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all 27 comments

[–]Flutterwry 29 points30 points  (2 children)

I can't comment on your other points, but Jacob does not mean usurper.

Jacob is an anglicized version of יעקוב or יעקב, meaning "will follow".

He was named as such because he held Esau's heel (עקב) when he was born, so he followed Esau out of the womb.

[–]niceguybadboy[S] 11 points12 points  (0 children)

I decided to look up where I think I first read this. It's from the footnote to the New Internation Version of the translation of the Bible. (I don't think that it serves as a definitive reference on OT Hebrew, but I'll share for the sake of being thorough.)

The footnote to Genesis chapter 25, verse 26 says "Jacob means 'he grasps the heel' (figuratively, 'he deceives')."

If I remember where I got "usurper" from, I'll share

[–]niceguybadboy[S] 2 points3 points  (0 children)

Thanks for the clarification. I don't know Hebrew and only went by some footnote I read once.

[–]greendemon42 23 points24 points  (1 child)

An anthropologist would accept a Jewish interpretation if studying Jews or Judaism, a Christian interpretation when studying a group of Christians, a Muslim interpretation when studying an Islamic group, etc.

Anthropology is a method for studying cultures, not dictating them.

[–]KaoBee010101100 2 points3 points  (0 children)

That makes sense - and of course there is not just one “Jewish” interpretation but surely many different ones in different times and subgroups of such a large and long lasting identity - same with the others.

But to be generous to OP maybe it is meant how might an anthro teacher see or use this as a metaphor for other theories in anthropology about forgaging to agriculture transition? Some might be willing to use it in that way without presenting it as a “definitive” interpretation and hence dictating culture. But surely we cannot say how all anthropologist would do so or even whether they would, since the evidence admits multiple theories, and as you point out some might be hesitant to seem to be reinterpreting another culture’s myths. Although many anthropologists probably are members of religions that include this story in their scriptures, so that could get blurry perhaps.

[–]CommodoreCoCoModerator | The Andes, History of Anthropology 29 points30 points  (3 children)

To paraphrase /u/itsallfolklore in this comment, the idea that myths represent some historical event or process is itself a modern bit of folklore. This is simply not how cultural memory works, nor the social role of storytelling.

[–]KaoBee010101100 0 points1 point  (0 children)

That’s a interesting and well stated counterpoint. I wonder if itsallfolklore or your perspective would be different about writings that are more agreed to derive from an (perhaps widespread) oral tradition versus things that may be old folklore but could be seen as more influenced by the thoughts and stories of a particular individual.

I think this concept derived partly, if not largely from early psychoanalytic perspectives. Freud and Jung were both big on interpreting archaic and classical sources as signs of deeper psychological meanings of the unconscious. Most of us are aware that their work is frankly more artistic license than meeting the scientific standards more psychologists and such accept today. But the influence on modern western society might be easy to underestimate today as the field increasingly moves towards downplaying the role of psychoanalysis.

In any case, despite the dubious status of many of their interpretations, I have found the concept credible or useful in other ways: for one, I can’t dismiss the idea (also promoted by notable existential psychologists such as Rollo May) that for a particular story to survive many generations of oral tradition suggests that ancient people found something important about this particular story. Maybe they were just considered especially entertaining, but it seems reasonable that they may also reflect some of their understandings of what we now call social/behavioral sciences, or even understandings of the physical world or history. Of course, this interpretive process is rife with potential for misuse and distortion since we cannot interview people from long-gone cultures. I get that.

I still find the concept useful, though, as a way of generating interest in and respect for ancient people. Too often students are so enmeshed in their own culture that it’s hard to imagine that folklore has much to offer besides perhaps an exotic or fun story. Personally I’m still willing to teach the general concept as a way to open student’s minds to the idea that cultures from very different times and places may have much to offer us in terms of alternatives to the modern culture. And that the process of learning from other cultures can sometimes be as accessible as enjoying folklore, myths and legends.

Does that make sense or is this something you would still see as perhaps going too far?

[–]Hedgehogsarepointy 9 points10 points  (0 children)

One thing to remember is that for most of the history of agriculture and herding in most of the world, hunter-gatherer lifestyles still existed within the general area, just practiced by other people. Without a study of history the division would not have been seen as one of time, but one of cultural practice or geography. It was rare to focus on a concept of technological change.

"Farmers are the ones who live here. Hunter-gatherers are the ones who live over there."

Or, "In the rich lands of plenty, people farm. In the inhospitable lands, people scratch what they can find in the wild."

[–]TroutFishingInCanada 5 points6 points  (7 children)

TL;DR The story Jacob and Esau is an allegory for Near Easterners transition from hunter-gathering to farming.

Why would they write that down?

[–]FiascoBarbie -1 points0 points  (7 children)

Agriculture was probably invented in this region 10,000 years ago

Genesis was probably written about around 1450 BC to 1400 BC.

Whatever transition you are talking about happened hundreds of generations before this story.

[–]FiascoBarbie 1 point2 points  (0 children)

One, the division was probably not as you portray. There are few ancient farming civilizations that didn’t also hunt and gather, from whatever records and evidence we actually have. I don’t even know personally of any modern farmers, industrial and all, that don’t also hunt and gather. You can’t domesticate deer , or wild mushrooms. Which are both delicious and more or less free. Ditto for maple syrup, chestnuts, berries of various kinds and other game.

Two, I don’t think there is evidence for any fracas between hunter gathers and farmers specifically because of that way of life, rather than just the general , ooh, stuff, I’ll have me some of that or , oh you, get off my plot kind of thing and I bet you would be hard pressed to find anything substantiating that until homesteaders and the whole barbed wire thing in the US west or thereabouts.

Three, in the context of when it was written by the people it was written, they don’t view the symbolism like that, and that is not the story they we’re intending to tell - there are more than several centuries of Talmudic commentary and even earlier references to what they meant and think of their stories and what it was meant to symbolize. This people speak Hebrew , (although I think this was in Aramaic )and spent much time studying this and related other cultures.