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Commentary on Genesis - Chapters 25-35

Chapter 25 | Chapter 26 | Chapter 27 | Chapter 28 | Chapters 29-30 | Chapter 31 | Chapters 32-33 | Chapter 34 | Chapter 35

Chapter 25 - From Abraham to Jacob

Abraham vero aliam duxit uxorem nomine Cetthuram... (25:1)

This text does not compel us to infer that the marriage between Abraham and Keturah took place after the marriage of Isaac, or even after the death of Sarah, since the Hebrew term yasaf may be translated as "again" or "also". Keturah may have been a previous wife or a concubine. This union is mentioned achronologically, since the narrative is now concerned with Abraham's heirs, and her children number among them. The names of Keturah's children match the names of Arabian tribes. In some cases, notably those of Sheba and Dedan, there is some overlap with the Hamitic table of nations recorded earlier in Genesis. From this we are to understand that the descendants of Keturah did not found these communities, but joined already established tribes. This is consistent with the prophesied intermingling of the sons of Ham with the sons of Shem, as well as the etymology of the word 'rab (Arab), signifying "mixed breed". Given the relatively late historical appearance of the national names "Sheba" and "Dedan", we may infer that if they were originally proper names of individuals, these would more probably be Abraham's sons, rather than the much more remote ancestors eponymously listed in the table of nations.

Deditque Abraham cuncta quae possederat Isaac. (25:5)

Abraham bequeaths all his possessions to Isaac, an act of lasting significance, for it justifies the Jewish claim to the land of Canaan and denies this and other divine promises to the Arabs. Some Moslem commentators, unsurprisingly, have gone as far as to accuse the Jews of tampering with the Scriptures, replacing Ishmael with Isaac here and in the sacrifice on Mount Moriah. This is an untenable position, for in maligning the Hebrew Scriptures, the sole basis of any claim for Ishmael is also undermined. Further, it is textually unjustified and diametrically opposed to their obsessive reverence of the Torah that the Jews should deliberately falsify them in a substantial matter. Lastly, Christian history has borne out that it was through the Jews, and not the Arabs, that all the nations of the world would be blessed, confirming their inheritance of God's promise to Abraham.

Filiis autem concubinarum largitus est munera et separavit eos ab Isaac filio suo, dum adhuc ipse viveret ad plagam orientalem. (25:6)

The context seems to indicate that Abraham's sons by concubinage are those of Keturah just mentioned, corroborating the hypothesis that Keturah was a concubine. Further, the act of sending these sons to the east serves no literary narrative purpose, especially since the Israelites knew that the tribes of Midian, Dedan and Sheba were located to the south. Thus it is highly likely that the inspired author intends to relate a historical fact in the migration of these sons to the east, and then ultimately to the named tribes of the south. It would make no sense to grant these tribes a common ancestry with the Jews if there was no historical basis for such kinship, as it would needlessly complicate the Jews' claim to exclusive inheritance of the promises to Abraham, their most jealously guarded treasure.

...quem emerat a filiis Heth, ibi sepultus est ipse et Sarra uxor eius. (25:10)

Abraham is buried by his sons Ishmael and Isaac in the cave of Machpelah purchased from Ephron, son of Zohar the Hittite. Such detail would be useless to an allegory, but is essential to documenting a legal claim. He is buried with Sarah, in recognition of her as his one true wife. Only Isaac and Ishmael assume the filial duty, as the others are concubinal sons. Ishmael has a special legitimacy since Hagar's union with Abraham was at the behest of Sarah, on the condition that he should be her legitimate son. Isaac alone receives God's special blessing, indicating that he is the sole spiritual heir of his father.

Et haec nomina filiorum eius in vocabulis et generationibus suis, primogenitus Ismaelis Nabeioth, dein Cedar... (25:13)

The sons of Ishmael are listed in the order of birth, indicating their existence as individuals rather than merely as tribes. This does not necessarily mean that the names given were their personal names. The text itself testifies that they are named "by their villages and encampments; twelve chieftains of as many tribal groups." (25:16) It is unremarkable that the tribal names should coincide with those of their founding leaders, since this is a universally common means of group identification. As it is unlikely that the order of birth of Ishmael's sons should be preserved without their personal names, we may take it as probable that the names of these chieftains are the personal names of the sons.

Habitavit autem ab Evila usque Sur quae respicit Aegyptum introeintubus Assyrios coram cunctis fratribus suis obiit. (25:18)

The descendants of Ishmael extend geographically from Egypt to the Euphrates. This territory, combined with the land of Canaan to be inherited by the Israelites, constitutes the swath of land promised to Abraham by the Lord. Confident of their part in the divine plan, some Arabs have supposed that the land of Canaan is promised also to them, but later statements in Genesis will make explicit that this is reserved for Israel. The present narrative notes an early fulfillment of the prophecy that the Ishmaelites will have their hand against their kin.

Hae quoque sunt generationes Isaac filii Abraham. (25:19)

This introductory sentence marks the beginning of another cycle of tradition incorporated into Genesis, a collection of narratives that is a prelude to the Mosaic law. The stories of Jacob have a literary style that departs from the plain solemnity of the Abrahamic narrative. The dramatic sequence of events and allegorical figures exemplify the style of folk legends, though relatively little in Jacob's life is fantastic or miraculous. In fact, God's interventions in Jacob's life are seldom explicit. This subdued presence of the supernatural gives us cause to believe that the accounts are not mere legends, and Jacob is truly an historical individual, whose life is detailed here with substantial accuracy. This does not mean we should hold to undeviating literalism with all of the events described, but reducing them to mere allegory would be inconsistent with the author's design, and creates more problems than it solves. There are too many plain details which serve no overt moral purpose, and would have value only if they were historical facts.

Deprecatusque est Dominum pro uxore sua eo quod esset sterilis qui exaudivit eum et dedit conceptum Rebeccae. (25:21)

Genesis records few details of the life of Isaac, and among the few that exist, there is some apparent repetition of the life of Abraham, causing some to consider that this might be a recasting of the Abrahamic narrative. These coincidences are not too surprising, when we consider their historical context. For example, it is only natural that Rebecca should be sterile like Sarah, since she too is from the family of Terah. The Isaac cycle repeats her family origins, corroborating the Abrahamic narrative, and firmly placing Rebecca into tangible human history. We will worry about chronology when the sojourn in Egypt begins; there are no intrinsic chronological difficulties to concern us here.

Again, matriarchal sterility is ended by divine intervention, but this time the intervention is not properly supernatural, as Rebecca is still of normal childbearing age. The intervention is nonetheless important, as it shows that Israel's dependence on God does not end with the promise to Abraham. The fulfillment of the promise occurs through continued reliance and trust in the God of Israel.

