Jacob versus Jacob

Jacob vs. Jacob

“Jacob’s ladder” and “Jacob wrestling with an angel” are two images, which – long ago – found their way into popular culture due, almost directly, to a Christian literal interpretation of the Jacob narrative. That assumed familiarity has blinded most of us to the importance of the lessons contained within this ancient text.

Wrestling with an angel

Both Rabbinical Judaism and Christianity have largely overlooked the pearls hidden in this strange story but for two totally different reasons – Judaism because of its notions of racial superiority and Christianity because of its literal interpretation of the text.

In last week’s blog, “The Importance of Being Jacob”, we discussed the historical context of the Jacob story and touched on its historicity. If you haven’t read that blog yet, make sure you read it now, before diving into this essay – as it is necessary background information.

In today’s blog, we will explore the text and its importance in correctly understanding the teachings of the Jesus of History (Q-Source).




Jacob’s ladder: Genesis 28:11

“And he arrived at the place, and tarried there all night, because the sun was set; and he took one of the stones of the place, and put it under his head, and lay down in that place to sleep.”

Standing stoneThe first clue we have, that this story is not meant to be literal, is found in the story of Jacob’s use of a rock as a pillow. It is true that we have archaeological evidence that the Egyptians used head supports for sleeping but this was used to protect elaborate hair decoration, as was the case in China and Japan – hardly the case for a Hebrew nomad.

Some Christian sources explain it as a way of keeping away from bugs but bugs are good at climbing on rocks.

The only other mention of pillows in the Tanakh specifically mentions that they were made with goat’s hair. (1 Samuel 19:13 and 19:16).

At the end of this story, the cultic reason for mentioning the stone becomes obvious.

“And Jacob rose up early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put under his head, and set it up for a pillar, and poured oil upon the top of it.

Gen 28:18

We know from the archaeology that standing stones were used extensively in the Southern Levant at least through the 6th to the 3rd Millennia BCE for cultic and ritual purposes. By including this image into the story (middle of the 1st Millennia BCE), the writer could validate his narrative in the mind of his audience because they would have been familiar with existing sacred stones.

The other important point that I need you to remember is the fact that Jacob offered oil to the stone. He did not make an animal sacrifice.

The story continues:

“He dreamed, and behold, there was a stairway set earthward, with its top touching the heavens. And behold, messengers of Elohim were ascending and descending on it.”

This story, although heavily redacted, was originally part of an Elohist source. We know that because Elohim (God) is discarnate and omnipresent. He only communicates with humans through messengers (Mlaki Strong’s 4397) and in dreams.

The important thing to notice here is that the messengers of God are first ascending not descending. This would imply that they are first taking something up to heaven.

The rest of the story re-enforces the idea of Jacob as the father of the Hebrew people, a people who enjoy the unique blessing of God. The socio-political reasons for its inclusion are obvious and are not relevant to this discussion. The language of the text echoes other covenant narratives.

What is interesting however, is the intimate spiritual tie that this story inculcates with the land and with our inner life. Is this evidence of a pre-urban phase of Hebrew culture?


Jacob Wrestles with Whom?

In Genesis 32:12, we find Jacob having to face the terrible way that he had treated his brother.

“Deliver me, I pray Thee, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau; for I fear him, lest he come and smite me, the mother with the children.”

Long story short, after sending his servants ahead to his brother with gifts to appease him, Jacob is left alone.

“And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day.”

The line establishes that Jacob is alone but then – out of nowhere – Jacob is in a fight. The text includes the strange use of the redundant word Aish or man – as the text already implies that fact it is unnecessary.

This line recalls the words of Rabbi Hillel’s statement in “The Sayings of the Fathers”:

“In a place where there are no men, strive to be a man.”

To understand this statement, we need to go to Exodus and the stories of Moses. (Read this article for more information)

“It came to be in those days when Moses had grown up that he went forth to his brothers and saw their burdens. He also saw an Egyptian man smiting a Hebrew man, one of his brothers.”

Exodus 2:11

The word “Man” here is referring to a moral rectitude that demands we take ownership of a situation. At the time Moses believed himself to be an Egyptian and had no reason to identify with the slave. This implies that Moses was waiting for someone, Hebrew or Egyptian, to stand against this injustice.

