Really Terrible Bible Stories Excerpt: Biblical Family Values Parte the Firste: Sibling Rivalry


Biblical Family Values Parte the Firste: Sibling Rivalry

(Genesis 25)

Abraham’s sister/wife Sarah has died. He’s only in his mid-hundreds, so he gets himself another wife, Keturah, who’s apparently considered a concubine. He certainly treats her like one. He has six more sons with her. Old Abe isn’t one for keeping the sons he sires with mere sex slaves around where they can compete with his darling Isaac, so he gives the boys gifts and tells them to GTFO, just like he did with Ishmael. Like many men who hate paying child support, he apparently doesn’t really consider them his sons (Gen. 25:1-6).

After all that effort making babies he doesn’t even want, Abraham dies at a ripe old age. Ishmael, despite being cut out of Abe’s will, helps his half-brother Isaac bury their Pop, but after all he’s been through, and the loyalty he shows at the end, who do you think God blesses? Isaac. Of course. Asshole (Gen. 25:7-11).

Isaac tries to get busy knocking up his wife Rebekah, but she doesn’t get preggers until he begs God to pretty-please let him sire children, because God likes to make people beg. Isaac apparently kisses God’s arse so well he gets twins. Poor Rebekah has a rough pregnancy, the twins in her womb fighting so bad she wonders why she’s even alive. God tells her she has two whole nations in there, and the younger twin will make his older brother serve him. Thus, we know even before he’s born that Jacob will be a douchebag. He even comes out of the birth canal holding brother Esau by the heel, like he’s trying to drag him back so he can be first (Gen. 25:21-26).

Esau turns out to be an awesome hunter, while Jacob lounges around in tents all the time. For some reason, Rebekah loves the lazy boy best, while Isaac’s fonder of a son who brings him meat meals on the regular (Gen. 25:27-28).

Jacob, being a cunning little rat who has plenty of time to scheme, isn’t at all above cheating his very own brother. One day, he’s cooking a stew when Esau comes in from a long day out in the field. Sweaty, no doubt, and exhausted, and absolutely famished, he asks Jacob for a bowl. Now, you’d think a book full of good family values, stuff you should really base your life around, would show Jacob cheerfully sharing his delicious foodstuffs with his older bro, and pouring him out a tall glass of cold beverage to boot. I mean, that’s what families are supposed to be about, right, helping each other and loving each other, not to mention feeding hungry members? We should share like they teach us in preschool, right? Ha ha ha, silly person, no. This is not how you treat family at all! If you’re being Biblical, you screw your poor brother six ways from Sunday (Gen. 25:29-30).

Jacob, seizing his moment, says, “You want some of this? Sell me your birthright first, bro.” (Gen. 25:31)

That’s right. He makes his older brother trade his entire inheritance for a bowl of lentil stew. I mean, it’s not even a hearty meat stew. What an asshole.

Esau’s so hungry he thinks he’s dying, and of course an inheritance is no use to a dead man, so he agrees. Jacob makes him swear it, and he does. Now, you may think Esau was a dumbass who deserved what he got, but let’s consider the circumstances. I suspect he may have been hypoglycemic. When you’ve been out working your ass off in the burning hot sun all day, and your blood sugar drops like the stock market on Black Monday, and every muscle’s shaking, and your vision’s going out, and you cannot brain because your brain is running on the very last fume, then yeah, you’ll agree to a lot of stupid shit to get some food. Besides, you probably don’t suspect your brother would be such a major asshat that he meant it. But Jacob totally does, and would’ve let his brother starve to death if he’d said, “Fuck you, Jake.” (Gen. 25:32-34)

And that’s totally cool with God, as we’ll soon see.

Those, children, are traditional biblical family values. So don’t feel bad about fucking your family over. Go ahead and cheat ’em out of everything they’ve got and ever will have. God will love you for it.


Image is a painting of Abraham, holding a knife to a screaming Isaac's throat, looking incomprehendingly at the cherub that's trying to get his attention. Above is the title Really Terrible Bible Stories. Below is vol. I Genesis, Dana Hunter.

