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)
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, 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, http://www.borders.com, or http://www.christianbook.com.
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).
Genealogical framework (Gen. 25:1-11)
A. Death of Abraham; burial by two sons (Isaac, Ishmael); genealogy and death of Ishmael; birth and youth of Esau and Jacob (Gen. 25:12-34)
B. Regional strife (in southern Israel): Isaac vs. the Philistines; honorable covenant (chap. 26)
C. Beginnings of fraternal strife in Cisjordan (Jacob vs. Esau: settler-farmer vs. hunter); Isaac blesses Jacob not Esau (chap. 27)
D. Departure of Jacob alone to northeast with theophany enroute at Bethel (chap. 28)
E. Arrival alone at the northeast (Haran in Upper Mesopotamia); marriage to Leah and Rachel; acquisition and naming of sons by Leah; commencement of strife with Laban (chap. 29)
F. Acquisition and naming of sons by handmaidens and of first son (Joseph) by Rachel (Gen. 30:1-24)
F« Preparation to leave the northeast; acquisition of herds (Gen. 30:25-43)
E« Departure from the northeast with flocks, progeny, and two wives; conclusion of strife with Laban in a covenant in Gilead (Gen. 31:1-32:2)
D« Return from the northeast with theophany enroute at Penuel; change of name to Israel (Gen. 32:3-32)
C« Conclusion of fraternal strife in Transjordan (Jacob vs. Esau: herder vs. herder); Jacob blesses Esau (Gen. 33:1-17)
B« Regional strife (in northern Israel): Jacob’s sons vs. Shechemites; deceitful covenant; putting away of foreign gods (Gen. 33:18-35:5); theophany at Bethel; change of name to Israel (Gen. 35:6-7, 9-15); combines parts of E and E«
A« Birth of second son by Rachel (Benjamin); death of Rachel; genealogy of Israel; death of Isaac; burial by two sons (Esau, Jacob; Gen. 35:8, 16-29)
Genealogical framework (chap. 36)
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).
Edited for BibleTexts.com by Robert Nguyen Cramer