From Gods to God: How the Bible Debunked, Suppressed, or Changed Ancient Myths & Legends

By Avigdor Shinan; Yair Zakovitch et al. | Go to book overview
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7
Seeing and Weeping
Managing the Story of a Divine Defeat

In ancient times, we imagine, there developed among the people of Israel a story (told orally, we assume) about a mighty battle waged between Jacob and a certain divine being. The match ended with Jacob’s triumph and the defeated creature pleading to be allowed a safe retreat. This story did not survive, at least not fully. We are able to reconstruct it, however, by examining its various reflections and reincarnations in the biblical corpus and are assisted in our endeavors by traditions that opposed it. Many of these traditions, it turns out, are stories that purport to explain names of cultic sites (in either covert or overt etymologies), sites at which the battle was supposed to have occurred: Jabbok, Penuel, Mahanaim, and Bethel.

The most obvious and well known of the tradition’s reincarnations, that which most preserves the components of the ancient story, is the story of Jacob’s confrontation at the ford of the Jabbok River. The story relates how, on his return from exile in Haran to the Land of Israel and just prior to meeting his brother and enemy, Esau, Jacob wrestled with a man/angel. (On the interchange between the two terms, see, e.g., the story of the destruction of Sodom, where the messengers of God are called both “men” [Genesis 19:5, 8, 12, 16] and “angels” [19:1, 15].) At the story’s end, the Patriarch receives a blessing, his name is changed to Israel, and he names the place at which the confrontation occurred Peniel (32:24–32).

The encounter takes place at the Jabbok crossing, and the name

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From Gods to God: How the Bible Debunked, Suppressed, or Changed Ancient Myths & Legends
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