Jacob

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Genesis shows sympathy towards Edom and Seth's children, rehabilitates, and enhances them, while making them the object of sarcasm in the traits of Esau, presented as a wild simpleton, victim of Jacob's cunning. The patriarch must face the ancestor of the Sethites, that is, Abel, whom the first book of the Bible has framed in a precise context, that of the primordial heroes, as the unfortunate brother of Cain is a restless inhabitant of the underworld. Jacob is the usurper, the second son, who has just been born and announces his life plan: "Then his brother came out, his hand grasping Esau’s heel, and they called his name Jacob." (Gn 25:26 [Alter]). This will be confirmed by swindling Esau out of his primogeniture with a plate of red lentils (25:33). However, the patriarch is careful not to unleash the wrath of his fierce brother – surrounded by his 400 men (33:1) – and stuns him with a procession of gifts, his captatio benevolentiae. The move succeeds, in the end: both family members and herds pass through the ford unscathed, but in the night, Jacob must pay the fee to an apparitional Abel, ancestor of the "sons of the snake", the Sethites. Jacob then imposes himself as the usurper, who gains his title on the field, competing in cunning with his eldest brother, but despite having won, he must obtain the definitive approval from Abel, the eponymous of all usurpers, delivered to the underworld, which is accessed through a mythical river. Probably Jabbok got this fame because of the proximity to the city of Abel-Shittim ("acacia meadow", אָבֵל שִׁטִּים) (Nm 33:49), which is bent through an easy paronomasia to mean הֶבֶל שֵׁתִים (="Abel of the Sethites"?). There is one final aspect of the issue that we must address. The reconciliation between Jacob and Esau is both exemplary and definitive from the point of view of the ideology deployed in Genesis, because it solves the original contrast between the Cainites and the Sethites, but, more importantly, brings to light the Anatolian matrix of that conflict, because the twins fighting in Rebecca's womb play the same roles described in the chapter three of Genesis about "the woman's seed" and "the snake’s seed". The steps leading to reconciliation are reminiscent of an Anatolian tradition: the toponym "Mahanaim" should come from Lycian mahana- "god" (DLL 36, s.v. maha(na)-) and the symbol of the staircase leading to the sky, should stage the meaning of a Luwian hieroglyphic which is used to puts wings to Jacob, equating him with a heavenly knight, such as Bellerophon, the Lycian hero par excellence. When Jacob can admire the angels rising and descending from heaven, it happens only in a dream: "a ladder rested on the earth, while its summit reached the sky; and here are the angels of God rising and descending upon it" (28:12 [Alter]; Peleg 2004 [1]). This scene can make fuller sense within an Anatolian context, in which the ladder represents the solar god (Taş & Weeden 2010 [2]: 356-357) or can be compared to a Luwian hieroglyph representing the chariot-driver: "A logogram (*92) which consists of a foot with a ladder, or something similar, on top of a pair of wheels. Elsewhere this sign used to determine the verb za-la-la-, which is likely to be related to Hitt.-Luw. zalla-/zalliya- ‘‘to gallop’’. It is difficult not to understand this as ‘charioteer’ or ‘chariot-rider’" (Weeden 2010 [3]: 50). Bellerophon is the Corinthian hero adopted by the Lycians, famous for riding Pegasus – who despite being counted among "the children born to mortals from gods" (Euripides, Ion, 506-507; D'Alfonso 2008), fails in the intent to reach Olympus. In other words, Jacob emulates the enterprises of the Cainites, of the woman's seed, for this reason – as I will discuss in the entry "Israel" – he deserves an honorific name of Lycian origin. At the moment, an overlooked detail is worth some attention and it comes from an invocation to Marduk, with which begins a very important text of Babylonian literature, the Poem of the Righteous Sufferer (Annus & Lenzi 2010 [4]; Annus & Lenzi 2011 [5]), in which a reason that was to be well known is repeated: "raging at night, relenting by day" (George & Al-Rawi [6]: 194; Lenzi 2012 [7]: 41; Horowitz & Lambert 2002 [8]: 244; Moran 1983 [9]: 256-257). A very timely description of Jacob's mysterious antagonist, may be unveiled through an easy paronomasia between Abel’s name ha–bel, "the lord", that is Marduk. I think a decisive confirmation comes from the remark that the god, among the stars, is identified with Neberu, "the ford" (Schott 1936 [10]; Koch 1991 [11]; Horowitz 1998 [12]: 115-116, 159, 161-162; Rochberg 2007 [13]: 435; Verderame 2010 [14]; Freedman 2015 [15]), considered that within Jewish culture the idea of planetary demons is welcome, including Jupiter-Marduk, charged with overseeing the North (Toepel 2005 [16]).

Originally Published: April 24, 2021

Last Updated: April 28, 2021


1.   Peleg, Y.I., Going Up and Going Down: A Key to Interpreting Jacob’s Dream (Gen 28, 10–22). 2004.

2.   Taş, İ. and M. Weeden, A stele of Prince Anaziti in the Yozgat Museum. Journal of the American Oriental Society, 2010. 130(3): p. 349-359.

3.   Weeden, M., Tuwati and Wasusarma: Imitating the behaviour of Assyria. Iraq, 2010. 72: p. 39-61.

4.   Annus, A. and A. Lenzi, Ludlul bel nemeqi. The standard Babylonian poem of the righteous sufferer. 2010, Helsinki; Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns.

5.   Lenzi, A. and A. Annus, A Six-Column Babylonian Tablet of Ludlul Bēl Nēmegi and the Reconstruction of Tablet IV. Journal of Near Eastern Studies, 2011. 70(2): p. 181-205.

6.   George, A.R. and F.N. Al-Rawi, Tablets from the Sippar Library. VII. Three wisdom texts. Iraq, 1998. 60: p. 187-206.

7.   Lenzi, A., The curious case of failed revelation in Ludlul Bel Nemeqi. A new suggestion for the poem’s scholarly purpose. Between heaven and earth. Communication with the divine in the ancient Near East. London, 2012: p. 36-66.

8.   Horowitz, W. and W.G. Lambert, A new exemplar of Ludlul bēl nēmeqi Tablet I from Birmingham 1. Iraq, 2002. 64: p. 237-245.

9.   Moran, W.L., Notes on the Hymn to Marduk in Ludlul bēl nēmeqi. Journal of the American Oriental Society, 1983: p. 255-260.

10.   Schott, A., Marduk und sein Stern. Zeitschrift für Assyriologie und Vorderasiatische Archäologie, 1936. 43(1-4): p. 124-145.

11.   Koch, J., Der Mardukstern Nēberu. Die Welt des Orients, 1991. 22: p. 48-72.

12.   Horowitz, W., Mesopotamian cosmic geography. 1998, Winona Lake, Indiana: Eisenbrauns.

13.   Rochberg, F., Marduk in Heaven. Wiener Zeitschrift für die Kunde des Morgenlandes, 2007. 97: p. 433-442.

14.   Verderame, L., Il pianeta Giove nella tradizione mesopotamica. Rivista degli studi orientali, 2010: p. 443-452.

15.   Freedman, I., The Marduk Star Nēbiru. Cuneiform Digital Library Bulletin, 2015: p. 3.

16.   Toepel, A., Planetary Demons in Early Jewish Literature. Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha, 2005. 14(3): p. 231-238.