Jacob’s story – recorded by Joseph’s grandchildren

We can learn Jacob’s story, as recorded by his grandchildren, from the Akkadian Source fragments in Genesis.

Many scholars consider that the P (priestly) Source in Genesis is quite late, working on the assumption that it is the product of scholars working in Babylon after the exile in 600 BC. Yet that is not the complete story. Examination of the text indicates that P Source includes elements that were written down in Egypt, in Akkadian cuneiform before 1300 BC. It is only their translation from Akkadian that was late and was carried out in Babylon.

In Genesis, we can mostly just take the P Source material dealing with Jacob’s family and treat it as being drawn from the Akkadian original. In the most cases, there are no anachronisms that would cause us to hold back from that approach. The only exception is the extended Abrahamic circumcision covenant narrative in Genesis 17, and other references to circumcision.

On this basis, and adding relevant E Source material, Jacob’s story as told by his grandchildren is very simple and straightforward. We can see that it becomes much more detailed as it approaches the time when the events described occurred. The story goes like this:

Abram was seventy-five when he set out from Haran. He took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all the possessions they had accumulated and the people they had acquired in Haran, and they set out for the land of Canaan, and they arrived there. Now Abram moved on from there into the region of the Negev and lived between Kadesh and Shur.

[Then follows the story of Sarai being taken into the harem of Abimelech, who soon realized that he taken another man’s wife. After this, Abimelech granted Abram the right to live in the land.]

After Abram had been living in Canaan ten years, Sarai his wife took her Egyptian maidservant Hagar and gave her to her husband to be his wife. So Hagar bore Abram a son, and Abram gave the name Ishmael to the son she had borne. Sarai also bore Abram a son, and Abram gave him the name Isaac.

Sarai died at Kiriath Arba in the land of Canaan, and Abram began to mourn for Sarai and to weep over her.

[Then follows the story of Abram buying the field of Ephron the Hittite so that he could bury his wife with dignity.]

Abram breathed his last and died at a good old age, an old man and full of years; and he was gathered to his people. His sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah near Mamre, in the field of Ephron son of Zohar the Hittite, the field he had bought from the Hittites. There Abram was buried with his wife Sarai. After Abram’s death, God blessed his son Isaac, who then lived near Beer Lahai Roi.

Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebekah daughter of Bethuel the Aramean from Paddan Aram and sister of Laban the Aramean.

[After this Jacob and Esau were born to Isaac and Rebekah. This event has dropped out of the P text, but we know it from the context that follows.]

When Esau was forty years old, he married Judith daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and also Basemath daughter of Elon the Hittite. These wives were a source of grief to Isaac and Rebekah. Then Rebekah said to Isaac, “I’m disgusted with living because of these Hittite women. If Jacob takes a wife from among the women of this land, from Hittite women like these, my life will not be worth living.”

So Isaac called for Jacob and blessed him and commanded him: “Do not marry a Hittite woman. Go at once to Paddan Aram, to the house of your mother’s father Bethuel. Take a wife for yourself there, from among the daughters of Laban, your mother’s brother. May El Shaddai bless you and make you fruitful and increase your numbers until you become a community of peoples. Then Isaac sent Jacob on his way, and he went to Paddan Aram, to Laban son of Bethuel the Aramean, the brother of Rebekah, who was the mother of Jacob and Esau.

After Jacob returned from Paddan Aram, God appeared to him and blessed him. God said to him, “Your name is Jacob, but you will no longer be called Jacob; your name will be Israel.” So he named him Israel. And God said to him, “I am El Shaddai; be fruitful and increase in number. A nation and a community of nations will come from you, and kings will come from your body. The land I gave to Abram and Isaac I also give to you, and I will give this land to your descendants after you.” Then God went up from him at the place where he had talked to him. Jacob set up a stone pillar at the place where God had talked to him, and he poured out a drink offering on it; he also poured oil on it. Jacob called the place where God had talked to him Bethel.

Jacob had twelve sons:

The sons of Leah: Reuben the firstborn of Jacob, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar and Zebulun.

The sons of Rachel: Joseph and Benjamin.

The sons of Rachel’s maidservant Bilhah: Dan and Naphtali.

The sons of Leah’s maidservant Zilpah: Gad and Asher.

These were the sons of Jacob, who were born to him in Paddan Aram.

Jacob came home to his father Isaac in Mamre, near Kiriath Arba, where Abraham and Isaac had stayed.

Isaac breathed his last and died and was gathered to his people, old and full of years. And his sons Esau and Jacob buried him.

After Jacob came from Mamre, he came safely to the city of Shechem in Canaan and camped within sight of the city. For a thousand pieces of silver, he bought from the sons of Hamor, the ruler of Shechem, the plot of ground where he pitched his tent. There he set up an altar and called it “El, God of Israel.”

Israel loved Joseph more than any of this other sons, because he had been born to him in his old age. When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them, they hated him, and could not speak a kind word to him.

His brothers had gone to graze their father’s flocks near Shechem and Israel said to Joseph, “As you know, your brothers are grazing the flocks near Shechem. Come, I am going to send you to them.”

“Very well,” he replied.

So he said to him, “Go and see if all is well with your brothers and with the flocks, and bring word back to me.” So he sent him from the Valley of Hebron.”

When Joseph arrived in Shechem, a man found him wandering around in the fields and asked him, “What are you looking for?”

