Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Jacob's Journeys

Alice C. Linsley

The biblical record of Jacob's journeys to and from Haran (Padan-aram) reveal a fascinating parallelism that suggests that these accounts have been carefully crafted. For example, both departures represent reactions to the anger of brothers. Jacob flees from Canaan for fear of his brother Esau and he later flees from Padan-aram for fear of his wives' brothers (Gen. 31:1, 2). Consider the following:

Departure from Canaan
  • Departure is precipitated by threat of violence from Jacob's brother
  • Jacob's mother and father deliberate with him about the best course of action
  • Departure is urgent, but well provisioned. In Genesis 32, Jacob says that he left Canaan with only his staff, but this is clearly hyperbole because in Genesis 28 we find that he has oil to anoint the pillar that he set up at Beth-el. His mother would have made sure that her favorite son was well provisioned before his journey. 
  • Another motive for Jacob's departure to Haran is marriage.  A proper marriage would be to a half-sister and/or a patrilineal cousin or niece. Rachel and Leah fit the requirement.
  • Isaac prays that God would make Jacob to become a "company of peoples" (Gen. 29:3 NAS).
  • On the way to Padan-aram Jacob covenants with God and sets up a stone pillar which he anoints with oil (Gen. 28:18).
  • Jacob is fearful of his reception in Padan-aram, but he arrives safely and is well received at the well where he meets Rachel, his future wife (Gen. 29:2-11).
Departure from Padan-aram
  • Departure is precipitated by the animosity of Rachel and Leah's brothers and Laban's change of attitude toward Jacob (Gen. 31:1, 2)
  • Jacob deliberated with his wives about the best course of action
  • Departure is urgent, but well provisioned. Jacob and his wives made sure that they had sufficient provisions for both wives' households/companies before the journey.
  • Another motive for Jacob's return to Canaan is his desire to keep his 2 wives (Gen. 31:31).
  • Jacob returns to Canaan with 2 companies or 2 households (Hebrew: mahanaim), the camp of Rachel and the camp of Leah.
  • On the way to Canaan Jacob and Laban form a covenant and set up stone pillars (Gen. 31:44-46).
  • Jacob is fearful of his reception in Canaan, but he and his 2 companies arrrive safely and are well received by his brother Esau.
The parallelism between Jacob's journeys is striking and invites us to further explore a possible parallel between the two events that don't appear to be connected: Jacob's dream of the ladder and Rachel's confiscation of the Teraphim.  We will now turn to the intriguing question of whether these represent parallel cosmological views.

Teraphim were ancestor statues that belonged to the great Afro-Asiatic kingdom builder Terah. Terah was the father of Haran, Nahor and Abraham. Ancestor statues or figurines are still used in traditional African religions. The ancestor figurines were are not worshiped, but were venerated as they represented great ruler-priests who were expected to intercede for their people after death. This is like the veneration shown by Christians to saints and martyrs to whom they turn for intercessions.[1]

The word Teraphim is usually rendered "images" or "idols" but the word actually means the things pertaining to Terah. The confusion is due to the appearance of the word in 1 Samuel 19:13 where we read that "Michal took the Teraphim and laid it on the bed, and put a quilt of goats' hair at its head, and covered it with clothes." She was attempting to make a decoy for David's sleeping body, so it is clear that this reference is not speaking of a small ancestor figurine such as Rachel was able to hide in a saddle.

The Teraphim and the ladder in Jacob's dream speak of a henotheistic worldview, that is, belief in a creator God supreme over all things who is assisted by lesser powers (baals), dieties, spirits or angels. These lesser powers do not act independently of God's sovereign will. In this view when good or evil comes upon a person it is because God has allowed it. This explains why there is often lack of precision about identifying angels and the spirits of the righteous (deified) dead in the Bible.[2] Both were seen as messengers or agents who could move between Heaven and Earth. 

So it appears that Jacob's ladder and Rachel's teraphim are part of the carefully crafted journey narratives and that Jacob's going to Haran and his return to Canaan are perfectly parallel.

1. There is a darker side to ancestor veneration, observed today in Africa and experienced by St. Paul in Philippi (Acts 16:16-18), where demons are invoked and false prophets declare through demon possession.

2.  In Acts 12, Peter is delivered from prison by an angel.  He knocks at the door where the faithful are gathered and Rhoda tells the gathered that Peter is at the door, but they say that she must have seen Peter's angel.


Unknown said...

Hi alice, can I ask u a qns that's not related to the topic of this post ?
In Gen 28:5-6, Jacob lay claim that Joseph's son ephraim and Manasseh was his just as Reuben and Simeon was his.
Why did he want to claim those 2 Joseph's son to be his ?

Alice C. Linsley said...

That is a very good question!

This appears to be an attempt to bring all the clans under one banner. That is a fiction, however.

Jacob comes to be named "Israel" and it appears to be the writer's intention to suggest that all the Hebrew clans came under the label "Israelites" when they left Egypt. Not all Hebrews left Egypt, however. Some of the Horite Hebrew (Habiru) were deeply rooted there and had high positions.

In Genesis 28, Jacob pledges this: "The LORD will be my God" which is literally "YHWH will be my Elohim." This too appears to be an attempt to unite all the clans, both those who called God YHWH (as was the case with the Nilotic Hebrew) and those who called God Elohim, which was more common among the Hebrew of Canaan and Syria. The word El is the singular form for God in Aramaic The language spoken by Jesus), paleo-Hebrew, and Ugaritic. References to YHWH have been found in ancient Nubia and at the temple of Soleb (Sulb), located on the left bank of the Nile just south of the Third Cataract. This was built around 1400 BC.

I Genesis 24:7, Abraham recognizes "YHWH Elohim" as the one who called him out of Mesopotamia. All this taken together indicates that the Hebrew clans had more than one name for the Creator, and they would have known the name "Ra" also.

So now to the question you have asked...

Manasseh was the older son of Joseph and Asenath, daughter of a priest of On (iunu - place of pillars), a Horite Hebrew shrine city on the Nile. Before his death Jacob exercised his patriarchal prerogative to claim Manasseh and Ephraim as equal with his own sons (Genesis 48:5). The tribe of Manasseh is the only tribe that settled on both sides of the Jordan River. So this again appears to be an attempt to bring all the Hebrew clans under one umbrella.

Unknown said...

Thank you for the explanation.