Monday, January 10, 2011

Genesis 32-33 Oh Brother

Jacob returns to face his brother, but not before wrestling 'a man'.
By splitting up his tribe, was Jacob showing doubt in God?  Was the wrestling a metaphor for wrestling with his faith?

This is one of my favorite reading so far.  As literature, it has  great drama and a nice message of forgiveness at the end.

Does the end of chapter 33 represent the establishment of the land of Israel?


  1. That was really a bit weird - family leaves, and so for the rest of the night just to fill in the time, Jacob wrestles 'a man'??? And the omnipotent 'man' is getting beaten by Jacob so has to cheat to win by knobbling Jacob's leg?

  2. Does the end of chapter 33 represent the establishment of the land of Israel?

    I don't think so; it's a bit early for that. Remember, in the Israelite mythos, Israel is the "promised land". It's promised to them while they're slaves in Egypt and then later they take it. That doesn't happen until the book of Joshua. Until then, it's just Canaan. Jacob's actions seem to just explain the name of a town and the origin of an obscure altar. (Shechem itself had a major Baal/El temple site, perhaps it's a reference to that?)

    I was always foggy on how Genesis could take place in Canaan when the characters didn't yet "own" their promised land. I guess they're all portrayed as nomadic, and much of the story is set in Mesopotamia and Egypt. (Two sites of Israelite exodus after 586 BCE, coincidentally enough.)

    I had more to say about Shechem, but only because I read the passage wrong. Oops.

  3. @Dave

    It struck me as odd also. I'm reading along. Jacob sends his family away to protect them from Esau and then *Bam!* there's a wrestling match going on. Wait .... what?! He's wrestling god? and it's a draw? (at least up until the hip dislocation part)

    I guess it's an analogy to wrestling with his faith. It seems that this god in Genesis is far more anthropomorphous than what we think of as god today. He can be argued with, his mind can be changed and in a wrestling match, well - he can be bested or nearly so. And Jacob's limp I suppose is a reminder of his brief waver of faith. (physical ailments? - why that's a sign of your lack of faith in god!)


    I agree with your take on Esau. He's gracious and forgiving when he has every right not to be. I like him too!

  4. I remain fascinated at how children can be "his children" or "her children" depending on what's going on. In Gen. 33:2, suddenly the kids are divided up according to which mother they had.

    (I remember reading somewhere that this order had something to do with how much Jacob liked their mothers - Leah and Rachel are in back for protection?)

  5. Is this another case where thigh is a euphemism for testicles? Did God win the wrestling match by grabbing Jacob's balls?

  6. @David: Esau is clearly way more forgiving than Jacob is expecting, giving his careful preparation for the meeting.

    @esdras: The patriarchs' movement mirroring that of Israelites in the 6th century BCE fits into the hypothesis that an important function of the patriarch narrative was to address the concerns and answer the questions of Israelites at the times of its being set down in writing (such as the kingship and exile periods). Why are we living in the Canaanites' land? How are we one people if we descend from different tribes? Why are we all of a sudden cool with these neighboring tribes we used to hate? Why are our leaders being sent to Babylon? Well, that's the way it's supposed to be and that's the way it has essentially always been. Our ancestors did all this stuff before us and it was guided by Yahweh.

    I've heard that the touching the hip thing is supposedly a mythological explanation for a particular kosher butchering practice and a certain piece of meat that is not eaten according to kosher law.

  7. @Dave & @David
    Can you look at the match this way. God allows you to prove Him (Malachi 3:10-12). He created man to have relationship with him (Father/Son,Daughter). What kind of relationship would it be if man could not question God?
    Jacob wrestled with God, God let Jacob keep fighting, this could be to seen as how dedicated Jacob is to Him (2 Kings 13:17-19). Yet then it's time to go, God shows Jacob, and the rest of us reading this, this only went so long because i refrained my power from you. "so has to cheat to win" God did not cheat, it was in His ability at the start of the match to do this to Jacob.
    "(physical ailments? - why that's a sign of your lack of faith in god!"
    No that's a sign of i came face to face with God and He let me live to tell about it. (Acts 9:3-19)
    God is the same forever, just our presuppositions about Him are sometimes wrong. (Malachi 3:6, Hebrews 13:8).

