Israelite intermarriage in the Bible

The first Israelites were the children of Jacob and his four wives: Leah, Rachel, Bilhah (Rachel's servant), and Zilpah (Leah's servant). 

From Leah, six sons: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulub, and one Daughter: Dinah.

From Bilhah, two sons: Dan, Naphtali

From Zipah, two sons: Gad, Asher

From Rachel, two sons: Joseph, Benjamin.

This section lists all the cases we have found of Israelite marriage to non-Israelites in the Bible. We have listed in bold green type Mosaic Laws relating to intermarriage with people of non-Israelite ancestry.

The reader will note of particular importance that in all cases the prohibitions are not against intermarriage per-se; rather, the prohibitions are against intermarriage with specific nations (because they are deemed idolatrous as a whole  or because they are deemed perpetual enemies of Israel) or against intermarriage in general with any idolatrous persons.

Notice also that in some cases we have, not prohibitions, but actual permissions to intermarriage (e.g. Deut 21.10-14).


Genesis 38:2  Judah saw the daughter of a certain Canaanite whose name was Shua; he married her and went into her. 

Genesis 41:45  Pharaoh gave Joseph the name Zaphenath-paneah and he gave him Asenath daughter of Potiphar, priest of On, as his wife. Thus Joseph gained authority over the land of Egypt.

Exodus 2:15 ...Moses fled from Pharaoh. He settled in the land of Midian and sat down by a well. The priest of Midian had seven daughters. They came to draw water and filled the troughs to water their father's flock. But some shepherds came and drove them away. Moses got up and came to their defense and watered their flock. When they returned to their father Reuel, he said "How is it that you have come back so soon today?" They said "An Egyptian helped us against the shepherds; he even drew water for us and watered the flock. He said to his daughters, "Where is he? Why did you leave the man? Invite him to break bread". Moses agreed to stay with the man and he gave Moses his daughter Zipporah in marriage. She bore a son and named him Gershom, for he said "I have been an alien residing in a foreign land".

Note: technically speaking, the above three marriages took place before the issuance of the Mosaic Laws at mount Sinai, and hence would not be in violation of any commandments in place at the time they took place. Having said this, in the case of Judah's intermarriage, it should be noted that marriage to Canaanites was something that was anyways frowned upon by both Abraham and Isaac. In the case of Moses' marriage to Zeporah, much has been said about whether Zeporah the Midianite was converted to Judaism. There is no evidence of that in Exodus. Sometimes, the case where Zeporah circumcises her son is cited as implicit evidence of Zeporah having converted, however Zeporah in all likellyhood was only ensuring that Gershom, as a descendant of Abraham, became circumcised so as to not violate that law. Zeporah herself is a Midianite, and hence also a descendant of Abraham (Midianites descend from Abraham thru Abraham's wife Keturah). Further indication of Zeporah not having been converted is seen further below, when Miriam protests about her brother Moses having married a foreigner.

Exodus 34:11-12 Observe what I command you today. See, I will drive out before you the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. Take care not to make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land to which you are going, or it will become a snare among you.  

Exodus 34:15 You shall not make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, for when they prostitute themselves to their gods and sacrifice to their gods, someone among them will invite you, and you will eat of the sacrifice. And you will take wives from among their daughters for your sons, and their daughters who prostitute themselves to their gods will make your sons also prostitute themselves to their gods. 

Leviticus 24:10-16 A man whose mother was an Israelite and whose father was an Egyptian came out among the people of Israel; and the Israelite woman's son and a certain Israelite began fighting in the camp. The Israelite woman's son blasphemed the Name in a curse. And they brought him to Moses - now, his mother's name was Shelomith, daughter of Dibri, of the tribe of Dan - and they put him in custody, until the decision of the Lord should made clear to them. The Lord said to Moses, saying: Take the blasphemer outside the camp and let all who were within hearing lay their hands on his head, and let the whole congregation stone him. And speak to the people of Israel saying: anyone who curses God shall bear the sin. One who blasphemes the name of the Lord shall be put to death; the whole congregation shall stone the blasphemer. Aliens as well as citizens, when they blaspheme the Name shall be put to death.

Numbers 12:1  [probably also a reference to Zipporah the Midianite]:  While they were at Hazeroth, Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman whom he had married, for he had indeed married a Cushite woman. To this accusation, God responds by punishing Miriam with leprosy for seven days; Numbers 12:9-16 And the anger of the Lord was kindled against them [Miriam and Aaron], and He departed. When the cloud went away from over the tent, Miriam had become leprous...