Sed conlidebantur in utero eius parvuli, quae ait, 'Si sic mihi futurum erat, quid necesse fuit concipere? (25:22)

Rebecca is puzzled by a crushing sensation in her womb, which is atypical of normal pregnancy. She has no understanding of what is occurring, nor its purpose, so she asks of the Lord.

..qui respondens ait, "Duae gentes in utero tuo sunt, et duo populi ex ventre duo dividentur; populusque populum superabit, et maior minori serviet." (25:23)

Rebecca's discomfort is explained by the presence of two infants. The narrator invites us to perceive them as struggling against each other, in anticipation of future events. This poetic image does not require us to insist that there was willful fighting between fetuses, but merely to understand that the conflict of interest between Esau and Jacob is deeply rooted, indeed from their very conception. The prophecy that the older will serve the younger should be taken as a literal occurrence experienced by Rebecca, necessary to explain her preference for Jacob and Jacob's aspirations to a birthright that he might otherwise have no reason to expect or pursue. Primogeniture seems to have been the standard in Isaac's time, based on extrinsic evidence and the Scriptural interpretation of Jacob's name, meaning "supplanter". Regardless, Esau would have Isaac's preference, making him the legitimate successor. The idea that the patriarchal narratives are indicative of ultimogeniture contradicts both the plain meaning of the text and external history, as the only putative evidence of ultimogeniture antedates Abraham by a millennium.

Qui primus egressus est rufus erat, et totus in morem pellis hispidus, vocatumque est nomen eius Esau. (25:25)

As the name Esau means "hairy," it is difficult to imagine giving such a name to a child unless it was well-deserved. All the other names of Hebrew characters in the patriarchal narratives are real personal names, so it would be strange to deny this of Esau alone. Further, the name of Esau is distinct from that of the nation he fathers, Edom. We might take the "redness" of Esau to be merely a reference to the nation he would engender, or it may describe a physical fact. We have no Edomite text, so we cannot be sure what the Edomites called themselves, though other Biblical designations have named peoples as they named themselves, including Moab, so it is quite likely that the culturally (and presumably linguistically) similar Edomites referred to themselves as "red ones," either because of a reddish complexion (consistent with a literal interpretation of the description of Esau), or the red sandstone of their land, or their red pottery. The nation of Edom is also called Seir, which is the common Hebrew word for "hairy," indicating that these people were rather hirsute. Given the personal name Esau, distinct from Seir, and the red land that was the land of Edom, a plausible conclusion is that references to Esau's hairiness are to be taken literally, but references to the color red are simply poetic.

Some have suggested that Mount Seir may be so named for its rough features, translating sear as "rough." However, this translation is inaccurate; the word always means "hair" or "hairy," and can only be translated as "rough" in contexts such as "rough garment", which means "hairy garment," as used by ascetics.

Protinus alter egrediens plantam fratris tenebat manu, et idcirco appellavit eum Iacob. (25:25)

There is nothing intrinsically improbable about the second infant grasping the ankle of the first, as the grasping instinct exists from birth. We need not infer that the infant had any intelligent design in this action, nor that the infants were delivered in tandem. The name Jacob is understood to mean "supplanter" (derived from eqeb, "heel," which in certain contexts can mean "supplant," as in taking one's heel). If this etymology were linguistically incorrect, we would have some cause to question the historicity of this event, seeing it instead as a literary device. Even if the historicity of the event is admitted, it still serves an allegorical purpose, to show that Jacob's ambition existed from his birth. His "supplanting" of Esau was prophesied even earlier.

Isaac amabat Esau eo quod de venationibus illius vesceretur et Rebecca diligebat Iacob. (25:28)

Isaac's personal preference of Esau is not based on the order of birth, so there is no implication of primogeniture. Rebecca's preference of Jacob is readily understood in light of the prophecy she received from God.

Coxit autem Iacob pulmentum ad quem cum venisset Esau de agro lassus. (25:29)

The lifestyles of the two brothers reflects the customs of their Israelite and Edomite descendants. Jacob (Israel) is a prudent agrarian while Esau (Edom) prefers a less domesticated life as a hunter, which is also less reliable.

Ait, "Da mihi de coctione hac rufa quia oppido lassus sum," quam ob causam vocatum est nomen eius Edom. (25:30)

The meal prepared by Jacob is described as "red," foreshadowing the name Edom. As noted earlier, this name might have other origins, but there are no Edomite texts to clarify this point. A plain reading of the text would indicate that the Edomites were so named as a result of the bitter memory of this incident. It is in fact common for nations of this period, particularly nomadic ones, to be named according to their origins, and virtually unheard to be named after natural features, such as red sandstone, as some have proposed.

Cui dixit Iacob, "Vende mihi primogenita tua." (25:31)

The Hebrew word for "birthright" used here comes from the root meaning "firstborn," from which we might infer an existing custom of primogeniture. The exact nature of this birthright is less clear; later Hebrew custom would entail that the firstborn receives a double share of the estate. The birthright in question might be temporal, or it may refer to the spiritual birthright promised to Abraham's descendants.

Ille respondit, "En morior quid mihi proderunt primogenita?" (25:32)

Esau blatantly exaggerates when he says he is starving to the point of death. If this were literally the case, his parents would have cared for him or at least expressed alarm. His statement is to be understood colloquially, as even moderate hunger can overwhelm a person and lead him to overdramatize in this fashion.

...parvipendens quod primogenita vendidisset. (25:34)

Esau sells his birthright for a single meal precisely because he thinks so very little of it. In contrast, he will later become violently enraged when he is cheated of Isaac's blessings, showing that this birthright does not include the promise in Isaac's blessing that the elder shall serve the younger, so that divine prophecy is not yet fulfilled. If this were a material inheritance in question, Esau's behavior would remain inexplicable, unless we unrealistically suppose that he truly believed himself to be dying. We should note that Jacob never receives any patrimony from Isaac, but earns his wealth on his own, so it is likely that the benefits of the birthright are largely honorary. Esau's contempt of his birthright would then reflect a disdain for family honor, including the supreme blessing bestowed upon Abraham. However, the divine blessing is not transferred in this fashion, but by God's own design, foretold earlier and fulfilled much later. Jacob obtains from Esau only the right to be the head of Isaac's posterity. The legality of this transaction is confirmed by then-current Hittite law codes, which explicitly allow birthrights to be sold for trivial items. This story, which was puzzling even to ancient Jews, testifies to a second-millennium B.C. composition, because of its reference to Hittite law.

