Monday, January 12, 2004

Jacob Returns, Esau: Genesis 32-35

Genesis 32

Jacob Sends Gifts to Esau

1As Jacob and his household started on their way again, angels of God came to meet him. 2When Jacob saw them, he exclaimed, "This is God's camp!" So he named the place Mahanaim.[a]
3Jacob now sent messengers to his brother, Esau, in Edom, the land of Seir. 4He told them, "Give this message to my master Esau: `Humble greetings from your servant Jacob! I have been living with Uncle Laban until recently, 5and now I own oxen, donkeys, sheep, goats, and many servants, both men and women. I have sent these messengers to inform you of my coming, hoping that you will be friendly to us.' "

6The messengers returned with the news that Esau was on his way to meet Jacob--with an army of four hundred men! 7Jacob was terrified at the news. He divided his household, along with the flocks and herds and camels, into two camps. 8He thought, "If Esau attacks one group, perhaps the other can escape."

9Then Jacob prayed, "O God of my grandfather Abraham and my father, Isaac--O LORD, you told me to return to my land and to my relatives, and you promised to treat me kindly. 10I am not worthy of all the faithfulness and unfailing love you have shown to me, your servant. When I left home, I owned nothing except a walking stick, and now my household fills two camps! 11O LORD, please rescue me from my brother, Esau. I am afraid that he is coming to kill me, along with my wives and children. 12But you promised to treat me kindly and to multiply my descendants until they become as numerous as the sands along the seashore--too many to count."

13Jacob stayed where he was for the night and prepared a present for Esau: 14two hundred female goats, twenty male goats, two hundred ewes, twenty rams, 15thirty female camels with their young, forty cows, ten bulls, twenty female donkeys, and ten male donkeys. 16He told his servants to lead them on ahead, each group of animals by itself, separated by a distance in between.

17He gave these instructions to the men leading the first group: "When you meet Esau, he will ask, `Where are you going? Whose servants are you? Whose animals are these?' 18You should reply, `These belong to your servant Jacob. They are a present for his master Esau! He is coming right behind us.' " 19Jacob gave the same instructions to each of the herdsmen and told them, "You are all to say the same thing to Esau when you see him. 20And be sure to say, `Your servant Jacob is right behind us.' " Jacob's plan was to appease Esau with the presents before meeting him face to face. "Perhaps," Jacob hoped, "he will be friendly to us." 21So the presents were sent on ahead, and Jacob spent that night in the camp.

Jacob Wrestles with God

22But during the night Jacob got up and sent his two wives, two concubines, and eleven sons across the Jabbok River. 23After they were on the other side, he sent over all his possessions. 24This left Jacob all alone in the camp, and a man came and wrestled with him until dawn. 25When the man saw that he couldn't win the match, he struck Jacob's hip and knocked it out of joint at the socket. 26Then the man said, "Let me go, for it is dawn."
But Jacob panted, "I will not let you go unless you bless me."

27"What is your name?" the man asked.

He replied, "Jacob."

28"Your name will no longer be Jacob," the man told him. "It is now Israel,[b] because you have struggled with both God and men and have won."

29"What is your name?" Jacob asked him.

"Why do you ask?" the man replied. Then he blessed Jacob there.

30Jacob named the place Peniel--"face of God"--for he said, "I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been spared." 31The sun rose as he left Peniel,[c] and he was limping because of his hip. 32That is why even today the people of Israel don't eat meat from near the hip, in memory of what happened that night.

Genesis 32:2 Mahanaim means "two camps."
Genesis 32:28 Israel means "God struggles" or "one who struggles with God."
Genesis 32:31 Hebrew Penuel, a variant name for Peniel.

Genesis 33

Jacob and Esau Make Peace

1Then, in the distance, Jacob saw Esau coming with his four hundred men. 2Jacob now arranged his family into a column, with his two concubines and their children at the front, Leah and her children next, and Rachel and Joseph last. 3Then Jacob went on ahead. As he approached his brother, he bowed low seven times before him. 4Then Esau ran to meet him and embraced him affectionately and kissed him. Both of them were in tears.
5Then Esau looked at the women and children and asked, "Who are these people with you?"

