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Prophet Jacob

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The Catholic Encyclopedia
 Robert Appleton Company

Jacob

The son of Isaac and Rebecca, third great patriarch of the chosen people, and the immediate ancestor of the twelve tribes of Israel. The incidents of his life are given in parts of Gen., xxv, 21-1, 13, wherein the documents (J, E, P) are distinguished by modern scholars (see ABRAHAM, I, 52). His name-- possibly an abbreviation of Jacob-El (Babylonian: Ya kub-ilu), with which compare Israel, Ismael etc. -- means "supplanter", and refers to a well-known circumstance of his birth (Gen., xxv, 25). His early years were marked by various efforts to get the birthright from his brother Esau. His struggle for it began before he was born (xxv, 22-5). Later, he took advantage of Esau's thoughtlessness and despair to buy it from him for a pottage of lentils (xxv, 29-33). In virtue of this purchase, and through a ruse, he finally got it by securing the blessing which Isaac intended for Esau (xxvii, 1-37), Then it was that, to escape his brother's avenging wrath, and apparently also to obtain a wife from his parents' stock, he fled to Haran, the dwelling place of Laban, his maternal uncle (xxvii, 41-xxviii, 5). On his way thither, he had at Luza the vision of the angels ascending and descending by a mysterious ladder which reached from earth to heaven, and of Yahweh renewing to him the glorious promises which He had made to Abraham and to Isaac; in consequence of this, he called the place Beth-El, and vowed exclusive worship to Yahweh should He accompany him on his way and bring him back safely home (xxviii, 11-22). Jacob's relations with Laban's household form an interesting episode, the details of which are perfectly true to Eastern life and need not be set forth here. Besides blessing him with eleven children, God granted to Jacob a great material prosperity, so that Laban was naturally desirous of detaining him. But Jacob, long wearied with Laban's frequent trickery, and also bidden by God to return, departed secretly, and, although overtaken and threatened by his angry father-in-law, he managed to appease him and to pursue his own way towards Chanaan (xxix-xxxi). He managed also--after a vision of angels at Mahanaim, and a whole night's wrestling with God at Phanuel, on which latter occasion he received a new blessing and the significant name of Israel--to appease his brother Easu, who had come to meet him with 400 men (xxxii-xxxiii, 16). 

Passing through Socoth, Jacob first settled near Salem, a city of the Sichemites, and there raised an altar to the God of Israel (xxxiii, 17-20). Compelled to leave on account of the enmity of the Chanaanites--the precise occasion of which is uncertain--he went to Bethel, where he fulfilled the vow which he had made when on his way to Haran (xxxiv-xxxv, 15). Proceeding farther south, he came to Ephrata, where he buried Rachel, who died giving birth to Benjamin, and where he erected a pillar on the site of her grave. Thence, through Migdal- Eder, he came to Hebron, where he was joined by Esau for their father's burial (xxxv, 16-29). In Hebron, Jacob lived quietly as the head of a numerous pastoral family, received with inconsolable grief the apparent evidence of Joseph's cruel death, passed through the pressure of famine, and agreed most reluctantly to his separation from Benjamin (xxxvii, 1-4; xlii, 35-38; xliii, 1-14). The news that Joseph was still alive and invited him to come to Egypt revived the patriarch, who, passing through Bersabee, reached Egypt with his sons and grandchildren (xlv, 25-xlix). There it was given him to meet Joseph again, to enjoy the honours conferred upon him by Pharaoh, and to spend prosperously his last days in the land of Gessen. There, on his death- bed, he foretold the future of fortunes of the respective descendants of his sons, and passed away at the age of 147 (xlvi, 29-xlix). According to his last wishes, he was buried in the land of Chanaan (1, 1-13). Despite the various difficulties met with in the examination of the Biblical narrative and dealt with in detail by commentators, it is quite certain that the history of Jacob is that of a real person whose actual deeds are recorded with substantial accuracy. Jacob's character is a mixture of good and evil, gradually chastened by the experience of a long life, and upon the whole not unworthy of being used by God for the purpose of His mercy towards the chosen people. The Talmudic legends concerning Jacob are the acme of fancy.


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