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Jacob Wrestling with the Angel by Rembrandt
Jacob Wrestling with the Angel by Rembrandt
In the Hebrew Bible, he is the son of Isaac and Rebekah, the grandson of Abraham, Sarah and of Bethuel, and the younger twin brother of Esau. Jacob had twelve sons and at least one daughter, by his two wives, Leah and Rachel, and by their handmaidens Bilhah and Zilpah. The children named in Genesis were Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Issachar, Zebulun, daughter Dinah, Joseph, and Benjamin.
Before the birth of Benjamin, Jacob is renamed Israel by God (Genesis 32:28-29 and 35:10). Etymologically, the name "Israel" comes from the Hebrew words לִשְׂרות (lisrot, "wrestle") and אֵל (El, "God"). Popular English translations typically reference the face off with God, ranging from active "wrestles with God" to passive "God contends", but various other meanings have also been suggested. Some commentators say the name comes from the verb śārar ("to rule, be strong, have authority over"), thereby making the name mean "God rules" or "God judges"; or "the prince of God" (from the King James Version) or "El (God) fights/struggles".
His original name Ya'akov is sometimes explained as having meant "holder of the heel" or "supplanter", because he was born holding his twin brother Esau's heel, and eventually supplanted Esau in obtaining their father Isaac's blessing. Other scholars speculate that the name is derived from a longer form such as יַעֲקֹבְאֵל (Ya'aqov'el) meaning "may God protect".
As a result of a severe drought in Canaan, Jacob and his sons moved to Egypt at the time when his son Joseph was viceroy. After Jacob died there 17 years later, Joseph carried Jacob's remains to the land of Canaan, and gave him a stately burial in the same Cave of Machpelah as were buried Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebekah, and Jacob's first wife, Leah.
The biblical account of the life of Jacob is found in the Book of Genesis, chapters 25-50.
Jacob and his twin brother, Esau, were born to Isaac and Rebekah after 20 years of marriage, when Isaac was 60 years of age (Genesis 25:20, 25:26). Rebekah was uncomfortable during her pregnancy and went to inquire of God why she was suffering. She received the prophecy that twins were fighting in her womb and would continue to fight all their lives, even after they became two separate nations. The prophecy also said that "the one people shall be stronger than the other people; and the elder shall serve the younger;" (Genesis 25:25 KJV)
When the time came for Rebekah to give birth, the firstborn, Esau, came out covered with red hair, as if he were wearing a hairy garment, and his heel was grasped by the hand of Jacob, the secondborn. According to Genesis 25:25, Isaac and Rebekah named the first son עשו, Esau (`Esav or `Esaw, meaning "hairy" or "rough", from Hebrew: עשה, `asah, "do" or "make"; or "completely developed", from Hebrew: עשוי, `assui). The second son they named יעקב, Jacob (Ya`aqob or Ya`aqov, meaning "heel-catcher", "supplanter", "leg-puller", "he who follows upon the heels of one", from Hebrew: עקב, `aqab or `aqav, "seize by the heel", "circumvent", "restrain", a wordplay upon Hebrew: עקבה, `iqqebah or `iqqbah, "heel").
The boys displayed very different natures as they matured. "...and Esau was a cunning hunter, a man of the field; but Jacob was a simple man, dwelling in tents" (Genesis 25:27). Moreover, the attitudes of their parents toward them also differed: "And Isaac loved Esau because he did eat of his venison: but Rebekah loved Jacob." (Genesis 25:28)
Genesis 25:29-34 tells the account of Esau selling his birthright to Jacob. This passage states that Esau, returning famished from the fields, begged Jacob to give him some of the stew that Jacob had just made. (Esau referred to the dish as "that same red pottage", giving rise to his nickname, Hebrew: אדום (`Edom, meaning "Red").) Jacob offered to give Esau a bowl of stew in exchange for his birthright, to which Esau agreed.
As Isaac aged, he became blind and was uncertain when he would die, so he decided to bestow Esau's birthright upon him. He requested that Esau go out to the fields with his weapons (quiver and bow) to kill some venison. Isaac then requested that Esau make "savory meat" for him out of the venison, according to the way he enjoyed it the most, so that he could eat it and bless Esau.