"These are the children God has graciously given to me," Jacob replied. 6Then the concubines came forward with their children and bowed low before him. 7Next Leah came with her children, and they bowed down. Finally, Rachel and Joseph came and made their bows.

8"And what were all the flocks and herds I met as I came?" Esau asked.

Jacob replied, "They are gifts, my lord, to ensure your goodwill."

9"Brother, I have plenty," Esau answered. "Keep what you have."

10"No, please accept them," Jacob said, "for what a relief it is to see your friendly smile. It is like seeing the smile of God! 11Please take my gifts, for God has been very generous to me. I have more than enough." Jacob continued to insist, so Esau finally accepted them.

12"Well, let's be going," Esau said. "I will stay with you and lead the way."

13But Jacob replied, "You can see, my lord, that some of the children are very young, and the flocks and herds have their young, too. If they are driven too hard, they may die. 14So go on ahead of us. We will follow at our own pace and meet you at Seir."

15"Well," Esau said, "at least let me leave some of my men to guide and protect you."

"There is no reason for you to be so kind to me," Jacob insisted.

16So Esau started back to Seir that same day. 17Meanwhile, Jacob and his household traveled on to Succoth. There he built himself a house and made shelters for his flocks and herds. That is why the place was named Succoth.[a] 18Then they arrived safely at Shechem, in Canaan, and they set up camp just outside the town. 19Jacob bought the land he camped on from the family of Hamor, Shechem's father, for a hundred pieces of silver.[b] 20And there he built an altar and called it El-Elohe-Israel.[c]

Genesis 33:17 Succoth means "shelters."
Genesis 33:19 Hebrew 100 kesitahs; the value or weight of the kesitah is no longer known.
Genesis 33:20 El-Elohe-Israel means "God, the God of Israel."

Genesis 34

Revenge against Shechem

1One day Dinah, Leah's daughter, went to visit some of the young women who lived in the area. 2But when the local prince, Shechem son of Hamor the Hivite, saw her, he took her and raped her. 3But Shechem's love for Dinah was strong, and he tried to win her affection. 4He even spoke to his father about it. "Get this girl for me," he demanded. "I want to marry her."
5Word soon reached Jacob that his daughter had been defiled, but his sons were out in the fields herding cattle so he did nothing until they returned. 6Meanwhile, Hamor, Shechem's father, came out to discuss the matter with Jacob. 7He arrived just as Jacob's sons were coming in from the fields. They were shocked and furious that their sister had been raped. Shechem had done a disgraceful thing against Jacob's family,[a] a thing that should never have been done.

8Hamor told Jacob and his sons, "My son Shechem is truly in love with your daughter, and he longs for her to be his wife. Please let him marry her. 9We invite you to let your daughters marry our sons, and we will give our daughters as wives for your young men. 10And you may live among us; the land is open to you! Settle here and trade with us. You are free to acquire property among us."

11Then Shechem addressed Dinah's father and brothers. "Please be kind to me, and let me have her as my wife," he begged. "I will give whatever you require. 12No matter what dowry or gift you demand, I will pay it--only give me the girl as my wife."

13But Dinah's brothers deceived Shechem and Hamor because of what Shechem had done to their sister. 14They said to them, "We couldn't possibly allow this, because you aren't circumcised. It would be a disgrace for her to marry a man like you! 15But here is a solution. If every man among you will be circumcised like we are, 16we will intermarry with you and live here and unite with you to become one people. 17Otherwise we will take her and be on our way."

18Hamor and Shechem gladly agreed, 19and Shechem lost no time in acting on this request, for he wanted Dinah desperately. Shechem was a highly respected member of his family, 20and he appeared with his father before the town leaders to present this proposal. 21"Those men are our friends," they said. "Let's invite them to live here among us and ply their trade. For the land is large enough to hold them, and we can intermarry with them. 22But they will consider staying here only on one condition. Every one of us men must be circumcised, just as they are. 23But if we do this, all their flocks and possessions will become ours. Come, let's agree to this so they will settle here among us."

