Genesis 25:25, The Red and Hairy Edomites

And the first came out red, all over like an hairy garment; and they called his name Esau.

//Genesis tells us that Jacob and Esau were twin brothers, but that Esau was the firstborn. He came out of the womb all red and hairy. Sounds like an ugly brute, and indeed, his mother Rebecca didn’t think much of him. She preferred his twin brother Jacob, who was “smooth-skinned.”

Jacob is known as the father of the nation of Israel. In fact, his name is later changed to Israel. Esau is known as the father of the Edomites, a nation to the south of Israel. We know of course that no nation can point back to a single man as its head, but that’s no biggie; the story tellers hardly expected us to listen literally.

Indeed, such stories were intended to be enjoyed orally, and it’s easy to imagine the listeners ROFLing. You see, the tellers were Israelites, descendants of Jacob, poking fun at their brutish neighbor Edom. No one in antiquity would have thought differently about the story, for the very names of the characters betray its intent.

Esau is red and hairy. In Hebrew, the word “red” is edom, and the word “hairy” is se’ir. No one could mistake the reference to the Se’ir mountain range running through Edom.

Jacob is smooth-skinned, from the Hebrew word halaq. This is the name of the mountain on Judah’s border with Edom. The two boys are presented as competing mountains, with the more recent nation (Israel) mocking the enemy (Edom). Great storytelling, indeed.

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