Rebekah overheard this conversation. It is suggested that she realized prophetically that Isaac's blessings would go to Jacob, since she was told before the twins' birth that the older son would serve the younger. She quickly ordered Jacob to bring her two kid goats from their flock so that he could take Esau's place in serving Isaac and receiving his blessing. Jacob protested that his father would recognize their deception since Esau was hairy and he himself was smooth-skinned. He feared his father would curse him as soon as he felt him, but Rebekah offered to take the curse herself, then insisted that Jacob obey her. Jacob did as his mother instructed and, when he returned with the kids, Rebekah made the savory meat that Isaac loved. Before she sent Jacob to his father, she dressed him in Esau's garments and laid goatskins on his arms and neck to simulate hairy skin.
Disguised as Esau, Jacob entered Isaac's room. Surprised that Esau was back so soon, Isaac asked how it could be that the hunt went so quickly. Jacob responded, "Because the LORD your God brought it to me." Rashi, on Genesis 27:21 says Isaac's suspicions were aroused even more, because Esau never used the personal name of God. Isaac demanded that Jacob come close so he could feel him, but the goatskins felt just like Esau's hairy skin. Confused, Isaac exclaimed, "The voice is Jacob's voice, but the hands are the hands of Esau!" Genesis 27:22. Still trying to get at the truth, Isaac asked him directly, "Art thou my very son Esau?" and Jacob answered simply, "I am." Isaac proceeded to eat the food and to drink the wine that Jacob gave him, and then told him to come close and kiss him. As Jacob kissed his father, Isaac smelled the clothes which belonged to Esau and finally accepted that the person in front of him was Esau. Isaac then blessed Jacob with the blessing that was meant for Esau. Genesis 27:28-29 states Isaac's blessing: "Therefore God give thee of the dew of heavens, and the fatness of the earth, and plenty of corn and wine: Let people serve thee: be lord over thy brethren, and let thy mother's sons bow down to thee: cursed be every one that curseth thee, and blessed be he that blesseth thee."
Jacob had scarcely left the room when Esau returned from the hunt to prepare his game and receive the blessing. The realization that he had been deceived shocked Isaac, yet he acknowledged that Jacob had received the blessings by adding, "Indeed, he will be [or remain] blessed!" (27:33).
Esau was heartbroken by the deception and begged for his own blessing. Having made Jacob a ruler over his brothers, Isaac could only promise, "By your sword you shall live, but your brother you shall serve; yet it shall be that when you are aggrieved, you may cast off his yoke from upon your neck" (27:39-40).
Although Esau sold Jacob his own birthright, which was his blessing, for "red pottage", Esau still hated Jacob for receiving his blessing that their father Isaac unknowingly had given to him. He vowed to kill Jacob as soon as Isaac died. When Rebekah heard about his murderous intentions, she ordered Jacob to travel to her brother Laban's house in Haran, until Esau's anger subsided. She convinced Isaac to send Jacob away by telling him that she despaired of his marrying a local girl from the idol-worshipping families of Canaan (as Esau had done). After Isaac sent Jacob away to find a wife, Esau realized his own Canaanite wives were evil in his father's eyes and so he took a daughter of Isaac's half-brother, Ishmael, as another wife.
Near Luz en route to Haran, Jacob experienced a vision of a ladder, or staircase, reaching into heaven with angels going up and down it, commonly referred to as "Jacob's ladder". He heard the voice of God, who repeated many of the blessings upon him, coming from the top of the ladder.
According to Rashi, the ladder signified the exiles that the Jewish people would suffer before the coming of the Jewish Messiah: the angels that represented the exiles of Babylonia, Persia, and Greece each climbed up a certain number of steps, paralleling the years of the exile, before they "fell down"; but the angel representing the last exile, that of Rome or Edom, kept climbing higher and higher into the clouds. Jacob feared that his descendants would never be free of Esau's domination, but God assured him that at the End of Days, Edom too would come falling down.
In the morning, Jacob awakened and continued on his way to Haran, after naming the place where he had spent the night "Bethel", "God's house".
Arriving in Haran, Jacob saw a well where shepherds were gathering their flocks to water them and met Laban's younger daughter, Rachel, Jacob's first cousin; she was working as a shepherdess. He loved her immediately, and after spending a month with his relatives, asked for her hand in marriage in return for working seven years for Laban. Laban agreed to the arrangement. These seven years seemed to Jacob "but a few days, for the love he had for her", but when they were complete and he asked for his wife, Laban deceived Jacob by switching Rachel's older sister, Leah, as the veiled bride.
