Sunday, October 23, 2011

A Mother's Initiative

            The story of Jacob and Esau is one of sibling rivalry, but theirs is one that goes to an extreme.  It seems that prior to their births God had already planned for this to happen.  During Rebekah’s pregnancy, He calls out to her the proclamation that her younger child would one day be superior to her elder born.  Based on Crumb’s interpreted illustrations, the story of Jacob and Esau portrays Rebekah’s scheming strife for personal gain.

            It is mentioned that Esau was favored by Isaac because of his skill at hunting wild game.  But it is never specified exactly why Rebekah favored Jacob.  It could be suggested that the two parents were simply trying to evenly divide affection among their children, but Crumb’s depiction translates to a less innocent reading.  When God prophesized the roles of Jacob and Esau, He spoke only to Rebekah.  Crumb did not include any illustrations after this fact of Rebekah consulting her husband on this matter.  Because of this, it could be assumed Isaac was left in the dark about his children’s future.  That and Rebekah is said to love Jacob more than Esau after her meeting with God.  Therefore, Rebekah’s professed love for her younger son seems more likely because of what God had told her.

            Rebekah’s devotion to Jacob continues throughout his life.  When Isaac grew old and sick, he planned to give Esau his blessing.  But Rebekah, overhearing, intercepts.  She makes it her responsibility to ensure Jacob steals the blessing out from under his brother.  Rebekah practically plans out the entire scheme—she convinces Jacob they could fool Isaac and basically does all the work for him.  In Crumb’s depiction, Rebekah is happily humming a tune as she leans over a cauldron of food she has prepared for Jacob to give to his father.  The way she appears hunched over the pot and the way the panel is cropped makes her look as if she is hiding away in a dark corner up to no good.  The humming and bubbling cauldron brings to mind a famous scene from Shakespeare’s Macbeth.  It is reminiscent of the three scheming witches who pour over a bubbling cauldron while prophesizing chaos and Macbeth’s role in high treason.  Jacob may have been accused of being conniving by Esau after having been twice tricked, but Rebekah was the instigator.  She even knew to dress Jacob in his brother’s garments, taking the extra precaution to fool her blind husband.

            The fact that God had told Rebekah of His decision to bless her younger son meant that it would happen without fail.  Therefore it was not necessary for any intervention.  Jacob would have been gifted no matter what.  But the fact that Rebekah felt the need to personally act on it seemed like she either did not have faith God would carry out His will or she wanted to play a role and go down in history for her involvement.  For the most part, women had very small roles compared to that of men in the book of Genesis besides providing sons.  By taking the initiative, Rebekah would gain recognition for her role in Jacob’s life. 

            Crumb’s interpretation seemed to make Rebekah not only favor Jacob, but at the same time hate Esau.  This is already apparent in her scheme with Jacob to steal Isaac’s blessing.  It’s one thing to ensure a blessing for Jacob, but it’s hard to see her as a loving and unassuming mother when she deceives her other son to do it.  Also, in all the illustrations Crumb provides, Rebekah is only ever in the same panel as Esau twice: once at his birth and another where Rebekah physically grapples with Esau’s wife in a fight.  This lack of time shown spent together further denotes Rebekah’s interest in her elder son.  Meanwhile, she is seen with Jacob in ten panels. It’s almost as if God’s proclamation physically repelled Rebekah from Esau to the point where she couldn’t be bothered with him.  He wasn’t the blessed son so he was of little interest to her.

            Crumb’s depiction of the story of Jacob and Esau clearly shows us the lengths that a mother would go to ensure the best for her son.  Not only that, but it also demonstrates a female who takes into her own hands what she wants and manipulates all the men to do her bidding.  While the book of Genesis is mainly dominated by men and their relationship to God, this illustration of Rebekah demonstrates the powerful influence the women also had on their husbands.

1 comment:

  1. This was a very detailed post, that really described what Crumb was depicting in his illustrations. I was not sure what the point of the post was until the last part of the paper. I understand the point of the post and the importance of women in Genesis, I only wish that the point had been made sooner.