Genesis 36: Another Genealogy

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Fair warning, this is going to be another dreadfully boring chapter.

Before I get into this horrendously long list of names, I just want to point out an issue with Genesis 36:31, where the authors write: “These are the kings who reigned in the land of Edom, before any king reigned over the Israelites.” Now, tradition has it that Moses is the author of Genesis, and yet Moses died before the Israelite monarchy was established. As John Collins points out (A Short Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, p.28-29), passages such as this prove that the Mosaic origin of the Torah is “problematic.”

The descendants of Esau

We’re told again about the wives of Esau:

  • Adah, daughter of Elon the Hittite
  • Aholibamah, daughter of Anah, daughter of Zibeon the Hivite
  • Bashemath, daughter of Ishmael and sister of Nebajoth

If you remember back from Genesis 26, we’re told that Bashemath was the daughter of Elon the Hittite, not Ishmael. And in Genesis 28, we’re told that he marries Ishmael’s daughter Mahalath, who doesn’t appear in this list at all. Speaking of disappearing women, Esau’s second wife listed in Genesis 26 is Judith,  daughter of Beeri the Hittite. Where’s she?

Esau also has a bunch of kids. Here are the kids, listed by their moms:

  • Adah’s children: Eliphaz.
  • Bashemath’s children: Reuel.
  • Aholibamah’s children: Jeush, Jaalam, and Korah.

In Genesis 36:6, we get a nice long list of Esau’s possessions, and we’re told that he had to leave with them  to live in the hill country of Seir. The reason is that he and Jacob both have too many possessions, so they can’t both occupy the same land. This is the same reason that forced Abraham and Lot apart back in Genesis 13. Once again, the Bible puts concerns over wealth ahead of family.

Just in case you didn’t get it the first time, the children a listed a second time before we can get into their sons.

  • Sons of Eliphaz: Teman, Omar, Zepho, Gatam, and Kenaz.
  • Son of Eliphaz by his concubine, Timna: Amalek.
  • Sons of Reuel: Nahath, Zerah, Shammah, and Mizzah.

Now we get to hear the whole genealogy again, but this time all the names have the title of “chief.” Seriously, most boring chapter evar.

Children of Seir the Horite

Now we get a genealogy for Seir the Horite!

  • Sons: Lotan, Shobal, Zibeon, Anah Dishon, Ezer, and Dishan. They are all named as “chiefs” (or “dukes,” if you’re reading the King James) of the Horites.
  • Daughter: Timna.

And on to Seir’s grandchildren:

  • Children of Lotan: Hori and Hemam.
  • Children of Shobal: Alvan, Manahath, Ebal, Shepho, and Onam.
  • Children of Zibeon: Ajah and Anah. We are also told that this Anah is the one who found mules in the wilderness while he was out feeding his father’s asses (Gen. 36:24). That’s quite a distinguishing accomplishment! Another note on Anah: S/he is listed as male here, but as female in Genesis 36:2, 14 (although my RSV corrects this to “son of Zibeon” with a note at the bottom, in teensy-tiny font, saying that the Hebrew says “daughter of Zibeon”).
  • Children of Anah: Dishon and Aholibamah (this latter is a daughter).
  • Children of Dishon: Hemdan, Eshban, Ithran, and Cheran.
  • Children of Ezer: Bilhan, Zaavan, and Akan.
  • Children of Dishan: Uz and Aran.

The kings of Edom

Now we get to read about a succession of kings. Brace yourselves.

  1. Bela, son of Beor. His city was Dinhabah.
  2. Jobab, son of Zerah of Bozrah.
  3. Hasham of the land of Temani.
  4. Hadad, son of Bedad, who smote Midian in the field of Moab. (It’s unknown if this is the same Midian who is the son of Abraham, seen in Genesis 25. Either way, it’s a better distinguishing factor than having found a bunch of mules.) The name of his city is Avith.
  5. Samlah of Masrekah.
  6. Saul of Rehoboth.
  7. Baalhanan, son of Achbor.
  8. Hadar. The name of his city is Pau. His wife’s name is Mehetabel, daughter of Matred, daughter of Mezahab.

Conclusion

To conclude the chapter, we’re told that the following chiefs/dukes come from Esau: Timnah, Alvah, Jetheth, Aholibamah, Elah, Pinon, Kenaz, Teman, Mibzar, Magdiel, and Iram, and that Esau is the father of the Edomites.

