A professor takes on the troubling story of Jacob, a deeply flawed man who later earned punishment, redemption and a unique and honored place in Jewish history.
Part of the publisher’s Jewish Lives series, this volume immediately acknowledges that source material on Jacob resides principally in the biblical accounts. Zakovitch accordingly realizes he must rely on what he calls “literary archaeology”—close reading and searches for biblical and extra-biblical parallels—to unearth the story’s significance. The author relates the principal events in Jacob’s life, then reflects on what the biblical writers emphasized and deemphasized, altered or buried in a word or phrase. Zakovitch begins with the clash between Jacob and his twin brother, Esau, over the birthright from their father, Isaac. In these episodes, we see the fundamental ambition that impels Jacob to deceive and betray. Zakovitch spends a chapter on the well-known “Jacob’s ladder” story, then moves on to his troubles with Laban, whose daughter Rachel Jacob wished to marry. Laban practiced some deception of his own, but after much hardship, Rachel delivered sons to Jacob, including Joseph. Off to Canaan went Jacob, then, later, to Egypt, where Joseph gained power. Zakovitch recounts the death and burial and notes how his sons would go on to head the 12 tribes. The author continually points out the similarities in other Bible stories and ends with a discussion of the conflicts in Jacob’s character. Throughout, Zakovitch analyzes the stories as stories and does not explicitly insist that they are either certain history or sacred texts.
Intensely scholarly at times, but also an engaging analysis of one of the Bible’s most complex figures.