Following what was said in #46-47, we now learn that the story of Jacob’s flight and the reason(s) why he leaves Beersheba are also variously given: to flee Esau’s wrath (Gen 27:41-45) and to find a suitable wife from among his own people (Gen 28:1-2). Additionally, the text also narrates Jacob’s departure twice and to two different locales: in Genesis 28:7 we are informed that he goes to Paddan-Aram, but then at Genesis 28:10 to Haran. Again, these contradictions are resolved once we realize that Genesis 27-28 is a composite of two once separate stories of Jacob’s departure, and that each textual tradition provided a distinctly different reason for the motivation behind his departure.
Genesis 27:1-40, from the Yahwist source, describes how Jacob usurps his older brother’s blessing through the means of a deceptive ploy wherein Jacob disguises himself as his brother Esau in order to steal Esau’s rightful blessing from their old, bed-ridden, and nearly blind father (#46-47). After this deception is revealed, Esau voices his bitterness and anger toward his brother:
And Esau despised Jacob because of the blessing with which his father blessed him, and Esau said in his heart: “The days of mourning for my father will be soon, and then I’ll kill Jacob, my brother.” And the words of Esau, her older son, were told to Rebekah, and she sent and called Jacob her younger son, and said to him: “Here, Esau your brother consoles himself regarding you with the idea of killing you. And now, my son, listen to my voice and get up, flee to Laban my brother, at Haran, and live with him for a number of days until your brother’s fury will turn back, until your brother’s anger turns back from you and he forgets what you did to him. (Gen 23:41-44)
The reason for Jacob’s flight in this Yahwist version—Esau’s wrath—and the place to where, Haran, are clearly presented. As we have previously discussed (see #45), and will see in future passages, the animosity expressed in the Yahwist version between Jacob and Esau was used to explain the hostilities between Israel and Edom in the 9th and 8th centuries BC.
Yet contrary to the Yahwist’s presentation, the Priestly source relates another reason for Jacob’s departure, one which displays a major concern of this textual tradition, namely the prohibition against marrying the indigenous Canaanites—that is, practicing exogamy! This is even more clear when the Priestly text is reconstructed to its original form. In other words, removing the J narrative from P restores the original message of the Priestly writer. And as is visible below, it is a unified, coherent text with a clear and focused emphasis. The P passages are: 26:34 + 27:46 + 28:1-9.
26:34And Esau was forty years old, and he took a wife: Judith, daughter of Beeri, the Hittite, and Basemath, daughter of Elon the Hittite. And they were a bitterness of spirit to Isaac and Rebekah. 27:46And Rebekah said to Isaac: “I’m disgusted with my life because of the daughters of Heth! If Jacob takes a wife from the daughters of Heth like these daughters of the land, why do I have a life!” 28:1And Isaac called Jacob, and he blessed him and commanded him, and he said to him: “You shall not take a wife from the daughters of Canaan. 2Get up. Go to Paddan Aram, to the house of Bethuel, your mother’s father, and take a wife from there, from the daughters of Laban, your mother’s brother. 3And may El Shaddai bless you and make you fruitful and multiply you, so you’ll become a community of peoples, 4and may he give you the blessing of Abraham, to you and to your seed with you, for you to possess the land of your residence, which God gives to Abraham.” 5And Isaac sent Jacob, and he went to Paddan Aram, to Laban, son of Bethuel, the Aramean, brother of Rebekah, mother of Jacob and Esau.
Restoring P’s narrative reveals the issues and concerns that the Priestly writer had: namely exogamous marriages as exemplified by Esau (and Ishmael) are not only to be condemned but they actually disqualify Esau (and Ishmael) from the blessings and covenantal promise of the land. Esau settles in Seir outside the promise-land. This is a theme and concern unique to the 6th century BC Priestly writer. Conversely, the Priestly writer is putting Jacob forward as an example to emulate for the post-exilic community, while using Esau as an example of what will happen to those who marry Canaanites! In fact, the Priestly writer drafts his new version of the story for the sole purpose of highlighting this central concern and to his specific 6th century BC audience.
There are other late post-exilic texts in the Hebrew Bible that also forbid the practice of exogamy. Both the books of Ezra and Nehemiah prohibit Israelites from marrying Canaanites. This was a specific “problem” for the post-exilic community, that is for those exiled Israelites who returned to the land of Canaan at the end of the 6th century BC. The Priestly writer’s reworking of the earlier Yahwist text, therefore, exhorts the post-exilic community now living on the promised land to return to Babylon to take wives from among their exiled kin, and not from among the indigenous Canaanites that occupied the land when they had returned from exile. So here again (see also #24, #28, #40) we see the Priestly writer “rewriting history” in order to address the concerns of the Priestly guild of the 6th century BC. Through these archaized narratives, the Priestly writer demonstrates that those who practice exogamy, like Esau, will be cut off from both the community of Yahweh’s people and the land! It is the same message that we saw the Priestly writer make with respect to his views on circumcision when he rewrote another Yahwist passage (#28).
When these two textual traditions were later stitched together, a new narrative with new interpretive questions and answers was created. In the words of David Carr, whose work I’ve often referred to:
In summary, the material in Genesis 26:34-28:9 encompasses three different pictures of the background to Jacob’s departure: a non-P [J] picture of his stealing of Isaac’s blessing and running from Esau’s wrath (Gen 27:1-45), a P-sanitized picture of Esau disqualifying himself by improper marriages and Jacob being blessed and sent to marry properly (Gen 26:34-35; 27:46-28:9), and a combined picture in which Jacob’s being sent to marry properly is but a pretext to get him away from Esau’s wrath (Gen 27:1-28:9). The distinctiveness of this combined picture of the background for Jacob’s departure from the perspective of both of its component parts is a major confirming indicator that this section was formed by joining originally separate sources.1
- David Carr, Reading the Fractures of Genesis, 88.↵