Copyright © 2015 by Dana Hunter. All rights reserved.

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Really Terrible Bible Stories Excerpt: Biblical Family Values Parte the Firste: Sibling Rivalry

11 thoughts on “Really Terrible Bible Stories Excerpt: Biblical Family Values Parte the Firste: Sibling Rivalry

  1. rq

    Don’t knock lentils. That’s some of the heartiest stuff out there, when done right – though who knows if Jacob has followed the right recipe.

    God tells her she has two whole nations in there, and the younger twin will make his older brother serve him.

    Isn’t that just the perfect way to make sure that one child is treated better than the other? Like, ‘it’s been foretold that he will be great, best make it easy for him, too!’. Wow. No wonder that some are more equal, even when it comes to everyone being ‘children of god’.

    I think I remember the hunter / lazybones dichotomy explained from an anthropological point of view, where, basically, what it means is that hunting is going out of style and agriculture is becoming the norm (though whether Jacob ever does a day’s work of agricultural stuff, I don’t really know). When you summarize it like you did above, that just sounds silly.

  2. 2

    What I remember from cultural anthropology classes is that hunting/gathering societies actually have MORE free time than agricultural ones at the level of technology we’re discussing. So if any of this really were to have happened, it’s Esau who would have had time to lay around and Jacob who would be toiling incessantly.

  3. 3

    Ah, I remember preachers trying to shit on Esau to make Jacob and God seem like less total assholes.

    “You see, Esau was actually disrespecting GOD HIMSELF by ever even considering offering his birthright! Esau totally deserved to be taken for a ride!”

    Then they try to play off Jacob’s greed.

    “Jacob loved God so much he was willing to screw over his own brother to get God’s blessing, we should all be so tenacious in seeking God’s blessing!”

    Which of course ignores that God basically cursed Esau from birth. Christians love to lean hard on “God has a plan” and “God is sovereign over the universe” as a positive thing.

    It really isn’t, given how many people God is knowingly screwing over in his plans which he retains total sovereignty over. They like to claim he isn’t responsible for the evil parts, but being sovereign on top of all-powerful and all-knowing…means he is. Of course, putting those traits together is verging on Calvinism, which lots of Christians treat like a horrible cult because pre-determinism makes God an obvious asshole, so I guess that’s how they avoid that conclusion.

  4. 4

    As it happens, I recently started reading The Bible and the Ancient Near East (4th ed.) by Cyrus H. Gordon and Gary A. Rendsburg. Both authors seem to be well-credentialed scholars, familiar with the languages and archaeology of the Middle East for ~2 millennia BCE, but both are also apparently devout Christian believers (though not literalists).

    They don’t cotton to no damn Documentary Hypothesis, and intersperse informed commentary on serious research with notes such as (pg 74) “The Biblical Hebrews never need interpreters to explain their dreams, though individual Hebrews (like Joseph or David) may interpret dreams for foreigners. … It may be that the undeniable religious genius of the Hebrews included a greater and more popular exercise of psychic qualities than characterized the other people of the Bible World.”

    Anyhow, they explain/excuse such ruthlessness as cited above thusly:

    (pp 103-104) All through the Odyssey, wisdom and guile are equated. The hero Odysseus is “he of many wiles.” … This standard of values pervades the patriarchal narratives in Genesis (particularly as concerns Jacob and Laban) and still persists among the Bedouins. To be sure, many people in America today still accept the identification; but our mores are officially against it, which was not the case with the milieu of Jacob or of Odysseus. ΒΆ That guile even on the part of God was thinkable in Israel even down to at least Ahab’s time is reflected in I Kings 12:23, where a true prophet of Yahwe, Micaiah, states that Yahwe had sent deceptive dreams.


    (pg 123) “In patriarchal society, in which the ancient equation of “intelligence” and “trickery” was accepted [footnote: … we note that a similar range of meaning is inherent in English “shrewd” and “smart.”], a man nevertheless felt obliged to abide by his word… Repeatedly, throughout the patriarchal account, but especially in Jacob’s career, a premium is placed on a kind of cleverness, which if practiced in our society would be condemned as cheating. The Bible does not confront us with a static code but rather with a historic evolution whereby religion and morals grew from humble beginnings to the loftiest heights.