Phew, we made it! The next one has a plot, I promise!

Genesis 28: A Dash of Xenophobia

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Our story actually begins with Genesis 27:46. This is one of those places where the chapter break is really weird. I once heard a story that the person who was dividing the Bible up into chapters and verses was a very busy man and had to travel a lot, so he got some of his work done while on horseback. The weird divisions are there because every so often the horse would bump him and his pen would slip!

So there’s another little “Just So” myth for you.

Xenophobia

Back at the end of Chapter 26, we were told that Esau married two Hittite (that is, Canaanite) women, and that “they made life bitter for Isaac and Rebekah” (Gen. 26:34). I commented at the time that this passage was presented without any context, so that the reader is not told why these women made life “bitter” for their in-laws.

Now we get to find out, and the reason is good ol’ fashioned hatred.

Rebekah goes to Isaac and complains that she’s “weary” of her life because Esau’s married some Hittite women. “If Jacob marries one of the Hittite women such as these, one of the women of the land, what good will my life be to me?” (Gen. 27:46). Bit dramatic, really.

Isaac’s response is to send Jacob back to Rebekah’s homeland, so that he can marry one of Laban’s daughters.

This is clearly from a different tradition than Chapter 27. My guess would be that both communities shared a story in which Jacob was in Haran, so both came up with separate stories to get him there. In Chapter 27, he escapes the wrath of Esau after stealing his blessing. In this one, he’s travelling to find a bride.

Esau overhears that his parents are upset that he’s married Canaanite women, so he takes one of Ishmael’s daughters, Mahalath, as a third wife. At this point, I feel the need to remind everyone once again that traditional/biblical marriage is clearly not between one man and one woman. The people who claim that it is are just talking out of unusual orifices.

Jacob’s dream

Jacob's Dream by William Blake c.1805

Jacob’s Dream by William Blake c.1805

On his way to Haran, Jacob stops for the night. He uses a stone for a pillow and goes to sleep. That night, he dreamed that there was a ladder that reached up to heaven, and he could see the angels of God going up and down on it.

God speaks to Jacob, introducing himself as the god of Abraham and Isaac. He then goes into that incredibly tiresome list of all the stuff he’s going to give to this family (which they’re still waiting for). For those of you keeping score at home, this is the sixth time we’ve heard this promise!  (Chapters 13, 15, 17, 22, and 26.)

When Jacob wakes up, he stands the stone he had been sleeping on and pours oil over it (which makes me think of the Shiva Linga and giggle). With his rock well oiled, he decides to rename the place Bethel. Of course, it was already named Bethel when Abraham was there in Genesis 12:8 and 13:3, but never mind. We’ll humour Jacob.

Amusingly, we’re told that prior to Jacob’s renaming, “the name of the city was Luz” (Gen. 28:19). One can only wonder what the citizens of Luz thought of this weird guy who uses rocks as pillows and tells them that their city’s just been renamed because of a dream he’s had.

There’s certain things that people can only get away with in the Bible.

Anyways, Jacob vows that if God takes care of him, giving him bread to eat and clothes to wear, and gets him back to Beersheba safely, he’ll become his god.We also get the origin of tithing – part of the vow is that Jacob will give a tenth of everything God gives him back to God.

The god of this place

“Surely the Lord is in this place; and I did not know it” (Gen. 28:16).

In ancient times, gods were frequently associated with particular places. A traveller would often worship the local gods rather than his own in the belief that his own were too far away to hear. Rather than simply living in “the sky” like the Abrahamic god, they lived on the tops of certain mountains (Olympus), for example.

But the Abrahamic god is, instead, associated more with a bloodline than a specific place. He has places, of course, such as Mount Sinai, or Bethel. But he lives in the generic “sky.”

I’m not surprised that this form of deity emerged from a semi-nomadic culture – and if we accept the date of the Old Testament’s authorship (or at least, the bulk of its compilation) as being close to the Babylonian Exile, it makes even more sense. A people severed from their land doesn’t get much value from a deity who is overly location-specific. The Abrahamic god has to be able to travel.

Genesis 25: Jacob takes his brother by the heel

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The first bit of this chapter is just another genealogy. Sorry.

Abraham takes another wife, named Keturah, and has a bunch of kids with her.