The redundant use of “Man” implies being “Upright” or “Straight” – we will see the importance of this later.

The next line of Jacob’s narrative is also strange. In the Hebrew it is not clear who is doing what.

“Then He saw that He did not prevail against him.  He touched the palm of his thighbone; and the palm of Jacob’s thighbone was strained in his wrestling– with Him.”

Having read this line in the context of the first, it is evident from the text that Jacob is fighting himself and the reference to “Man” in Hebrew shows that he is wrestling with the guilt for the evil he did to his brother.

As dawn ascends, the crisis ends and Jacob becomes a new man and takes a new name:

“And he said: ‘Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel; for thou hast striven with God and with men, and hast prevailed.”

The word Israel is a compound word made up of the Hebrew word Sarah (Stong’s 8280) which means to persist, exert and El – the name of God. Notice that the text does not name Jacob “Israel” for just wrestling with God (which would be absurd) but for striving with both God and Man.

There is also an implied connection to the word Yashar (Strong’s 3477) which means to be “Upright” or “Straight” although that is not what is written in the Masoretic text, nor is the word Lacham (Strong’s 3898) or to “fight” included.

Finally Jacob explains the whole narrative:

“Jacob called the name of the place Peniel (Face of God) For I have seen Elohim face to face, and my soul was rescued.”

In the text, Jacob has no idea who he is wrestling, so it is evident that this line at the end of the narrative is not to be taken literally – as God has no form.


Now when we read the words of the Jesus of History we can put them into their true context of Abrahamic belief.

“Know what is in front of your face, and what is hidden from you will be disclosed to you, for there is nothing hidden that will not be revealed.”

Luke 12:2, Mark 4:22, Thomas 5



We can see that there is a direct synergy between the Abrahamic faith of the Elohist source and the teachings of the Jesus of History as contained in the Q-Source.  Both express an emphasis on our inner life and behavior as an expression of our relationship with the Eternal via the world around us (The land).

This life affirming altruism is surely the antithesis of the later Middle-Eastern Dualistic cults that gave rise to twin horrors of the Christian Cult and Judean supremacism.


The Importance of Being Jacob

The story of Jacob in the book of Genesis (25:19) is one of the most important narratives in the entire bible but most people totally miss it.


Because they read the Bible literally – as if it were a record of history as it happened.

Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook said, in his work “The Pangs of Cleanings”:

“The tendency of unrefined people to see the divine essence as embodied in the words and in the letters alone is a source of embarrassment to humanity, and atheism arises as a pained outcry to liberate man from this narrow and alien pit, to raise him from the darkness of focusing on letters and expressions, to the light of thought and feeling, finally to place his primary focus on the realm of morals.”

Orot 124 Zeronim.


In this blog, I will argue Rav Kook’s point and show that the character of the Patriarch Jacob (Yaqub) in the book of Genesis was never meant to be understood as a historical character.

In fact, I will show that the fundamental components of the Jacob narrative echo the experiences of the Hebrew people as they evolved from their Canaanite roots in the shadow of the Egyptian empire.


The Story of Jacob: a summary.

Jacob and his twin brother, Esau, were born to the patriarchs, Isaac and Rebecca. From the beginning, the story sets up Esau – the first born – as the fall guy of the story. He is wild and uncultured. He is covered in red hair and likes to hunt, while Jacob lives in tents and is his mother’s favourite.

When his brother is starving, Jacob offers to buy his brother’s inheritance in exchange for food. Later, on the instruction of his (typically Jewish) mother, he tricks his father, Isaac, into giving him what is his brother’s rightful inheritance.

There then follows two remarkable events, which are commonly summed up in the following ways:

  1. Jacob wrestles with God and is given the name Israel.
  2. Jacob dreams of a ladder reaching up to heaven.

The rest of the story deals with his wives and his travels.

In the second part of this blog, “Jacob Vs. Jacob” we will discuss the two events above but for now, I would like to focus on the wider context of the greater Jacob narrative.



