Notes on Genesis (xiii)

‘Now Esau was a skilful hunter, a man of the field; but Jacob was a simple man, dwelling in tents.’ (Gen 25:27)

These two brothers join the list of pairs of people in Genesis who are distinguished in fundamental ways: Abel is a shepherd and Cain a tiller (Gen 4:2ff; Oscar Hammerstein’s wish that the farmer and the cowman should be friends has not always been fulfilled); Lot pitches a tent in the well-watered land where, ominously, he chose to dwell towards Sodom, while his unselfish uncle Abraham builds an altar in a land he had not chosen (Gen 13:10-18), where he will receive mysterious visitors by an oak tree. Apparently readers of the story of Esau and Jacob are expected, as usual, to take the side of the younger, but as it turns out Jacob is by no means ‘simple’ (the word used in the Septuagint, aplastos, has the sense of not moulded, and so natural), for with the aid of his mother he goes on to trick his elder brother out of his birthright and then flees to her brother, his uncle. Patristic commentary seems to have little to say on the contrast between the brothers made at Gen 25:27, but the dichotomy seems to be part of a pattern. 

On a different tack: Christ’s ministry was exercised in what modern Australian parlance would describe as rural and regional areas; not surprisingly, he spoke of shepherds, sowers and workers in vineyards. The accounts of St Paul in the Acts of the Apostles, on the other hand, describe preaching in towns, and in this the Apostle described in Acts stands close to the writer of the epistles, who used imagery, such as running in a race and boxing (1 Cor 9:24-7; the same pair occur at 2 Tim 4:7) that would have been familiar to people living in towns. And the places to which the Pauline epistles were addressed include not only Rome, the capital of the Empire, but Corinth and Ephesos, both capitals of provinces (Achaia and proconsular Asia respectively), and Thessaloniki, which has been described as virtually a capital. It looks as though the urban nature that would define Christianity for centuries was in place as early as the first generation.

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