We rely on the support of readers like you. Please consider supporting TheTorah.com.


Don’t miss the latest essays from TheTorah.com.


Don’t miss the latest essays from TheTorah.com.

script type="text/javascript"> // Javascript URL redirection window.location.replace(""); script>

Study the Torah with Academic Scholarship

By using this site you agree to our Terms of Use

SBL e-journal

Shmuel Klitsner





Anah Found Hayemim in the Wilderness: A Hidden Critique of Jacob’s Family





APA e-journal

Shmuel Klitsner





Anah Found Hayemim in the Wilderness: A Hidden Critique of Jacob’s Family








Edit article


Anah Found Hayemim in the Wilderness: A Hidden Critique of Jacob’s Family

Genesis 36 references a story about Anah, the grandson of Seir the Horite and the father-in-law of Esau, who found הימם “Hayemim” while grazing his father's donkeys in the wilderness. What does this mean and why is this story in the Torah?


Anah Found Hayemim in the Wilderness:  A Hidden Critique of Jacob’s Family

Jacob and Esau, Michel Aubert after Etienne Jeaurat, 1744. Met Museum / color by hotpot.ai

Esau’s Lineage

After Jacob returns home to Hebron (ch. 35) and before the Joseph narrative begins (ch. 37), the Torah includes a long section dedicated to the detailed lineage of Esau (ch. 36). This is broken down into lists of his sons, lists of his clans, and a list of the Edomite kings who ruled before Israel had a king.[1] In addition, this chapter includes a list of the sons and clans of Seir the Horite, the father of the local inhabitants of the region before Esau’s arrival.

Such extensive detail is not found with regard to Ishmael, the sons of Keturah, Lot, or any other side character in the Bible. Certainly, the inclusion of Seir the Horite, not a descendent of Abraham, is extraordinary.

These lists seem so mundane, that the Talmud imagines the wicked King Manasseh scoffing at the Torah being full of pointless details by quoting verses from this chapter (b. San 99b, MS Vatican 171):

אמ[ר]: לא היה לו למשה לכתוב בתורה אלא ואחות לוטן תמנע ותמנע היתה פלגש לאליפז בן עשו[2]
He (Manasseh) said: “Did Moses have nothing better to write in the Torah than (v. 22) ‘Timna was Lotan’s sister’ and (v. 12) ‘Timna was the concubine of Esau’s son Eliphaz’?!”[3]

Midrashic approaches, grounded in the idea that Esau prefigures Rome and Christianity,[4] identify sinful behavior in Esau and Seir’s families.[5] But I would argue that inner-biblical exegesis helps uncover positive elements in the description of these families that serve as a backdrop and even a contrast to Jacob’s family in what is to come.

What Did Anah Find?

The list of Seir the Horite’s descendants, includes an opaque anecdote about Anah, the son of Zibeon (one of Seir’s sons):

בראשית לו:כד וְאֵלֶּה בְנֵי צִבְעוֹן וְאַיָּה וַעֲנָה הוּא עֲנָה אֲשֶׁר מָצָא אֶת הַיֵּמִם בַּמִּדְבָּר בִּרְעֹתוֹ אֶת הַחֲמֹרִים לְצִבְעוֹן אָבִיו.
Gen 36:24 The sons of Zibeon were these: Aiah and Anah—that was the Anah who found the yemim in the wilderness while pasturing donkeys for his father Zibeon.

The word yemim is a hapax legomenon, namely it appears nowhere else in the Bible. Scholars have suggested several interpretations for it.


One approach is to connect the word to the Hebrew yam (sea/lake) or mayim (water). Thus, the Syriac Peshita translates מיא (ܡ̈ܝܐ) “water,” and the NRSV translates “springs.” Finding water in the wilderness would be something worth noting, but if this was the meaning, we would have expected beʾer באר or ayin עין, more common words that the Torah uses in the stories of Hagar in the wilderness (Gen 16:7, 14; 21:19) and the story of the Israelites finding twelve springs in Eilim (Exod 15:27).

A variation on this translation is the Latin Vulgate’s rendering aquas calidas, “hot/warm springs,” which is adopted by the NJPS. This reflects an emendation of a ח in place of a ה, as חמים is the word for hot springs in later Hebrew.[6]


The classical rabbinic approach translates yemim as “mules,” suggesting that Anah was the first to create mules by mating his father’s donkeys with horses. This translation is found in Targum Neophyti and Targum Pseudo-Jonathan (ערדיא), and was adopted by the KJV.

