refer to a grandfather, great
grandfather, etc, and 'mother' can also refer to a grandmother, great
grandmother etc, and 'daughter' can also refer to a grand daughter etc,
other possibilities exist. Sarah could be the niece of Abraham, such as
Iscah was. Sarah could also be a younger daughter of one of Abraham's
male ancestors provided there was a different mother. ]
In interpreting the above Gen 20:12 verse we should also seriously consider
the marriage laws in Lev 18:6-16 (repeated in chapter 20). While these laws
were later documented as part of the Old Covenant regulations it is also
likely they were requirements expected to be adhered to in Abraham's time.
Hence, the regulation against one marrying either the daughter of one's
father would suggest Sarah was not Terah's biological daughter. They
suggest Sarah could not have been a half sister of Abraham.
In verse Gen 20:12 we also find mentioned that Sarah was truly Abraham's
sister. Without a common biological parent the notion of 'sister' would
suggest they both grew up in the very same family unit. Hence, while not
biologically related, they would still regard themselves as truly brother
Therefore, the statement "truly my sister" when combined with a different
mother and a different biological father would suggest that Sarah's mother
married Terah some time after Sarah had been conceived.
Could Iscah have been Sarah? While Gen 20:12 does not completely rule out
that possibility. Terah being her grandfather would be acceptable and
circumstances may have meant that they did in fact grow up in a single
However, it does raise the question of whether 'truly my sister' was the
most appropriate description given that the words 'daughter of my father's
brother' would have better described their relationship.
2) Genesis 11:26 & 17:17 - Age of Sarah
It is well known that Sarah was about 10 years younger than Abraham.
Gen 17:17 Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and
said in his heart, "Shall a child be born to a
man who is one hundred years old? And shall Sarah,
who is ninety years old, bear a child?"
It is this age difference of about 10 years when combined with how one
interprets Gen 11:26 that really decides whether Iscah could still be
Gen 11:26 Now Terah lived seventy years, and begot (fathered)
Abram, Nahor, and Haran.
People interpret this verse in many different ways.
- Many choose to understand this verse to be saying that the
first of the three brothers was born when Terah was 70 years
old. This approach is taken by those who consider that the
death of Abraham's 'father' in Act's 7:4 was a reference to
the death of Terah. Hence, they believe Abraham was actually
born when Terah was about 130 years of age.
- A few interpret this verse to mean that the last of the
three brothers, ie Abraham, was born when Terah was 70 years
old. In arriving at this conclusion reliance is made upon
non-Scriptural material which indicates the older brothers
were born when Terah was 38 years old.
- Some accept the face value meaning of this verse. That all
three brothers were born when Terah was 70 years of age.
This group do not agree that the 'father' in Act's 7:4 was
Terah and do not accept the validity of the Book of Jashar.
Those who choose this option are not necessarily saying the
brothers were triplets. For indeed there may have been several
wives giving birth to these brothers.
For those accepting the third option, that all brothers were born
when Terah was 70 years of age, the issue of whether Iscah could be
another name for Sarah is clear. For it is apparent that Sarah
would then be too old to be the niece of Abraham, too old to be Iscah.
(As Iscah would had to have been fathered by Haran, when Haran was only
about ten years of age.)
WHO ELSE COULD ISCAH HAVE BEEN?
There was one biblically important woman whose actions would fit the
meaning of Iscah. One who did 'watch' and was 'observant'.
Gen 19:26 But his wife looked back behind him, and she
became a pillar of salt.
Luke 17:32 Remember Lot's wife.
[ The Hebrew word for 'looked' in the above verse means, "to scan,
ie look intently at; by implication to regard with pleasure,
favour or care". ]
Lot was the son of Haran. Iscah was the daughter of Haran. They were
brother and sister. This does not necessarily mean that they were fully
(or partially) blood related. The same relationship that existed between
Abraham and Sarah (who were also brother and sister) may have existed
between Lot and Iscah.
While Genesis 12:4 does not record that Iscah left Haran with Lot, it is
also true Genesis 11:31 does not record that Nahor and his wife left Ur
of the Chaldeans at that time. However, even if they did not leave at
that time, we know that the family of Nahor (and probably also Iscah) did
eventually migrate to Haran.
So while it is not obvious that Iscah may have possibly become Lot's wife,
it would explain why this woman's name was mentioned in Scripture. It
would also tell us that Lot's wife was of his family and not a descendant
of the land where he sojourned.