Robert Alter, The Art of Biblical Narrative (New York: Basic Books, 1981). Alter shows how the biblical narrators introduce playful and subtle articulations of the human situation. Although his reading of the Jacob stories is very sensitive and enlightening (and I approve his technique), I, nevertheless, do not believe he resolves the problems of Jacob’s “innocence.”

Alter notes that taµm is an “odd epithet” when attached to Jacob and thus contains “a lurking possibility of irony” (p. 183). But he leaves the suggestion barren. The use of this particular epithet immediately before Jacob’s acquisition of Esau’s birthright “is bound to give us pause,” he admits, “to make us puzzle over the moral nature of Jacob—an enigma we shall be trying to fathom twenty chapters later…” (pp. 43ff.).