Friday, December 18, 2020

Esau and Jacob revisited


Advance warning: This post will speculate about events in the Bible and if that will raise your blood pressure then don't read this post.

A few operating premises:

The events in the narrative of Esau and Jacob happened EXACTLY the way it was recorded.

Events similar to the narrative of Esau and Jacob happened scores of time in other places, other families, slightly other times.

The events in the narrative of Esau and Jacob might not have happened exactly WHEN it was said to have happened. Time in Genesis jumps around in a non-linear fashion. Some events even happen twice (two narratives of Noah and the ark, for instance).

The first two books in the Bible: Genesis and Exodus are more concerned with defining the Jewish people and their relationship with THE ONE WHO IS than as an Owner's Manual for moral behavior.

Playing with time

Suppose that you were an anthropologist from a culture that had never encountered the Judeo-Christian tradition and you found a copy of the Bible in an un-sequenced form. Furthermore, suppose that as you were trying to make sense of the Book, you put the story of Cain-and-Abel next to the story of Esau-and-Jacob. That makes sense, right? Both are stories about brothers who are in competition.

Suppose, just for now, our intrepid anthropologist switches the order. He places Esau-and-Jacob before Cain-and-Abel.

How would an anthropologist compare-and-contrast those stories?

Advancing technology

He would say that Esau was a throw-back or an atavism to the hunter-gatherer method of collecting food. He would say that Jacob represented the next step of technology, pastoralism or animal husbandry.

He would speculate that Jacob's mother imported the technology and that Esau was too proud to listen to her but that she found a willing pupil in Jacob. He would also speculate that the distaff side would appreciate the greater food security of the pastoral life and discount the glory of the hunt so honored by the men.

Isaac allied with Esau because Isaac understood hunting and gathering and was leery of that new-fangled shepherd business.

Finally, the anthropologist would interpret God's choosing of Jacob over Esau as God approving of the new form of food production.

Lastly, Esau being banished to the dry lands was a simple fact. Marginal producers get pushed to marginally productive lands.

The story of Cain-and-Abel is similar. Cain Abel represents the pastoral mode of production and Abel Cain represents grain-and-vegetable production. There is a natural conflict between the two. Sheep cannot be allowed access to fields near harvest or they will trample all of the grain. That becomes a big deal if the grain fields are close to the oasis where the sheep can be watered.

God's punishment of Cain was a warning to the other tillers-of-the-soil to not take vengeance on their pastoral brothers, even if they were far more numerous then the shepherds and had entrenched positions around watering holes. A culture that can extract resources from pastoral AND tilling of the soil is stronger and more resilient than a society that relies on just one mode.

All that back-stabby stuff

The anthropologist would write that off as the messiness of establishing workable law when there is no viable precedent.

Does that apply in modern times?

You bet. When I was growing up everybody assumed wealth was created by that assembly line that spat out one new Oldsmobile a minute.

Today, "wealth" is created by purchasing viable businesses and strip-mining their assets, borrowing huge sums of money against their "good will" and then passing those monies through a firewall to a holding company. Then, the board-of-directors of the holding company pack toxic assets into the shell of the zombie company, tow it to the Sargasso Sea and pull the bilge plugs.

The company doesn't even need to make or sell so much as a single ballpoint pen to "create wealth".

In the case of the most recent election, the votes were created with the same cyber legerdemain as the "wealth" in the previous example, Biden will be scuttled in the Sargasso Sea and Harris is the holding company.


  1. Well said Joe. As a Christian, an MBA and a CPA...well said.

  2. Replies
    1. If it has any value at all, it is because the Holy Spirit chose to use my hands and the keyboard beneath them.

      I just sat in my recliner drinking coffee.

      If it sucks, it is because some of "me" leaked into it.

      A functional definition of "Prophet" is somebody who lends their strong arms, eyes, ears and mouth to the Holy Spirit. A good Prophet is totally transparent and does not bias, twist, color or otherwise degrade the work the Holy Spirit is transmitting.

      In that sense, every Christian is a Prophet.

      I am still working on that transparent part.


  3. Interesting thoughts, Joe. Point of order, though. Cain was the farmer, Abel was the shepherd.

    1. You are absolutely right. Thanks for pointing that out.

      That is probably why the Big Guy keeps me on the second-string.

  4. Excellent segua from one topic to another.