In order to grasp the intention of the original writer of this story, let’s examine the fundamental components of the character arc:

  1. The ages given for the main characters are ridiculously old. Jacob was 130 years old when he stood before Pharaoh and Isaac was 60 when Jacob was born.
  2. The characters are fantastical rather than descriptive – Esau is covered in red hair.
  3. The way that the characters behave is contrary to the morality expressed within the biblical ethos
  4. The characters are not driven by the events in the story but rather act as avatars for the sociopolitical ambitions of Judean elites.

It is evident then that the narrative was never intend to record history – as it happened. Nor was the story meant to offer the patriarchs as models of behaviour.

I would suggest that the ridiculous ages of the characters were inserted into the story specifically to prevent anyone from taking the story literally. Unfortunately, the writer may have under estimated the power of organised religion to create cognitive dissonance in the weak minded.


Jacob as Genetic Memory:

We know from contemporary records and the archaeology (See Professor Israel Finklestein’s book “The Forgotten Kingdom: The Archaeology and History of Northern Israel”)

That the Canaanites, which later become the Hebrew people, often migrated down to Egypt in times of famine and drought in the Southern Levant. In fact, we know from contemporary sources and the historian Josephus that during 16th and 17th century BCE the Hebrew people had taken control of a large part of Egypt, forming the Hyksos polity.

I suggest that the Jacob story acts as an avatar for the friction that would have existed between the Hebrew families living in Egypt and their relatives still living a pastoral life in the hills of the Southern Levant.

It seems evident that the character of Esau is a characterisation of the “Folks back home”. Uneducated, a little slow and somewhat uncouth compared to the educated and civilised Egyptian-Hebrews.


We know that “Yaqub (Jacob)-Har” was the name of a Hyksos king between 1750 and 1650 BCE. An earlier 18th century BCE cuneiform inscription reads Ya-ah-qu-ub-el (Jacob-el) so there is strong evidence that Jacob was a name familiar to the Egyptian-Hebrews and the name may have been linked to the Canaanite God “El” as far back as the 18th Century BCE.

Simcha Jacobovici suggested that king Yaqub-Har formed the pattern for the much later character of Jacob in the book of Genesis. He provided a signet ring found in Avaris, the Hyksos capital, as evidence. As usual, people have subsequently totally misrepresented what he said by interpreting the bible story literally.

In our next blog: “Jacob Vs. Jacob” we will examine the story in the context of the Elohist source and the possible synergy with the religious reforms of Pharaoh Akhenaten how the story is reflected in the teachings of the Jesus of History.

If you enjoyed this blog you might like to read, “The Evolution of the Bible

Battle in the Garden of Gethsemane

Gay Jesus – Naked In The Garden Of Gethsemane

You may think this a trick question but, you know all of the times you’ve read about the betrayal and arrest of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, do you remember coming across a naked young man running around in the background?

No? Me neither!

Well he didn’t escape the notice of a growing and rather vocal lobby who seem to be obsessed with the idea of a Gay Jesus.

They quote this obscure passage from the Gospel attributed to Mark, Mark 14:51 to be exact.

“And there followed him a certain young man, having a fine linen cloth cast about his naked body; and the young men laid hold on him: and he left the fine linen cloth, and fled from them naked.”
Mark 14:51

The Greek word used here is “Sindona” (Strong´s #4616) and it is used to describe the naked young man’s fine linen robe (worn at night), which, to be fair to the Gay lobby, does seem a bit strange. Why would this young man be in the Garden of Gethsemane (an olive grove) at night in his PJs?

Some Christian scholars have suggested that the Gospel writer (of Mark) was trying to prefigure the young man in the tomb later in the story but this doesn’t work. In Mark 16:5 the angelic young man is wearing a “Stolé” – a long robe worn by men of rank, so there is no comparison.

The first thing that comes to mind is why was Jesus in an olive grove in the early hours of the morning with his closest students?

Well, to answer that question here’s a little background information: In the Hebrew culture of the first century CE, an olive press had to have a ritual bath (Mikvah) nearby in order that the production of olive oil would be kosher. For wine and olive oil to be Kosher the workers must be ritually clean. (To read more on this HERE)

The other thing to note is that it is normal for Hebrew people, even today, to get up in the night to study Torah and to pray.

