The Antiquities of the Jews, 1.257–1.277

Flavius Josephus  translated by William Whiston

« J. AJ 1.242–1.256 | J. AJ 1.257–1.277 | J. AJ 1.278–1.324 | About This Work »

2571. Now Isaac’s wife proved with child, after the death of Abraham; and when her belly was greatly burdened, Isaac was very anxious, and inquired of God; who answered, that Rebeka should bear twins; and that two nations should take the names of those sons; and that he who appeared the second should excel the elder. 258Accordingly she, in a little time, as God had foretold, bare twins; the elder of whom, from his head to his feet, was very rough and hairy; but the younger took hold of his heel as they were in the birth. Now the father loved the elder, who was called Esau, a name agreeable to his roughness, for the Hebrews call such a hairy roughness [Esau, or] Seir; but Jacob the younger was best beloved by his mother.

2592. When there was a famine in the land, Isaac resolved to go into Egypt, the land there being good; but he went to Gerar, as God commanded him. Here Abimelech the king received him, because Abraham had formerly lived with him, and had been his friend. And as in the beginning he treated him exceeding kindly, so he was hindered from continuing in the same disposition to the end, by his envy at him; 260for when he saw that God was with Isaac, and took such great care of him, he drove him away from him. But Isaac, when he saw how envy had changed the temper of Abimelech retired to a place called the Valley, not far from Gerar: and as he was digging a well, the shepherds fell upon him, and began to fight, in order to hinder the work; and because he did not desire to contend, the shepherds seemed to get the better of him, 261so he still retired, and dug another well; and when certain other shepherds of Abimelech began to offer him violence, he left that also, and still retired, thus purchasing security to himself by a rational and prudent conduct. 262At length the king gave him leave to dig a well without disturbance. He named this well Rehoboth, which denotes a large space; but of the former wells, one was called Escon, which denotes strife, the other Sitenna, which name signifies enmity.

2633. It was now that Isaac’s affairs increased, and his power was in a flourishing condition; and this from his great riches. But Abimelech, thinking Isaac throve in opposition to him, while their living together made them suspicious of each other, and Isaac’s retiring, showing a secret enmity also, he was afraid that his former friendship with Isaac would not secure him, if Isaac should endeavor to revenge the injuries he had formerly offered him; he therefore renewed his friendship with him, and brought with him Philoc, one of his generals. 264And when he had obtained everything he desired, by reason of Isaac’s good nature, who preferred the earlier friendship Abimelech had shown to himself and his father to his later wrath against him, he returned home.

2654. Now when Esau, one of the sons of Isaac, whom the father principally loved, was now come to the age of forty years, he married Adah, the daughter of Helon, and Aholibamah, the daughter of Esebeon; which Helon and Esebeon were great lords among the Canaanites: thereby taking upon himself the authority, and pretending to have dominion over his own marriages, without so much as asking the advice of his father; 266for had Isaac been the arbitrator, he had not given him leave to marry thus, for he was not pleased with contracting any alliance with the people of that country; but not caring to be uneasy to his son by commanding him to put away these wives, he resolved to be silent.

2675. But when he was old, and could not see at all, he called Esau to him, and told him, that besides his blindness, and the disorder of his eyes, his very old age hindered him from his worship of God [by sacrifice]; 268he bid him therefore to go out ahunting, and when he had caught as much venison as he could, to prepare him a supper that after this he might make supplication to God, to be to him a supporter and an assister during the whole time of his life; saying, that it was uncertain when he should die, and that he was desirous, by prayers for him, to procure, beforehand, God to be merciful to him.

2696. Accordingly, Esau went out ahunting. But Rebeka thinking it proper to have the supplication made for obtaining the favor of God to Jacob, and that without the consent of Isaac, bid him kill kids of the goats, and prepare a supper. So Jacob obeyed his mother, according to all her instructions. 270Now when the supper was got ready, he took a goat’s skin, and put it about his arm, that by reason of its hairy roughness, he might by his father be believed to be Esau; for they being twins, and in all things else alike, differed only in this thing. This was done out of his fear, that before his father had made his supplications, he should be caught in his evil practice, and lest he should, on the contrary, provoke his father to curse him. So he brought in the supper to his father. 271Isaac perceiving, by the peculiarity of his voice, who he was, called his son to him, who gave him his hand, which was covered with the goat’s skin. When Isaac felt that, he said, “Thy voice is like the voice of Jacob, yet, because of the thickness of thy hair, thou seemest to be Esau. 272So suspecting no deceit, he ate the supper, and betook himself to his prayers and intercessions with God; and said, “O Lord of all ages, and Creator of all substance; for it was thou that didst propose to my father great plenty of good things, and hast vouchsafed to bestow on me what I have; and hast promised to my posterity to be their kind supporter, and to bestow on them still greater blessings; 273do thou therefore confirm these thy promises, and do not overlook me, because of my present weak condition, on account of which I most earnestly pray to thee. Be gracious to this my son; and preserve him and keep him from every thing that is evil. Give him a happy life, and the possession of as many good things as thy power is able to bestow. Make him terrible to his enemies, and honorable and beloved among his friends.”

2747. Thus did Isaac pray to God, thinking his prayers had been made for Esau. He had but just finished them, when Esau came in from hunting. And when Isaac perceived his mistake, he was silent: but Esau required that he might be made partaker of the like blessing from his father that his brother had partook of; 275but his father refused it, because all his prayers had been spent upon Jacob: so Esau lamented the mistake. However, his father being grieved at his weeping, said, that “he should excel in hunting and strength of body, in arms, and all such sorts of work; and should obtain glory for ever on those accounts, he and his posterity after him; but still should serve his brother.”

2768. Now the mother delivered Jacob, when she was afraid that his brother would inflict some punishment upon him because of the mistake about the prayers of Isaac; for she persuaded her husband to take a wife for Jacob out of Mesopotamia, of her own kindred, 277Esau having married already Basemmath, the daughter of Ismael, without his father’s consent; for Isaac did not like the Canaanites, so that he disapproved of Esau’s former marriages, which made him take Basemmath to wife, in order to please him; and indeed he had a great affection for her.

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