Genesis Overview: Jacob and Esau

a) The Birth of Esau and Jacob (25.19-26 in J with P)

25.19-20, 26b: From the P Toledoth, probably longer but superseded by the twins story in J. Isac had to wait twenty years for the birth of children.

25.21-26a: A rather skeletal and unvivid account except for the ominous promise in 25.23 where division is promised and an unusual fraternal arrangement; this is not so much a narrative as an expository preface of loosely connected statements to aid understanding of subsequent material. The tone is almost comic and caricatures Palestine's Eastern and Southern neighbours who were much darker; there is also ominous comedy in Jacob's grasping his brother's heel.

b) The Sale of the Birthright (25.28-34 in J)

25.27-28: The boys, with different lifestyles, grew up separately. The older hunter and new shepherd traditions never reached a comfortable cultural accommodation and the latter is favoured here in spite of Isac's (perhaps humorous) gastronomic preference. At this point the exposition ends.

25.29-34: Esau the hunter has captured nothing and it seems he thought Jacob was preparing a blood soup and finds he is deceived. In respect of this and subsequent deceptions, the modern reader must suspend judgment: this can be cultural burlesque or figurative confirmation that Jacob pleases God. The importance of the Birthright, of which both participants seem to be ignorant, is not clear.

c) The Cunning Acquisition of the Blessing (27.1-45 in J and E)

The narrative is considered a combination of J and E, cf. 27.22 (felt) and 27.27 (smelled) but there is no conclusive theory of which verses would be allocated to each. The narrative is well arranged in scenes: 1-5, 6-17, 18-29, 30-40, 41-45.

27.1-5: The blessing is not just from God but requires man's active participation. "That my soul may bless you" is anachronistic.

27.5-17: The substitution of a kid for venison has a comic aspect, as does the use of skins, another caricature of hunters. God seems indifferent to the "frightful lie" (p277) in 27.20b and the exploitation of an old man's blindness; this establishes suspense.

27.18-29: Jacob's lie will cost him 20 years of his life. Eissfeldt assigns 18b-23 to J and 24-28 to E.

27.30-40: Isac's wild cry breaks through the narrator's customary reticence. LXX 27.38 says: "But Isac was silent".

27.41-45: Rebekah under-estimates Esau's rage but she cannot risk both sons losing their inheritance.

27.46: Jacob's move is explained differently, as the need to acquire a wife cf. 26.34 f. and 28.10 ff.

Although there are comedic elements, no ancient reader would have laughed. The narrator intends to show the divine plan but is Rebekah implicated in it? And is Jacob intrinsically more worthy than his brother? According to the circles in which the narrator moved: "The story reckons with an act of God that sovereignly takes the most ambiguous human act and incorporates it into its plans. The guilty one becomes the bearer of the promise" (p281). God is incomprehensible and those caught up in 'his' affairs are in danger of their lives ending in ruins.

KC VI/14

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