Jacob's Tears

Mary Douglas

Published in print November 2004 | ISBN: 9780199265237
Published online January 2005 | e-ISBN: 9780191602054 | DOI:
Jacob's Tears

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The author argues that the priestly editors of the Pentateuch, far from being a separate elite, had a political agenda. Credited with composing Leviticus and Numbers, and with the final editing of Genesis and Exodus, the priestly editors have a distinctive style and vocabulary, and their subject matter is not myth or history but the law of God, the divine work of creation, and the practice of the cult. They are usually considered to be a scholarly elite, unconcerned with the plight of their congregation, but this study shows them to be politically engaged, set against the exclusionary policies of the government of Judah in the post‐exilic period (sixth and fifth centuries bce). For them, Israel comprised all the sons of Jacob, not excluding Joseph. An anthropological reading shows the editors as brilliant, ardent religious reformers, inspired with an urgent political mission, and their work presents a criticism of the post‐exilic government: the editors wanted to be at peace with the surrounding peoples, especially Samaria; they were opposed to the Persian‐appointed governor's definition of the ‘people of Israel’; and they disagreed with his definition of a foreigner, his rejection of foreign marriages, his promotion of the Levites. The theology of the priestly editors emphasized that God made his covenant for all the descendants of Jacob (Israel): all twelve of his sons were the heirs; the children of Israel should not fight each other; and Judah had no right to appropriate the covenantal blessings for his own people or to exclude the descendants of his brothers. However, the priestly editors’ concern to heal the breach between Judah and Samaria would have been politically unacceptable, and open protest would have been dangerous. Indeed, eventually they do seem to have got into serious trouble, for the line of priests descended from Aaron faded out of the biblical histories. The book is arranged in four sections, each with two chapters: I. The Legacy of Jacob's Sons; II. Who is All Israel?; III. Before and After Exile: The Gap in Learning; and IV. Magic and Monotheism.

Keywords: anthropological analysis; Bible; children of Israel; exile; God's covenant; Israel; Jacob; Joseph; Judah; Leviticus; Numbers; Pentateuch; people of Israel; political engagement; priestly editors; reconciliation; religious reform; Samaria; sons of Jacob

Book.  217 pages.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Biblical Studies

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Table of Contents

Preface in Jacob's Tears


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