  • Keturah’s kids: Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak, and Shuah.
  • Jokshan’s kids: Sheba and Dedan.
  • Dedan’s sons: Asshurim, Letushim, and Leummim.
  • Midian’s sons: Ephah, Epher, Hanoch, Abidah, and Eldaah.

Abraham gives all his possessions to Isaac (remember, it’s very important that we keep track of those possessions! Reading the Old Testament makes me feel like an accountant…). But don’t worry, he isn’t completely abandoning all those other kids he’s fathered! He’s making it up to them by giving them gifts! Yay!

By the way, it says “but to the sons of his concubines Abraham gave gifts” (Gen. 25:6). Concubines? Plural? Does Keturah count? If not, it would seem that her kids get nothing. So I’ll assume that she’s just being counted as a concubine. But that’s still only one. Does Hagar count?

Anyways, so he gives these sons some gifts, which is good. But then he “sent them away from his son Isaac, eastward to the east country” (Gen. 25:6). Abraham has a habit of abandoning his kids. I’m just hoping that his “gifts” were a little more than some bread and a skin of water this time…

Abraham lives 175 years before kicking the metaphorical bucket (poor bucket – gets kicked by absolutely everyone!). His sons, Isaac and Ishmael bury him in the cave of Machpelah, which Abraham purchased in Chapter 23, so that he can be next to Sarah. Aaaw.

It’s a bit sad that Ishmael would come back to bury his father after the way he’d been treated. There’s also no mention of an awkward reunion with Isaac, which you’d think would be inevitable considering… One also has to wonder where Abraham’s other kids are. Ishmael came back, why didn’t they?

Anyhoos, Isaac lives by a well called Lahairoi. And that’s enough of that. Now we get to hear about Ishmael’s genealogy!

  • Ishmael’s sons (by birth order): Nebajoth, Kedar, Adbeel, Mibsam, Mishma, Dumah, Massa, Hadar, Tema, Jetur, Naphish, and Kedemah.

These guys each father their own tribe, so that the Ishmaelites (who are the proto-Arabs, by the way) get twelve tribes just like the Israelites will be getting later on.

Ishmael lives 137 years. Then he, too, kicks that poor abused bucket.

Jacob and Esau

Birth of Esau and Jacob as an example of twin's fate against the arguments of astrology by Francois Maitre, c.1475-1480

Birth of Esau and Jacob as an example of twin’s fate against the arguments of astrology by Francois Maitre, c.1475-1480

So back when Isaac was a young buck of 40 years, he married Rebekah. But she, like his mom, turned out to be barren (only women can be barren, apparently). Isaac prays and, after twenty years, God answers him because this is going to be a pretty short book if Isaac doesn’t have any kids. And, as is the pattern so far, whenever God causes a barren woman to conceive, the kids are male. Why bother with the effort of a miracle if we’re just going to be making girl babies?

But now, Rebekah is not only pregnant, but she’s pregnant with twins! As commonly occurs for barren women who either pursue in-vitro or are characters in myths.

All is not well with Rebekah’s womb, however. Her twins hate each other so much that they’ve already started to fight. So Rebekah goes to God and asks him why this is happening. God tells her that she has two nations in her womb (yikes!) and that “one shall be stronger than the other, the elder shall serve the younger” (Gen. 25:23). Wuh? How is that possible? Inheritance laws would never allow such a thing!

Well, Rebekah finally gives birth and the first baby is red and hairy and they name him Esau (he stands in for the Edomites). The second baby comes out with his hand grabbing Esau’s heel, so they name him Jacob. Taking by the heel apparently means supplanting someone, so it’s all very forshadowy when they name him Jacob, which can mean “he takes by the heel” or “he supplants.” Cue dramatic music.

Esau turns out to be a great hunter, while Jacob is quiet and likes to stay closer to home (this apparently symbolises the epic struggle between hunters and shepherds).

Isaac, ever the pragmatic one, likes Esau better because he brings home the bacon. Rebekah, on the other hand, likes Jacob better – presumably because he hangs out close to home and is a bit of a momma’s boy.

But for all of Esau’s strength, Jacob gets the brains of his family. So one day, as he’s sitting around at home making dinner, Esau comes in starving and asks for some food. Jacob, ever the sly one, says that he can have dinner, but only if he sells his birthright in exchange. Esau agrees and BAM! God’s prediction about the elder serving the younger comes to pass.