Bible Review 2:1, Spring 1986
The Jacob Cycle in Genesis

Deception for Deception

Who breaks the cycle?

By Richard Elliott Friedman

The biblical story of Jacob is artistically an exquisite creation, psychologically an intriguing portrait, and religiously an interpretive treasurehouse—but it has always been a problem. Even Sunday school children ask why the hero Jacob, the great patriarch, withholds food from his own brother Esau to get his brother’s birthright and then lies to his blind father Isaac on his deathbed to get his father to give him his brother’s blessing. Why did the ancient Israelite author tell the story this way, portraying his own ancestor as manipulative of and deceitful to his family?

Moreover, it is not Jacob alone who is portrayed as a deceiver. His mother Rebekah, his uncle Laban, his wife Rachel, and most of his sons become involved in deception as well. Why conceive of such a story? Why include it in sacred literature?

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