In the morning, when the truth became known, Laban justified his action, saying that in his country it was unheard of to give a younger daughter before the older. However, he agreed to give Rachel in marriage as well if Jacob would work another seven years. After the week of wedding celebrations with Leah, Jacob married Rachel, and he continued to work for Laban for another seven years.
Jacob loved Rachel more than Leah, and Leah felt hated. God opened Leah's womb and she gave birth to four sons rapidly: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah. Rachel, however, remained barren. Following the example of Sarah, who gave her handmaid to Abraham after years of infertility, Rachel gave Jacob her handmaid, Bilhah, in marriage so that Rachel could raise children through her. Bilhah gave birth to Dan and Naphtali. Seeing that she had left off childbearing temporarily, Leah then gave her handmaid Zilpah to Jacob in marriage so that Leah could raise more children through her. Zilpah gave birth to Gad and Asher. (According to The Testaments of the Patriarchs, Testament of Naphtali, Chapter 1, lines 9-12, Bilhah and Zilpah were daughters of Rotheus and Euna, servants of Laban.) Afterwards, Leah became fertile again and gave birth to Issachar, Zebulun, and Dinah, Jacob's first and only daughter. God remembered Rachel, who gave birth to Joseph and Benjamin. If pregnancies of different marriages overlapped, the twelve births could have occurred within seven years (the first eleven births occur within six years - Genesis 31:38).
After Joseph was born, Jacob decided to return home to his parents. Laban was reluctant to release him, as God had blessed his flock on account of Jacob. Laban asked what he could pay Jacob. Jacob proposed that all the spotted, speckled, and brown goats and sheep of Laban's flock, at any given moment, would be his wages. Jacob placed peeled rods of poplar, hazel, and chestnut within the flocks' watering holes or troughs, an action he later attributes to a dream. The text suggests that Jacob performed breeding experiments over the years to make his own flocks both more abundant and stronger than Laban's, that Laban responded by repeatedly reinterpreting the terms of Jacob's wages, and that the breeding favored Jacob regardless of Laban's pronouncements. Thus Jacob's herds increased and he became very wealthy.
As time passed, Laban's sons noticed that Jacob was taking the better part of their flocks, and so Laban's friendly attitude towards Jacob began to change. God told Jacob that he should leave, which he and his wives and children did without informing Laban. Before they left, Rachel stole the teraphim, considered to be household idols, from Laban's house.
In a rage, Laban pursued Jacob for seven days. The night before he caught up to him, God appeared to Laban in a dream and warned him not to say anything good or bad to Jacob. When the two met, Laban played the part of the injured father-in-law, demanding his teraphim back. Knowing nothing about Rachel's theft, Jacob told Laban that whoever stole them should die and stood aside to let him search. When Laban reached Rachel's tent, she hid the teraphim by sitting on them and stating she could not get up because she was menstruating. Jacob and Laban then parted from each other with a pact to preserve the peace between them. Laban returned to his home and Jacob continued on his way.
As Jacob neared the land of Canaan, he sent messengers ahead to his brother Esau. They returned with the news that Esau was coming to meet Jacob with an army of 400 men. With great apprehension, Jacob prepared for the worst. He engaged in earnest prayer to God, then sent on before him a tribute of flocks and herds to Esau, "a present to my lord Esau from thy servant Jacob".
Jacob then transported his family and flocks across the ford Jabbok by night, then recrossed back to send over his possessions, being left alone in communion with God. There, a mysterious being appeared ("man", Genesis 32:24, 28; or "God", Genesis 32:28, 30, Hosea 12:3, 5; or "angel", Hosea 12:4), and the two wrestled until daybreak. When the being saw that he did not overpower Jacob, he touched Jacob on the sinew of his thigh (the gid hanasheh, גיד הנשה), and, as a result, Jacob developed a limp (Genesis 32:31). Because of this, "to this day the people of Israel do not eat the sinew of the thigh that is on the hip socket" (Genesis 32:32). This incident is the source of the mitzvah of porging.
