Genesis: Overview of the Descendants of Esau

Genesis 36:1-43

This chapter in Genesis consists of mostly information about Esau’s lineage. Esau takes his family and settles near his brother Israel. The land that Esau’s descendants inhabit is known as Edom. There is not much else of interest to note in this chapter; it mostly repeats who begat who each paragraph. The interesting note is the names of the parents and the names of the wives themselves differ here than in previous passages: Genesis 26:34-5 and Genesis 28:8-9. Apparently even the omniscient need editors.

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Genesis: Jacob’s Return to Bethel, The Birth of Benjamin, and the Death of Rachel and Isaac

Genesis 35:5-29

As Jacob fled from Shechem and the massacre committed by his kin, god rained terror down upon all who pursued Jacob. He returned to Bethel, in the land of Canaan, where he claimed god came to him before to warn him that Esau planned to murder him. When Jacob arrived in Bethel, El came to him. El told Jacob (again) that his name is no longer Jacob but Israel. He then promised that his descendants would be numerous, and he would acquire the land of Abraham and Isaac. Afterwards, Jacob constructed a pillar to worship El, and poured a drink offering and oil on the pillar.

Israel journeyed from Bethel with his family. Rachel gave birth while on this journey, and died from the ordeal. She named the son Ben-oni, but Israel decided to name the child Benjamin instead. Rachel was buried in Bethlehem and a pillar was constructed at her tomb. They then proceeded with their journey. Israel’s son, Reuben, then sleeps with his sex slave, Bilhah, which upsets Israel.

Israel returned to his father, Isaac, in Hebron just before his death. Esau and Israel buried their father in Hebron.

These stories were quite brief with not much of interest to comment on besides offerings at a pillar, and the encroachment of a son on his father’s sex slave.

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Genesis: The Stay in Shechem and the Rape of Dinah

Genesis 33:18-35:5

Jacob settles in the land of Canaan, outside the city of Shechem. He traveled to the city and purchased the land which he settled for one hundred pieces of money. On his land he erected an altar to El, the god of the early Israeli religion.

This story offer an opportunity to raise an important point. The identity of the biblical god changes throughout the story. The god of genesis is replaced as the tribe of Israel changes. The stories of Jacob regard the god El, who is eventually supplanted in later stories. Even that god is eventually replaced by a deified man, but that is getting too far ahead of ourselves.

Dinah, Jacob’s daughter, went to visit the women of the city. While in the city, the son of Hamor and prince of the Hivites, Shechem, rapes her. (The annotation states that some scholars believe the Hebrew verbs used imply that the intercourse was consensual but illicit, which would still be a defilement of Dinah.) Shechem falls in love with Dinah and asked his father, Hamor, to persuade Jacob to allow him to marry her. Hamor meets Jacob, who knows of Shechem’s actions. Hamor discusses his son’s intention to marry Dinah with Jacob while his sons are out in the fields. When they return and hear what has happened to their sister, they are outraged. Hamor protests his sons affection for their sister and hopes to create a covenant with their family. Hamor hoped to marry all the sons of his region to Israel’s daughters, and for Israel’s sons to marry the his daughters. He pledged to pay any price named by the Israelis. Their demand: foreskin. They required that all Hivite men cut off the skin covering the glands of their penis before they marry any woman of Israel. By disfiguring their genitals, they would then become Israelites.

Hamor and his son agreed to this demand. With haste, Shechem cut off his foreskin to betroth Dinah. Hamor and Shechem then spoke with the men of their city and told them that the Israelis are friends. They wished to intermarry, but on one condition: all men of the city must be circumcised. They told their men, “Will not their livestock, their property, and all their animals be ours?” (Genesis 34:23) Clearly illustrating that the intent of the Hivites was to assimilate the Israelites and acquire their property. With such a tempting offer before them, the men all agreed to the demand.

Three days after disfiguring their genitals, while the men were still in pain, two of Jacob’s sons, Simeon and Levi, entered the city of Shechem. As the direct brothers of Dinah, they felt compelled to avenge the violation of the family’s honor, so they drew their sword and began to massacre the men of Shechem. They entered the house of Shechem, murdered him and Hamor, and retrieved Dinah. Jacob’s other sons came to the city and saw the men slain. They then proceeded to plunder the city as their sister had been defiled.

