Revisiting a troublesome Bible tale of a hunter’s problems
September 15, 2010
by Joseph P. Tartaro
Many, many years ago, I wrote a Hindsight column based on my perceptions of the biblical story involving Isaac, Jacob and Esau. I probably got more mail from readers about that column than any other I have ever written. In fact, I got so much mail following its publication that I told myself I would never again attempt to share my interpretations of the Bible with our readers.
Of course, one should never say never, but I did. And now I find myself looking at that column again after several years and I am not sure that any of the reader comments ever changed my reading of that story.
First, let me repeat what I wrote in November 1984 (in italics).
There is a Patriarchal tale in the Bible’s Book of Genesis which has always disturbed me. It seemed to pre-date the anti-hunter attitudes of the present age by millennia.
While it is true that the morality of many acts of the primitive patriarchs might not be justified after Moses and the Ten Commandments, this particular tale has a bit of prophesy about it.
It involves Isaac, his two sons Esau and Jacob, and Isaac’s wife Rebekah. Esau is described as a cunning hunter, a man of the field; Jacob as a plain man, dwelling in tents.
Isaac, son of Abraham, loved Esau, the Bible tells us, because he ate of the youth’s venison. Rebekah, on the other hand, is reported to have loved Jacob.
When Isaac was old and blind, he called Esau to him and said:
“Behold now, I am old, I know not the day of my death. Now therefore take, I pray thee, they weapons, thy quiver and thy bow, and go out to the field to hunt for venison; and make me a savory meat, such as I love, and bring it to me, that I may eat; that my soul may bless thee before I die.”
Rebekah overheard what Isaac told Esau, and after the hunter had set off, she called her favored son, Jacob, and told him of the message. She also instructed Jacob to take two good kids from among the goats so that she could fix them in a savory fashion to appear to be venison.
Although Jacob had some trepidations about deception, Rebekah urged him to obey and pledged to accept any blame that came.
In the end, they fooled the old man. Rebekah’s goat meat in savory sauce did the trick. In addition, Rebekah had taken the goat skin and tied it to Jacob’s arm and neck, because Esau “was a hairy man,” and she made Jacob wear the “goodly garments” of his brother. The old man bestowed his blessing on Jacob and Esau, the hunter, had been done in.
Even after Esau returned from the field with his venison, the old man, after realizing that he had been duped by the guile of his other son and wife, stuck with the blessing. Jacob had been given domination over his brother and the “clan,” and over the flocks and goods.
Fatness of the Earth
Isaac answered Esau’s weeping by saying:
“Behold, of the fatness of the earth shall be thy dwelling, and of the dew of heaven above; and by thy sword shalt thou live, and shalt serve thy brother; and it shall come to pass when thou shalt break loose, that thou shalt shake his yoke from off thy neck.”
This has always been a bothersome Biblical tale. The hunter is cheated by the non-hunters, yet to him is given the right to live off the fat of the earth, from wild game rather than the flocks.
In many respects it seems that the hunter has been the target of cheats and defamers ever since.
If any of our readers has a better analysis of this story, I’d be interested in having it called to my attention. But it seems to be that this tale from the days of early Jewish history seems to begin the tradition of the anti-hunter. Only nowadays, the antis do not even want Esau to have the right to the fields.
The main objection of most of my readers was that I had misread the story and that it was not so much about hunting. Some learned people claimed that the issue was that the hunter, Esau, had forsaken his own patrimony, and hence deserved to be denied a share in Isaac’s estate.
Maybe they were correct in their interpretation but I still think hunters “get no respect,” if I can paraphrase the great comedian Rodney Dangerfield.
Over the years, I have noted a tendency among those in the elite establishment media and particularly those in the television and movie industry to take a patronizing and condescending view of hunters and hunting. I have seen similar attitudes at play in discussions with Members of Congress who were not themselves hunters or from “hunting districts.”
I am not quite sure what a “hunting district” really is. If one supposes that New York City is not a hunting district, or that Newark, NJ, or Boston, MA, or San Francisco, CA, are not hunting districts, they would be surprised to learn how many people from those urban areas travel away to huntfor food, as well as for sport and recreation. If you drive along I-86 in southern New York State, and stop in at restaurants along the way, you will be surprised to learn where so many of those people wearing orange clothing and carrying guns and other hunting gear really come from.
I have met more people from all boroughs of New York City along this route in my travels particularly in the Catskill Mountains, or in the Pennsylvania hills, than I can count.
They are all easy to talk with, especially if you want to talk about hunting and hunting gear.
After all, they are the ones who have been helping to pay for conservation of our environment and almost all species to the tune of billions of dollars. They are the ones who understand the relationship of man to
But when you talk with mediawhether movie moguls or script writersyou are amazed at how little they understand or appreciate hunters and hunting.
And when you speak with a politician from those urban centers I mentioned previously, you would think that you are talking about UFOs and alien beings if you should mention hunters and hunting.
What’s more, they disdain hunters even among their own ranks.
As an example, when speaking about guns and hunting with the then chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, a man from New Jersey, he could not see any connection between himself and a fellow Democrat congressman, also of color, from Alabama or Missouri.
He sluffed off my references to their positions on legislation having to do with guns, self-defense and hunting by saying, “Oh, they’re country boys. They’re hunters. They wouldn’t understand city problems.”
Try as I might, I could not convincingly bridge the gap between their understanding of gunowners and hunterswhether they came from their own urban districts or from some other stateeven ones as urban as their own.
Of course, some of this disparity in view may not be of biblical proportions. It may be nothing more than a stultifying bias against anyone who lives in a different place or in a different lifestyle. Call it xenophobia, if you will, but hunters are often better received in those so-called “hunting states” than they are where they live.
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