Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Strange wives, which burnt incense and sacrificed unto their gods (Gen 28)

Okay, chapter 28 has some more meat to it, although many of these questions are fairly easy to address.

First, the SAB notes as "intolerance" the fact that Isaac didn't want his son to marry a Canaanite woman. This may indeed be intolerance, but it's intolerance with a point. Even people who dislike intolerance tend to be intolerant of intolerant people. In this case, it was very likely the point that Isaac felt all of the local women were too pagan to be suitable for his sons, and was afraid these women would turn his heart from serving God. Apparently, the land of Abraham's youth is still considered a better place to get a wife, although I'm never too sure why.

Jacob goes off to his uncle Laban (Rebekah's brother) to look for a wife. This is a convoluted family tree by this time (Abraham marries his sister, Isaac marries his double-first cousin once removed, and Jacob is heading towards marrying his first cousin/double-second cousin once removed), so I had to sketch it out to track who was who and answer the question of who Laban's actual father is. It's Bethuel. Yes, the next chapter calls him the "son of Nahor", but (and I think I covered this before, but it's certainly not a little-known concept) saying that X is the son of Y is often simply a way of saying Y is an ancestor of X, not necessarily directly. Nahor is Laban's grandfather, and I'm speculating that the reason Jacob calls Laban the "son of Nahor" is that he's choosing a more prominent member of that family or perhaps accentuating the more distant relation that nonetheless is traced through only males by way of Abraham.

After Jacob is sent away, Esau gets married to yet another wife. No, this is not okay; it's wrong on numerous levels. Esau is going against his parents' wishes to marry this woman, he's already got wives, and he seems to be doing it to get some sort of reaction from his parents. As I said before, Esau is not set up as an example of good morality.

Jacob has a dream along the way, and he sees a ladder going up to Heaven, and God reiterates the promises He gave to Jacob's father and grandfather. Did this promise come true? Maybe, it depends on how you read it. He calls the place Bethel or "House of God", which he does again many chapters later. The SAB sees this as absurd, suggesting "I guess the name didn't take the first time." It's funny, because I suggested that as a slight possibility in the case of Beersheba, but here, I'm fairly sure that's exactly what happened. Sometimes it's not clear what the full details of a story are; I, like many no doubt, have a tendency to envision the patriarchs wandering lonely through the desert, but forget that they had a rich possession of livestock and servants. In this case, though, that lonely picture seems fitting. If Jacob was traveling with an entourage, would he be using a rock as a pillow? I think Jacob was traveling alone with the clothes on his back, and at this time he originally calls the place Bethel, there's nobody there. The name didn't stick, because only Jacob knew it for over a decade.

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