Chapter 26 - Isaac and Abimelech

Abiit Isaac ad Abimelech regem Palestinorum in Gerara. (26:1)

This is the only narrative in which Isaac is the main protagonist, and, superficially, it seems to be a repetition of one of Abraham's adventures. There is a famine in the land, so Isaac travels to Abimelech's kingdom. God reiterates the promise He made to Abraham, yet He expressly instructs Isaac to remain in Palestine, rather than travel to Egypt as his father did.

...eo quod oboedierit Abraham voci meae... (26:5)

God reminds Isaac of the necessity of obedience to all divine mandates and statutes, and, at the same time, confirms Abraham's obedience as a pillar upon which the promise is based.

Qui cum interrogaretur a viris loci illius super uxore sua, respondit, "Soror mea est." (26:7)

Isaac evidently shares his father's paranoia towards foreigners, and, out of fear employs the same ruse of having his wife pose as his sister. It seems strange that Isaac should be fearful, since he would undoubtedly have known the outcome of Abraham's encounter with Abimelech, the account of which has been preserved for posterity. On the other hand, most of the men in Gerar were not the same as those in his father's time, so he had no solid reason to trust them. Still, it would be unreasonable for Isaac to fear Abimelech himself, if this was the same king his father encountered.

This last difficulty is resolved by the meaning of the name Abimelech: "my father was king." The name is actually a title, like Pharaoh or Caesar. This Abimelech, in all probability, is not the king of Abraham's time, so Isaac's fear becomes at once understandable. The regnal name, which contains the name "Melech" for "king", may indicate that these "Philistines" practiced the indigenous religion of Canaan, and are culturally dissimilar from the Philistines of the time of Judges. The "Philistines" of Abraham and Isaac's time are an ethnologically distinct group that happened to inhabit coastal Palestine (Philistia).

Seruit autem Isaac in terra illa, et invenit in ipso anno centuplum; benedixitque ei Dominus. (26:12)

The resolution of Isaac's encounter with Abimelech is very different from Abraham's experience. God does not intervene to reveal the deception, nor is Rebecca's honor at issue here, nor does Isaac receive any wealth from the king. He is merely permitted to settle that land, where he amasses wealth by his own effort and God's blessing.

Omnes puteos quos foderant servi patris illius Abraham illo tempore obstruxerunt implentes humo. (26:15)

The plugging of Abraham's wells by the men of Philistia is a natural and understandable action, in the context of that culture. Both parties used the same water table, so abandoned wells that tap into the common source must be plugged to protect the water supply. This type of conflict over wells occurs among some Arab tribes even today. It does not require much effort to fill hand-dug wells, which are typically only several feet deep.

In tantum ut ipse Abimelech diceret ad Isaac, "Recede a nobis quoniam potentior nostri factus es valde." (26:16)

This episode is quite distinct from Abraham's experience, as Isaac is treated here as an enemy, and the Philistines quarrel with him over each well. Finally, at Rehoboth, the Philistines make no further claim. At Beersheba, God reveals Himself to Isaac, confirming His promise to Abraham's descendants, and strengthening the patriarch during in this time of conflict.

Ad quem locum cum venisset de Geraris Abimelech et Ochozath amicus illius et Fichol dux militum. (26:26)

The name given for Abimelech's army captain, meaning "strong one," might be a title, so he need not be the same captain as in Abraham's time. Abimelech's friend also has a curious name, which apparently means "possession." Isaac is surprised that these men should try to make peace with him, but they have recognized that God is with him.

After a pact is made with the men of Philistia, Isaac's servants find water at the well in Beersheba, reinforcing that name's significance as the "well of the oath," since the oath from Abraham's time is renewed indefinitely with Isaac. The mention of seven wells in Abraham's time is a play on shebah, or "seven", derived from the word for "oath."

Esau vero quadragenarius duxit uxores Iudith filiam Beeri Hetthei et Basemath filiam Helon eiusdem loci. (26:34)

Esau's Hittite wives are a cause of concern to Rebecca and Isaac, who are averse to the idea of marrying foreigners. The wives' names are linguistically Semitic, though the Hittites known to history spoke an Indo-European tongue. Later in Genesis, the Biblical Hittites are described as natives of the land of Canaan, so we might expect them to have more in common culturally with the Canaanites than with the Anatolian Hittites. The form of the name Judith listed here exists nowhere else in the Bible. The use of this name prior to the tribe of Judah is not an anachronism; like Judah, it simply means "praise."

Chapter 27 - Isaac's Blessing

"Vides inquit quod senuerim et ignorem diem mortis meae." (27:2)

Isaac, now extremely old, asks Esau to prepare him a meal, after which he will give his special blessing. With Rebecca's aid, Jacob is able to trick Isaac into giving him the blessing instead. In the ancient world, advanced age was almost invariably accompanied by near complete loss of vision, so that blindness was considered a natural consequence of aging. Consequently, there is nothing unusual about Isaac being unable to distinguish his sons, farfetched as that would seem today. The only novelty is Jacob's use of goat skins to cover his neck and hands, in order to resemble Esau in texture. Though we are told that Esau was hairy, we have no reason to infer that he was as hairy as a goat. The use of such a crude ploy, bizarre as it may seem to us, would have been the only expedient way to disguise oneself as a hairy man. The fact that such a clumsy disguise could actually work requires nothing more incredible than near-blindness and senility on the part of Isaac. Isaac nearly sees through the ploy, on account of Jacob's voice, but the smell of Esau's clothes and the touch of the hairy skins is just enough to induce him to impart the blessing.

"Det tibi Deus de rore caeli et de pinguedine terrae abundantiam frumenti et vini..." (27:28)

Isaac's blessing begins with a promise of material prosperity. The phrase, "May God give to you...," would be a strange formulation if Isaac were simply passing his estate to his son. Rather, the paternal blessing is made so that his son's future endeavors will be fruitful.

"...et serviant tibi populi et adorent te tribus; esto dominus fratrum tuorum, et incurventur ante te filii matris tuae. Qui maledixerit tibi sit maledictus, et qui benedixerit benedictionibus repleatur." (27:29)

Jacob is promised dominion only over others within Isaac's household, so the Vulgate correctly says that he will be revered by the "tribe" (tribus) rather than by all nations.

"Cursed be those who curse you...," is plausibly a formulaic blessing of the time, simply wishing well for one's friend and misfortune for his enemies. This latter is inconsistent with charity, as taught by Christ, but it is within the bounds of justice, for those who oppose the righteous ought to be foiled in their designs, which in itself constitutes a misfortune or a curse.

