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: 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 Flocks Increase

Genesis 30:25-43

Jacob asks Laban if he could return to the home his father now that he has finished the work agreed upon to marry Laban’s daughters. Laban does not wish to let Jacob leave because Jacob’s hard work has made him wealthy. Laban attempts to persuade Jacob to stay by asking him to name his price. Jacob states that he will agree to tend Laban’s flocks but he will keep all the speckled and spotted sheep and goats along with all the black lambs. Laban agrees because these coats were uncommon, but to ensure none were present in his flock he gave all that he found to his sons before Jacob could breed them. Jacob has a few tricks up his sleeve though. He takes rods of poplar and almond and plane, and peels them so they are spotted. Then, he has the strongest of the flock mate in front of these rods so they have offspring with spots and streaks. His flock grew, and he became wealthy. With his wealth, Jacob bought slaves, camels, and donkeys.

Jacob’s actions are warranted; Laban has been unfair to him by continuously changing their agreement. The only criticism is the explanation for how he bred spotted and speckled sheep and goats. It was not the fulfilled promise of superstition that bore him his desired flock, instead it can be understood through genetics. The population would have already carried recessive genes that gave the chance for spotted offspring. Through artificial selection, which is what Jacob did unknowingly, he was able to produce a strong heard of spotted and speckled sheep and goats.

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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 Marries Leah and Rachel

Genesis 29:14-30

Jacob stays with his uncle Laban for a whole month. Laban then says to him, “Just because you are a relative of mine, should you work for me for nothing? Tell me what your wages should be.”

Laban has two daughters: the eldest Leah, and the youngest Rachel. Jacob tells his uncle that he will work for him for seven years, if in return he can marry Rachel. Laban agrees, and Jacob works for Laban for seven years. After completing his time of servitude, Jacob went to his uncle demanding to lay with Rachel. Laban throws a feast to celebrate the occasion, but when night fell it was not Rachel who was in the sack consummating with Jacob. Laban deceives Jacob, and instead of sending Rachel, he tells his daughter Leah to lay with Jacob. Of course, Jacob was surprised when in the morning he awakes to see Leah, and not Rachel. Treachery seems to be a trait inherent in all relatives of Abraham.

Jacob goes to his uncle to ask why he has deceived him. His answer:

“It is not our custom here to give the younger daughter in marriage before the older one. Finish this daughter’s bridal week; then we will give you the younger one also, in return for another seven years of work.”

Jacob finishes the bridal week with Leah. After the week was over, his uncle gave him Rachel to marry, and Jacob lays with her–again, polygamy in the Bible. Jacob loves Rachel more than Leah, which is not surprising. Laban gave each women a maidservant: Leah had Zipah, and Rachel had Bilhah. Jacob then works for his uncle for another seven years as agreed.

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