  8. As we read through this, I'm definitely seeing different voices come through, and I understand why the documentary hypothesis is so appealing.

    The verse that struck me this time was Gen 32:32 "Therefore to this day the Israelites do not eat the tendon attached to the socket of the hip, because the socket of Jacob’s hip was touched near the tendon." It doesn't flow with the rest of the narrative, and is definitely a newer bit added in. If it was written at or near the time of the event (which I don't think anyone claims, but still) it wouldn't make sense to have a "to this day" in there.

  9. I think the documentary hypothesis is pretty much out of favor these days, especially among conservative biblical scholars. Think of it as a fad of modernism. For a truly great perspective on the documentary hypothesis, go to the following link. Give it at least three minutes before moving on. :-)

  10. @Valerie
    Moses wrote Genesis, so from Israel to him over 400 years have passed. And in that 400 years the people of Israel observed this custom. Here it is being put into context as to why they don't eat the tendon attached to the socket of the hip.

  11. @Valerie
    I should have given some references, sorry i was on my way out the door. Genesis 15:13; Acts 7:6-8

  12. @Valerie: Good catch. These little "to this day" lines are interesting. I went back and found the same (translated) wording in lines explaining the name of the city of Beersheba (26:33), the mountain Jehovahjireh (22:14), and the Moabites and Ammonites (19:37-38). It's cool to see these mini etiology stories for details like names of places and people groups woven into the greater narrative by which the Israelites understand their identity as a people.

  13. @esdras: The patriarchs' movement mirroring that of Israelites in the 6th century BCE

    I considered this, but not sure what to make of it, since the sources regarding the patriarchs seem to be older than 6th century. Still, you can quibble over all the dates to a certain extent.

    I think the documentary hypothesis is pretty much out of favor these days, especially among conservative biblical scholars

    I doubt the documentary hypothesis was EVER in favor with conservative biblical scholars. It kind of contradicts everything they believe in.

    I don't put much stock in declarations than the Documentary Hypothesis is old and moldy and nobody likes it any more. The basic fact that the Torah is composed from various sources is indisputable. Please, quibble over the details (the fact that P's dating wildly varies is proof the kinks aren't worked out) but declaring it moribund is baseless.

    Moses wrote Genesis

    That's a ridiculous claim, completely unsupported by any evidence.

  14. A comment on the Pooh link (which looks like a hoot) is very apropo:

    It’s pretty obvious even on the surface that Kings and Chronicles used sources, and there’s no way to deny common source materials in the gospels and the chapters Isaiah shares with Micah and Kings. So I’ve got nothing against this in principle.

    To this I'll add: the fact that the Bible (including the Torah) occasionally cites an outside source- which it then quotes. (e.g. The Book of the Upright)

    The commonalities between Kings and Chronicles (something I haven't really looked into yet, VERY eager to) is proof positive that sources were used in the creation of the Bible.

  15. I've read that "Israel" can be translated as "he struggles", reflecting the struggle jacob had with God, and therefore his name change. Good metaphor for any person working out a relationship with faith and god.

  16. Moses wrote Genesis

    That's a ridiculous claim, completely unsupported by any evidence.

    Yeah, except for Ex. 17:14; 24:4; Num. 33:1-2; Deut. 31:9; Josh. 1:8; Josh 8:31; 1 Kings 2:3; 2 Kings 14:6; 2 Kings 21:8; Ezra 6:18; Neh 13:1; Dan. 9:11, 13; Mal. 4:4; Matt. 8:4; Mark 12:26; Luke 16:29; 24:27, 44; John 5:46; 7:22; Acts 15:1; Rom. 10:19; 1 Cor. 9:9; 2 Cor. 3:15...oh yeah, and the entirety of Jewish rabbinical tradition.

    Other than that it really is a ridiculous and unsupported claim.

    In Christ,