Jacob: Unex­pect­ed Patriarch

Yair Zakovitch
  • Review
By – December 19, 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.

Wal­lace Greene, Ph.D., has held sev­er­al uni­ver­si­ty appoint­ments, and cur­rent­ly writes and lec­tures on Jew­ish and his­tor­i­cal subjects.

Discussion Questions