#46. Is Jacob blessed by a bedridden, blind, and old Isaac over a ceremonial meal OR by a relatively still youthful Isaac whose eyes are good via the transference of the blessing made to Abraham by El Shaddai? (Gen 27:1-29, 27:41 vs Gen 28:1-5)
#47. Does Jacob’s blessing come by means of deceiving and tricking his father Isaac OR is it knowingly and consciously given to Jacob by his father Isaac? (Gen 27:1-29 vs Gen 28:1-5)

The book of Genesis, as it has come down to us, recounts the blessing of Jacob on two separate occasions: Genesis 27:1-29 and Genesis 28:1-5. They are in fact doublets, and at this point it should not be surprising to learn that they are each a part of two, once separate, textual traditions which were later grafted together, and as a result created these contradictions.

In the first account (Gen 27:1-29), we are immediately told that “Isaac was old and his eyes were too dim to see” (27:1). This, in fact, is the pretext upon which Jacob and Rebekah prepare to deceive the old blind patriarch into giving the blessing and inheritance that rightfully belong to the firstborn Esau, to Jacob. That is to say, in this account Jacob, prompted by his mother Rebekah, plans to deceive the nearly-blind Isaac by presenting himself disguised as Esau his older brother in order to steal, through this ploy of deception, Esau’s blessing. And indeed it works like a charm. Isaac is duped into thinking that Jacob is Esau and gives him the blessing of the firstborn (27:13-29).

After Jacob successfully dupes his father, Esau enters and presents himself before his blind father to receive his rightful blessing which has now already been given to Jacob, the usurper (more about this rascally character later). Esau weeps and pleads with his father for a blessing. Recognizing that this is indeed his firstborn, Isaac laments having been duped and deceived by his son Jacob: ”Your brother came with deception and he took your blessing” (27:35).

This is not, however, the same Isaac nor the same scenario that we meet in the blessing of Jacob that happens anew in Genesis 28:1-5. Here we meet an Isaac who is neither blind nor old. He not only sees and intends the blessing for Jacob but willingly gives Jacob the covenantal blessing in all the pomp and circumstance typical of other covenantal passages belonging to the Priestly source (see below). Genesis 28:1-5 differs sharply in tone, style, vocabulary, and theological emphasis from the preceding account, and proceeds as if the blessing and its circumstances in Gen 27:1-29 never happened!

The preceding account, Genesis 27:1-29, displays features that we find in other passages now identified as the Yahwist source: it is presented informally as a familial dialogue with little to no religious perspective; word punning plays a prominent role throughout, especially on Esau’s and Jacob’s names; the narrative style is also informal and playful; the depiction of Jacob as a deceiver and usurper is a standard Yahwist theme; and Yahweh or any theological emphasis or moral critique of this vagrant act of deception is totally missing. These are all features we find elsewhere in the Yahwist textual tradition.

Contrary to J’s decrepit, blind, bed-ridden, and duped Isaac, P’s Isaac is none of these. First, he cannot be much older than 100 years according to the P narrative. For if Esau has married at the age of 40 (26:34), then Isaac would have been 100 years old at this time. We know from Genesis 35:28, a P text, that Isaac was 180 years old when he died. Thus Isaac is still relatively young according to P’s life-spans. Furthermore, the point is, that he is not blind, bed-ridden, nor old and decrepit in this account.

Second, P’s blessing is portrayed differently than J’s in chapter 27. In 28:1 Isaac commands Jacob to present himself to him and knowingly with perfectly healthy eyes blesses Jacob by reiterating the Abrahamic blessing of land and progeny:

“May El Shaddai bless you and make you fruitful and multiply you, so you’ll become a community of peoples, and may he give you the blessing of Abraham, to you and to your seed with you, for you to possess the land of your residences, which god gave to Abraham” (28:3-4).

The thematic and theological material of this passage—namely, its insistence on the transference of the blessing of El Shaddai, its mention of a community or assembly of people intrinsically tied to the promise of land, and the divine decree to be fruitful and multiply—links it to other P blessing passages in Genesis (e.g., 17:1-14; 35:11-12; 48:3-6). The morally questionable Jacob of J is rewritten by the Priestly source as a righteous and obedient son who furthermore upholds and exemplifies one of the prominent staples of the Priestly writer, endogamy (see #48).