    Even this sort of rationalized relativism gives way to flat-out evasion in cases such as Abraham pimping out his wife as his sister. While I do feel I’m learning some things about, e.g., Ugaritic excavations, as I plow through this, I have no doubt that by the end I will feel a need for a long hot shower and a big bottle of cold alcohol similar to your cravings after wading through a volume of creationist muck. But, anyway, yeah: way back when this sort of nastiness – Jacob’s treachery and butchery of the Shechemites a foremost example – was exalted as something to emulate.

  5. 5

    Oh yes – speaking of sibling rivalry: Gordon & Rendsburg imply that the repeated stories of a younger brother outwitting or otherwise exploiting an older brother were justified, to the Hebrews, by comparison with their own secondary status among the more-sophisticated cities and empires around them.

  6. 6

    Pierce, yes, whoever the authors of these tales were, clearly believed that cheating that is successful should be admired, not admonished. And thanks for the comparison to the Greek mythology – both Odysseus and Theseus were more admired for their cunning than for boldness.

    It feels less horrible when you stop thinking of the stories as lessons on how to live our lives and more as stories told by ancient people, and which can tell us about their culture.

    Also, no need to think of them as stories about real people. They are symbolic tales about representatives of nations and tribes. It’s all propaganda – those people across the border are our enemies, but also related tribes. We are so much better than them because our god said so. This gives us permission to exploit them if we can manage it.

    And we know how it feels, because we have seen propaganda in our times.

  7. 7

    Well, cheating is often the necessary/only strategy available to the underdog, which role the Hebrews/Jews occupied for nearly all their history. (I consider the story of David’s empire all the way up to the Euphrates river as a gross exaggeration concocted by propagandists a couple of centuries later – but even if you take the biblical stories literally, that lasted only a single generation.)

    And the comparison to Greek mythology comes from Gordon & Rendsburg, who regularly cite a book by Gordon outlining how the Greeks and Hebrews both derived much of their culture from mingled Minoan, Phoenician, and Egyptian sources.

    (Incidentally, G&R relate that in the “Nuzu texts”, a set of 14th-15th century BCE tablets inscribed with Babylonian cuneiform writing – mostly recording legal contracts – found in the northeastern-Mesopotamian town of Nuzu [aka Nuzi], a story of a first-born son selling his birthright to a younger brother appears, in close parallel to the Esau/Jacob story.)

    Oh, and of course The Bible and the Ancient Near East also contains multiple references to your esteemed namesake, the “impetuous” and rather violent Ugaritic fertility goddess Anat.

    As for the propaganda in our own times – yarrgh/grrr! Don’t get me started…

  8. 8

    Yes, there is a reason I chose that handle. It is a common enough, yet not too common, Hebrew name in my generation, and the pagan origins are supposed to be a reminder of where I stand regarding Bible, Judaism and such. (Though one of the judges was son of Anat, somehow.)

  9. 9

    anat @ # 8 – All I could find when looking for your namesake in the KJV was someone named Anath (plus a place [a city?] called Anathoth, and a whole lot of pomegranates).

    How many Shamgars do we have running around Israel (or NYC, or Miami…) these days?

  10. 10

    Judges 3:13: And after him was Shamgar the son of Anath, who smote of the Philistines six hundred men with an ox-goad; and he also saved Israel.

    But in modern Israel there was Meir Shamgar, president of the Supreme Court from 1983 to 1995.

  11. 11

    … Shamgar the son of Anath, who smote of the Philistines six hundred men with an ox-goad; and he also saved Israel.

    So many heart-warming myths packed into the Babble, they had to leave out all but the most colorful details! (Will Israeli[te]s ever tire of the mass slaughter of Philistines/Palestinians?)

    But at least this provides endless opportunities for Hollywood spectaculars, once the Believer-producers can break out of their low-budget God’s Not Dead/Do You Believe? phase.

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