When Brothers Dwell Together

When Brothers Dwell Together : The Preeminance of Younger Siblings in the Hebrew Bible

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Description

Although primogeniture is commonly assumed to have prevailed throughout the world and firstborns are regarded as most likely to achieve success, many of the most prominent figures in biblical literature are younger offspring, including Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Samuel, David, and Solomon. Adducing evidence from a wide range of disciplines, this study demonstrates that ancient Israelite fathers were free to choose their primary heirs. Rather than being either legally mandated or a protest against the prevailing norm, the Bible's propensity for younger offspring conforms to a widespread folk motif, evoking innocence, vulnerability, and destiny. Within the biblical context, this theme heightens God's role in supporting ostensibly unlikely heroes. Drawing on the resources of law, anthropology, folklore, and linguistics, Greenspahn shows how these tales serve as complex parables of the relationship of God to his chosen people, also reflecting Israel's own discomfort and confusion about the contradiction between its theology of election and the reality of political weakness.show more

Product details

  • Hardback | 204 pages
  • 161.3 x 243.6 x 18.5mm | 435.74g
  • Oxford University Press Inc
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • New
  • 0195082532
  • 9780195082531

Back cover copy

Although primogeniture is commonly assumed to have prevailed throughout the world and firstborns are regarded as most likely to achieve success, many of the most prominent figures in biblical literature are younger offspring, including Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Samuel, David, and Solomon. Central to the plot of most biblical stories, the sibling relationships depicted are rarely harmonious, and the surprising preference for younger siblings is an intriguing and unexplained pattern. Using evidence from a wide range of disciplines. Frederick E. Greenspahn presents a seminal interpretation of this phenomenon. In this study, he demonstrates that ancient Israelite fathers were in fact free to choose their primary heirs. The Bible's propensity for younger offspring, Greenspahn shows, reflects neither a legally mandated norm nor a protest against the prevailing custom, but rather conforms to a widespread folk motif, evoking innocence, vulnerability, and destiny. Within the biblical context, this theme heightens God's role in supporting ostensibly unlikely heroes. Drawing on the resources of law, anthropology, folklore, and linguistics, Greenspahn shows how, in portraying younger siblings triumphing over older ones, these tales serve as complex parables of God's relationship to his chosen people, and reflect Israel's own discomfort with the contradiction between its theology of election and the reality of political weakness.show more

Review quote

He is to be congratulated from the outset for this methodological thoroughness and clarity. Masterfully following several avenues of inquiry and drawing out at every turn the fullest implications, he has provided a model of literacy, theological, and historical-critical interpretation. His discussion is remarkable also for its lucidity and for the thorough treatment of scholarly opinion. * Baruch J. Schwartz, Tel-Aviv University, The Jewish Quarterly Review, LXXXVII, Nos. 1-2 (July-October, 1996) * The book is lucidly written and provides a fresh and thought-provoking approach to an often neglected area of Old Testament research ... the book contains many stimulating insights and interesting observations. * Journal of Theological Studies *show more

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