24So all the men agreed and were circumcised. 25But three days later, when their wounds were still sore, two of Dinah's brothers, Simeon and Levi, took their swords, entered the town without opposition, and slaughtered every man there, 26including Hamor and Shechem. They rescued Dinah from Shechem's house and returned to their camp. 27Then all of Jacob's sons plundered the town because their sister had been defiled there. 28They seized all the flocks and herds and donkeys--everything they could lay their hands on, both inside the town and outside in the fields. 29They also took all the women and children and wealth of every kind.

30Afterward Jacob said to Levi and Simeon, "You have made me stink among all the people of this land--among all the Canaanites and Perizzites. We are so few that they will come and crush us. We will all be killed!"

31"Should he treat our sister like a prostitute?" they retorted angrily.

Genesis 34:7 Hebrew in Israel.

Genesis 35

Jacobs Return to Bethel

1God said to Jacob, "Now move on to Bethel and settle there. Build an altar there to worship me--the God who appeared to you when you fled from your brother, Esau."
2So Jacob told everyone in his household, "Destroy your idols, wash yourselves, and put on clean clothing. 3We are now going to Bethel, where I will build an altar to the God who answered my prayers when I was in distress. He has stayed with me wherever I have gone."

4So they gave Jacob all their idols and their earrings, and he buried them beneath the tree near Shechem. 5When they set out again, terror from God came over the people in all the towns of that area, and no one attacked them. 6Finally, they arrived at Luz (now called Bethel) in Canaan. 7Jacob built an altar there and named it El-bethel,[a] because God had appeared to him there at Bethel when he was fleeing from Esau.

8Soon after this, Rebekah's old nurse, Deborah, died. She was buried beneath the oak tree in the valley below Bethel. Ever since, the tree has been called the "Oak of Weeping."[b]

9God appeared to Jacob once again when he arrived at Bethel after traveling from Paddan-aram. God blessed him 10and said, "Your name is no longer Jacob; you will now be called Israel."[c] 11Then God said, "I am God Almighty. Multiply and fill the earth! Become a great nation, even many nations. Kings will be among your descendants! 12And I will pass on to you the land I gave to Abraham and Isaac. Yes, I will give it to you and your descendants." 13Then God went up from the place where he had spoken to Jacob.

14Jacob set up a stone pillar to mark the place where God had spoken to him. He then poured wine over it as an offering to God and anointed the pillar with olive oil. 15Jacob called the place Bethel--"house of God"--because God had spoken to him there.

The Deaths of Rachel and Isaac

16Leaving Bethel, they traveled on toward Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem). But Rachel's pains of childbirth began while they were still some distance away. 17After a very hard delivery, the midwife finally exclaimed, "Don't be afraid--you have another son!" 18Rachel was about to die, but with her last breath she named him Ben-oni; the baby's father, however, called him Benjamin.[d] 19So Rachel died and was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem). 20Jacob set up a stone monument over her grave, and it can be seen there to this day.
21Jacob[e] then traveled on and camped beyond the tower of Eder. 22While he was there, Reuben slept with Bilhah, his father's concubine, and someone told Jacob about it.

These are the names of the twelve sons of Jacob:

23The sons of Leah were Reuben (Jacob's oldest son), Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun.

24The sons of Rachel were Joseph and Benjamin.

25The sons of Bilhah, Rachel's servant, were Dan and Naphtali.

26The sons of Zilpah, Leah's servant, were Gad and Asher.

These were the sons born to Jacob at Paddan-aram.

27So Jacob came home to his father Isaac in Mamre, which is near Kiriath-arba (now called Hebron), where Abraham had also lived. 28Isaac lived for 180 years, 29and he died at a ripe old age, joining his ancestors in death. Then his sons, Esau and Jacob, buried him.

