The Glossary of Terms



Harper’s Bible Dictionary

edited by Paul J. Achtemier (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1985)

You are strongly recommended to add to your library the excellent revised edition of Harper's Bible Dictionary titled, The Harper Collins Bible Dictionary, Revised Edition [book review], edited by Paul J. Achtemeier, with the Society of Biblical Literature (NY: Harper Collins, 1996). It is currently the best one-volume Bible dictionary in English, and it is available at Border's Books, Christian Science Reading Rooms,, or

Esau, the older son of Isaac and Rebekah (Gen. 25-36). As such, he was entitled to the primary blessing and birthright of his family. He forfeited both, either because of his own foolishness (25:27-34) or by Jacob’s trickery (27:1-45). He was the rejected son displaced by the younger Jacob, who became the bearer of the promise. Esau is portrayed as a gracious older brother (33:1-17) and the tradition continues to have a positive regard for him (36). Some have argued that he is to be understood as a folk figure in tradition stories, i.e., a literary construct.

In the ongoing Hebrew tradition, Esau was linked to the territory of Edom, Israel’s rival and threat for territory (Deut. 2:4-29; Jer. 49:8-10; Obad. 6-21). Through this linkage Esau, the folk hero, became the focus of great hostility, an attitude absent from the original Genesis narrative, and was enmeshed in a deep political conflict. Esau’s portrait in the later tradition is rooted in the Genesis narrative but is handled with great imagination. Esau is also mentioned in two nt writings, once in a favorable context (Heb. 11:20), twice in an unfavorable one (Rom. 9:13; 12:16).

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Copyright 1996-2002 Robert Nguyen Cramer
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