Numbers 25:6 While Israel was staying at Shittim, the people began to have sexual relations with the women of Moab. These invited the people to sacrifices of their gods and the people ate and bowed down to their gods. Thus Israel yoked itself to the Baal of Peor and the Lord's anger was kindled against Israel. The Lord said to Moses: "Take all the chiefs of the people and impale them in the sun before the Lord, in order that the fierce anger of the Lord may turn away from Israel." And Moses said to the judges of Israel: Each of you shall kill any of your people who have yoked  themselves to the Baal of Peor".    Just then. one of the Israelites came and brought a Midianite woman into his family, in the sight of Moses and in the sight of the whole congregation of the Israelites, while they were weeping at the entrance of the tent of meeting. When Phinehas son of Eleazar son of Aaron the priest saw it, he got up and left the congregation. Taking a spear in his hand he went after the Israelite man into the tent and pierced the two of them, the Israelite and the woman, through the belly. So the plague was stopped among the people of Israel.

Deuteronomy 7:1-4 When the Lord your God bings you into the land that your are about to enter and occupy, and he clears away many nations before you - the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, seven nations mightier and more numerous than you - and when the Lord your God gives them over to you and you defeat them, then you must utterly destroy them. Make no covenant with them and show them no mercy. Do not intermarry with them, giving your daughters to ther sons or taking their daughters for your sons, for that would turn away your children from following me, to serve other gods.

Deuteronomy 21:10-14 When you go out to war against your enemies, and the Lord your God hands them over to you and you take them captive, suppose you see among the captives a beautiful woman whom you desire and want to marry, and so you bring her home to your house: she shall shave her head, pare her nails, discard her captive's garb, and shall remain in your house a full month, mourning for her father and mother; after that you may go in to her and be her husband, and she shall be your wife. But if you are not satisfied with her, you shall let her go free and not sell her for money. You must not treat her as a slave, since you have dishonored her.

Deuteronomy 23:3 No Ammonite or Moabite shall be admitted to the assembly of the Lord. Even to the tenth generation none of their descendants shall be admitted to the assembly of the Lord because they did not meet you with food and water on your journey out of Egypt and because they hired against you Balaam son of Beor, from Pethor of Mesopotamia, to curse you. Yet the Lord your God refused to heed Ballam. The Lord your God turned the curse into a blessing for your because the Lord your God loved you. You shall never promote their welfare or their prosperity as long as you live.

Deuteronomy 23: 7 You shall not abhor any of the Edomites, for they are your kin.

Deuteronomy 23:8 You shall not abhor any of the Egyptians, because you were an alien residing in their land. The children of the third generation that are born to them may be admitted to the assembly of the Lord.

In spite of Deuteronomy 23:7 ("You shall not abhor any of the Edomites..."), the tribe of Amalek (Amalek being an Edomite clan) is an exception and is to be abhored, per Deuteronomy 25:17: Remember what Amalek did to you on your journey out of Egypt, how he attacked you on the way when you were faint and weary and struck down all who lagged behind you. He did not fear God. Therefore when the Lord your God has given you rest from all your enemies on every hand, in the land that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, you shall blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget.


Judges 14:1 Once Samson went down to Timnah and at Timnah he saw a Philistine woman. Then he came up and told his father and mother, "I saw a Philistine woman at Timnah; now get her for me as my wife.". But his father and mother said to him, "Is there not a woman among your kin or among all our people, that you must take a wife from the uncircumcised Philistines?". But Samson said to his father, "Get her for me, because she pleases me.". His father and mother did not know that this was from the Lord, for he was seeking a pretext to act against the Philistines. At that time the Philistines had dominion over Israel.

Judges 16:1 Once Samson went to Gaza where he saw a prostitute and went into her. The Gazites were told "Samson has come here".

Judges 16:4 After this he fell in love with a woman in the valley of Sorek, whose name was Delilah.

