Alice C. Linsley
Genesis 25:22-26: The children struggled together within her. She said, “If it be so, why do I live?” She went to inquire of Yahweh.
Yahweh said to her, “Two nations are in your womb. Two peoples will be separated from your body. The one people will be stronger than the other people. The elder will serve the younger.”
When her days to be delivered were fulfilled, behold, there were twins in her womb.
The first came out red all over, like a hairy garment. They named him Esau.
After that, his brother came out, and his hand had hold on Esau’s heel. He was named Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when she bore them.
A Nigerian reader has this to say: “Yorubas have the highest twinning rates in the world and the second child (named Kehinde) to be delivered is always regarded as the senior while the first (named Taiye or Taiwo) is regarded as second in seniority. Twins and multiple births in general have long been revered by the Yorubas as recorded in the Ifa literary corpus. Ifa literature says a lot about the first becoming last and vice versa.”
Yemi Tom’s explanation about twins and Yoruba custom is very interesting and helpful. Here again we find evidence for an African context behind the Genesis material. I personally don't take issue with the idea that Jacob and Esau were the twin sons of Isaac. That is what the text indicates. That said, it is important to investigate other the possible explanations.
Possibility One: Heteropaternal superfecundation
The Hebrew word for twins is תְאוֹמִים, te-o-mim. There are two sets of twins in the Bible, both mentioned in Genesis. They are Jacob and Esau (born to Rebecca) and Perez and Zerah (born to Tamar of Timna). Both Rebecca and Tamar were the daughters of rulers and they grew up around the Horite shrines maintained by the fathers. Their similar status and environment is suggestive of certain practices which were later condemned by the prophets. Rebecca's father's title was Bethuel, which is related to the Hebrew Bethulah, which means a virgin. Tamar's father ruled over a territory in Timna which was a prosperous metal working region dedicated to Hathor, the virgin mother of Hor who was called "son of God."
Tamar means date nut palm and was a symbol of fertility. Honoring this ancestor, Solomon made her hometown in Edom one of his seven fortified cities. Tamar is to Edom what Anath is to Egypt. Both were daughters of ruler-priests and the younger of their sons received seniority. In the case of Perez and Zerah we again find the reversal of seniority that YT mentions as a feature of Yoruba twin lore.
Rebecca's twin sons may be a case of heteropaternal superfecundation, that is half-brothers in the womb. This would mean that Rebecca was impregnated by two different men and would explain the extreme differences in the boys' appearances and temperaments.
There are half a dozen cases of heteropaternal superfecundation in the medical literature, many of which involve twins of different colors. The first case was documented by the American physician John Archer in 1810 and appears in the 1980 edition of the medical textbook Williams Obstetrics. In Archer's report a white woman had relationships with a black man and a white man only a few days apart. Another similar case from 1982 appears in the most recent edition of Williams Obstetrics. In 1978, Paul Terasaki of the UCLA School of Medicine reported in the New England Journal of Medicine that he and his colleagues had conclusively established a case of superfecundation using a procedure called tissue or HLA (human leukocyte antigen) testing.
|IVF conceived fraternal twin half-brothers born to Dutch couple in 1993|
Possibility Two: Intentional Ambiguity
It is possible that the author of Genesis didn't know whether Jacob and Esau were twins or firstborn sons of two different wives. He may be hedging when he speaks of "twins" and "two nations." It is certainly possible that Jacob and Esau were twin sons of Isaac, but the part about "two nations" suggests other possibilities. It is more likely that Isaac had two wives, as his his father, grandfather and great grandfather. Isaac's first wife would have been a half-sister, a daughter of Abraham's second wife Keturah. She would have been living in the region of Beersheba, which is the region to which Abraham's servant brings Rebekah to meet Isaac for the first time. Isaac's second marriage would have been to Rebekah.
Possibility Three: Twins as a Celestial Pattern
Twins are often half-brothers in ancient literature and mythology. This being the case, Jacob and Esau might be the firstborn sons of two wives but cast as twins after the celestial twins Castor and Pollux. In the case of these twin stars, we also find that one is weaker than the other. This is true also with the twin stars Sirius A and B.
Possibility Four: Firstborn Sons by Two Wives
It is likely that Jacob and Esau were Isaac's firstborn sons by two different wives. It was the custom of the Horite rulers to have two wives living in separate households on a north-south axis. This was the case with the rulers listed in Genesis 4 and 5 and with Abraham's grandfather and father, even Abraham himself. Sarah resided in Hebron and Keturah to the south in Beersheba. Sarah was Abraham's half-sister and the bride of his youth. Keturah was Abraham's cousin or niece bride and the wife of his later years.
The firstborn sons of the two wives ruled over different peoples. The firstborn son of the half-sister wife ruled over the territory of his biological father. So Isaac ruled over Abraham's territory between Hebron and Beersheba. The firstborn son of the cousin/niece wife ruled over the territory of his maternal grandfather, after whom he was named. So Lamech the Younger, Methuselah's firstborn son by his cousin wife Naamah, ruled after Lamech the Elder.
This same pattern is evident with Abraham's cousin/niece wife Keturah who bore Abraham six sons. The firstborn was Joktan, named after Keturah's father. The Joktanite clans still live in the region of southern Arabia.
Analysis of the marriage and ascendency pattern of Abraham's Horite caste reveals that only the cousin/niece bride named her firstborn son after her father. This cousin bride's naming prerogative makes it possible to trace Jesus' ancestry back to Genesis 4 and 5.
The diagram below presents the genealogical data for Seir the Horite and his contemporary Esau (Issa) the Elder. This information is found in Genesis 36.
Esau the Younger was Jacob's brother, either a twin or a half-brother. Ths diagram supports the view that he was a half-brother, named by Issac's cousin/niece wife after her father, Esau the Elder. Since Rebecca was Isaac's cousin wife, we assume that Esau was her firstborn son as indicated in the text. Her father is called "Bethuel," probably a priestly title. Maybe his name was Esau. This would connect the Aramean Horites to the Edomite Horites.
Genesis 25:26 tells us that Isaac was sixty years old when Rebecca gave birth. This is consistent with the Horite marriage pattern where heir apparent take the cousin wife later in life. It also suggests that Issac had another wife, the wife of his youth. She would have been his half-sister and resided in the region of the Negev. This would be in keeping with the pattern of Isaac's Horite forefathers. I see no reason why Isaac would have only one wife when the rulers of Genesis 4 and 5, Abraham, Terah, Nahor and even Amram (Moses' father) had two wives. We must at least entertain the possibility that Jacob was the firstborn son of Issac's half-sister wife and Esau was the firstborn son of his cousin wife. If this is true, they did indeed represent two distinct but related peoples.
Related reading: The Biblical Theme of Two Sons; Edom and the Horites; Isaac's Sons; Sons Who Stayed Home; Twins, Sent-Away Sons, and Heirs to the Throne