Re: Jacob--again: Was Evolution etc.

From: Robert Schneider (
Date: Thu Dec 05 2002 - 11:11:35 EST

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    In my reply to Rich, below, I neglected to focus on an important feature =
    of the oracle to Rebbekah in Gen. 25:23. Here is it in full, in Alter's =

         Two nations--in your womb,
           two peoples from your loins shall issue.
         People other people shall prevail, =20
           the elder, the younger's slave.

    Let me comment briefly on it. Augustine's interpretation that this =
    oracle refers to Israel's subsequent hegemony over its neighbor Edom, =
    with which it was often in conflict, makes the most sense and is =
    commonly accepted, whether one interprets it proleptically or as a =
    prophecy, for it explicitly refers to the peoples who descend from each =
    brother; thus the geneology of Esau in chap. 36 assumes an importance =
    because of this subsequent history. That is why the translation of the =
    last line that Rich defends is the usual and accepted one. But this =
    text, it seems to me, is multivalent. On the level of the two sons of =
    Isaac and Rebbekah, the ambiguity of meaning I noted earler makes more =
    sense, as the subsequent stories of these two brothers illustrates.

    Bob Schneider

    ----- Original Message -----=20
       From: Robert Schneider=20
       Sent: Thursday, December 05, 2002 8:49 AM
       Subject: Re: Jacob: Was Evolution & Identity of the ID designer

       In reply to my note Rich writes:

       St. Augustine disagrees with your translation:=20

       "That saying, "The elder shall serve the younger", is understood by =
    our writers, almost without exception, to mean that the elder people, =
    the Jews, shall serve the younger people, the Christians. And truly, =
    although this might seem to be fulfilled in the Idumean nation, which =
    was born of the elder (who had two names, being called both Esau and =
    Edom, whence the name Idumeans), because it was afterwards to be =
    overcome by the people which sprang from the younger, that is, by the =
    Israelites, and was to become subject to them; yet it is more suitable =
    to believe that, when it was said, "The one people shall overcome the =
    other people, and the elder shall serve the younger," that prophecy =
    meant some greater thing; and what is that except what is evidently =
    fulfilled in the Jews and in the Christians? [...] He [Christ] is the =
    Lord of His brethren, because His people rules over the Jews." =20
       (The City of God, XVI:35, 37)=20

       Could it be that my interpretation of 'the elder shall serve the =
    younger' is correct and that historical context such as this =
    interpretation from Augustine supports me in this regard? Augustine also =
    remarks that 'our writers, almost without exception' interpret the lines =
    the way he does and I do.=20


       Bob's comment:

           This translation is not mine but Richard Elliot Friedman's, in his =
    reading of Genesis, and it is discussed positively by Robert Alter, an =
    expert in Hebrew and on Genesis, in the notes to his superb translation, =
    _Genesis_ [W. W. Norton, 1996]). Furthermoe, Augustine did not read =
    Hebrew, and relied on the Old Latin translation for his text. The OL is =
    based on the Grk. Septuagint translation, and not the Hebrew. The =
    interpretation by Augustine is an allegorical one, and in my view it has =
    the same value as the interpretation of the rabbis in Midrash Genesis =
    Rabbah; they suggested that God favored Jacob because he was a "dweller =
    in tents," meaning, they said, that instead of running around and =
    getting into trouble like Esau, he spent his time in Torah school! When =
    you interpret a text allegorically, you can make it mean anything you =
    want. And, I repeat my previous question: Where in the story does Esau =
    in fact serve Jacob? It is not clear that he ever "becomes subject" to =
    his older brother. Augustine's interpretation is not only allegorical, =
    it seems hardly grounded in the text as it is. He is reading a =
    Christian triumphalist view regarding the Jews back into this ancient =
    text; that he claims his interpretation is supported by other =
    interpreters gives it no value in itself.

       In an previous note Rich also writes:

       Even Isaac refuses to grant esau the birthright and his blessing to =
    esau is a form of curse "your
       dwelling shall be far from the richness of the earth."

           Isaac doesn't grant Esau the birthright for the reason I've =
    already stated. Yet when Jacob finally faces the music with his brother =
    (Gen. 33) he finds that Esau has done very well, indeed--hardly deprived =
    of "the riches of the earth." He is a wealthy man with a large family, =
    some 400 retainers, flocks; he has done at least as well as Jacob, and =
    when Jacob offers him substantial gifts, he says, "No brother, I have =
    much, keep what you have." If this was a curse, it certainly was not =
    fulfilled in the long run.

           I don't wish to overwork this text, but my point still remains: =
    we should carefully read the text and see what it really says, and not =
    impose our own meanings upon it; that is eisegesis, not exegesis.

       Bob Schneider

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