Genesis 35:7 El-bethel means "the God of Bethel."
Genesis 35:8 Hebrew Allon-bacuth.
Genesis 35:10 Jacob means "he grasps the heel"; this can also figuratively mean "he deceives"; Israel means "God struggles" or "one who struggles with God."
Genesis 35:18 Ben-oni means "son of my sorrow"; Benjamin means "son of my right hand."
Genesis 35:21 Hebrew Israel; also in 35:22a.

Who lost an earring? Genesis 35:4 reconsidered

Who lost an earring? Genesis 35:4 reconsidered

Hurowitz, Victor Avigdor
Bell & Howell Information and Learning: Foreign text omitted.

AFTER FLEEING SHECHEM Jacob prepares for a return visit to Bethel. As part of the arrangements he gives these instructions to the members of his family: ..., "remove the foreign gods which are amongst you, purify yourselves, and change your clothes" (Gen 35:2). In compliance with this order, as the narrator reports, ..., "they gave to Jacob all the foreign gods which were in their possession and the earrings which were in their ears, and Jacob buried them under the terebinth near Shechem" (35:4). Much has been written about this incident, and archaeological evidence has been adduced to illustrate and explain the burial of divine statues in holy places.1 It seems that a small grammatical problem essential to understanding Gen 35:4 has been overlooked, however: What is the antecedent of the possessive pronoun "their" (...) suffixed to "ears" (...)? In other words, whose earrings are buried?

From earliest times, nearly all exegetes have taken the pronoun to refer to the members of Jacob's family.2 The earrings to be buried were those they wore in their own ears. This grammatical analysis has resulted in two explanations for the burial of the earrings. (1) The author of Targum PseudoJonathan and others have suggested that the earrings bore idolatrous pictures or shapes and were themselves objects of worship.3 (2) Some more recent scholars consider the jewelry to be amulets.4 The first interpretation is difficult because in practice there is nothing to distinguish earrings graphically or glyptically representing deities from idols in general so why single such earrings out? It is also difficult to imagine items as small as earrings actually used as cult statues, even though real cult statues need not be life-sized. Moreover, as Othmar Keel points out, it seems that there are no archaeologically attested examples of earrings shaped like idols.5 The second possibility can be rejected because, as Keel has demonstrated, there is no evidence that ... ever means amulet.6 Also, since amulets could be Yahwistic (examples are phylacteries and the famous silver strips from Ketef Hinnom on which the Priestly Blessing is inscribed), they would not necessarily have been found objectionable in se.

Although these explanations cannot be refuted conclusively, another possible interpretation is so simple, obvious, and likely that one must consider it, wondering all the while why it has barely entered modern discussion. This interpretation, suggested long ago by the medieval commentator Hizzequni,7 and more recently by A. B. Ehrlich,8 is that the earrings were in the ears of the idols. In other words, the earrings proscribed for eradication are not pieces of human jewelry but elements of divine regalia. Evidence for them is adduced by W W Hallo in his article about cult statues.9

On linguistic grounds, the explanation proposed here, that in Gen 35:4 "their ears" means the ears of (the idols of) the "foreign gods," is just as probable as the generally accepted explanation that the ears are those of the members of Jacob's family.10 Moreover, the placement of earrings on divine statues is a well attested practice in the ancient Near East.11 Textual evidence is provided by cuneiform sources. Catalogues of divine jewelry such as the inventory of Ishtar of Lagaba's regalia and the cultic inventory from Qatna include earrings, and an actual earring bearing an inscription dedicating it to a goddess has been found.12 Literary texts contain allusions to divine earrings. According to a prayer of Shalmaneser III, ..., "they placed earrings of fine gold on its (the image's) ears."13 In the poetic composition Istar's Descent to the Netherworld, which may reflect a cultic procession with a divine statue, we read that as Ishtar entered one of the seven gates of the netherworld she was deprived of her earrings: ..., "He brought her through the second gate and he stripped off and carried away the rings in her ears."14 In the so-called Love Lyrics of Nabu and Tasmetu, which may also have some sort of cultic background, the goddess says to her spouse, ..., "My husband, place an earring upon me and in the orchard I will give you pleasure; Nabu, My husband, place an earring upon me, and in the Tablet House I will make you happy."15

