Jacob: Unexpected Patriarch

Yale University Press  2012

 

This is not your Hebrew school Bible story, nor is it a traditional hagiography. The patriarch Jacob is a key biblical figure. His depiction in Genesis provides manifold glimpses into his personality. However, much is left unsaid. Like other biblical figures we do not know what he was thinking or how he felt at important junctures. Prof. Zakovitch has provided us with a brilliant analytical biography utilizing traditional rabbinic sources, ancient Near Eastern literature, non-canonical biblical books, modern critical techniques, and incisive hermeneutical interpretation.

The scholar will appreciate the nuances and the neophyte will be enthralled by new discoveries. The author fills in many gaps and provides insightful analysis of the various narratives. He also demonstrates that the text has a conceptual uniformity with other similar texts in the Bible and there are many examples provided of thematic symmetry.

The theme of measure for measure is often repeated. Jacob is constantly shown to be getting paid back for taking the primogeniture from Esau. Being deceived by Laban is but one example. Linguistics also plays a role in this story. The Hebrew root letters b’g’d’ referring to Esau’s garment worn by Jacob to fool Isaac, also means duplicity. Later on, Joseph’s torn garment is used to fool Jacob into thinking that his favorite son was killed. Jacob’s dream of the ladder, and the ultimate transfer to Jerusalem from Bethel of the entrance to heaven is also quite fascinating.

The relationship between Jacob and his wives, his passivity and lack of emotion, foreshadow later biblical rivalries. What is never answered is why Jacob showed favoritism to Joseph knowing full well the problems that this causes.

This scholarly portrait of Jacob from the womb to his tomb shows us the depths of a personality who is far from monochromatic based on serious research and creative parshanut. There are layers to every story and the biblical narrative that we have was based on oral traditions. Prof. Zakovitch has excavated these layers, tied them together and presented us with a more complete biography of our forefather Jacob.



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