Jacob then demanded a blessing, and the being declared that, from then on, Jacob would be called יִשְׂרָאֵל, Israel (Yisra`el, meaning "one that struggled with the divine angel" (Josephus), "one who has prevailed with God" (Rashi), "a man seeing God" (Whiston), "he will rule as God" (Strong), or "a prince with God" (Morris), from Hebrew: שרה, "prevail", "have power as a prince"). Jacob asked the being's name, but he refused to answer. Afterwards, Jacob named the place Penuel (Penuw`el, Peniy`el, meaning "face of God"), saying: "I have seen God face to face and lived."
Because the terminology is ambiguous ("el" in Yisra`el) and inconsistent, and because this being refused to reveal his name, there are varying views as to whether he was a man, an angel, or God. Josephus uses only the terms "angel", "divine angel", and "angel of God", describing the struggle as no small victory. According to Rashi, the being was the guardian angel of Esau himself, sent to destroy Jacob before he could return to the land of Canaan. Trachtenberg theorized that the being refused to identify itself for fear that, if its secret name was known, it would be conjurable by incantations. Literal Christian interpreters like Henry M. Morris say that the stranger was "God Himself and, therefore, Christ in His preincarnate state", citing Jacob's own evaluation and the name he assumed thereafter, "one who fights victoriously with God", and adding that God had appeared in the human form of the Angel of the Lord to eat a meal with Abraham in Genesis 18. Geller wrote that, "in the context of the wrestling bout, the name implies that Jacob won this supremacy, linked to that of God's, by a kind of theomachy."
In the morning, Jacob assembled his 4 wives and 11 sons, placing the maidservants and their children in front, Leah and her children next, and Rachel and Joseph in the rear. Some commentators cite this placement as proof that Jacob continued to favor Joseph over Leah's children, as presumably the rear position would have been safer from a frontal assault by Esau, which Jacob feared. Jacob himself took the foremost position. Esau's spirit of revenge, however, was apparently appeased by Jacob's bounteous gifts of camels, goats and flocks. Their reunion was an emotional one.
Esau offered to accompany them on their way back to Israel, but Jacob protested that his children were still young and tender (born 6 to 13 years prior in the narrative); Jacob suggested eventually catching up with Esau at Mount Seir. According to the Sages, this was a prophetic reference to the End of Days, when Jacob's descendants will come to Mount Seir, the home of Edom, to deliver judgment against Esau's descendants for persecuting them throughout the millennia (see Obadiah 1:21). Jacob actually diverted himself to Succoth and was not recorded as rejoining Esau until, at Machpelah, the two bury their father Isaac, who lived to 180 and was 60 years older than them.
Jacob then arrived in Shechem, where he bought a parcel of land, now identified as Joseph's Tomb. In Shechem, Jacob's daughter Dinah was kidnapped and raped by the ruler's son, who desired to marry the girl. Dinah's brothers, Simeon and Levi, agreed in Jacob's name to permit the marriage as long as all the men of Shechem first circumcised themselves, ostensibly to unite the children of Jacob in Abraham's covenant of familial harmony. On the third day after the circumcisions, when all the men of Shechem were still in pain, Simeon and Levi put them all to death by the sword and rescued their sister Dinah, and their brothers plundered the property, women, and children. Jacob condemned this act, saying: "You have brought trouble on me by making me a stench to the Canaanites and Perizzites, the people living in this land." He later rebuked his two sons for their anger in his deathbed blessing (Genesis 49:5-7).
Jacob returned to Bethel, where he had another vision of blessing. Although the death of Rebecca, Jacob's mother, is not explicitly recorded in the Bible, Deborah, Rebecca's nurse, died and was buried at Bethel, at a place that Jacob calls Allon Bachuth (אלון בכות), "Oak of Weepings" (Genesis 35:8). According to the Midrash, the plural form of the word "weeping" indicates the double sorrow that Rebecca also died at this time.
Jacob then made a further move while Rachel was pregnant; near Bethlehem, Rachel went into labor and died as she gave birth to her second son, Benjamin (Jacob's twelfth son). Jacob buried her and erected a monument over her grave. Rachel's Tomb, just outside Bethlehem, remains a popular site for pilgrimages and prayers to this day. Jacob then settled in Migdal Eder, where his firstborn, Reuben, slept with Rachel's servant Bilhah; Jacob's response was not given at the time, but he did condemn Reuben for it later, in his deathbed blessing. Jacob was finally reunited with his father Isaac in Mamre (outside Hebron).
