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Meaning and etymology of the name Keturah

Keturah Keturah

Keturah is the second wife of Abraham, whom he took after the death of his first wife Sarah (Genesis 25:1). We know surprisingly little about Keturah. We don't know from what nation she came, who her parents were or whether she outlived Abraham or not. Some Jewish sages have proposed that Keturah and Hagar, the mother of Ishmael, are the same person, but there's no evidence in the text to support this, and this proposition is ultimately fantastic. What we do know is that Keturah became to mother of six Abrahamic sons, one of whom, Midian, became a nation that rivaled Israel.

It's rarely noticed that Abraham complained that he was too old to have Isaac (Genesis 17:17), but when Iscaac was 36 years old (compare 17:17 to 23:1) Sarah died, and some undisclosed time after, Abraham married Keturah and sired another six sons.

The name Keturah comes from the verb qatar (qatar) meaning to burn incense, or sacrifice something that will result in lots of pleasing smoke (Exodus 29:13, Isaiah 6:4, Jeremiah 19:13). Essentially this verb means "to make to rise up in smoke." According to HAW Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, a similar verb in Babylonian means simply to rise. And according to BDB Theological Dictionary the Assyrian cognate means to smoke.

In the Biblical symbolic structure, incense burning or otherwise producing a pleasing smoke, is much more than just pleasant. Converting an item into smoke allowed it to "rise" to God, or at least into heaven; a sort of smoke-mail, so to speak. But this not simply because smoke rises but because it dissipates and seems to disappear into another dimension. God, after all, is everywhere and not only "up there". Uniquely in the religiously arena, the Hebrew prophets campaigned vehemently against the old illusion that heaven was "up there," and that high places would be closer to God than any location on sea level. Hence the Tower of Babel, which reached into the sky, was destroyed - Genesis 11:4; Lifting eyes to heaven and worshipping stars was condemned - Deuteronomy 4:19, Jeremiah 8:2, Zephaniah 1:5; So called high-places were condemned - Deuteronomy 12:2, Psalm 78:58; The Word is not on a high mountain but in us - Deuteronomy 30:14; And the Kingdom of God is not in outer space but in our midst - Luke 17:21).

Creating smoke has a very strong spiritual dimension. Hence David sings, "may my prayer be counted as incense before Thee" (Psalm 141:2),and John the Revelator sees golden bowls full of incense that represent the prayers of the saints (Revelation 5:8, 8:3). Paul speaks of the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him, and "us" being the aroma of Christ to God (2 Corinthians 2:14-15). And when Jesus "rose," his disciples were gazing intently into the sky, only to be told off by the angels (Acts 1:11). Yes, clouds took Jesus from sight, but it is by no means implied that he sailed off into space.

The derivations of this verb all have to do with incense or smoke:
qetoret (qetoret), meaning incense (Ezekiel 16:18);
qitor (qitor), meaning thick smoke (Genesis 19:28, Psalm 119:83);
qitter (qitter), meaning incense (Jeremiah 44:21 only);
miqtar (miqtar), place of sacrificial smoke (Exodus 30:1 only);
muqtar (muqtar), incense (Malachi 1:11 only);
miqteret (miqteret), censer (Ezekiel 8:11);
meqattera (meqattera), incense altar (2 Chronicles 30:14).

A variant that isn't treated by HAW Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament but is by BDB Theological Dictionary is qtwrh (qtwrh). It means incense, is used only in Deuteronomy 33:10 and is pretty much identical to the name Keturah.

NOBS Study Bible Name List and Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names agree: the name Keturah means Incense.



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