Most important, from the land of Israel and neighboring areas there is archaeological evidence of divine jewelry, including earrings. A god with an earring still in place is in O. Negbi's exhaustive catalogue with comments.16 This seated god, from Megiddo, has pierced ears and a gold ring in his left ear. Another, from Tell Judeideh, has bronze wire earrings in pierced earlobes.17 A female figurine from Luristan, has a gold wire in its ear.18 There are also figurines of gods whose pierced ears indicate earrings which have been lost.19 Paradoxically, the statues divested of their earrings are of particular importance, for they may suggest why the children of Jacob removed the earrings from the statues. One may assume that some of the statues found without their original earrings were stripped of their valuable jewelry already in antiquity, the less valuable metal composing the body then being discarded.

It remains problematic why the idols and divine earrings were buried under the sacred tree in Shechem (cf. Jos 24:23), but it is clear that this is part of Jacob's "removing" the foreign gods and purifying his clan.

As for the reason for ridding the camp of the divine earrings and not only of the idols themselves, we may find a clue in Deut 7:25-26: "Their divine statues you shall burn in fire. You shall not covet silver or gold upon them and take it for yourself, lest you be ensnared by it, for it is an abomination to Yhwh your God. Nor shall you bring an abomination into your house, for you will be proscribed like it. You shall be utterly disgusted with it and abominate it because it is proscribed." This is a prohibition of idols covered with silver and gold, but it would certainly apply to clothing and jewelry as well. The idols, which would be made of wood, are to be burnt. The gold and silver accoutrements remain dangerous, probably because they can be made into new idols (cf. Exod 32:2-3; Judg 8:25-27). Accordingly, they are to be treated as disgusting abominations and eliminated in any way possible. So in the case of Jacob's family, Jacob buries the earrings, lest his sons, recognizing that as earrings of idols they are already holy, appropriate them for recycling into fresh statues. We need not infer that the narrator of the legend in Genesis has portrayed the patriarchal period in terms of Deuteronomistic legislation, but we may learn that the legislator and the narrator shared the belief that the undesirable qualities of idols were those of their accoutrements as well.20

1 See the bibliography given by C. Westermann, Genesis 12-36 (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1985; German original completed in 1981) 546, and especially by O. Keel, "Das Vergraben der 'fremden Gutter' in Genesis xxxv 4b," VT 23 (1973) 305-36.

2 In addition to surveying commentaries; I have asked many colleagues and acquaintances with a knowledge of Biblical Hebrew. I have found that most interpret the verse in this way.

3 According to Targum Pseudo-Jonathan, the earrings "were in the ears of the inhabitants of the city of Shechem upon which were drawn an image of his idol (.?"MID nrn dry '1ni)" (see E. G. Clarke, Targum Pseudo-Jonathan of the Pentateuch: Text and Concordance [Hoboken, NJ: Ktav, 1984] 43; M. Maher, Targum Pseudo-Jonathan, Genesis [Aramaic Bible 1 B; Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1992] 119). For other expressions of the opinion that the earrings bore idolatrous images, see M. Kasher, Torah Shelemah, Talmud-Midrashic Encyclopedia on the Pentateuch S: Genesis (Jerusalem: Azriel, 1936) 1339-40 (Hebrew).

4 Westermann (Genesis 12-36, 551) agrees with the majority in holding that "it is most likely a matter of amulets," but he knows that Keel ("Vergraben der `fremden Gotter,'" 306-7) rejects this explanation. More recent commentators still prefer it, either by itself or in combination with another explanation. N. M. Sarna (The JPS Torah Commentary, Genesis/mmKt' (Philadelphia/ New York: Jewish Publication Society, 1989] 240), for example, writes that the earrings "are no ordinary pieces of jewelry but talismans adorned with pagan symbols," and M. Weinfeld (Olam ha-Tanakh I: Beresit [Tel Aviv; Davidson-Iti, 1993] 197) observes that "as in the case of other pieces of jewelry, earrings . . . were often made in the shape of small figurines which also served as amulets." G. D. Wenham (Genesis 16-50 [WBC 2; Dallas, TX: Word, 1994] 324) compares the destruction of Midianite booty in Num 31:50 and concludes that in Gen 34:4 "the rings removed by Jacob's sons may well have been part of the booty captured by them from the Shechemites."