The divine promise to Abraham is not explicitly contained anywhere in Isaac's paternal blessing. This oft-repeated promise is always made by God Himself, who alone has the authority to choose the means of salvation. Isaac's blessing consists only of a wish that God should bless his son, and that his brothers should serve him.

Auditus Esau sermonibus patris, inrugiit clamore magno et consternatus ait, "Benedic etiam mihi, pater mi!" (27:34)

Far from the indifference he showed regarding the loss of his birthright, Esau is inconsolable upon learning that he was cheated of his father's blessing. We would indeed be departing from justice if we did not feel deep pity for Esau, who served his father well, and esteemed his blessing highly, only to have it usurped from him by Jacob's deception. Isaac's integrity is such that he cannot take back his blessing, regardless of Jacob's deception, as Hittite law made the deathbed blessing binding and irrevocable. It is also possible that Isaac was aware of the prophecy to Rebecca, and out of deference to destiny, he left things as they were. In simple faith, Isaac takes it for granted that the blessings he requested for his son Jacob will in fact be bestowed by God. So seriously does he believe this, that he will not grant Esau a blessing that would contradict what he told Jacob.

Motus Isaac dixit ad eum, "In pinguedine terrae et in rore caeli desuper erit benedictio tua." (27:39-40)

Whereas Jacob was given the fruits of agriculture, Esau's blessing is to live off the natural fruits of heaven and earth. The Masoretic rendering "far from the fertile earth..." has a nonsensical opposite meaning, being a curse rather than a blessing. St. Jerome wisely followed the Septuagint reading in this case, as the Masoretic text is valuable primarily for resolving linguistic difficulties; where it disagrees with the Septuagint in content, the younger Hebrew redaction is in several places manifestly inferior.

"Vives gladio et fratri tuo servies; tempusque veniat cum excutias et solvas iugum eius de cervicibus tuis." (27:40)

As a further blessing, Isaac promises that Esau will eventually be free from servitude to Jacob, or rather the Edomites will free themselves from the Israelites. This is the most he can do without contradicting the letter or the spirit of what was promised to Jacob.

Oderat ergo semper Esau Jacob pro benedictione qua benedixerat ei pater; dixitque in corde suo, 'Veniant dies luctus patris mei, ut occidam Iacob fratrem meum.'" (27:41)

Esau's personal hatred of Jacob would some day evaporate, but the enmity between Edom and Israel would persist indefinitely. Deep respect for Isaac prevents Esau from exacting immediate revenge, but it is implied that the patriarch's death is imminent. When the sacred author quotes the inner thoughts of Esau, we need not assume the author received a special revelation, but rather he articulates the thoughts of Esau as they are made evident by his words or actions, such as those which made Rebecca aware of the plot. More generally, when Scripture reveals the personal details of a family's life, we do not automatically conclude that these are exact reconstructions of the events that transpired, but rather that the inspired author uses his own words, possibly borrowing from older sources, to convey the essence of what occurred, with the Holy Spirit guarding him from error in communicating the sense of what happened.

Rebecca warns Jacob of Esau's designs, and advises him to flee to his uncle Laban in Haran until Esau's anger subsides. Her professed concern that she would "lose you both in a single day" (27:45) shows she believes that Esau will kill Jacob only when Isaac dies. Her advice to Jacob only makes sense if Isaac is indeed on the verge of death.

Rebecca has no authority to send Jacob out of the house, yet neither does she dare reveal to the dying patriarch that one of his sons plots murder against the other. Instead, she offers Isaac an alternative reason for sending Jacob away, the concern that he would marry Hittite wives as did Esau.

Chapter 28 - Jacob's Ladder

Vocavit itaque Isaac Iacob et benedixit, praecepitque ei, dicens, "Noli accipere coniugem de genere Chanaan." (28:1)

In the first, sixth, and eight verses, Hittite women are referred to as "Canaanites by descent," or "daughters of Canaan." The Canaanites can be considered either as one nationality among many in the land that would become Israel, or as the totality of peoples indigenous to that era in the time of the patriarchs. Yet calling the Hittites "sons of Canaan" expresses much more; it implies complicity in the sins of Canaan and thus participation in Canaan's curse. It is not a general xenophobia, but a specific aversion to an accursed people that motivates Isaac to implore his sons to abstain from Hittite wives. Though of different lineage, they are culturally Canaanite, and thus for all intents and purposes, they are "sons of Canaan" and similarly accursed. It would be tedious to relate the reprehensible practices of the Canaanites, which were of common infamy in the ancient world; even the more libertine Greeks and Romans were scandalized by their behavior. We shall discuss specific offenses only as they appear in Scripture; there is sufficient literature on the matter elsewhere.

Remarkably, Isaac further blesses Jacob even after the deception has been revealed, so for the first time he freely wills that the promises made to Abraham be fulfilled through Jacob. After seeing Isaac's new attitude toward Jacob, Esau recognizes the advantage of marrying one's own kind, and not intermingling with the Canaanites, so he marries Ishmael's daughter Mahalath.

Cumque venisset ad quendam locum, et vellet in eo requiescere post solis occubitum, tulit de lapidibus qui iacebant. (28:11)

Jacob stops at a place (maqowm in Hebrew) where he happened to be as the sun was going down. Maqowm is a very vague, general word, best translated as "place" based on usage. In this context, the vague meaning makes most sense, as the spot was apparently chosen at random. The supposition that this word means "holy place" is not supported by the immediate context, nor by the other hundreds of instances of this word in the Bible. Further, Hebrew does have at least one other word, miqdash, which does mean "holy place." In view of this evidence, there is no basis for supposing that there was pre-existing shrine at this site.

Viditque in somnis scalam stantem super terram et cacumen illius tangens caelum angelos quoque Dei ascendentes et descendentes per eam. (28:12)

The Latin scalam can mean either "ladder" or "staircase," reflecting a similar ambiguity in the Hebrew sullam. Some interpreters favor the image of a staircase, or a ziggurat, by appealing to the derivation of sullam from salal, which means "to lift up", "to exalt", or "to build up", as in building up a highway. In reference to this last meaning of salal, sullam would indeed mean "stairway" and not "ladder", but given the variety of possible meanings for salal, such a supposition is pure guesswork. Even if we knew that a stairway rather than a ladder is intended, it is still a leap to imagine that a Mesopotamian-style ziggurat is here visualized. In any case, the symbolism in Jacob's dream is of secondary importance to its meaning. Jacob has a vision of the junction between God's abode and the land of men, with angels acting as intermediaries between the two realms. A revelation of the interaction between heaven and earth is appropriate to the occasion of the divine revelation to Jacob that he indeed will inherit the promise to Abraham.

