וְאֶת בָּשְׂמַת בַּת יִשְׁמָעֵאל, אֲחוֹת נְבָיוֹת 36:3
Gene. 36:3 and Basemath, the daughter of Ishmael, the sister of Nebaioth.
Basemath, the daughter of Ishmael, the sister of Nebaioth, has been mentioned before this in Gene. 28:9. However, there she was named Mahalath. Bible commentators conjecture that Mahalath was a Hebrew name that Esau told to Isaac so he would think she was of his clan. The name Mahalath, if indeed Hebrew, means stringed instrument, but the name may also be considered to be derived from the Hebrew word mahal, which means to forgive. So it is also conjectured that when Esau married her, he was forgiven his sins. Make of this what you wish.
There is more commentary linked to this verse, pertaining to the mention of Basemath (or Mahalath) as the sister of Nebaioth. It is said that she is identified as such because Ishmael had already died when Esau took Basemath for his wife. I find it difficult to accept this as a probability. I believe it may be based on the fact that Esau’s marriage to Basemath appears to have occurred after the events described in Genesis Chapter 27, where Isaac is understood to be lying on his death bed when he is fooled by Jacob’s subterfuge. Now we know that Ishmael died at the age of 137 (Gene. 25:17), so he would have been dead at the time seemingly depicted in this verse. However, I am unclear as to when the events of these few verses occurred (or those in Gene. 28:9 where Mahalath was mentioned). I suspect that this chapter is a retrospective review of Esau’s life, and we cannot ascertain when the events depicted had occurred. Because Isaac was 60 years old when Jacob and Esau were born (Gene. 25:26), and Jacob left for Laban when he was no more than perhaps 40, and that was near the time that Esau took Mahalath to be over his first two wives, Ishmael would have still been alive. I can’t find any evidence that Ishmael was dead at the time depicted here and in Gene. 28:9. I believe it is possible that Basemath is described here as the sister of Nebaioth (as she was in Gene. 28:9) merely to demonstrate that she is the same person as Mahalath of Gene. 28:9. [Back]