When Isaac died at the age of 180, Jacob and Esau buried him in the Cave of the Patriarchs, which Abraham had purchased as a family burial plot. At this point in the biblical narrative, two genealogies of Esau's family appear under the headings "the generations of Esau". A conservative interpretation is that, at Isaac's burial, Jacob obtained the records of Esau, who had been married 80 years prior, and incorporated them into his own family records, and that Moses augmented and published them.
The house of Jacob dwelt in Hebron, in the land of Canaan. His flocks were often fed in the pastures of Shechem as well as Dothan. Of all the children in his household, he loved Rachel’s firstborn son, Joseph, the most. Thus Joseph’s half brothers were jealous of him and they ridiculed him often. Joseph even told his father about all of his half brothers’ misdeeds. When Joseph was seventeen years old, Jacob made a long coat or tunic of many colors for him. Seeing this, the half brothers began to hate Joseph. Then Joseph began to have dreams that implied that his family would bow down to him. When he told his brothers about these dreams, it drove them to conspire against him. When Jacob heard of these dreams, he rebuked his son for proposing the idea that the house of Jacob would even bow down to Joseph. Yet, he contemplated his son’s words about these dreams. (Genesis 37:1-11)
Sometime afterward, the sons of Jacob by Leah, Bilhah and Zilpah, were feeding his flocks in Shechem. Jacob wanted to know how things were doing, so he asked Joseph to go down there and return with a report. This was the last time he would ever see his son in Hebron. Later that day, the report that Jacob ended up receiving came from Joseph's brothers who brought before him a coat laden with blood. Jacob identified the coat as the one he made for Joseph. At that moment he cried “It is my son’s tunic. A wild beast has devoured him. Without doubt Joseph is torn to pieces.” He rent his clothes and put sackcloth around his waist mourning for days. No one from the house of Jacob could comfort him during this time of bereavement. (Genesis 37:31-35)
The truth was, Joseph's older brothers had turned on him, apprehended him and ultimately sold into slavery on a caravan headed for Egypt. (Genesis 37:36)
Twenty years later, throughout the Middle East a severe famine occurred like none other that lasted seven years. It crippled nations. The word was that the only kingdom prospering was Egypt. In the second year of this great famine, when Israel (Jacob) was about 130 years old, he told his ten sons of Leah, Bilhah and Zilpah, to go to Egypt and buy grain. Israel’s youngest son Benjamin, born from Rachel, stayed behind by his father’s order to keep him safe. (Genesis 42:1-5)
When the ten sons returned to their father Israel, from Egypt, they were stockpiled with grain on their donkeys. They relayed to their father all that had happened in Egypt. They spoke of being accused of as spies and that their brother Simeon, had been taken prisoner. When Reuben, the eldest, mentioned that they needed to bring Benjamin to Egypt to prove their word as honest men, their father became furious with them. He couldn’t understand how they were put in a position to tell the Egyptians all about their family. When the sons of Israel opened their sacks, they saw their money that they used to pay for the grain. It was still in their possession, and so they all became afraid. Israel then became angry with the loss of Joseph, Simeon, and now possibly Benjamin. (Genesis 42:26-38)
It turned out that Joseph, who identified his brothers in Egypt, was able to secretly return that money that they used to pay for the grain, back to them. When the house of Israel consumed all the grain that they brought from Egypt, Israel told his sons to go back and buy more. This time, Judah spoke to his father in order to persuade him about having Benjamin accompany them, so as to prevent Egyptian retribution. In hopes of retrieving Simeon and ensuring Benjamin's return, Israel told them to bring the best fruits of their land, including: balm[disambiguation needed], honey, spices, myrrh, pistachio nuts and almonds. Israel also mentioned that the money that was returned to their money sacks was probably a mistake or an oversight on their part. So, he told them to bring that money back and use double that amount to pay for the new grain. Lastly, he let Benjamin go with them and said “may God Almighty give you mercy… If I am bereaved, I am bereaved!” (Genesis 43:1-14)
When the sons of Israel (Jacob) returned to Hebron from their second trip, they came back with twenty additional donkeys carrying all kinds of goods and supplies as well as Egyptian transport wagons. When their father came out to meet them, his sons told him that Joseph was still alive, that he was the governor over all of Egypt and that he wanted the house of Israel to move to Egypt. Israel’s heart “stood still” and just couldn’t believe what he was hearing. Looking upon the wagons he declared “Joseph my son is still alive. I will go and see him before I die.” (Genesis 45:16-28)