Et Dominum innixum scalae dicentem sibi, "Ego sum Dominus Deus Abraham patris tui et Deus Isaac, terram in qua dormis tibi dabo et semini tuo." (28:13)

Although the language here is ambiguous, more common usage suggests that God is here seen to be "standing upon," rather than "leaning against" the sullam, which would suggest a staircase rather than a ladder, and is perhaps more in keeping with divine dignity. The mention of the Divine Name only in the instance adjoining Abraham's name suggests that this is to be read, "I am YHVH, the God of Abraham your father, and the God of Isaac." Thus the most sensible interpretation would be that the Divine Name truly was revealed to Jacob, in which case we might relax our reservations about attributing knowledge of this Name to the other patriarchs as well. The Vulgate renders "seed," which in Hebrew is always a collective noun of ambiguous number, as plural here, recognizing that the promise of the land of Canaan applies to the numerous descendants of Israel.

"...et benedicentur in te, et in semine tuo, cunctae tribus terrae." (28:14)

Here St. Jerome renders "seed" in the singular, for it is one particular descendant of Jacob, Jesus Christ, in whom all the peoples of the earth will be blessed.

"...et reducam te terram hanc; nec dimittam nisi conplevero universa quae dixi." (28:15)

God will be with Jacob not only on his current journey to Haran, but also with his descendants until they return from their sojourn and captivity in Egypt. Even afterward His presence will remain among the Israelites, until one of the seed of Jacob blesses all nations, fulfilling the last of the promises to Abraham.

"Non est hic aliud nisi domus Dei et porta caeli." (28:17)

Bethel means "house of God," and this is where Jacob's vision is believed to have taken place. The sacred author does not confirm whether Jacob was correct in assigning such importance to the physical location. It is certainly a worthy pious act that Jacob should show such reverence, even erecting a memorial stone (matsebah) on the spot. The word matsebah may refer to any upright stone or effigy; in some contexts it may be translated as "pillar," in others, "statue." Here Jacob's intent is to mark a holy site. There is no implied association with idolatrous practice, as there is no altar or existing temple at Bethel for which a "sacred pillar" might be produced. In Mosaic law, the erection of pillars is not per se idolatrous, as Moses himself will erect twelve pillars for the tribes of Israel, but in some cases it is associated with paganism.

Jacob then makes a solemn vow that, should God provide for him on his journey and bring him back safely to his father's house, "the Lord shall be my God." (28:21) The expression does not imply a lack of trust in Divine Providence, but a promise to offer proper worship and sacrifice to God in the future. Nonetheless, this implies a rather dim faith, though for Jacob it is a real progress. He was clearly not elected by God on account of superior personal virtue, nor human notions of legitimacy, but for reasons completely mysterious. This is a rather humbling lesson for Israel, to be reminded that their election comes not from human merits, but from the inscrutable decision of God. In conclusion of Jacob's promise, the mastebah is to become a temple, "God's abode," where a ten percent tithe will be offered.

Chapters 29-30 - Jacob Serves Laban

Upon arrival in Laban's land, Jacob meets shepherds at a well covered by a stone. The stone is not to be removed to water the flocks except when all shepherds are present. Jacob, upon seeing Rachel, removes the stone himself, in apparent eagerness to serve her. It is unlikely, given the size of ancient wells, that the covering stone physically required several men to lift it. This arrangement was probably made in the interests of equity in use of the well. It is unclear what story Jacob relates to Laban that causes him to respond, "You are indeed my flesh and blood." (29:14)

Much of the subsequent narrative is largely self-explanatory; we will limit ourselves to discussion of difficulties, major and minor. The seven years of service to win Rachel's hand is likely to be literal, as this was a common choice for length of contract. That Jacob could have unknowingly spent his wedding night with Leah is not too extraordinary, considering the drunkenness that was often associated with such festivity. Laban's cunning is only a fitting counterpart to Jacob's craftiness.

Leah bears Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah. The last-born of Jacob's first wife will carry the sceptre of Israel, prefiguring our Lord's teaching that the last shall be first. Similarly, the last of all Jacob's sons, Joseph, will be the most accomplished. First, Rachel's maidservant Bilhah bears Dan and Naphthali. Bearing children "on Rachel's knees" signifies a custom in which the newborn is immediately placed on the matriarch's lap to be raised as her son. Then Leah's handmaid, Zilpah, bears Gad and Asher. Next, Leah gives birth to Isaachar, Zebulun, and a daughter, Dinah. Only then does God grant the barren Rachel the gift He gave to Sarah and Rebecca, this time in the form of Joseph.

Ait ei Laban, "Inveniam gratiam in conspectu tuo. Experimento dedici quod benedixerit mihi Deus propter te." (30:27)

Long after his formal arrangement with Laban is satisfied, Jacob continues to serve his uncle, and will not leave without his permission. We see that the character of Jacob has matured somewhat, and this will become more evident during his ensuing conflict with Laban, who represents Jacob's previous character, now outgrown. Laban recognizes that God has blessed him through Jacob, from experience, as the Vulgate maintains, rather than divination, as an alternate translation of nachash can give. Divination is generally used to ascertain God's will or predict the future, not to find out about an already existing condition. Further, experience would be amply sufficient to show that it is from Jacob's loyal service that Laban's prosperity grows; this is acknowledged in Laban's thanks. Jacob's service to Laban also provides the first tiny fulfillment of the promise that other nations would be blessed through Israel. This blessing occurs not only by supernatural means, but also through the efforts of God's people.

Dixitque Laban, "Quid dabo tibi at ille?" Ait, "Nihil volo sed si feceris quod postulo iterum pascam et custodiam pecora tua." (30:31)

Jacob wishes only to establish his own house. (30:30) He asks for nothing to be actually given to him from Laban, and makes the very modest request cited below. Some may see Laban deliberately exploiting Jacob's goodness already, asking "What shall I give you?" in anticipation of a modest response, rather than making an offer himself. (Matthew Henry's commentary on this passage is most enlightening.)

Gyra omnes greges tuos et separa cunctas oves varias et sparso vellere et quodcumque furvum et maculosum variumque fuerit et maculosum; variumque fuerit tam in ovibus quam in capris; erit merces mea. (30:32)

Jacob proposes that the speckled and spotted among Laban's livestock are to be separated from the rest, while Jacob is to be rewarded with the speckled and spotted offspring of those that remain. From Jacob's previous assertion that he wanted nothing to be given to him, and Laban's response, "Let it be according to your word," (30:34) we may infer that the existing speckled and spotted sheep and goats are agreed to belong to Laban, and only new animals of such characteristics would belong to Jacob. Jacob's arrangement appears to be inordinately in Laban's favor, as the latter moves the speckled and otherwise marked livestock three days distance away. Jacob is left only with cattle which lack the characteristics he specified.

