Counting Jacob's Twelve Sons

Mary Douglas

in Jacob's Tears

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

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Develops the author's argument that the motivation of the priestly editors of the Pentateuch, and in particular of Numbers and Leviticus, was strictly professional and priestly. The author asks why, in the Book of Numbers, does the editor keep listing the names of the twelve tribes of Israel (descendants of the twelve sons of Jacob), and puts forward the thesis that they were using the stories of the patriarchs as an allegory of their own concerns about the unity of the cult of the Hebrew God: their choice to write about fraternal rivalry was not arbitrary. The first section of the chapter looks specifically at the strife between the brothers Joseph and Judah, the founding patriarchs of Samaria and Judah, and the precarious relations between those countries. The following sections look at other aspects of the Pentateuch in the same way – as allegory, and as a way of addressing contemporary problems affecting the editors themselves: editors who believed that all the sons of Joseph were co‐heirs of the Covenant, and that authority rested with the Aaronite priesthood. In this context, the discussion covers the different manifestations of God as angry and forgiving in Numbers and Leviticus, the issue of unity and defection between the brother tribes and brother priests of Israel, and the story of Jacob himself, his favourite son Joseph, and Joseph's sons, Ephraim and Manasseh.

Keywords: Aaronite priesthood; allegory; defection; Ephraim; God as angry; God as forgiving; God's covenant; Israel; Joseph; Judah; Leviticus; Manasseh; Numbers; Pentateuch; priestly editors; priests of Israel; Samaria; sons of Jacob; twelve tribes of Israel; unity

Chapter.  10496 words. 

Subjects: Biblical Studies

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