Genesis as Dialogue: A Literary, Historical, & Theological Commentary

By Thomas L. Brodie | Go to book overview

41
Jacob's Death and Burial (Chaps. 49–50)
Jacob's Final Blessings and Death (Chap. 49)
Jacob's Burial (with Mourning and Aftermath) (Chap. 50)

Introductory Aspects

The Basic Story Line

The two final chapters tell of two closely-related episodes—death and burial: Jacob dies at the end of chapter 49 and is buried in chapter 50.

A death-and-burial story can seem empty. But not here. The death (chap. 49) is primarily a scene of blessing. Jacob calls his sons, and instead of moaning about all that is lost and gone—his moaning phase is over—he directs them toward the future. He recalls the past only insofar as it helps him to indicate a future leader (the past helps to disqualify the three eldest sons).

The burial (chap. 50) is a scene of haunting splendor. Jacob receives the fullest Egyptian ritual, literally the best in the world. But then, in an extraordinary counter move, he is given something that the larger world cannot give—a journey that breaks normal geographical patterns and that brings him to the God-related site at Mamre, the site first bought for Sarah. This enigmatic journey involves a great gathering beyond the Jordan—of family, nation, and distant onlookers—for seven days. And when the burial is over, the effect is not to dissolve or lessen the relationship between the brothers but to bring them together as never before in explicit forgiveness.

At the very end (50:26) the burial of Joseph is brief and down-to-earth, forming a prosaic counterpoint to the events surrounding Jacob. Taken together the two burials provide two accounts of death, one ending with a rumor of transcendence, the other in a coffin. The implications of the difference between the two—one surrounded by chariots and horses, the other in a box—will become clearer in the contrast between Elijah, taken up to heaven (2 Kings 2:11), and Elisha, reduced to bones (2 Kings 13:20).


Literary Form

Jacob's words to his twelve sons (chap. 49) have been described as a last will and testament (Westermann, III, 181–182), or as the Testament of Jacob (Speiser, 370). The genre question, however, is not simple (Sarna, 331). Chapter 49 involves a synthesis of three literary types: the death-bed blessing (cf. Isaac's blessing of Jacob and Esau, chap. 27); the farewell address or last discourse (cf.

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