The blessing in Genesis 28:3-4 is typical of P’s style, thematic emphasis, and vocabulary, and weighs heavily against J’s Isaac in the preceding narrative, especially if one assumes a continuous narrative. After being duped by his son in the previous version, why would Isaac then with no knowledge of the previous bed-side blessing which his trickster Jacob son stole through deception bless him again? Simply, he doesn’t. Chapter 28 is from another scribe, another source, that of P. It was most likely written, as we saw in previous passages (see #28), to rectify, from the Priestly writer’s perspective, the Yahwist’s presentation of Jacob’s blessing. However, an even later redactor stitched these two versions together, and as a result created the inconsistencies and contradictions presently in the combined JP text.

At this point we might conjecture a bit further. Since P’s portrait of Isaac and the manner in which Jacob receives the covenantal blessing are so diametrically contrary to those of J, that we might assume that not only was P rewriting the story, but he rewrote it in order to replace J’s version. Think of it this way: all the texts that we have identified, and will identify, as P most likely existed on one single scroll as an independent work. These stories helped forge the identity of an exilic and/or post-exilic community and emphasized those themes important to the Priestly guild that P represented: Yahweh as El Shaddai, the eternal Abrahamic covenant, community, endogamy, etc. In other words, the stories and “history” in this P scroll served this particular community and at festivals and cultic events these stories were recited and shared. The Yahwist scroll was now archived, since the Priestly scroll with its new version of Israel’s patriarchal “history” spoke to the specific needs and concerns of this particular community. Still at a later date, these various scrolls were themselves collected together perhaps in an effort to safeguard all of Israel’s “sacred” scriptures. It must have been at this point that a Redactor or school decided to preserve both accounts through an elaborate process of cut-and-paste. It was the redactor who placed the P material into the J(E) narrative, and in turn this new textual creation served yet the purpose of another community.

In other words, the two contradictory stories of J and P were now “read” through an even larger, and centuries-later, interpretive framework. As we shall see, this process of subverting previous textual traditions or co-opting them as parts of later narrative frameworks repeatedly happens throughout the history of the Bible’s making.

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11 Responses to #46. Is Jacob blessed by a bedridden, blind, and old Isaac over a ceremonial meal OR by a relatively still youthful Isaac whose eyes are good via the transference of the blessing made to Abraham by El Shaddai? (Gen 27:1-29, 27:41 vs Gen 28:1-5)
#47. Does Jacob’s blessing come by means of deceiving and tricking his father Isaac OR is it knowingly and consciously given to Jacob by his father Isaac? (Gen 27:1-29 vs Gen 28:1-5)

  1. Catherine says:

    I’m struggling to see ‘two’ accounts of the same blessing or a blind Jacob and then a Jacob who can see. As I read the text in my NIV version, it seems to read that Jacob gives a further blessing to the son who is now the ‘chief’ son before he has to scarper ???

  2. Steven DiMattei says:

    Ok, let’s walk through this together. First, it’s not Jacob who is blind, but Isaac his father. In Genesis 27:1-29 Jacob and Rebekah plot to deceive Isaac into giving the firstborn blessing to Jacob. He is blind, old, and bed-ridden (27:1). Rebekah dresses Jacob in Esau’s cloths, places hair on Jacob (because Esau is hairy), and cooks Isaac a meal of meat, since Esau is the hunter in the family (27:13-17). Isaac is fooled, and thinks Jacob is Esau and gives him the blessing (27:26-29). Esau then comes in and weeps; Isaac realizes he was duped, and then gives Esau a second-rate blessing (27:30-40). Note my comments above on the stylistic features of this account as well. It is noted as belonging to the Yahwist tradition.

    Genesis 28 now presents the blessing of Jacob again, and there is no mention of Isaac being blind or bed-ridden, nor any recognition of the previous plot. In fact, Isaac knowingly calls Jacob and gives or transfers the Abrahamic covenantal blessing to Jacob. If you compare all these blessing passages—Gen 17:1-14; Gen 28:1-5; Gen 35:11-12; Gen 48:3-6, and Ex 6:2-7—you will see that they all exhibit the same vocabulary, themes, and style. They are from one textual tradition, the Priestly, and this is how the Priestly writer spoke of the covenantal blessing. See also the post on the Priestly reworking of the Yahwist material.