As it turns out, last year the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum uncovered the remains of a first century Mikvah at the base of the Mount of Olives. The olive press and the Mikvah are right next to the Temple at Jerusalem.

It is evident then that if Jesus and his team were praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, they would have first had to use the Mikvah. Obviously, the High Priest would have known that. And, if you want to arrest a well-armed group of men, what better moment could you choose than to ambush them than at the precise moment that they would be unarmed and naked – in the bath.

We know that the students of the Jesus of History were armed because in Luke 22:36 Jesus jokes that it would be better to be naked than without a sword:

‘And he said to them, “But now, he has a purse pick it up and if not, a beggar’s bag and if he has none, let him sell his cloak and buy a sword.”
Luke 22:36

When the Temple Guards try to arrest Jesus and his students a sword fight ensued and one of the temple guards was injured – his ear was cut off.  But, rather than make peace, the Jesus of History demands to know why the temple guards had come to arrest him in the night, when they could have taken him at any time in the Temple.

Contrary to popular Christian belief the text in the Gospel of Mark says nothing about Jesus healing anyone during the arrest. He was no pacifist and certainly this scene does not suggest he was gay.

It seems evident to me that the writer used the literary device of the naked youth to emphasize the fact that the Nazarenes were unprepared and vulnerable. When read without Christian preconceptions, the violence of the confrontation, as written, is obvious.

And here’s the thing, to read homosexuality into a naked Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane is to impose our own post Christian sensibilities back in time, but it is not just the Gay lobby who are obviously fatally historically illiterate, the pseudo-scholars of Christian academia have been ignoring the realities of Hebrew culture and history for two thousand years.

If you found this blog interesting, you might like to read about one of the other pieces of Gay evidence, the Beloved Disciple.

We have also produced a documentary video on the subject so go to our YouTube Channel to see that – Was Jesus Gay?


Dr Steven DiMattei asks ‘Which God Created the Earth?’

Dr Steven DiMattei is probably the most clear sighted New Testament scholar working in the field of Biblical Studies today. What is even more remarkable is that his field of study is, in fact, the Tanakh ‘The Old Testament’ rather than the ‘New’.

That in itself would be interesting, if perhaps a little presumptuous, but, from the point of view of the Jesus of History Project, what makes Dr DiMattei’s work almost unique is the fact that he endeavours to read the Hebrew texts without Jewish or Christian bias. In fact, he tries to read ancient Hebrew texts as the original authors intended their work to be read.

Dr Steven DiMatteiDr DiMattei seems to be entirely ignorant of the fact that his somewhat revolutionary approach has unearthed a synergy between his own work and Professor Israel Finkelstein, with whom most of the Jesus of History community are familiar. The Jesus of History Project is hoping to interview Dr DiMattei over the comming weeks to discuss exactly this point.

Those of you who are new to our site, and may not have read any of our books, may be shocked by the idea that the Bible has contradicitons but given the fact that the Tanakh (Old Testament) was written by different people from different countries, for different spiritual, cultural and political reasons over a period of at least a thousand years, it cannot be a surprise that there are contradictions. What shocks me and the Jesus of History Project is the fact that people refuse to face the obvious truth: that a book, which consists of hundreds of separate documents, poems and books, which have been shoehorned together to create the appearance of a single coherent narrative cannot avoid being somewhat incoherent, if the reader tries to force the text into his or her own preconceptions.

The ‘Contradictionsinthebible’, which Dr DiMattei has identified, fit perfectly with the evolution of the Hebrew people in the southern Levant.

In this blog, taken from Dr DiMattei’s website, he discusses a question that has animated Christians for the last two thousand years:

Which God Created the Earth – El or Yahweh?

Creation myths abound in just about every culture that has conceived of a national deity or deities. The ancient Near East is certainly no exception. A vast number of creation myths exist from ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Canaan.1 And many of these creation accounts display cross-fertilization of ideas and influences. This is especially true concerning the influence that both Canaan and ancient Mesopotamia exerted on Israelite culture and the emergence of its literary traditions, including the imagery used in depicting its national deity, Yahweh.

