Glossary of Terms



Young People's Bible Dictionary

by Barbara Smith (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1965)

Jacob; also called Israel. Son of Isaac, twin brother of Esau. He deceitfully obtained his brother's birthright and thus became head of the family. His twelve sons and their descendants became the twelve tribes of Israel, that is, the people of God. Sometimes the name is used, as is Israel, to mean the whole people. Stories in Gen. chs. 25 to 49. See also Ex. 19:3, Ps. 46:7; Isa. 44:1; Luke 1:33; Acts 7:8; Heb. 11:9.

Harper’s Bible Dictionary

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

Jacob (Heb., ‘heel grabber’ [Gen. 25:26] or ‘supplanter’ [Gen. 27:36]).

1 An ot patriarch. He is the brother of Esau, the son of Isaac and Rebekah, the father of Dinah and of twelve sons whose names are those of tribes. Jacob’s own name was changed to ‘Israel’ (Gen. 32:28; 35:10). The name ‘Jacob’ was probably a shortened form of Jacob-el (Heb., ‘may God supplant’) and hence originally bore witness to a divine, rather than a human, action. Jacob not only embodies and represents the nation, Israel, but also typifies the settler-farmer, the trickster, the reverent worshiper of God, the man of gallantry, the successful > and herder, the penitent brother, and the benevolent father.

Because the traditions concerning Jacob feature sites in northern Israel (Bethel, Shechem) and in northern Transjordan (Mahanaim, Penuel), it is generally agreed that Jacob was a northerner. Many authorities favor placing Jacob in the Middle Bronze Age (ca. 1950-1550 b.c.) and see an association between Jacob and the Hyksos movement in Egypt (ca. 1720-1570 b.c.). Because of the Aramaean presence in northern Mesopotamia, other authorities are inclined to place the historic Jacob at the beginning of the early Iron Age (ca. 1200-900 b.c.) when a sizable incursion of Aramaeans into northern Mesopotamia took place. Regardless of date, the diversity of style in the traditions about Jacob give evidence of their having come into being over a long period of time.

Pattern of Arrangement of the Jacob Traditions: Recent investigations, however, have brought to light the fact that these traditions have been arranged with an order and sophistication previously unsuspected, in that the first element corresponds to the last, the second element to the second from last, etc. This pattern of arrangement has been variously called concentric, mirrorlike, or chiastic (from the Greek letter chi, which is shaped like an X).

Because the Priestly material in 35:6-7, 9-15 is disruptive of the chiastic pattern, it is clear that the one responsible for the chiastic arrangement (possibly the one who combined the Yahwistic and Elohistic sources) worked independently from the Priestly source. It is widely agreed that the genealogical relationship of Jacob to his sons is a literary construct, but one that accurately reflects tribal, sociological realities; the genealogical relationship to Abraham and Isaac is also a literary construct but of less certain sociological significance.

Theologically Jacob, like Abraham and Isaac, is the recipient of the divine promise of land and plentiful progeny (Gen. 28:13-15). Divine manifestations are made to Jacob (Gen. 28:10-22; 32:3-22) despite the fact that he engages in deception (Gen. 27). This biblical agent of blessing (see Gen. 48-49), like others, is not flawless. Jacob’s death and burial is described in Gen. 49:28-50:14.

2 The father of Joseph, the husband of Mary (Matt. 1:15-16).


Topical index of terms
Edited for by Robert Nguyen Cramer
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