My SBL 2009 Paper Abstract
With SBL New Orleans now less than a month away, I have begun the task of looking at my paper again (especially given that it has now been expanded as the second chapter to my dissertation). For those of us who will be attending the meeting, I wanted to share (again) the abstract for my paper, which I will be presenting in the “coveted” Tuesday morning time slot, at 9 am.
Here is the abstract:
In this study I set out to read Gen 25:23, YHWH’s oracle to Rebekah, as a trickster oracle. I argue that one should not read it under the a priori assumption that it coheres with other narratives of inverted primogeniture elsewhere in Genesis. Rather, in light of Robert Alter’s understanding of the biblical type-scene, what is seminal in understanding the oracle is how it differs from the convention of annunciation of birth elsewhere in Genesis.
Against this backdrop, the oracle is seen to be ambiguous in matters of diction/meaning, syntax, and context, which thus further impels the narrative’s human characters–Rebekah and Jacob–to bring about their own interpretation of the divine will, which they succeed in doing by means of several deceptions. Against this backdrop, I contend that the final line in 25:23 is best translated “the greater will serve the lesser” rather than “the elder will serve the younger,” which ultimately has implications for the entirety of the Jacob cycle, including the texts of deception.
With this point in mind, I interpret two scenes of deception–Jacob’s extorting the birthright from Esau (Gen 25:27-34) and the deception of Isaac (Gen 27:1-45)–in light of hte oracle. Givent he oracle’s function, in all its vagueness, as an introduction to the entire Jacob cycle, God is both involved and complict in the deceptions in various ways. Corroborating this point is the Bethel theophany (Gen 28:10-22), in which Jacob receives the ancestral promise solely at YHWH’s behest. And it is the perpetuation of this very promise, at times by deceptive measures, that is the principle concern of YHWH in Genesis.
In the end, the oracle does not appear ever to have been concerned with Jacob becoming the greater. Instead, he is the greater from the womb, a status substantiated through his cunning and shrewd characterization as opposed to the dimwitted and overly-dramatic Esau. A potential reason for why God has chosen such an individual, then, presents itself: God the Trickster selects Jacob because it is he, not Esau, who is a trickster from the very start.
I hope those who will still be in attendance will be able to make the paper.
Any questions? Comments? Thoughts? Are you able to hear it?