The tale of Jacob and Esau is one of sibling and tribal rivalry, so present in the Old Testament. Jacob, the spiritual founder of the nation of Israel, was a Shepherd of animals and a Jew; Esau was a hunter and gentile — the firstborn and the favourite of his father who was tricked out of his birthright by Jacob (this, incidentally, gives us a clue to the envious spirit of anti-semitism).
The story reveals the archetypal conflict between types of people: the Shepherd and the hunter, the intellectual and the strongman, the vegetarian and the meat-eater, the mass person and the elitist, the left and the right. It is repetition in some ways, or an elaboration of the story of Cain and Abel, the story of the eternal rivals. But there is some new physiological detail to the Cain and Able story: the possibility of reconciliation of the warring brothers.
Rivalry often is so often inherited and deeply present in both biology and culture, as is show by the fact that Jacob and Esau were fighting a battle even in Rebecca’s womb. This rivalry is destructive by nature when unconscious, but can be creative when recognized as a creative dialectic and embodied. The fight between the warring brothers is also reflected in the split between science and spirit, the rational mind and the intuitive mind, between form and emptiness, between ego and altruism, desire and wisdom—and all the different dualities of human experience.
The human being is a creature in conflict with himself, he is Jacob and Esau, so to speak. And in the outer world, from geopolitics to a struggle with a difficult lover or neighbour, there are seemingly irreconcilable conflicts. Often we are offered a change a reconciliation, but we stubbornly refuse. The clever intellectual and diplomat that Jacob is, just cannot accept into his heart the more instinctual, physical being that Eseau is. And Eseu doesn’t have the discipline to be a leader, for he has sold his birthright for a bowl of lentils symbolizing a delicious but unsustaining form of nourishment. Today modern man sacrifices his health well being to indulge in fast food, facebook and porn, and so remains at the level of beast.
And the point is here: the two brothers are codependent. Jacob needs Eseau to be beastly, and Eseau needs Jacob to be ‘two-faced’ —to maintain their sense of separation. In a psychological sense they are broken halfs of the same person. That is: we all have an inner beast and diplomat—we all have our bodily desires and our mental trickery. The reconciliation of Jacob and Eseau, on an inner level, is the reconciliation between the lower and the higher, between heaven and earth—symbolically speaking.
Because the genesis stories are so often ‘cautionary’ tales there is no reconciliation between the brothers. But the difference here between this story and the Cain and Able story, is that the possibility of reconciliation is presented. The fact that they have refused reconciliation points to this flawed and skizophrenic aspect of mankind, which refuses to be reconciled. The mind refuses to acknowledge the body, and the body refuses to acknowledge the mind so to speak. At the risk of being corny here, the heart is the mediator between both—the way out of an eternal conflict.
Support or contact Andrew Sweeny:
Thanks Stephen Lewis for the edits