The influence of Mesopotamian creation myths on the composition of both creation accounts in the book of Genesis (P’s and J’s) was already discussed in #1. And in #2 we saw that both Mesopotamian and Canaanite creation myths depicting the creator god, Marduk and Baal respectively, forming the heavens and earth from the creative act of separating and dividing the remains of a slain primordial water serpent, had left their mark on biblical writers who sought to depict Yahweh slaying Leviathan in a similar creative effort (e.g., Ps 74: 13-17; Job 26:12-14). There are a number of Egyptian parallels and creation myths as well.

Thus an array of deities were viewed and proclaimed creator of the heavens and the earth in the ancient Levant. Such claims, furthermore, often passed in non-exclusive terms. The claim that Baal created the heavens and the earth, for example, or that Marduk created the heavens and the earth, or El, etc., were not perceived as mutually exclusive claims. Many of these gods shared similar features and functions and were often depicted as merely contending manifestations of one another—the beauty behind the polytheistic imagination. For an unknown period in early Israelite culture, when it had not fully separated itself from its Canaanite roots, Yahweh too was depicted in similar fashion. Both the archaeological and biblical record preserve remnants of this theistic syncretism.2

The Priestly creation account in Genesis 1:1-2:3 uses the generic neuter plural Hebrew noun elohim to render its storyline: God creates. J’s account in Genesis 2:4b-3:24, although confining the creation to plants, animals, and the human pair, speaks of Yahweh (yhwh) making or fashioning the things of the earth, and 2:4b accredits Yahweh with the creation of earth and heaven. Additionally, there are other biblical references to Yahweh as creator of the heavens and the earth, especially in the Psalms and second Isaiah. This comes as no surprise. Yet Gen 14:19, uses this same epithet, “creator of the heavens and the earth,” when speaking about the god of the mysterious figure Melchizedek, which in the Hebrew is literally El the most high (’el ‘elyōn).3

And Melchizedek, king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was priest of El the most high. He blessed him, saying: “Blessed be Abram by El the most high, creator of the heavens and the earth. And praise be El the most high, who has delivered your foes to you.”

The passage, in its Hebrew, clearly presents El as “creator of the heavens and the earth,” which is one of El’s epithets. Although the Hebrew el can also be translated as the generic term for “god,” there are good grounds for reading el as a proper name. For this is not the only place in the Pentateuch where El appears (see #27). And as a growing number of scholars contend, El was most likely “the original god of Israel.”4

We are additionally informed in this bizarre story that Melchizedek is king of Salem, that is ancient Jerusalem. The archaeological record as well as biblical passages such as the one above have confirmed that Jerusalem, prior to David’s conquest was a Canaanite city and its cultic activity was centered around the worship of the high Cannanite and/or proto-Israelite deity El. How is it then, that this story (Gen 14:1-24), whose source is still unidentified by scholars, and which proclaims the Canaanite deity El as creator of the heavens and the earth, is preserved in the biblical tradition? And furthermore, in the same story, how can the author also have Abram apparently proclaim that Yahweh is El the most high, creator of the heavens and the earth? “But Abram replied to the king of Salem: ‘I have sworn to Yahweh, El the most high, creator of the heavens and the earth . . .’” (14:22). One reply might be to assert that the biblical record itself is making the bold claim that Yahweh and El are the same god! Could the biblical text be making such an assertion? And if it were, why?

