#60. Does Esau settle in Seir before or after Jacob’s return? (Gen 32:4, 33:14, 33:16 vs Gen 36:6-8)


This is yet another example of a contradiction that occurs within the narrative chronology of the combined JEP storyline (the text as we now have it) when the later Priestly text, with its own narrative and theological details and agendas, was cut and pasted into the JE narrative (see also #32#42, #45).

All of the Pentateuch’s textual traditions (J, E, P, D) connect the eponymous father of Edom, that is Esau, with the region of Seir. Genesis 32:4 (J) and 33:14-16 (E) place Esau, his wives, and his descendants in Seir before Jacob returns from Haran. Therefore, in both the Yahwist and Elohist versions, Jacob sends messengers or an offering (#59) to Esau who has already settled in Seir. Esau travels up from Seir to meet/reconcile with Jacob as he returns to Canaan.

But the Priestly writer’s text—now Genesis 35:27-36:30—which was inserted into the combined JE narrative at a later date, claims that Esau leaves Canaan and settles in Seir only after Jacob had returned from Paddan-Aram (#49) and more importantly only after both Esau and Jacob have buried their father Isaac.

In other words, contrary to both the Yahwist and Elohist traditions, the Priestly writer had a very unique and orderly element to his retelling of these patriarchal stories—namely that when a patriarch dies he is 1) buried by both sons and 2) only then does the son who has married exogamously leave Canaan and settle outside of the promised land and the covenantal community (review P’s covenantal promise texts: #28, #31#40, #46). This happens in the case of Abraham’s death, and Ishmael’s settling outside the land, as well as in the case of Isaac’s death.1 This Priestly agenda re-enforces the position I took in contradiction #45, which received some critical comments by my readers. Perhaps my rationale is more clear now.

Finally, we may speculate as to why the Priestly writer organized his narrative in this manner, but what remains a fact is that when this organizational narrative plan was later combined with the JE text contradictions in the newly created combined JEP narrative arose.


  1. Again, David Carr’s work in this area is invaluable. See his Reading the Fractures of Genesis, 93-113, where he makes a case for P’s genealogical framework, and P’s unique emphasis on marriage, travel, and settlement notices throughout the book of Genesis.

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