Israel and his entire house of seventy, gathered up with all their livestock and began their journey to Egypt. En route, Israel stopped at Beersheba for the night to make a sacrificial offering to his God, Yahweh. Apparently he had some reservations about leaving the land of his forefathers, but God reassured him not to fear that he would rise again. God also assured that he would be with him, he would prosper, and he would also see his son Joseph who would lay him to rest. Continuing their journey to Egypt, when they approached in proximity, Israel sent his son Judah ahead to find out where the caravans were to stop. They were directed to disembark at Goshen. It was here, after twenty-two years, that Jacob saw his son Joseph once again. They embraced each other and wept together for quite a while. Israel then said, “Now let me die, since I have seen your face, because you are still alive.” (Genesis 46:1-30)
The time had come for Joseph’s family to personally meet the Pharaoh of Egypt. After Joseph prepared his family for the meeting, the brothers came before the Pharaoh first, formally requesting to pasture in Egyptian lands. The Pharaoh honored their stay and even made the notion that if there were any competent men in their house, then they may elect a chief herdsman to oversee Egyptian livestock. Finally, Joseph’s father was brought out to meet the Pharaoh. Because the Pharaoh had such a high regard for Joseph, practically making him his equal, it was an honor to meet his father. Thus, Israel was able to bless the Pharaoh. The two chatted for a bit, the Pharaoh even inquiring of Israel’s age which happened to be 130 years old at that time. After the meeting, the families were directed to pasture in the land of Ramses where they lived in the province of Goshen. The house of Israel acquired many possessions and multiplied exceedingly during the course of seventeen years, even through the worst of the seven-year famine. (Genesis 46:31-47:28)
Israel (Jacob) was 147 years old when he called to his favorite son Joseph and pleaded that he not be buried in Egypt. Rather, he requested to be carried to the land of Canaan to be buried with his forefathers. Joseph swore to do as his father asked of him. Not too long afterward, Israel had fallen ill losing much of his vision. When Joseph came to visit his father, he brought with him his two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh. Israel declared that they would be heirs to the inheritance of the house of Israel, as if they were his own children, just as Reuben and Simeon were. Then Israel laid his right hand on the younger Ephraim’s head and his left hand on the eldest Manasseh’s head and blessed Joseph. However, Joseph was displeased that his father’s right hand was not on the head of his firstborn, so he switched his father’s hands. But Israel refused saying, “but truly his younger brother shall be greater than he.” A declaration he made, just as Israel himself was to his firstborn brother Esau. Then Israel called all of his sons in and prophesied their blessings or curses to all twelve of them in order of their ages. (Genesis 47:29-49:32)
Afterward, Israel died and the family, including the Egyptians, mourned him seventy days. Israel was embalmed and a great ceremonial journey to Canaan was prepared by Joseph. He led the servants of Pharaoh, and the elders of the houses Israel and Egypt beyond the Jordan River to Atad where they observed seven days of mourning. Their lamentation was so great that it caught the attention of surrounding Canaanites who remarked “This is a deep mourning of the Egyptians.” This spot was then named Abel Mizraim. Then they buried him in the cave of Machpelah, the property of Abraham when he bought it from the Hittites. (Genesis 49:33-50:14)
Jacob, through his two wives and his two concubines had twelve biological sons; Reuben (Genesis 29:32), Simeon (Genesis 29:33), Levi (Genesis 29:34), Judah (Genesis 29:35), Dan (Genesis 30:5), Naphtali (Genesis 30:7), Gad (Genesis 30:10), Asher (Genesis 30:12), Issachar (Genesis 30:17), Zebulun (Genesis 30:19), Joseph (Genesis 30:23) and Benjamin (Genesis 35:18) and at least one daughter, Dinah (if there were other daughters, they are not mentioned in the Genesis story)(Genesis 30:21). In addition, Jacob also adopted the two sons of Joseph, Ephraim and Manasseh.(Genesis 48:5)
|7 sons||Bethuel||1st daughter||2nd daughter|
|Major shrine||Cave of the Patriarchs, Hebron|
According to the classic Jewish texts, Jacob, as the third and last patriarch, lives a life that parallels the descent of his offspring, the Jewish people, into the darkness of exile. In contrast to Abraham (who illuminates the world with knowledge of God and earns the respect of the inhabitants of the land of Canaan) and Isaac (who continues his father's teachings and also lives in relative harmony with his neighbors), Jacob experiences many personal struggles both in the land and out of it. These include the hatred of his brother, Esau; the deception of his father-in-law, Laban; the rape of his daughter, Dinah; the death of his favorite wife, Rachel; and the sale of his son, Joseph. For this reason, the Jewish commentators interpret many elements of his story as being symbolic of the future difficulties and struggles the Jewish people would undergo.
