I am glad to announce that I learned, while in New Orleans last week, that my paper proposal for the 2010 Southwest Commission on Religious Studies (regional meeting of the SBL) has been accepted. John Vassar of LSU-Shreveport was kind enough to email me personally and suggest I submit a proposal, and I was glad to do it. This will be my third year in a row, and 4th paper, read at the SWCRS. Now I just need to write the thing (which shouldn’t be a problem, given it is the penultimate chapter in the dissertation, and I will be done with the whole dissertation come Spring).
The proposal I submitted was entitled “Replaying the Fool: Esau vs Jacob and YHWH in Gen 32-33.” Here is the abstract I submitted:
The Jacob narratives in Genesis are among the most troubling texts in the Hebrew Bible for the way in which they portray characters actively engaging in deception, often of one’s own family. Esau arguably suffers most, losing not only the right of the firstborn (Gen 25:27-34) but also the paternal blessing (Gen 27:1-45) to Jacob’s clever and calculating ways. The response of Esau is clear: he plots to kill his scheming brother. Later in the narrative, however, in the reconciliation scene between the two brothers, Esau’s murderous anger is conspicuously absent and instead replaced with a seemingly affable, forgiving demeanor. Scholarship has traditionally noted that Jacob’s worry at the impending reunion is in vain and highlights all the more his problematic character, especially in light of the nocturnal wrestling match he has with God. It is this contest with the divine that traditional readings of the Jacob cycle will argue leads to a change for the better in Jacob’s character. Such a reading, however, cannot be sustained against a close scrutiny of the text.
This study is part of a larger project looking at the role and function of God in Jacob’s deceptions. Here specifically I will argue that Jacob by no means repents of his deceptive ways but rather continues with them, at the expense of his brother yet again. Jacob’s encounter with his besmirched brother will be read in parallel with 25:27-34. Esau again plays the fool, just as he did with the right of the firstborn, on a variety of levels: he accepts Jacob’s ambiguous offer of the “blessing” (33:11, cf. 32:29) and he ends up separated from his brother yet again by means of Jacob’s trickery (33:15-20). God is deeply connected with these deceptions (Gen 32:22-32), and a close literary reading of the text will offer new interpretive possibilities for understanding not only the Jacob and Esau dynamic but also the Jacob and God dynamic.