5 Keel, "Vergraben der 'fremden Gotten'" 306-7 n. 4.

6 Ibid.

7 Hizzequni's opinion may actually be based on the talmudic and halakic discussions of the question whether accoutrements of idols were to be destroyed along with the idols themselves, for such discussions were centered on this pericope; see the sources cited by Kasher, Torah Shelemah, 5. 1339-40.

8 A. B. Ehrlich, Randglossen zur hebrdischen Bibel I: Genesis and Exodus (Leipzig: Hinrichs, 1908) 178.

9 W W Hallo, "Cult Statue and Divine Image: A Preliminary Study," in Scripture in Context 2: More Essays on the Comparative Method (ed. W W Hallo, J. C. Moyer, and L. G. Perdue; Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1983) I-17. Hallo mentions and interprets Gen 34:5 (esp. on pp. 16-17), but he does not seem to realize that he is actually providing essential data in support of a nearly unknown explanation of it.

10 According to B. Jacob (Das erste Buch der Tora, Genesis [Berlin: Schocken, 1934] 66162), "Das Suffix von ... auf ... beziehen . . , ist unstatthaft," but he offers no grounds for his rejection of this grammatical analysis.

11 Hallo ("Cult Statue," 16) tells us that earrings were "among the typical accoutrements of cult statues by Neo-Sumerian times at the end of the [third] millennium [B.C.E.]."

12 Not all gods and goddesses were provided with earrings. Inventories of jewelry and clothing for the sun god Shamash and his spouse Aia do not list any an.abtu (see F Joannes, "Les temples de Sippar et leurs tr6sors a l'epoque n6o-babylonienne," RA 86 [1992] 159-84).

13 E. Ebeling, Keilschrifttexte aus Assur religidsen Inhalts (2 vols.; WVDOG 18, 34; Leipzig: Hinrichs,1915-23) 1. text 98 r. 17 lines 45-46, quoted here from CAD, A2. 145 s.v. ansabru.

14 See W R. Sladek, Inanna s Descent to the Nether World (Ph.D. diss., Johns Hopkins University, 1974; available from University Microfilms, Ann Arbor, MI) 244. On the proposed relationship between the myth and a ritual procession with a divine statue, see G. Buccellati, The Descent of Inanna as a Ritual Journey to Kutha? (Syro-Mesopotamian Studies 4/3; Malibu, CA: Undena, 1982) 3-7. On the significance of undressing Ishtar, see D. Katz, "Inanna's Descent and the Undressing of the Dead as a Divine Law," ZA 85 (1995) 221-33.

15 A. Livingstone, Court Poetry and Literary Miscellanea (State Archives of Assyria 3; Helsinki: Helsinki University Press, 1989) 36 (text 14:13-16).

16 O. Negbi, Canaanite Gods in Metal: An Archaeological Study of Ancient Syro-Palestinian Figurines (Publications of the Institute of Archaeology 5; Tel Aviv: Tel Aviv University Institute of Archaeology, 1976) no. 1453.

17 Ibid., no. 1384.

18 Ibid., no. 1563.

19 Ibid., nos. 40-43 (a Lebanese group), 1311, 1372-73, 1378 (Syro-Anatolian), 1397, 1446, 1454 (from Hazor), 1492, 1507, 1632.

20 This article was written while I was on sabbatical leave at the Center for Judaic Studies of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. I am grateful to the center for its hospitality and its generous support of my scholarly research. I also wish to thank Professor Mark Smith of St. Joseph's University in Philadelphia for reading a manuscript of this article and offering some valuable comments.


Ben Gurion University

Beer Sheba


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