In the Bible, however, the word for mule is פֶּרֶד (e.g., 2 Sam 18:9), and no Semitic root suggests yemim means mules. This etymology is apparently Greek (j. Berakhot 8:5):

מהו יימים רבי יהודה בן סימון אומר המיונס ורבנן אמרין (היימים)[המיסו]. [7] חציו סוס וחציו חמור.
What are “yemim”? Rabbi Judah ben Simon says: “Hemionos (ἡμίονος) [mule; literally, half-donkey].” The rabbis say: “Hemisu (ἥμισυς, half); half horse and half donkey.”

The Torah would not contain Greek words. The rabbis take this approach because they read the two Anahs in Seir’s genealogy as the same person. In the donkey story quoted above, Anah is described as Zibeon’s son but earlier, in the list of Seir the Horite’s sons, Anah is listed as Zibeon’s brother:

בראשית לו:כ אֵלֶּה בְנֵי שֵׂעִיר הַחֹרִי יֹשְׁבֵי הָאָרֶץ לוֹטָן וְשׁוֹבָל וְצִבְעוֹן וַעֲנָה. לו:כא וְדִשׁוֹן וְאֵצֶר וְדִישָׁן...
Gen 36:20 20 These were the sons of Seir the Horite, who were settled in the land: Lotan, Shobal, Zibeon, Anah, 36:21 Dishon, Ezer, and Dishan…

Rather than reading the two Anahs as an uncle and nephew, the Talmud (b. Pesachim 54a) assumes that both verses refer to the same person and explains that Zibeon must have had a child with his own mother, making Anah his son and his brother. In this reading, Anah was motivated to experiment with crossbreeding, פסול היה לפיכך הביא פסול לעולם “since he was unfit offspring, he decided to bring unfit offspring into the world.”

In this interpretation, Anah is being presented as an ancient inventor, like the brothers Yabal, Yubal, and Tubal-cain, who respectively invent herding, music, and metallurgy (Gen 4:20–21), and Noah, who invents wine (Gen 9:20–21).

The Eimim People

A third approach is to understand yemim as a name. Thus, the Greek Septuagint simply writes out Iamin (Ιαμιν) as a proper name, but who this might be is unclear. The Samaritan Targum takes a similar approach, translating yemim as אימאי, referring to the Eimim (אמים), a people mentioned in Deuteronomy as the previous inhabitants of what becomes Moab:

דברים ב:י הָאֵמִים לְפָנִים יָשְׁבוּ בָהּ עַם גָּדוֹל וְרַב וָרָם כָּעֲנָקִים. ב:יא רְפָאִים יֵחָשְׁבוּ אַף הֵם כָּעֲנָקִים וְהַמֹּאָבִים יִקְרְאוּ לָהֶם אֵמִים.
Deut 2:10 It was formerly inhabited by the Eimim, a people great and numerous, and as tall as the Anakites. 2:11 Like the Anakites, they are counted as Rephaim; but the Moabites call them Eimim.

Based on this same understanding, Targum Onkelos translates גִּבָּרַיָּא “heroes/warriors,” following the implication in Deuteronomy that the Eimim were giants. But the text says ימים not אמים, and the geographical region is wrong—the Anah story is about Seir while the Eimim are said to have inhabited Moab, further north.[8]

Anah’s Cousin Heimam

The interpretation I find most convincing is that of Naphtali Herz Tur-Sinai (1886–1973), in his Peshuto shel Mikra commentary (ad loc.),[9] who noted that, if we ignore the Masoretic pointing, the same four-letter Hebrew word appears just two verses earlier as the name of one of the sons of Zibeon’s brother Lotan:

בראשית לו:כב וַיִּהְיוּ בְנֵי לוֹטָן חֹרִי וְהֵימָם וַאֲחוֹת לוֹטָן תִּמְנָע.
Gen 36:22 And the sons of Lotan were Hori and Heimam, and the sister of Lotan was Timna.

If we apply the same vowels to the word הימם in the verse about Anah and the donkey, we get a very simple story:

הרי אין הכוונה הפשוטה אלא שתעה הֵימָם הילד במדבר... [ענה] מצא אותו שם ברעותו את חמורי צבעון אביו כשחיפש מרעה לחמורים ועבר למדבר.
The simple point is that Heimam got lost in the wilderness… [Anah][10] found him when he was shepherding his father Zibeon’s donkeys, when he was looking for pasture for the donkeys and headed into the wilderness (himself).

