The Jacob cycle, heart of the patriarchal narratives, has moved, intrigued and inspired generations throughout the millennia. The characters are as real as we ourselves—and as elusive. Seen through different prisms, they continually reveal new facets. In this issue we examine these stories and the people in them from different perspectives: Jacob, as the […]

Deception for Deception
Who breaks the cycle? By Richard Elliott Friedman

The biblical story of Jacob is artistically an exquisite creation, psychologically an intriguing portrait, and religiously an interpretive treasurehouse—but it has always been a problem. Even Sunday school children ask why the hero Jacob, the great patriarch, withholds food from his own brother Esau to get his brother’s birthright and then lies to his […]

The Patriarch Jacob—An “Innocent Man”
Moral ambiguity in the biblical portrayal By Carl D. Evans

At the beginning of the story of Jacob and Esau, the Bible tells us that Esau was a hunter, a man of the outdoors; Jacob, by contrast, was an ’ îš tām (Genesis 25:27), (pronounced ish tam). If we were to render this expression in accordance with the Bible’s usual meaning of tām (’ […]

Joseph—the Brilliant Failure
The true character of the biblical Joseph By Maurice Samuel

Published 30 years ago, the following analysis of Joseph’s character has become a classic among a small group of cognoscenti. The author, Maurice Samuel, was a Jewish literary critic and novelist whose work appeared in Saturday Review of Literature and other journals. He died in 1972. According to Samuel, Joseph was a failure—the Messiah […]

Jacob Takes His Bride
The tales of Jacob By Thomas Mann

Then Jacob said to Laban, “Give me my wife, for my days are fulfilled, that I may go in to her.”


If I had a little sister, Rachel with sparkling eyes, wooed for seven years and loved by him,

The Mothers of Israel
The patriarchal narratives from a feminist perspective By J. Cheryl Exum

When one thinks of the narratives of Genesis 12–50, one thinks of the patriarchs, of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, and of their special role as bearers of God’s promise to the chosen people. But what of the matriarchs—Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel and Leah—what place do they have in these dramatic sagas of Israel’s […]


Biblical art and music fill traveling “tent of meeting”
Bible Books
Moses reflected in two more mirrors By Avigdor Shinan, Henry O. Thompson, Leslie C. Allen