Christianity and the Problem of Human ViolenceChristianity and the Problem of Human Violence: Part 14 Jacob and Esau
from Guide to Kingdom Living

True Christian living requires us to live according to Kingdom standards which bring Heaven to earth.

Christianity and the Problem of Human Violence: Part 14 Jacob and Esau

By Stephen R. Kaufman, M.D.

The story of Jacob and Esau illustrates a profound understanding of mimetic desire and conflict. The Hebrew Scriptures are filled with stories of brothers in conflict, starting with Cain and Abel. In this story, Jacob is born moments after Esau, remarkably grasping Esauís heel. This portends the rivalry for Isaacís favor that will violently separate the boys.

As is often the case in the Hebrew Scriptures, the younger brother eventually prevails over the older brother, undermining notions of the sacred order, in which the older brother should assume family leadership. Jacob and Esauís parents promote sibling rivalry, with Rebecca favoring Jacob and Isaac loving Esau more. The boys compete for their fatherís fortune and love, and Jacob cleverly wins by first capitalizing on Esauís impulsiveness and shortsightedness to trade Esauís birthright for a bowl of porridge and then fooling his father into giving Jacob the fatherís blessing.

Fearing Esauís wrath, Jacob flees. Jacobís struggle at Jabbok is very interesting in that he is injured and yet emerges victorious. Prepared to meet Esau, Jacob bestows his fatherís blessing upon Esau and they make peace. As James Williams observes in The Bible, Violence and the Sacred, this story is about mimetic rivalry that is resolved without violence. Jacob neither scapegoats nor is scapegoated.

Recalling how differences are needed in order to maintain social order, twins represent a profound threat. In many primal cultures, when there are identical twins, one or both are killed. While we donít kill identical twins in our culture, they are certainly a source of fascination, if not discomfort. We naturally want to categorize everyone, including children, in terms of intelligence, athleticism, and other features, yet identical twinsí similarity confounds our efforts at differentiation. Lack of differentiation opens the floodgates of rivalry, and weíve discussed how rivalries can divide and destroy communities. The Jacob and Esau story illustrates the divisive potential of twins, yet the story resolves without violence.

In several Bible stories, the younger son prevails, and it is tempting to see the Bible as scapegoating older sonsóvictimizing them in order to maintain a theme of dominant younger sons. Yet, older sons in the Bible often fair well. For example, Ishmael and Esau become patriarchs of great peoples. Another distinctive feature of the Bible is that the younger sons must first endure ordeals in which they are victims (e.g., the near-sacrifice of Isaac and the flight of Jacob from Esauís wrath). Able to appreciate the victimís perspective, younger brothers may more readily see the mechanism of victimization.

The story of Joseph expands the theme of younger brothers who are victimized but eventually prevail and flourish. Importantly, Joseph shows how love and forgiveness are central to reconciliation, and love and forgiveness will become central components of Jesusí ministry.

Go on to: Part 15 Joseph
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