There are two opinions in the Midrash as to how old Rebekah was at the time of her marriage and, consequently, at the twins' birth. According to the traditional counting cited by Rashi, Isaac was 37 years old at the time of the Binding of Isaac, and news of Rebekah's birth reached Abraham immediately after that event. In that case, since Isaac was 60 when Jacob and Essau were born and they had been married for 20 years, then Isaac was 40 years old when he married Rebekah (Gen. 25:20), making Rebekah 3 years old at the time of her marriage, and 23 years old at the birth of Jacob and Essau. According to the second opinion, Rebekah was 14 years old at the time of their marriage, and 34 years old at the birth of Jacob and Essau. In either case, Isaac and Rebekah were married for 20 years before Jacob and Esau were born. The Midrash says that during Rebekah's pregnancy whenever she would pass a house of Torah study, Jacob would struggle to come out; whenever she would pass a house of idolatry, Esau would agitate to come out.
Rashi explained that Isaac, when blessing Jacob instead of Esau, smelled the heavenly scent of Gan Eden (Paradise) when Jacob entered his room and, in contrast, perceived Gehenna opening beneath Esau when the latter entered the room, showing him that he had been deceived all along by Esau's show of piety.
When Laban planned to deceive Jacob into marrying Leah instead of Rachel, the Midrash recounts that both Jacob and Rachel suspected that Laban would pull such a trick; Laban was known as the "Aramean" (deceiver), and changed Jacob's wages ten times during his employ (Genesis 31:7). The couple therefore devised a series of signs by which Jacob could identify the veiled bride on his wedding night. But when Rachel saw her sister being taken out to the wedding canopy, her heart went out to her for the public shame Leah would suffer if she were exposed. Rachel therefore gave Leah the signs so that Jacob would not realize the switch.
Jewish Apocalyptic literature of the Hellenistic period includes many ancient texts with narratives about Jacob, many times with details different from Genesis. The more important are the book of Jubilees and the Book of Biblical Antiquities. Jacob is also the protagonist of the Testament of Jacob, of the Ladder of Jacob and of the Prayer of Joseph, which interpret the experience of this Patriarch in the context of merkabah mysticism.
The Eastern Orthodox Church and those Eastern Catholic Churches which follow the Byzantine Rite see Jacob's dream as a prophecy of the Incarnation of the Logos, whereby Jacob's ladder is understood as a symbol of the Theotokos (Virgin Mary), who, according to Orthodox theology, united heaven and earth in her womb. The biblical account of this vision (Genesis 28:10-17) is one of the standard Old Testament readings at Vespers on Great Feasts of the Theotokos.
The account of Jacob's blessing of Joseph's sons is also seen as prophetic by Christian commentators. For example, the crossing of his arms to bestow his patriarchal blessing on them in Genesis 48:8-20 is seen as a foreshadowing of the blessings Christians believe resulted from Jesus' death on the cross.
Catholic church considers Jacob as a Saint along with other biblical patriarchs. Along with other patriarchs his feast day is celebrated in the Byzantine rite of the Catholic Church on the Second Sunday before the Advent (December 11–17), under the title the Sunday of the Forefathers.