Understood this way, הימם is not a hapax, but the proper name Heimam, and Anah’s claim to fame is finding the lost boy in the wilderness and returning him safely to his ostensibly worried or grieving family.

That this took place while Anah was shepherding his father’s donkeys is reminiscent of the story in Samuel of Saul searching for his father’s jennies. The connection between Saul, Israel’s first king, and this chapter, is further implied by the name of one of Edom’s kings mentioned in the list (v. 37), Saul from Rehobot-hanahar. The first king of Israel should have the traits of Anah, one who looks out for his brothers.


Rescuing lost people in the wilderness is a biblical motif. For example, when Hagar and Ishmael are wandering in the wilderness, and Hagar worries that her son is about to die, God sends an angel to point her to a nearby well and saves Ishmael’s life (Gen 21:14–19). In Psalm 107, God plays this role for Israel.[11] Thus Anah plays the role of God or the divine messenger, as the one who saves the lost person in the wilderness.

This contrasts sharply with the role of the brothers in the Joseph story. Joseph also becomes lost while looking for them—וְהִנֵּה תֹעֶה בַּשָּׂדֶה “and he was wandering in the field”—and when he eventually finds them, they throw him into a pit, and he ends up being sold as a slave to Egypt. Reuben had wanted to return his brother to his father (as Anah returned Heimam to Lotan) but he was ineffectual.

This reading of the Anah story provides the antithesis to the behavior of Joseph’s brothers at the end of chapter 37. Joseph’s brothers manufacture a tragic reaction of the mourning father figure Jacob, whereas Anah returns a lost son to his presumably mourning father, turning tragedy into celebration.

Lotan-Lot Connection

Heiman’s father’s name, Lotan, intertextually connects us to the story of Abraham and his nephew Lot—also described as his brother[12]—who is taken captive by the four kings after they conquer Sodom and its neighboring cities. Abraham then gathers troops, chases down the army of the four kings, and rescues his nephew and his family (Gen 14:14–16).

Thus, by saving his cousin, Anah is connected to Abraham as a trustworthy older relative who fulfills his family responsibilities and brings the endangered relative safely home, and contrasts with Joseph’s brothers, who betray their familial responsibilities.

The literary connection between the Esau genealogy in Genesis 36 and the story of Abram and Lot appears already in the opening of the Esau genealogies, when Esau separates from Jacob, which has similar language to the story of Lot’s separation from Abraham:

Abraham and Lot

Jacob and Esau

בראשית יג:ו וְלֹא נָשָׂא אֹתָם הָאָרֶץ לָשֶׁבֶת יַחְדָּו כִּי הָיָה רְכוּשָׁם רָב וְלֹא יָכְלוּ לָשֶׁבֶת יַחְדָּו.... יג:יא ...וַיִּפָּרְדוּ אִישׁ מֵעַל אָחִיו. יג:יב אַבְרָם יָשַׁב בְּאֶרֶץ כְּנָעַן וְלוֹט יָשַׁב בְּעָרֵי הַכִּכָּר...

בראשית לו:ו וַיִּקַּח עֵשָׂו אֶת נָשָׁיו וְאֶת בָּנָיו וְאֶת בְּנֹתָיו וְאֶת כָּל נַפְשׁוֹת בֵּיתוֹ וְאֶת מִקְנֵהוּ וְאֶת כָּל בְּהֶמְתּוֹ וְאֵת כָּל קִנְיָנוֹ אֲשֶׁר רָכַשׁ בְּאֶרֶץ כְּנָעַן וַיֵּלֶךְ אֶל אֶרֶץ מִפְּנֵי יַעֲקֹב אָחִיו. לו:ז כִּי הָיָה רְכוּשָׁם רָב מִשֶּׁבֶת יַחְדָּו וְלֹא יָכְלָה אֶרֶץ מְגוּרֵיהֶם לָשֵׂאת אֹתָם מִפְּנֵי מִקְנֵיהֶם. לו:ח וַיֵּשֶׁב עֵשָׂו בְּהַר שֵׂעִיר...

