Two brothers, two voices

Discovering the Hebrew Bible

  • Jacob and Esau – the differences

    From the very first moment of Jacob and Esau’s conversation we see a dramatic difference in their speech, in both content and style. Esau’s sentences are short and coarse. When he says, “I have plenty, my brother (אָחִי)”, even though they are real brothers, in Hebrew this sounds like a very familiar and informal appeal. When we come to Jacob’s response, we hear a completely different, refined and polite speech. 

    Hebrew reveals their true character

    One of the most remarkable details of Jacob’s speech is a particle “na” (נָא), repeated twice (Gen.33:10) and lost in translation – a sign of a polite and formal speech. God is mentioned in his every sentence, while Esau doesn’t mention God at all. Moreover, their attitudes are completely different. While Esau says “I have plenty” (יֶשׁ־לִי רָב ), Jacob states “I have everything” (יֶשׁ־לִי־כֹל ). Esau speaks of wealth, while Jacob speaks of sufficiency.

    See familiar Biblical stories in a new light

    This comparison helps us better understand the story of the “stolen blessing” twenty years earlier. It is this difference in speaking style that Isaac referred to when he said, "The voice is the voice of Jacob and the hands are the hands of Esau." This difference is almost lost in translation – to see many other familiar biblical stories in a new light, enroll in our course Discovering the Hebrew Bible. 

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