    Your NIV might be trying to harmonize these 2 different accounts or offering some later or “Christian” interpretation of the passages. A good Biblical source to have is the New Jerusalem Bible translation (Doubleday, 1990) because it offers excellent notes (sometimes theological claims– you need to watch out for this in all Bible translations) and it even discusses the different sources! So the NJB notes the Priestly source’s blessing passage at Genesis 28:1-5, notes the two different creation accounts, etc. It is the only Bible that I am aware of with notes that reflect modern biblical scholarship! That said, it has its own unique theological thrust and that should be … well ignored. Another great source since I notice you’ve been following along is Richard Friedman’s color-coded translation of the Pentateuch by source, The Bible with Sources Revealed. I hope that clarifies things a bit, yes?

  3. Dan says:

    I also see two different blessings. I don’t see how the second blessing needed to identify that Isaac was blind or bed ridden as it simply stated Isaac called Jacob and details outside of the text are lacking and not necessary.

    That said, I do see a departure from the ch27 theme in verse 27:46 though. We are told in 27:41-45 that Esau wants to kill Jacob, so Rebekah sends Jacob away to her brother but v46 seems to change the theme and focuses on,Jacob’s taking an approved wife which is where second blessing comes into play. In 28:5 it is Isaac that sends Jacob away(comp 27:43), but also verse 28:6 tells us that Esau learns where Jacob went off to find a wife and not to run away from him as 27:44 tells us. Esau knowing where Jacob goes off to defeats the purpose of Rebekah sending him away in the first place due to Esau scheming to kill Jacob. The following verses 28:7-9 completely ignore the initial rage that Esau had towards Jacob but focus on Esau taking a wife to pleases Isaac.

    To me it does appear that verses 27:46-28:9 somehow don’t tie in with chapter 27 story.

  4. Steven DiMattei says:

    Yes. Nice! All of 27:46 to 28:9 is P. The specific contradiction that you note: Why does Jacob leave? To flee Esau’s rage (J) or get a wife from within the family, endogamy (P) will be my #48, which, since I posted 2 today, I’ll post on Sunday. Kudos.

  5. Catherine says:

    Thank you. I meant Isaac being blind, not Jacob. Doh! I’ll try to get hold of Richard Friedman’s book. :)

  6. EGross says:

    In the text of 27:1, we read that Isaac is a “zaken”, an elder, and that his eyes are dim from seeing (doesn’t see that well) which is not to be confused with being completely blind. Also, “sick” is not in the text and is just being inferred, and because he is in bed in one scene does not mean he is always in bed (“bedridden”). He had bad eyesight, and was up there in years, and was having a lie down while his favorite went out to get some fresh meat. We read that he gets up and asks the man to come closer and then asks for his food.

    Yes, I know there are medieval paintings of a sick and blind bedridden Isaac being spoon fed his food while being held up by his wife, but that does not reflect the text.

    Now, based on 26:24, we read that Esau was 40 years old, so this would have made Isaac (if the two events happened in close proximity, which we will assume for now that they did).

    Based on other texts in Genesis that list ages and durations of time, we can backtrack that Jacob left home at age 63, which means that 28:1 would be 23 years later, or when Isaac was 123 years old. Obviously Esau is not pissed at Jacob for the blessing still, but after the second one he incensed that his parents not only hate his wives, but are sending their home-boy to get out there and gest a decent wife, not like their brother!

    So in 28:1 it does not say he is blind, bit there is also no indication that he can see. There is no indication that he is standing, lying or sitting. But unless it notes otherwise, we can assume he still had dim eyesight and had trouble getting food or getting around unaided since it does not mention a change of codition, and this second blessing, years later is not a repeat, but something to get the “kid” out of the house and to get started making a family!

    Now, I suppose one “could” argue that Jacob stole the blessing at age 63 and that Esau had been married for 23 years and had grandchildren of his own when he was going for the blessing, but there is no age transition indicator in the text, so it would just be a reinterpretation of the plain text.