By presenting visual stimuli before the goats and sheep, Jacob is apparently able to induce the desired characteristics in their offspring. The question arises whether Jacob's method of obtaining the desired traits succeeded by natural or supernatural means. Pigmentation in sheep and goats is largely governed by Mendelian genetics, though phenotypes can be affected by prenatal occurrences. Since the Hebrew word for "conceive" is understood to mean "in heat," the relevant biological question is not whether the phenotype can be changed post-conception, but whether external stimuli before conception can influence which genes are activated. Based on our understanding of animal reproduction, the answer is certainly negative in general, though literature on the subject neglects to cite actual experiments replicating the Jacob scenario.

As Jacob's scheme could not succeed by natural means, it seems likely that the spotted and speckled cattle were brought forth by divine intervention, though this could have been conducted within the natural order, since it is physically possible, though improbable, for recessive traits to be brought forth a disproportionate number of times. Alternatively, the first generation of cattle may have brought forth only a proportionate number of cattle with recessive traits, which Jacob subsequently bred separately to proliferate their numbers, all within the natural order. It is evident, in either case, that Jacob believed his use of visual stimuli had an effect on the matter.

Quando vero serotina admissura erat et conceptus extremus non ponebat eas factaque sunt ea queae erant serotina Laban et quae primi temporis Iacob. (30:42)

Two types of cattle are distinguished by the Hebrew terms qashar ("bound, confined, or knit"), and awtaf ("shrouded, covered, hidden"). In the present context, qashar apparently connotes strength, and awtaf weakness. Awtaf is indeed used elsewhere in the Bible to mean "to fail" or "to faint," but the usage of qashar here is anomalous. When referring to sheep, however, "bound" may mean bound to the flock, so that when the sheep are called in, these are not among the stragglers (Latin: serotina). The connotation of strength is preserved by the Vulgate, and translated as primo tempore, since these are the sheep that arrive first when called.

Since only the strong sheep were allowed to conceive before the rods, and Jacob ended up with more of the stronger offspring, then we can conclude that there was in fact a correlation between the presence of the rods and the color of the offspring, since in order for Jacob to claim the strong sheep, they had to be speckled, streaked or spotted. It remains to be seen exactly how this effect was achieved.

Chapter 31 - Jacob Departs from Laban

Maxime dicente sibi Domino, "Revertere in terram patrum tuorum et ad generationem tuam; eroque tecum." (31:3)

Envious of Jacob's superior wealth, the sons of Laban falsely accuse him of taking their father's property. Laban himself, no longer able to exploit Jacob, and foiled in his attempt to use Jacob to make himself even wealthier, turns bitter toward his nephew. Accordingly, God instructs Jacob to return to the house of Isaac, though it is not indicated whether Isaac is still alive.

"Sed pater vester circumvenit me et mutavit mercedem meam decem vicibus et tamen non dimisit eum Deus ut noceret mihi." (31:7)

Jacob begins to explain to his wives why he is leaving. Laban, after the original arrangement, modified it ten times as Jacob's prosperity grew.

"Si quando dixit variae erunt mercedes tuae pariebant omnes oves varios fetus. Quando vero e contrario ait alba quaeque accipies pro mercede omnes greges alba pepererunt." (31:8)

As is common in ancient Near East narratives, we now have an elaboration of what was first left vague, the reason for Jacob's success. If the first part of the story were to stand alone, it would be most inadequate, since there is no mention of the power of God, and Jacob appears to obtain desired characteristics in his sheep by patently unscientific methods. These difficulties are now explained by the power and special protection of God. The account of Jacob's speech to his wives is essential to the narrative; without it, the soul of the story would be lost.

The use of conditional clauses means we are not bound to admit that Laban did in fact change the wages in the manner described, though he did change them in some way. The statement is that even if Laban changed Jacob's wages radically, God would have wrought a correspondingly greater miracle. Hence, the success which Jacob did have was also by supernatural intervention. (31:9)

"Postquam enim conceptus ovium tempus advenerat levavi oculos meos et vide in somnis ascendentes mares super feminas varios et maculosos et diversorum colorum." (31:10)

Initially, Jacob did not know that God was intervening for him, hence his use of the rod scheme. After the mating of the sheep, he was granted a dream revealing that God knew his plight and would protect him. In this same dream, God told him to return to his father's land. Jacob was not told of God's intervention until the very end, though we may say that he had faith in divine providence from the beginning, or else he would not have made an arrangement so seemingly unfavorable to himself.

Justice is further served by Laban's fortune providing for his daughters Rachel and Leah, to whom he denied an inheritance.

Eo tempore Laban ierat ad tondendas oves et Rahel furata est idola patris sui. (31:19)

The teraphim carried by Rachel were miniature idols that served as charms, and under Hittite law, they secured inheritance. The similarity between teraph and Terah (Abraham's father) has led some to speculate that Terah was the originator of such idols. In fact, this phonetic similarity is purely coincidental, as Terah is a Greek rendering of the Hebrew Terach, which is dissimilar in root from teraph.

Viditque in somnes dicentem sibi Dominum, "Cave ne quicquam aspere loquaris contra Iacob." (31:24)

Laban chases after Jacob, traveling perhaps two hundred miles in seven days. God warns Laban in a dream not to speak ill against Jacob. Laban recounts this dream to Jacob, and claims that had Jacob not run away, he would have sent him off festively. This is highly doubtful, but Laban's change of heart after the vision seems sincere.

Nonetheless, Laban still requires the return of his idols. Though he has deep reverence for the God of Isaac (31:29), he still recognizes other gods as well. Due to Rachel's cunning, a search of Jacob's property is unsuccessful, provoking Jacob to anger at the accusation. He reminds Laban of the unjust changes in his wages, and that, had it not been for God's special protection, Laban would have left him impoverished.

"Si adflixeris filias meas et si introduxeris uxores alias super eas nullus sermonis nostri testis est, absque Deo qui praesens respicit." (31:50)

The pact between Jacob and Laban represents a pact between Israel and Aram, for it holds even after the two men part ways. (31:49) The place of the pact is said to have been called Yegar Sahaduwtha by Laban and Galeed by Jacob. (31:47) The use of Aramaic by Laban is quite possibly an anachronism, for in the pact he represents all future Aramaeans, as Jacob represents all future Israelites. We might instead understand that the Arameans called the place Yegar Sahaduwtha, and this name would have to be a later interpolation. Still, the idea that the story as a whole was a late composition is untenable, since there are pre-Mosaic details such the use of a pillar as symbolic witness, and the piling up of a heap, pagan customs that would be forbidden after the Exodus.