Benjaminites are saved from extinction:

In Judges 21:1, after a bitter war between Benjamin and the rest of Israel (brought about by the rape and murder of a Bethlehem woman by Benjaminites of the city of Gibeah), the rest of Israel's tribes had sworn "None of us shall give his daughter in marriage to Benjamin". However after seeing that this would drive Benjamin to extinction (the assumption being that so many of Benjamin's women had perished during the war), the Israelites devise a scheme to wipe out the inhabitants of nearby Jabesh-gilead (who had been expected to join against Benjamin but had not shown up) and give the surviving virgins to the men of Benjamin. Judges 21:10: So the congregation sent twelve thousand soldiers there and commanded them: "Go put the inhabitants of Jabesh-Gilead to the sword, including the women and little ones. This is what you shall do: every male, as well as every woman that has lain with a male, you shall devote to destruction." And they found among the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead four hundred young virgins who had never slept with a man and brought them to the camp at Shiloh, which is in the land of Canaan. The whole congregation sent word to the Benjaminites... and proclaimed peace to them...and they gave them the women whom they had saved alive of the women of Jabesh-gilead. Note: the people of Jabesh-Gilead are Israelites, however because they did not show up to punish Benjamin for the sin that was committed, the rest of Israel dis-owns them from being part of Israel and sets to destroy them. Even though Jabesh-Gilead was Israelite, their status (in the mind of the rest of Israel) appears to be reduced to no different than that of the Canaanites (in that, as the reader can see, only the virgins are set aside for survival, and forcefully married to the probably appalled Benjaminites) and that is why we include this quote in our Bible Intermarriage section. The virgins of Jabesh-Gilead have apparently become no different than those war captives of any other Canaanite nation (see Deuteronomy 21:10-14).

Subquently, as these virgins are not sufficient, they proceed to steal Canaanite women from Shiloh. Judges 21:14-23 : But they [the virgins from Jabesh-Gilead] did not suffice for them. ... So the elders of congregation said, ... to the Benjaminites: "When the young women of Shiloh come out to dance in the dances, then come out and each of you carry a wife for himself".


The story of Ruth:

In the first part of this story we have two intermarriages: Ruth the Moabite (before her pledge of allegiance to Israel) with Naomi's son, and Orpah the Moabite with the other of Naomi's sons: Ruth 1:1 In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land and a certain man of Bethlehem in Judah went to live in the country of Moab, he and his wife and two sons. The name of the man was Elimelech and the name of his wife Naomi, and the name of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion; they were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They went into the country of Moab and remained there. But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died and she was left with her two sons. These took Moabite wives; the name of the one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. When they had lived there about ten years, both Mahlon and Chilion also died, so that the woman was left without her two sons and her husband. Then she started to return with her daughters-in-law from the country of Moab....

The next part of the story contains Ruth's second marriage to a Israelite. As Naomi departs Moab to return to Israel, she becomes concerned that Orpah or Ruth will not find themselves a home in Israel (probably because Moabites are explicitly rejected by the Israelite Law; see Deuteronomy 23:3-6). She persuades Orpah to stay in Moab, but Ruth's loyalty to Naomi is unshakable and Ruth decides to follow Naomi and join Israel. Ruth 1:15: "Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you! Where you go, I will go; Where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die, I will die - there I will be buried. May the Lord do thus and so to me, and more as well, if even death parts me from you!" When Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more to her. So the two of them went on until they came to Bethlehem.

Ruth 2:1 Now Naomi had a kinsman on her husband's side, a prominent rich man of the family of Elimelech, whose name was Boaz. And Ruth the Moabite [note that the Torah still refers to her as a Moabite, even AFTER her pledge of allegiance to Israel] said to Naomi, "Let me go to the field and glean among the ears of grain, behind someone in whose sight I might find favor." She said to her "Go, my daughter." So she went.  .... Just then Boaz came from Bethlehem. He said to the reapers, "The Lord be with you". They answered, "The Lord bless you". Then Boaz said to his servant who was in charge of the reapers, "To whom does this young woman belong?" The servant who was in charge of the reapers answered, "She is the Moabite who came back with Naomi from the country of Moab.

Ruth 4:13 So Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife. When they came together, the Lord made her conceive, and she bore a son. Then the women said to Naomi, "Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without next-of-kin; and may his name be renowned is Israel! He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age; for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has borne him." Then Naomi took the child and laid him in her bosom, and became his nurse. The women of the neighborhood gave him a name, saying, "A son has been born to Naomi." They named him Obed; He became the father of Jesse, the father of David.