Upon returning home, Jacob scolded Simeon and Levi for what they did. He feared the ramifications of their actions because the news of their actions would surely turn the Canannites and the Perizzites hostile toward them. They responded to their father saying, “Should our sister be treated like a whore?” Touché. God then tells Jacob to return and settle in Bethel, and to make an altar to the god that spoke with him there. (Is that not the same god that is speaking to him now?) Jacob then gathers his family, and tells them to give him all their idols of foreign gods. He then buries them under an oak tree, and they leave Shechem.

The actions of Jacob’s sons begin the fulfillment of Noah’s curse on Ham, the father of the Canaanites. Jacob is the descendant of Shem, who Noah said would make the Canaanites his slaves. Jacob’s sons perpetuate the feud between these two families by massacring the men of the city. While Shechem’s actions toward Dinah are deplorable, if he raped her, it does not justify the massacre of all the men of the city. And according to biblical law, Shechem did as he must. In the Bible, the punishment of a rapist is to marry the woman he raped and to pay the father for damages done to his property, that is his daughter. All of which Shechem did. Today, no one would force the victim of rape to marry their rapist because that is vile, yet those who believe the Bible provides us the laws to govern our lives would have to subscribe to such a detestable law.

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Genesis: Jacob Prepares to Meet Esau & Jacob Wrestles With God

Genesis 32:1-32

Upon returning to his homeland, Jacob sent messengers to his brother Esau. The messengers returned with news that Esau is coming to greet him with four hundred men. Jacob feared that his brother was coming to kill him. Jacob prayed, divided his people, and sent messengers ahead of him with offerings to his brother. While Jacob was alone, with the messengers bearing gifts ahead of him, he wrestled with a man near the river. Jacob was winning, and daybreak neared. The man knew he could not prevail so he struck Jacob on the hip dislocating his leg. Jacob would not relent unless the man blessed him, and the man did. The man was Jacob’s god according to the story and renamed Jacob to Israel. Then the man left.

This story offers many topics to discuss. Jacob, the trickster, continues to outsmart his enemies. But more interesting are the topics brought up in the story of Jacob Wrestles With God. (What two men do not enjoy grabbing at each other along a riverbank just before dawn, especially when the other is a deity? That is just good sport!) This story provides an example of the anthropomorphic conception of god—god exists in this world and is not omnipotent nor transcendent. The Bible wrestles with the idea that god is anthropomorphic or transcendent throughout—that is one explanation why there are two different creation myths in genesis.

The annotations give insight into the name Israel. It literally means El rules. El is the head god of the Northwest Semitic pantheon, which implies that the people of this time were polytheistic. Here the name Israel is intended to mean “the one who strives with god”. It is interesting that god’s chosen people are known as those who conflict with him.

The final interesting note is the justification for a dietary regulation. Because Jacob was struck on the hip by god, the Israelites are not permitted to eat the thigh of any animal. A ridiculous hindrance of people’s dietary freedom; chicken thighs are delicious.

Overall, the story is an interesting allegory for the creation of Israel.

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Genesis: Jacob Flees From Laban & Laban Pursues Jacob

Genesis 31:1-55

Jacob’s cleverness finally catches up with him. Laban no longer admires Jacob as he once did, because Jacob has outsmarted him. Every time Laban changed the agreement on wages, which sheep, goat, and lamb Jacob kept, Jacob found a way to profit. Jacob could sense the growing hostility between he and Laban, and believed his god told him to return to the land of his father. (Though, it is clear that he did not need a deity to inform him of his father-in-law’s disapproval.) Jacob gathers his wives, sex slaves, children, and flocks, and departs toward his homeland. Before they depart, Rachel steals Laban’s house gods—figurines of ancestral deities. Also, Jacob tells his wives of a dream where the God of Bethel came to him. The annotation in the Oxford Annotated Bible tells us that this reference to the God of Bethel indicates an older paradigm in Jewish faith. The god discussed here dwells in Bethel instead of the later believed god that dwells in Zion.