The first part of the pact is an understanding that Israelites may marry Aramaeans, but never beyond the family of Nahor, for that would dishonor the daughters of Laban. Marriages with Moabites, for example, would be permitted, but not with Egyptians.

"Testis erit tumulus inquam iste et lapis sint in testimonio si aut ego transiero illum pergens ad te aut tu praeterieris malum mihi cogitans." (31:52)

The second part of the pact defines a peaceful border at Mount Galeed. This might represent a later peace with the Aramaeans retroactively symbolized in a pact between patriarchs. The earliest written mention of the Arameans in profane history is a twelfth century B.C. Assyrian inscription. They are mentioned in conjunction with the Akhlame, fellow nomads who, circa 1375 B.C., are said to have been located on the Euphrates river. Since peoples do not come into being overnight, it is reasonable to postulate Laban as an original chieftain of the Arameans, or the people who would become the Arameans. The earliest written example of the Aramaic language is tenth century B.C., and there is no strong reason that the language of that time could not have been similar to that spoken by Laban. Thus, strictly speaking, there are no grounds for insisting that the use of Aramaic in Genesis is anachronistic. Even if it were, there are other grounds to suppose this pact was really made at an early date, for it presumes that the Arameans were still nomadic at this time. We have already noted the use of pre-Mosaic ritual as well.

"Deus Abraham et Deus Nahor iudicet inter nos Deus patris eorum iuravit Iacob per Timorem patris sui Isaac." (31:53)

The use of the singular verb form indicates that the God of Abraham and the God of Nahor are one and the same. Of course, only Jacob recognizes Him as the one God, while Laban perceives only a family deity who is nonetheless to be feared. Elsewhere in the pact, Laban spoke of God with the singular verb (31:49-50), indicating that He alone is witness to this covenant.

Chapters 32-33 - Jacob Confronts Esau

Iacob quoque abiit itinere quo coeperat; fueruntque ei obviam angeli Dei. (32:1)

Mysterious verses such as this (32:2 in some modern editions) make clear why the Catholic Church has long referred to the Old Testament as a "closed book." Without special revelation, any human interpretation of the reason and nature of this angelic appearance is likely to be a measure of the interpreter's ingenuity and nothing else.

"Minor sum cunctis miserationibus et veritate quam explesti servo tuo in baculo meo transivi Iordanem istum et nunc cum duabus turmis regredior." (32:10)

Fearful of vengeance from Esau, Jacob divides his people into two companies. Esau leads four hundred men; like the other patriarchal figures, he did not singlehandedly father a nation or tribe, but is the original chieftain of the tribe. Humbly praying to God, Jacob says he has crossed the Jordan with his staff, and now is divided in two. Jacob is no longer considered as an individual, for his plan is that if Esau smites one company, the other will escape, and the tribe of Jacob survives, even if the individual perishes. The patriarch prays further that God will preserve him and his progeny, for God promised not only the proliferation of his tribe, but also of his seed, his actual biological descendants.

Remansit solus et ecce vir luctabatur cum eo usque mane. (32:24)

Strangely, Jacob expects this confrontation with the angel, having sent his family and possessions across the brook so he could be alone. Many commentators have interpreted this wrestling contest as a spiritual confrontation, which would be quite appropriate as Jacob struggles to reconcile the possibility of his family's demise with the fulfillment of God's promise. For this reason, he will not dare set forth to face Esau without first receiving some heavenly guarantee.

There is certainly a physical aspect to the encounter, as the angel is described as a "man," suggesting an apparition in physical form, and Jacob sustains a palpable injury to his thigh. It seems strange that a man should prevail over an angel, or at least prevent the angel from prevailing, as the text indicates. While it is altogether implausible that such victory could occur in a purely spiritual match, man has the advantage of being accustomed to physical form.

Dixitque ad eum, "Dimitte me iam enim ascendit aurora." Respondit, "Non dimittam te nisi benedixeris mihi." (32:26)

Some have suggested that the angel Jacob wrestled was actually a demon, on account of his apparent fear of sunlight. There is no evidence that any such fear is characteristic of demons, however, and it would be perverse to ask a demon for a blessing. Much less could the being be God Himself, for that would be inconsistent with divine omnipotence. The mention of daybreak by the angel could be simply an exhortation for Jacob to resume travel.

Ait ille, "Nequaquam inquit Iacob appellabitur nomen tuum sed Israhel quoniam si contra Deum fortis fuisti quanto magis contra homines praevalebis." (32:27)

Jacob is said to have shown strength against God by dealing with His representative. The reader should remember that in the Old Testament, God and His manifestations are often named indistinguishably. This arises from the confusion of the word elohim, meaning "the gods" or "the angels," or "God" when accompanied by a singular verb. St. Jerome likely uses "God" rather than "angels" to translate Elohim on account of this verse being used as an explanation of the name Israel, where the -el at the end of a name invariably refers to God. The name means "he will rule as God."

Interrogavit eum Iacob, "Dic mihi quo appellaris nomine." Respondit, "Cur quaeris nomen meum?" et bendixit ei in eodem loco. (32:29)

Jacob asks for the stranger's name, further indicating that this was an angel, and not God; similarly, the response makes much more sense if it is an angel rather than God. The blessing seems to be not simply for immediate concerns, such as the confrontation with Esau, but the greater scheme in which the posterity of Israel, guaranteed already to rule nations, will also rule as God. This will not be in opposition to God or independent of Him, but as His prince. This will be fulfilled in the son of Israel, Jesus Christ, who reigns not only all nations, but as God, and also in the saints of the new Israel, who will join Christ even in judging angels.

Quam ob causam non comedunt filii Israhel nervum qui emarcuit in femore Iacob... (32:32)

Out of deference to their forefather's sacrifice for their sake, the children of Israel refrain absolutely from eating the sinew which the angel struck. It was by means of this sacrifice that an immeasurable blessing was obtained, so this custom of the Israelites is quite understandable.

Currens itaque Esau obviam fratri suo amplexatus est eum, stringensque collum et osculans flevit. (33:4)

Jacob is apprehensive until the very end, dividing his family in two, as planned, and taking care to keep Joseph, his favorite, in the rear. Surprisingly, Esau gives the kindest of greetings, as the last twenty years have eroded his bitterness, and Jacob's gifts have shown a desire for reconciliation. Indeed, Jacob repeatedly refers to himself as Esau's servant. (32:18,20; 33:5,8,14) Some instances of this have been omitted from Hebrew manuscripts. (33:5,8)

Et ille, "Habeo ait plurima, frater mi; sint tua tibi." (33:9)

Esau has obtained much for himself, and so he declines his brother's gift. The subsequent dialogue is completely gracious and exceeds all expectations of a reconciliation between brothers.