Contrast David's descendancy from Ruth against Deuteronomy 23:3-6 No Ammonite or Moabite shall be admitted to the assembly of the Lord. Even to the tenth generation none of their descendants shall be admitted to the assembly of the Lord .... You shall never promote their welfare or their prosperity as long as you live.  Although the book of Ruth takes a benign disposition towards Ruth, it never explicitly states that Ruth has become an Israelite. In fact, the language of Deut 23:6 suggests that it is impossible for a Moabite to ever be accepted as a part of Israel ("You shall never promote their welfare or their prosperity as long as you live"). So then we have:

- Either Ruth is to be considered a Moabite and therefore king David (and any of Ruth's descendants at least to the tenth generation) was not to be considered Part of the Assembly of the Lord, OR

- We must accept that Ruth's declaration of loyalty to Israel and to the God of Israel is a conversion- enabling statement which is strong enough to even surpass the prohibition of Deut 23:3.  In such case, then, David and all of Ruth's descendants are to be considered Part of the Assembly of the Lord. (We will see later, in Ezra, that Ruth-style declarations will not be acceptable for admission into the people of Israel, as Ezra leads the deportation of ALL foreign wives and their children).

Having said the above, it is not clear whether "Part of the Assembly of the Lord" should be equated to being  "Part of the nation of Israel". It could be that "Part of the Assembly of the Lord" only refers to being able to partake in the religious, military, and political functions of the nation. In such case, descendants of Moabite intermarriage (which could include David if Deut 23:6 prevents Ruth from becoming a Israelite) would still be Israelites according to the Torah, but would be restricted from participating in the functions of the community for ten generations.

David and Bethsheba:

2 Samuel 11 contains reference to two instances of problematic unions: (1) Uriah (one of David's generals) is a Hittite intermarried with Bethsheba (a Israelite woman), and (2) David commits adultery by having sexual relation to a married woman.   

2 Samuel 11:1  In the spring of the year, the time when kngs go out to battle, Davd sent Joab with officers and all Israel with him; they ravaged the Ammonites, and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem. It happened late one afternoon when David rose from his couch and was walking about on the roof of th king's house, that he saw from the roof awoman bathing; the woman was very beautiful. David sent someone to inquite about the woman. It was reported, "This is Bathsheba daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite."  So David sent mesengers to get her and she came to him and he lay with her. (Now, she was purifying herself after her period.) Then she returned to her house. The woman conceived; and she sent and told David, "I am pregnant".

2 Samuel 3:2 makes reference to David's marriage to the daughter of King Talmai of Geshur, probably a marriage driven by political alliance purposes: Sons were born to David at Hebron: his firstborn was Amnon, of Ahinoam of Jezreel; his second, Chileab, of bigail the widow of Nabal of Carmel; the third, Absalom son of Maacah, daughter of King Talmai of Geshur; the fourth, Adonijah son haggith; the fifth, Shephatiah son og Abital' and the sixth Ithream, of David's wife  Eglah. These were born to David in Hebron.


1 Kings 3:1 Salomon made a marriage alliance with Pharaoh king of Egypt; he took Pharaoh's daughter and brogught her into the city of David, until he had finished building his own house and the house of the Lord and the wall around Jerusalem.

1 Kings 10:13 Meanwhile King Solomon gave to the queen of Sheba every desire that she expressed, as well as what he gave her out of Solomon's royal bounty. Then she returned to her own land, with her servants.

1 Kings 11:1 King Solomon loved many foreign women along with the daughter of Pharaoh: Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women, from the nations concerning which the Lord had said to the Israelites, "You shall not enter into marriage with them, neither shall they with you; for they will surely inclide your heart to follow their gods". Solomon clung to these in love. Among his wives were seven hundred princesses and three hundred concubines; and his wives turned away his heart. For when Solomon was old, his wives turned away his heart after other gods; and his heart was not true to the Lord hid God as was the heart of his father David. For Solomon followed Astarte the goddess of the Sidonians, and Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. So Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and did not completely follow the Lord as his father David had done. Then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, and for Molech the abomination of the Ammonites, on the mountain east of Jerusalem. He did the same for all his foreign wives, who offered incense and sacrificed to their gods.

After Solomon's death, Rehoboam, son of Solomon and Naamah the Ammonite, is unable to hold the kingdom together and Israel is divided into the Northern Kingdom, and the two southern Tribes. 1 Kings 14:21 Now Rehoboam son of Solomon reigned in Judah. Rehoboam was forty-one years old when he began to reign, and he reigned seventeen years in Jerusalem, the city the the Lord had chosen out of all the tribes of Israel, to put his name there. His mother's name was Naamah the Ammonite.