He replied, “I’m looking for my brothers. Can you tell me where they are grazing their flocks?”

“They have moved on from here,” the man answered. “I heard them say, ‘Let’s go to Dothan.'”

So Joseph went after his brothers and found them near Dothan. But they saw him in the distance, and before he reached them, they plotted to kill him.

When Reuben heard this, he tried to rescue him from their hands. “Let’s not take his life,” he said. Don’t shed any blood. Throw him into this cistern here in the desert, but don’t lay a hand on him.” Reuben said this to rescue him from them and take him back to his father. And they took him and threw him into the cistern. Now the cistern was empty; there was not water in it.

But Midianite merchants pulled Joseph up out of the cistern.

When Reuben returned to the cistern and saw that Joseph was not there, he tore his clothes. He went back to his brothers and said, “The boy isn’t there! Where can I turn now?”

Meanwhile, the Midianites sold Joseph in Egypt to Potiphar, the captain of the guard.

Pharaoh was angry with his two officials, the chief cupbearer and the chief baker, and put them in custody in the house of he captain of the guard. The captain of the guard assigned them to Joseph, and he attended them.

After they had been in custody for some time, each of the two men had a dream the same night, and each dream had a meaning of its own.

[Joseph gave the interpretation of their dreams – the cupbearer was to be restored, the baker was to be executed.]

The king restored the chief cupbearer to his position, so that he once again put the cup in the king’s hand, but he hanged the chief baker, just as Joseph had said to them in his interpretation. The chief cupbearer, however, did not remember Joseph; he forgot him.

When two years had passed the chief cupbearer said to the king, “Today I am reminded of my shortcomings. The king was once angry with his servants, and he imprisoned me and the chief baker in the house of the captain of the guard. Each of us had a dream the same night, and each dream had a meaning of its own. Now a young Hebrew was there with us, a servant of the captain of the guard. We told him our dreams, and he interpreted them for us, giving each man the interpretation of his dream. And things turned out exactly as he interpreted them to us: I was restored to my position, and the other man was hanged.”

So the king sent for Joseph, and he was quickly brought from the house of the captain of the guard. When he had shaved and changed his clothes, he came before the king.

[Pharaoh told Joseph his dreams, and Joseph interpreted them as portending seven years of plenty and seven years of famine. He recommended that Pharaoh appoint commissioners to take a fifth of the harvest each year, and that this food be used in the years of famine.]

The plan seemed good to Pharaoh and to all his officials. So Pharaoh asked them, “Can we find anyone like this man, one in whom is the spirit of God?”

Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has made all this know to you, there is no-one so discerning and wise as you. You shall be in charge of my palace, and all my people are to submit to your orders. Only with respect to the throne will I be greater than you.”

So Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I hereby put you in charge of the whole land of Egypt.” Then Pharaoh took his signet ring from his finger and put it on Joseph’s finger. He dressed him in robes of fine linen and put a gold chain around his neck. He had him ride in a chariot as his second-in-command, and men shouted before him, “Make way!” Thus he put him in charge of the whole land of Egypt.

Joseph was thirty years old when he entered the service of the king of Egypt. And Joseph went out from the king’s presence and travelled throughout Egypt.

[A famine came on the land, and Jacob sent a party down to Egypt to purchase grain. There they met Joseph, who was in charge of selling the grain supplies to foreigners. As a result, Joseph invited his father, Jacob, to come down to Egypt to live with him.]

All those who went down to Egypt with Jacob “ those who were his direct descendants, not counting his sons wives numbered sixty-six persons.

Jacob said to Joseph, “El Shaddai appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan, and there he blessed me and said to me, ‘I am going to make you fruitful and will increase your numbers. I will make you a community of peoples, and I will give this land as an everlasting possession to your descendants after you.’ Now then, your two sons born to you in Egypt before I came to you here will be reckoned as mine; Ephraim and Manasseh will be mine, just as Reuben and Simeon are mine. Any children born to you after them will be yours; in the territory they inherit they will be reckoned under the names of their brothers. As I was returning from Paddan, to my sorrow Rachel died in the land of Canaan while we still on the way, a little distance from Ephrath. So I buried her there beside the road to Ephrath.”

Jacob lived in Egypt seventeen years.

Then he gave these instructions: “I am about to be gathered to my people. Bury me with my fathers in the cave in the field of Ephron the Hittite, the cave in the field of Machpelah, near Mamre in Canaan, which Abraham bought as a burial place from Ephron the Hittite, along with the field. There Abraham and his wife Sarah were buried, there Isaac and his wife Rebekah were buried, and there I buried Leah. The field and the cave in it were bought from the Hittites.

When Jacob had finished giving instructions to his sons, he drew his feet up in the bed, breathed his last and was gathered to his people.

So Jacob’s sons did as he commanded them: They carried him to the land of Canaan and buried him in the cave in the field of Machpelah, near Mamre, which Abraham had bought as a burial place from Ephron the Hittite, along with the field. After burying his father, Joseph returned to Egypt, together with his brothers and all the others who had gone with him to bury his father.

From their position of inherited wealth and status, Joseph’s grandsons had the opportunity, and the responsibility, to write down the family history, covering the time from Abram leaving Haran, in northern Syria, until they all found themselves in Egypt.

When the grandsons wrote down this account (or caused it to be written down), they had no idea of the momentous events that would follow in the years to come. At that time they lived in peace, prosperity and public acclaim on account of Joseph.