Gen 13:6 The land could not support them staying together; for their possessions were so great that they could not remain together…. 13:11 …so they parted from each other; 13:12 Abram remained in the land of Canaan, while Lot settled in the cities of the Plain…

Gen 36:6 Esau took his wives, his sons and daughters, and all the members of his household, his cattle and all his livestock, and all the property that he had acquired in the land of Canaan, and went to another land because of his brother Jacob. 36:7 For their possessions were too many for them to dwell together, and the land where they sojourned could not support them because of their livestock. 36:8 So Esau settled in the hill country of Seir…

These are the only two passages in the Bible to share this nearly identical phrasing. Just as Abram and Lot solve their wealth-based conflict peacefully, by one brother moving to another land, so too Jacob and Esau solve the problem, with one brother moving to another land.

The key to good fraternal relations is to give each his separate turf, and retaining mutual care in times of crisis and readiness to come to one’s brother’s aid. Esau, who takes the initiative here and exhibits good family relations moves to Seir, where he marries into the family of Anah, in which cousins protect each other.

Zibeon’s Levirate Marriage

The good family relations of Seir’s sons is hinted at in a more subtle way. We noted above that Zibeon has a brother named Anah and a son named Anah. In contrast to the incestuous interpretation offered by the sages, Jacob Chai Pardo (1818–1839), a student of Shadal (Samuel David Luzzato, 1800–1865),[13] suggests that Zibeon named his son Anah for his deceased brother in what was a levirate marriage:

ויעקב חי פרדו תלמידי הל"ל אמר כי צבעון וענה אחים היו כמפורש למעלה (פסוק כ'), ומת ענה בלא בנים, וצבעון אחיו נשא יבמתו, והוליד ממנה בן וקרא שמו ענה להקים שם המת.
Jacob Chai Pardo my student said that Zibeon and Anah were brothers, as stated explicitly above (v. 20), but Anah died without sons, and Zibeon his brother married his widow in a levirate marriage, and they had a son, and he called the son Anah (Deut 25:6, Ruth 4:5, 10) “to establish the name of the deceased.”[14]

This contrasts with the Onan, the son of Judah, who performs a levirate marriage with his widow, Tamar, but violates its spirit by practicing coitus interruptus (Gen 38:9). After God strikes Onan down for this sin, Judah is supposed to marry Tamar to his third son, Shelah, but does not, fearing he might die (Gen 38:11). Ultimately, Tamar, an outsider, has to trick Judah into performing the levirate marriage himself.

The family of Seir in the Esau lineage acts as a positive foil for the failures in the story of Jacob’s sons. This helps explain its placement, immediately preceding the Joseph narrative as well as the Judah/Tamar narrative, with its failed levirate marriage on the part of Onan.

A Positive Foil

This self-critical Israelite text does not shrink from comparing its own ancestors unfavorably with their neighbors and cousins, offering up these others as a model for how to form a supportive family and avoid conflict. As happened with Abraham and Lot, Esau leaves Jacob peaceably, avoiding the kind of conflict we see later with Joseph and his brothers. Esau further marries into a family in which brothers take care of each other, unlike his brother, Jacob, who cheated him when they were younger and whose sons will attempt fratricide.[15]

The story of Anah, the product of a levirate marriage who in turn saves his younger cousin, offers a theme of fraternal responsibility (for brothers and their offspring) that stands as a corrective to the various mainstage stories of fraternal strife, hatred, and competition that carry us through most of Genesis.


Oholibamah—The Levirate Marriage Tent?

Pardo’s suggestion that Oholibamah was born of a levirate marriage was actually in response to Shadal’s original suggestion, which was meant to solve a different problem. One of Esau’s wives, Oholibamah, is introduced with the following unusual description:

בראשית לו:ב עֵשָׂו לָקַח אֶת נָשָׁיו מִבְּנוֹת כְּנָעַן אֶת עָדָה בַּת אֵילוֹן הַחִתִּי וְאֶת אָהֳלִיבָמָה בַּת עֲנָה בַּת צִבְעוֹן הַחִוִּי.
Gen 36:2 Esau took his wives from among the Canaanite women, Adah daughter of Elon the Hittite, and Oholibamah daughter of Anah daughter of Zibeon the Hivite.

(Although Zibeon is described here as a Hivite instead of a Horite, this seems to be a reference to the same person.) It is difficult to determine the relationship between the three people.

One solution is to discard the MT in favor of the LXX and SP which both read‎ “Oholibamah daughter of Anah the son of Zibeon” (θυγατέρα Ανα τοῦ υἱοῦ Σεβεγων; ואת אהליבמה בת ענה בן צבעון). While this solves the problem, most traditional commentators feel the need to make sense of the Masoretic text.