  7. EGross says:

    As for whether Isaac new they were trying to trick him or not, that is not really a contradiction as much as it is reading something more into the text to see it one way or the other. One “could” infer that he wasn’t completely blind, and despite them being twins there was enough difference. And how much does goat fur cover that you are pretty hairless. How hairy was Esau and have you ever felt goat fur? In other words you could read that Isaac played along, because while he loved one, he wanted to give it to the other and pretend he was tricked. (Sounds a lot like little red riding hood who seems to know something is up and is playing along with the big bad wolf).

    On the other hand, one could read into the text that Isaac had no clue, “You are indeed my son Esau” and and everything else is just forcing a different read.

  8. EGross says:

    Also, you write “community or assembly (‘edah)”. I am not sure where you get ‘edah from. In Hebrew that would mean the feminine form of “witness”. In the text I am looking at it uses קהל or “Qahal”, which means community (somtimes translated as “congregation”), a collective grouping of individuals. It means the same thing as you were indicating, but I wasn’t sure if you had inserted the correct Hebrew word or if it was something else. (It is also a bit annoying that I cannot copy a section of what you wrote and paste it into the comment. Probably some WordPress restriction).

  9. Steven DiMattei says:

    E.G. Thanks for your comments as usual. Here though I don’t think I am inferring anything, nor really doing any sort of extraneous interpretation. Rather I am sticking closely to the text. It is clear that the Isaac of chapter 27 is drastically different than the Isaac of chapter 28, that in the former he is old—Esau claims he will soon die (27:41); while he still has another 80 years to live according to the Priestly tradition—bed-ridden, and “blind” enough not to be able to recognize Jacob, albeit he is disguised (barely), and in the latter this presentation is not followed through and even completely absent, that in the former the blessing is stolen from Isaac through deception and Isaac becomes aware of this after the fact (27:35) and in the latter it is given freely to a Jacob and that Isaac calls and is able to recognize Jacob, as well as apparently has just “forgotten” the whole trickery episode. More so, the blessing in chapter 28:1-5 completely ignores the narrative plot that preceded it in chapter 27, and when compared with Gen 17:1-14, 35:9-12, 48:3-6, and Ex 6:2-3, its distinctive qualities are even more pronounced. The portrait of Isaac and Jacob drawn in chapter 28 is clearly independent of the contrary portrait drawn in chapter 27. Together with contradictions #48-49 and the differences in their style, themes, vocabulary, etc. close readers have concluded, and continue to conclude, that these are two versions of the same story that were later edited together.

    Oh, and thanks for the qahal. I’m not sure where my edah came from.

  10. Martin Joseph says:

    I don’t see any contradiction here. There’s nothing to indicate that the events in Genesis 28 ignore anything that happened in Genesis 27. As a matter of fact, it is a continuation. In summary:
    Rebekah convinces and assists Jacob in stealing his brother’s blessing.
    Esau finds out, and plots to kill Jacob (27:41-42). Rebekah finds out. How? It’s reasonable to conclude that Esau tells her, as there’s no reason to suspect Mommy of being in on it.
    Rebekah tells Jacob that skullduggery is afoot, and schemes (again) to prevent Jacob from meeting an untimely demise. In order to ship Jacob off to Uncle Laban without raising suspicion by Isaac, Rebekah packages it in the context of finding Jacob a wife (v43-46). Compare this to Genesis 26:34-35. It would be a perfectly reasonable request, so Isaac gives his blessing.
    In Genesis 28, Isaac sends Jacob away – to find a wife! This is consistent with Rebekah’s scheming. Because of her, the family is divided, and Scripture seems to cast a low eye on her by never recording her death, instead inserting the death of her nurse as a placeholder (Genesis 35:8).
    And all I did was read it. There’s no contradiction whatsoever.

  11. Joe Sevy says:

    It’s amazing what people will claim trying to make up for the fact that there are inconsistencies and contradictions. The fact of the matter is that if the story were missing in its entirety no doctrinal issues would arise. What’s at stake is the silly, desperate clinging to the claim of inerrancy.

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