When Laban discovers that Jacob has fled and his house gods have been stolen, he pursues Jacob. Laban finds Jacob in the hill country of Gilead and confronts him. Jacob had no knowledge of Rachel stealing her father’s house gods and tells Laban to search his camp, and if he should find anything stolen, then kill whoever stole it.  Rachel hinds the household gods under a camel’s saddle and sits on it. When her father asks to search the saddle, she lies and tells him she is menstruating and does not wish to stand. Laban thus finds nothing. Laban and Jacob made a covenant that set the border of their two lands in Gilead, and agreed never to cross it in hostility. The two made sacrifices on the pillar they constructed to fulfill the covenant. Laban said goodbye to his daughters and grandchildren and returned to his land.

This story is more of a parable about the boundary covenant agreed upon by the Arameans (Laban’s people) and the Israelites (Jacob’s people). The two groups claimed Gilead in northern Transjordan. This story provides another example of questionable morals. What right does Jacob have to allow Laban to kill whoever stole his figurines? Of course, what right does anyone have to kill? The argument can be made that one has the right to kill to preserve their own life, and I would accept that as just. But here we have a crime committed that put no one’s life in jeopardy.

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Genesis: Jacob’s Children

Genesis 29:31-30:24

The story of Jacob’s offspring shares similarities with the story of Abraham’s offspring. This story also includes a barren wife, Rachel, who believes her inability to bear children stems from god’s disapproval of her. She grows envious of her sister Leah, Jacob’s first wife, because she bears sons for Jacob. Leah finds pride in her ability to give Jacob children while her sister cannot. To Leah, her hospitable womb proves that god is rewarding her for enduring misery; Jacob does not love Leah, though it appears Leah is quite fond of Jacob. Rachel refuses to let her sister be the only one to bear sons for Jacob, so she forces her maidservant, Bilhah, to act as her surrogate. Bilhah births two sons in Rachel’s stead. Leah also gives her maidservant, Zilpah, to Jacob when she no longer conceives, and Zilpah births two sons. Rachel eventually births two sons of her own once god comes around, and Leah gives birth to two more sons and a daughter.

Since the Bible is held as the measure of morality by many because they consider it the literal word of god, one must ask: what moral lesson do we learn from this story? Here we have two women married to the same man, who follow the precedent set by the mother of the Judeo-Christian faith, Sarah, by giving their servants to their husband to have sex with, and their god condones this action. First, what right do these women have to force their servants to be sex slaves? Second, how can the Judeo-Christian god be considered moral if he supports this action? Today, almost no one would agree that this action is moral, because morality evolves as civilization progresses. Religious texts are not the culmination of revealed morality, but the reflection of the morality at the time in which they are conceived. Hence, why the moral teachings of the Bible change. If the Bible were written by god, then its moral teachings could not change because that would mean god changed. God cannot change because god must be perfect and infallible. And if one changes their position, they admit to being fallible. (This line of argument stems from Anselm’s argument for the existence of god.)

So if the Bible is not the literal word of god, then why do people want to live by its teachings? Why can we not all admit that morality will not be revealed to us, instead it must be sought.

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Genesis: Jacob’s Dream at Bethel

Genesis 28:10-22

Jacob does what his mother had asked of him, and cowardly runs off to avoid any repercussion for swindling what was rightfully his brother’s–though such actions should be expected from the descendant of an incestuous, fraud, and perjurer like Abraham. Jacob finds a rock to lay his head on and sleeps. During his slumber he dreams of a stairway reaching towards heaven with angels of God ascending and descending on it–the one saving grace the Judaeo-Christian religion might have, is that at least this risible dream produced one of the greatest rock songs of all time. At the summit stood the Lord.

“I am the Lord, the God of your Father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants this land on which you are lying. Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”

Of course the vacuous mind of this man is unable to comprehend what a dream is, and interprets this dream as a message of God. Jacob takes this dream to mean that God’s house resides where he had laid his head–this is why he calls the land Bethel, but I prefer to refer to it by its original name Luz. This quote makes apparent the Bible’s claim of an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent God. Don’t try to wiggle your way out of this claim. Some apologetics try claim that God is none of these things, but constantly the Bible makes the claim that he is.

Unlike many modern Jews and Christians, Jacob specifies certain conditions that must be met by this God before he will choose to devote himself. He says that if the Lord will watch over him, be with him, provide him with food and clothing, and see that he returns safely to his father; he will devote himself to the Lord. He also promises to then give a tenth of what he has to the Lord. I surmise that this is where the basis of tithing originates. Maybe someone could corroborate.

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