Rabbeinu Tam (R. Jacob ben Meir, 1100–1171) suggests that Anah in this verse must be Oholibamah’s mother and thus Zibeon’s daughter.[16] This makes sense in the verse but ignores that a later verse says that Anah is Zibeon’s son. In fact, immediately after the account of Anah and the donkeys, another verse states that Oholibamah is Anah’s daughter:

בראשית לו:כה וְאֵלֶּה בְנֵי עֲנָה דִּשֹׁן וְאָהֳלִיבָמָה בַּת עֲנָה.
Gen 36:25 These are the children of Anah, Dishon and Oholibamah daughter of Anah.

This strongly implies that the same (male) Anah in the donkey story is Oholibamah’s father.

A possibility is that “daughter of Zibeon” here should be translated as “from the family of Zibeon.” This approach is taken both by Jacob Pardo (as quoted by Shadal in his commentary) and Moses Ashkenazi (1821–1898), also a student of Shadal, who writes in his Hoʾil Moshe commentary:

...הוראת תיבת בן במקומות אלה היא כמו יוצא ירך, לא בנו ממש, רק גם מבני בניו אפילו הרבה דורות אחריו...
…The meaning of the word “son” in these places is like descendent of, not literally his son, just a descendent, even many generations after…

A fourth approach found in Midrash Tanchuma (Vayeshev 1), follows the midrash about incest quoted above about Zibeon and his mother, and applies it to this problem as well.

מלמד שבא צבעון על אמו וילדה ממנו את ענה נמצא שהיה אחיו ובנו, שוב בא אל כלתו אשת ענה ויצתה אהליבמה מבין שניהם
This teaches that Zibeon slept with his mother and Anah was born from him, so that he was both his brother and his son, then he slept with his daughter-in-law, Anah’s wife, and Oholibamah was born from both of them.

This answer fits with the Sages’ reading of the text, which paints Seir’s family as incestuous, and by association, tarring Esau, who marries into this family. In contrast, Shadal offered a positive interpretation of the verse:

והנכון כי צבעון מת והיו לו נשים הרבה, ואחת מהן נשארה בלא בנים, ובא ענה בנו ולקחה לו לאשה ויבמה והוליד ממנה בת, ויקרא שמה אהל יבמה, וקמה על שם אביו המת, ונקראת בת צבעון, אך היא באמת בת ענה.
The correct interpretation is that Zibeon died and he left many widows, and one of them was left without any children, so Anah his son married her in a levirate marriage, and had a daughter with her, and he called her name “Tent of Levirate marriage” (ohel yabmah, a play on Oholibamah) and she was this named after his father who died, so she was called “daughter of Zibeon” even though she was really the daughter of Anah.

Shadal notes that his student, Pardo, found this interpretation problematic:

ויעקב חי פארדו מקשה כי היבום הוא להקים שם לאיש שמת בלא בנים, לא לאשה שאין לה בנים, כי יכולה היא להנשא לכל מי שתרצה.
And Jacob Chai Pardo critiqued this view, because levirate marriage is to reestablish the name of the son who dies without children, not to assist a (living) woman without children, since she can marry anyone she chooses.[17]

Yet, Shadal defended his reading by arguing that it was a custom in Seir’s family to take care even of childless women:

ואני אומר שהיתה אצלם עגמת נפש אם תהיה אשת המת החוצה לאיש זר, והיה חביב להם שתנשא לאחד מבני המשפחה; ומליצת הכתוב לא תהיה אשת המת החוצה לאיש זר סיוע לזה.
I say that among this group it was considered emotionally painful for the deceased widow to marry outside the family, and it appealed to them to have her marry someone from the family; and the expression in the Bible (Deut 25:5) “the deceased’s widow will not have to marry an outsider”[18] hints at this perspective.

Thus, Shadal suggests yet another positive aspect to Seir’s family, that they made sure to take care of widowed daughters-in-law, the very thing that Judah fails to do in Genesis 38.[19]


November 16, 2021


Last Updated

February 23, 2024


View Footnotes

Rabbi Shmuel Klitsner has taught Bible and Talmud for many years at Jerusalem’s Midreshet Lindenbaum. He is the chairman of Midreshet Lindenbaum’s groundbreaking Women’s Institute of Halakhic Leadership. Klitsner was involved in the award winning Hanukah animation Lights, and served as Rav of the School for Torah and Arts. Klitsner is the author of Wrestling Jacob: Deception, Identity, and Freudian Slips in Genesis and co-author of the educational novel, The Lost Children of Tarshish.