Transivitque in Salem urbem Sycimorum quae est in terra Chanaaan postquam regressus est de Mesopotamiam Syriae et habitavit iuxta oppidum. (33:18)

Salem in this verse is a city of Shechem, which is about thirty miles north of Jerusalem. Here we find corroboration of the idea that there was a city Salem distinct from Jerusalem. However, the city of Melchisedech may have been in fact Jerusalem, as Abraham at that time lived in the plain of Hebron, south of Jerusalem, and thus implausibly far from this northern Salem to be visited by a king of Sodom.

Chapter 34 - The Rape of Dinah

Quam cum vidisset Sychem filius Emor Evei, princeps terrae illius, adamavit et rapuit et dormivit cum illa vi opprimens virginem. (34:2)

This episode is commonly known as the rape of Dinah, but the author of Scripture is more sympathetic to Shechem than such a characterization suggests. That he did ravish her is indisputable, but whether Dinah consented is not discussed, for the dishonor remained regardless, as she was not married and he was uncircumcised.

Et conglutinata est anima eius cum ea tristemque blanditis delinivit. (34:3)

As misguided as his actions may have been, Shechem is sincerely in love with Dinah, and "spoke to her heart" as the Hebrew has it. Yet, as to be expected from a spoiled prince, he expects his father to be able to obtain the maiden for him. The father, Hamor, goes to speak to Jacob.

Ecce filii eius veniebant de agro auditoque quod acciderat irati sunt valde eo quod foedam rem esset operatus in Israhel et violata filia Iacob rem inlicitam perpetrasset. (34:7)

The sons of Jacob are angered to hear that Dinah was violated by this illicit union. That the issue of consent is unconsidered may seem strange to the modern reader, but in those days an unmarried maiden would almost invariably be of very young age, such as could very easily be manipulated. Hence it fell to the father to determine whether a suitor's intention was indeed honorable.

Sed et Sychem ad patrem et ad fratres eius ait, 'Inveniam gratiam coram vobis et quaecumque statueritis dabo." (34:10)

Hamor and his son make a very generous offer, even showing a willingness to intermarry, and share land, and provide a large dowry. This only magnifies the insult, however, by seeming to purchase Dinah's honor. Jacob remains silent through all this, but not so his sons.

Responderunt filii Iacob Sychem et patri eius in dolo saevientes ob stuprum sororis. (34:13)

The sons of Jacob resort to a deceitful plan to exact revenge. The Septuagint specifies only Simeon and Levi, as only they carry out the act, and are later reprimanded by Jacob. They agree to Hamor and Shechem's request, with the condition that all the men in the city be circumcised.

Nec distulit adulescens quin statim quod petebatur expleret amabat enim puellam valde et ipse erat inclitus in omni domo patris sui. (34:19)

Shechem, himself an adolescent, is viewed favorably in this verse, as dutiful, devoted, and honorable. Presenting the Israelites proposal to the men of the city, Shechem and Hamor appeal to the wealth that Jacob's party brings to be shared. Evidently, Hamor as a leader cannot simply order the men of the city to assent, but he must persuade them. They agree to the arrangement, but their trust is horribly betrayed by Simeon and Levi, who put them all to the sword while they are in pain from circumcision. Further, they plunder the city, and capture all the wives, indicating that this is not the act of two individuals, but Simeon and Levi are understood here as tribes.

Quibus patratis audacter Iacob dixit ad Symeon et Levi, "Turbastis me et odiosum fecistis Chananeis et Ferezeis habitatoribus terrae huiu nos puaci sumi illi congregati percutent me et delebor ego et domus mea." (34:30)

In reaction to the rogue acts of Simeon and Levi, all of Jacob's people are hated by the Canaanites, and the patriarch rebukes his sons accordingly. They defend their actions by claiming their sister was treated as a harlot, and the inspired author leaves it at that, without taking sides.

The Dinah episode might be interpreted as referring to groups represented by individuals such as Simeon and Levi, yet there is nothing intrinsically problematic in treating the individuals as such, aided perhaps by their families, friends, and servants. Indeed, there are older patriarchal narratives that clearly relate individual history, so it would be strange if more recent episodes were more dimly recollected. Tribal populations were small then, and personal offenses could quickly become justifications for battle, unlike our modern world where some "rational" economic justification is usually required.

Chapter 35 - Jacob in Bethel

Iacob vero convocata omni domo sua ait, "Abicite deos alienos qui in medio vestri sunt et mundamini ac mutate vestimenta vestra." (35:2)

Jacob decides to return to Bethel, and he tells all in his household to get rid of "foreign gods," which presumably include teraphim such as Rachel kept. It is likely that even among Jacob's sons there was idolatrous practice, though his exhortation might have been directed solely at others within his party. The death of Deborah, Rebecca's nurse, adds a personal touch that reminds us we are still dealing with real individuals.

Apparuit autem iterum Deus Iacob postquam reversus est de Mesopotamiam Syriae. (35:9)

It is not clear whether this is a new apparition, or an elaboration of Jacob's encounter with the angel. The Septuagint specifies that this takes place in Luz (named Bethel by Jacob), and this placement would seem to indicate a new apparition. This is a reinforcement of the angel's previous actions, including the benediction, change of Jacob's name, and reiteration of the promise to Abraham. This monologue is in fact a synthesis of God's first apparition to Jacob at Bethel and the encounter with the angel. This time Jacob not only erects a monument pillar, but also pours a libation over it. On the way to Ephrath, or Bethlehem, Rachel dies giving birth to Benjamin. The narrator begins referring to Jacob as Israel, now that he has all twelve sons.

Venit etiam ad Isaac patrem suum in Mambre civitatem Arbee, haec est Hebron, in qua peregrinatus est Abraham et Isaac. (35:27)

Jacob's journey symbolically ends with his arrival in the city of his father. Isaac is figuratively said to die at this time, because only now does Jacob succeed him. The one hundred eighty years attributed to him is "life," which is eighteen in Hebrew letters, times ten. We do not need to suppose that Isaac spent several decades on his deathbed; in all likelihood, he died just before Jacob left for Paddan-Aram. His death and burial are mentioned achronologically to fit the scheme of succession.

Continue to Chapter 36

© 2007 Daniel J. Castellano. All rights reserved. http://www.arcaneknowledge.org

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