Published Humanitas, Volume XVI, No. 1, 2003

I. The Birthright

In Genesis, we are given a prophecy about the birth of Jacob and Esau that has echoed through the millennia: “Two nations are in thy womb, and two peoples shall be separated from thy bowels; And the one people shall be stronger than the other people; And the elder shall serve the younger”(emphases added). A foretaste and forewarning of the struggle to come is given in the twins’ struggle within their mother, Rebecca’s, womb and the odd circumstances of their birth, for Esau emerges first, red and hairy, followed by smooth Jacob holding firm to his brother Esau’s heel.

Let us bracket for a moment the struggle, the contrast between ruddy hairiness and pale smoothness, and the grasping of the heel, while understanding that Esau grew to be a “natural man,” a man of the field and the hunt, an “elder” or more primitive image of humankind, while Jacob grew to be a “smooth” civilized man, a logo-centric man of the tent, or the polis, a “younger” or more evolved human. By understanding this, we understand why Esau sold his birthright for a “mess of pottage.” Esau is a man living in the realm of the senses, a man of the natural flux with all its diversity, mutability, temporality, finitude, contingency, and relativity. Thus, his ends are immediate, and his will is directed to-ward the satisfaction of those immediate ends.

Jacob is a man who, while also tied to this temporal and finite existence, strives within the realm of the intelligible…

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