The man is ...

just a bad dream


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In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in particular, some interpreters chose to rationalize the story of Jacob wrestling at the Jabbok (Rogerson, 134-135). While they felt a need to relate the story to a real historical event, their Enlightenment worldview meant that they wanted to find a rational basis for the story, and explain away any supernatural overtones. Some said Gen 32:22-32 [32:23-33] simply narrates a bad dream, and, in an extreme example, said that Jacob's limp was caused by sleeping on damp ground, thus causing cramp and a nightmare (!).

There are a few points in favour of this approach:-

  • It gives a reasonable explanation.
  • It takes seriously the idea that the story refers to a historical reality.

But the weaknesses of rationalizing this kind of story are evident:-

  • This approach treats the story as if it has liitle signifiicance except as a strange anecdote.
  • It entirely ignores features such as mythological motifs, the literary impact of the story, and the theological ideas presented by the author.
  • It does not take the text seriously as it stands.

Later interpreters began to recognise some of the folklore motifs, and instead of focussing on its historical referents, began to look for its antecedents in ancient stories of the supernatural.



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© Kirsten Abbott 2004