The inherent relationship between Yahweh and El and the question concerning whether they were conceived as the same god or different gods is addressed in fuller detail in #27. Here, we might limit the discussion by briefly noting a couple of other passages that fuel further thought on the topic. First, contrary to J’s assertion that the name Yahweh was invoked, and thus Yahweh was known by name to the patriarchs (Gen 4:26, 12:8, 15:7), both P and E assert otherwise (see #7). For example, P has the god of Israel say to Moses in Exodus 6:2-3 “I am Yahweh; but I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob as El Shaddai, and I was not known to them by my name Yahweh!” Thus according to the theological convictions of this author (P), Yahweh did not make himself known to the patriarchs, but instead revealed himself as El Shaddai, that is “El of the mountain.” Gen 17:1 affirms this same conviction, again from the pen of P: “And Yahweh appeared to Abram and said to him, ‘I am El Shaddai; walk before me and be unblemished.” J, however, makes no such claim: Yahweh makes himself known as Yahweh to Abraham. The P narrative thus seems to suggest that the patriarchs knew Yahweh as the Canaanite or proto-Israelite El—indeed, that El was Yahweh! Outside the realm of theology, and more inline with the historical and archaeological record, this translates to the possibility that over a period of time in early Israelite culture, which shared the same material culture as the Canaanites, imagery and aspects of the god El were transferred to Yahweh, so that eventually El, known to the patriarchs, become Yahweh at Sinai! In the current passage we either have represented an assimilation between Yahweh and El the most high such that the epithet “creator of the heavens and the earth” refers to the two which are one (Christians like these kinds of “mysteries” as they call them). Or, the text preserves a remnant of an earlier period in ancient Israelite religion when the Israelites recognized and worshiped El as the creator god. Biblical scholars and archeologists alike are apt to choice the later option here. And as we shall see (#27), the biblical record also seems to support this. The ancient tale of Jacob building an altar at Shechem and invoking “El, god of Israel” (Gen 33:20) is one such remnant.5 Finally, along this line of reasoning Frank Cross suggests rather convincingly that the name Yahweh derives from the Canaanite yahwé which means to create, and thus the name Yahweh “is a causative imperfect of the Canaanite-Proto-Hebrew verb hwy, “to be.”6 Thus originally the word yahwé might have been an epithet of the deity El as creator of the heavens and earth. In fact, it is still quite possible to read Genesis 14:22 in this light: “I have sworn to he who creates (yhwh), El the most high, creator of the heavens and the earth.”7


  1. Thare a various anthologies that exist: J. Pritchard, ed., The Ancient Near East. Volume I. An Anthology of Texts and Pictures (Princeton Univ. Press 1958); S. H. Hooke, Middle Eastern Mythology: From the Assyrians to the Hebrews (Penguin 1963); M. Coogan, trans, & ed., Stories from Ancient Canaan (Westminster 1978).
  2. For a more comprehensive treatment of this fascinating subject see especially: M. Smith, The Early History of God: Yahweh and the Other Deities in Ancient Israel (HarperCollins, 1990); and W. Dever, Did God Have a Wife?: Archaeology and Folk Religion in Ancient Israel (Eerdmans, 2008).
  3. The Hebrew original ’el ’elyon is often translated as “God most high.” Although like the Hebrew ’elohim, ’el can be translated as “god,” Hebraic philologists contend that a generic understanding of ’el as “god” is a rather late development in biblical Hebrew. More accurately, ’el without a definite article is to be rendered simply as “El,” the name of a pan-Canaanite (by this term I mean to include a proto-Israelite culture) deity—a remnant of an older Israelite/Canaanite tradition to which a few biblical passages still attest. Mention of El is also found in Gen 17:1, 28:3, 35:10, 48:3, 49:25. See #27 where this will be treated in greater detail.
  4. Smith, ibid, 32.
  5. More so see Deut 32:8-9: “When the Most High (’elyôn) gave to the nations their inheritance, when he separated humanity, he fixed the boundaries of the peoples according to the number of divine beings. For Yahweh’s portion is his people, Jacob his allotted heritage.” The tradition preserved here is an old Canaanite lore. It detaisl when the High god distributed to the other gods their portions. In other words the text speaks of two deities. El, here portrayed as the “Most high” assigns to the gods in his counsel their particular peoples. To Yahweh, one of the gods in El’s counsel (see also Ps 82:1, 29:1, 89:6-7; cf. Gen 1:26!) Israel is assigned. Similarly, to the Moabites, Chemosh is assigned (see Num 21:29). See also #27.
  6. F. M. Cross, Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic: Essays in the History of the Religion of Israel (Harvard University Press, 1973), 65.
  7. Cf. Yahweh Sabaoth as “he who creates the divine hosts.”