Yaqub ( Arabic: يَعْقُوب, translit.: Yaʿqūb ), also known as Jacob in the Old Testament, is recognized in Islam as a prophet who received inspiration from God. He is acknowledged as a patriarch of Islam. Muslims believe that he preached the same monotheistic faith as his forefathers ʾIbrāhīm, ʾIsḥāq and Ismā'īl. Jacob is mentioned 16 times in the Qur'an. In the majority of these references, Jacob is mentioned alongside fellow prophets and patriarchs as an ancient and pious prophet. According to the Qur'an, Jacob remained in the company of the elect throughout his life. (XXXVIII: 47) The Qur'an specifically mentions that Jacob was guided (VI: 84) and inspired (IV: 163) and was chosen to enforce the awareness of the Hereafter. (XXXVIII: 46) Jacob is described as a good-doer (XXI: 72) and the Qur'an further makes it clear that God inspired Jacob to contribute towards purification and hold the contact prayer. (XXI: 73) Jacob is further described as being resourceful and a possessor of great vision (XXXVIII: 45) and is further spoken of as being granted a "tongue [voice] of truthfulness to be heard". (XIX: 50)
Of the life of Jacob, the Qur'an narrates two especially important events. The first is the role he plays in the story of his son Joseph. The Qur'an narrates the story of Joseph in detail, and Jacob, being Joseph's father, is mentioned thrice and is referenced another 25 times. In the narrative, Jacob does not trust some of his older sons (XII: 11, 18, 23) because they do not respect him. (XII: 8, 16-17) Jacob's prophetic nature is evident from his foreknowledge of Joseph's future greatness (XII: 6), his foreboding and response to the supposed death of Joseph (XII: 13, 18) and in his response to the sons' plight in Egypt. (XII: 83, 86-87, 96) Islamic literature fleshes out the narrative of Jacob, and mentions that his wives included Rachel. Jacob is later mentioned in the Qur'an in the context of the promise bestowed to Zechariah, regarding the birth of John the Baptist. (XIX: 6) Jacob’s second mention is in the Qur'an’s second chapter. As Jacob lay on his deathbed, he asked his twelve sons to testify their faith to him before he departed from this world to the next. (II: 132) Each son testified in front of Jacob that they would promise to remain Muslim until the day of their death, that is they would surrender their wholeselves to God alone and would worship only Him.
In contrast to the Judeo-Christian view of Jacob, one main difference is that the story of Jacob's blessing, in which he deceives Isaac, is not accepted in Islam. The Qur'an makes it clear that Jacob was blessed by God as a prophet and, therefore, Muslims believe that his father, being a prophet as well, also knew of his son's greatness. Jacob is also cited in the Hadith as an example of one who was patient and trusting in God in the face of suffering.
The story of Jacob in Islam also draws many parallels with the Islamic traditions of Job, In that both had lost many things, and still upheld patience. In Islamic tradition, Jacob had lost his father, Isaac as well as his wife Rachel in the same year, followed by his loss of his favorite son, Joseph. Similarly Job lost everything, and stayed patient and kept faith in God, and eventually everything was returned to him and some things were multiplied for him.
According to Steven Feldman of the Center for Online Judaic Studies, most scholars would date the stories of the patriarchs to the period of the monarchy. Recent excavations in the Timna Valley dating copper mining to the 10th century BCE also discovered what may be the earliest camel bones found in Israel or even outside the Arabian peninsula, dating to around 930 BCE. This is seen as evidence that the stories of Abraham, Joseph, Jacob and Esau were written after this time.
N. M. Sarna indicates that an inability to precisely date the patriarchs, according to the present state of knowledge does not necessarily invalidate the historicity of the narratives. William F. Albright maintained that the narratives contained accurate details of an earlier period.
Scholars such as Thomas L. Thompson view the patriarchical narratives, including the life of Jacob, as late (6th and 5th centuries BCE) literary compositions that have ideological and theological purposes but are unreliable for historical reconstruction of the presettlement period of Israel’s past. In Thompson's The Historicity of the Patriarchal Narratives, he suggests that the patriarchal narratives arose in a response to some present situation, expressed as an imaginative picture of the past to embody present hope.
Gerhard von Rad, in his Old Testament Theology, seems to take a middle view, explaining that the patriarch "saga" describes actual events subsequently interpreted by the community through its own experience. It is neither entirely mythical, nor strictly "historical", according to the present understanding of the term. Goldingay cites R.J Coggins' analogy of looking to Genesis for the history of ancient Canaan, as similar to reading Hamlet in order to learn Danish history.
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