1 Kings 17: 29 In the thirty-eighth year of King Asa of Judah, Ahab son of Omri reigned over Israel in Samaria twenty-two years. Ahab son of Omri did evil in the sight of the Lord more than all who were before him. And as if it had been a light thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, he took as his wife Jezebel daughter of King Ethbaal of the Sidonians, and went and served Baal, and worshiped him. He erected an altar for Baal in the house of Baal, which he built in Samaria. Ahab also made a sacred pole. Ahab did more to provoke the anger of the Lord, the God of Israel, than had all the kings of Israel who were before him.


The books of Kings (1 & 2) and Chronicles narrate the story of Israel from David's older age, thru Solomon's reign and consolidation of most of the promised under Israelite control, thru Israel's split into two kingdoms, and finally until the destruction of the northern kingdom by Assyria and the conquest of the southern kingdom by Babylonia and deportation of the Judean leadership to Babylon. After fifty years of Babylonian captivity, the Persians conquer Babylonia and the Persian king Cyrus releases the captive Judeans, chartering them with return to their land and reconstruction of their temple in Jerusalem. It is during this time that the priest Ezra comes from Babylon to Jerusalem and reinstitutes observance of the Law in Judea (not in all Israel, since the northern part is by now inhabited by a mix of Israelites and foreigners imported by the assyrians shortly after they destroyed the northern kingdom). Upon arrival, Ezra is informed of the pervasive intermarriage that has taken place during the past 50 years. His decrees proceed with extreme rigor. Ezra 9:1 (in first person) ... The officials approched me and said, "The people of Israel, the priests, and the Levites have not separated themselves from the peoples of the lands with their abominations, from the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Egyptians, and the Amorites. For they have taken some of their daughters as wives for themselves and for their sons. Thus the holy seed has mixed itself with the peoples of the lands, and in this faithlessness the officials and leaders have led the way."

Ezra 10:2 Shecaniah son of Jehiel, of the descendants of Elam, addressed Ezra, saying, "We have broken faith with our God and have married foreign women from the peoples of the land, but even now there is hope for Israel in spite of this. So now let us make a covenant with our God to send away all these wives and their children, according to the counsel of my lord and of those who tremble at the commandment of our God; and let it be done according to the law.  Take action, for it is your duty, and we are with you; be strong, and do it."  Then Ezra stood up and made the leading priests, the Levites, and all Israel swear that they would do as had been said. So they swore.

Ezra 10:16-18 Ezra the priest selected men, heads of families, according to their families, each of them designated by name. On the first day of the tenth month they sat down to examine the matter. By the first day of the first month they had come to the end of all the men who had married foreign women. The following  were found ... who had married foreign women:  .......  Ezra 10:44 All these had married foreign women, and they sent them away with their children.

Nehemiah 13:23-30 In those days also I saw Jews who had married women of Ashdod, Ammon, and Moab; and half of their children spoke the languageof Ashdod, and they could not speak the language of Judah, but spoke the language of various peoples. And I contended with them and cursed them and beat some of them and pulled out their hair; and I made them take an oath in the name of God, saying, "You shall not give your daughters to their sons, or take their daughters for your sons or for yourselves. Did not King Solomon of Israel sin on account of such women? Among the many nations there was no king like him, and he was beloved by his God, and God made him king over all Israel; nevertheless, foreign women made even him to sin. Shall we then listen to you and do all this great evil and act treacherously against our God by marrying foreign women?" And one of the sons of Jehoiada, son of the high priest Eliashib, was the son-in-law of Sanballat the Horonite; I chased him away from me. Remember them, O my God, because they have defiled the priesthood, the covenant of the priests and the Levites. Thus I cleansed them from everything foreign, and I established the duties of the priests and Levites, each in his work.

The story of Esther:

King Ahasuerus of Persia deposes his wife, queen Vashti, and issues an order for a search to take place in order to select a new queen among the virgins of his empire. Esther2:8 So when the King's order and his edict were procalimed, and when many young women were gathered in the citadel of Susa in custody of Hegai, Esther also was taken into the king's palace and put in custody of Hegai, who had charge of the women.  ... Esther 2:10 Esther did not reveal her people or kindred, for Mordecai had charged her not to tell.  .... Esther 2:15 When the turn came for Esther daughter of Abihail the uncle of Mordecai, who had adopted her as his own daughter, to go in to the king, she asked for nothing except what Hegai the king's eunuch, who had charge of the women, advised.  Now Esther was admired by all who saw her. When Esther was taken to King Ahasuerus in his royal palace in the tenth month, which is the month of Tebeth, in the seventh year of his reign, the king loved Esther more than all the other women; of all the virgins she won his favor and devotion, so that he set the royal crown on her head and made her queen instead of Vashti.