Who were Jacob’s sons and why they did some things

Jews and non-Jews who want to know more about the Bible, the Tanakh, who want to know why biblical figures acted as they did, and about the twelve sons of the patriarch Jacob and some of their descendants mentioned in the Tanakh, could do no better that to read Professor Nechama Price’s “Tribal Blueprints.” This book is part of the excellent Maggid Tanakh Companion series. Maggid is part of Koren Press. The series uses an interdisciplinary approach that incorporates traditional rabbinic interpretations with secular scholarly literary techniques to explore biblical characters and themes in the Tanakh. Professor Price is a senior lecturer in Bible and Judaic Studies at Stern College and Director of Yeshiva University’s Graduate Program in Advanced Talmud Studies.

“Tribal Blueprints” explores the lives of each of Jacob’s twelve sons, as well as their four mothers, and shows how each wife is loved and how each son is loved by their father Jacob. It focuses on the character, emotions, experiences, and what is driving each of these people. It also examines the lives of each son’s descendants who are mentioned in Tanakh showing how the descendant retained their ancestor’s character.

Since the style of Tanakh is to tell actions without revealing the thoughts or feelings behind them, Professor Price offers suggested thoughts and motives why people did what they did, frequently three possibilities. For example, she examines three possible ways of understanding Jacob’s feelings about his first wife Leah: he hated her because he was tricked into marrying her when he expected to marry his love Rachel, love that is inferior to his love of Rachel, mixed feelings. Another example is the briefly told tale “that Reuven [the first born] went and lay with Bilhah, his father’s concubine.” Three possible explanations are given for what exactly happened and what was Reuven’s intention. These explanations compare Reuven’s act to similar acts by other biblical figures, such as King David’s son Absalom having sex with his father’s concubines.

Professor Price discloses that each of Jacob’s twelve sons had different proclivities and experiences, and these affected Jacob’s family and the future of Judaism. She also tells how the order of their birth influenced their behavior and how they were treated by their father and siblings.

An example of comparing one of Jacob’s sons with his descendants, is the describing the act of Jacob’s fourth son Judah where he gave into temptation and had sex with a prostitute and his descendant King David having sex with Uriah’s wife Bat Sheva. Also, Jacob’s third son Levi joining with his second son Shimon in killing the people involved in the rape of their sister Dinah and Levi’s descendant Pinchas killing the man who openly had sexual relations as a revolt against Moses. Also, the fourth son Judah taking the lead in standing up against the Egyptian leader (unknown to him that he was Joseph) to rescue his half-brother Benjamin and the later tribe of Judah that had many leadership roles. With Judah and his progeny as well as the other brothers, Professor Price also describes Judah’s weaknesses and similar ones of their progeny.

In regard to Jacob’s wives, Professor Price examines whether the Torah understands that the two concubines that Jacob had were treated by him as wives or servants and how did he and his other sons treat the four children of the concubines.

Much else is in Professor Price’s book. While only a few examples are in this review, there are multiple examples in the book itself. And there are many other explorations such as why did Joseph act as he did before his brothers sold him as a slave in Egypt, and what was Joseph’s intention  when he went into the house of Potiphar when Potiphar’s wife was alone, did the rabbis consider that Joseph intended to sleep with her when they said he desisted when he remembered his father, and why did he not contact his father to tell him that he was alive when he had the opportunity to do so for many years.

In short, readers of this fine book will learn a lot by reading it, see how questions are asked and answered, and come to examine Tanakh in a deeper way.

About the Author
Dr. Israel Drazin served for 31 years in the US military and attained the rank of brigadier general. He is an attorney and a rabbi, with master’s degrees in both psychology and Hebrew literature and a PhD in Judaic studies. As a lawyer, he developed the legal strategy that saved the military chaplaincy when its constitutionality was attacked in court, and he received the Legion of Merit for his service. Dr. Drazin is the author of more than 50 books on the Bible, philosophy, and other subjects.
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