“When Jacob had cooked stew, Esau came in from the field and he was famished; and Esau said to Jacob, “Please let me have a swallow of that red stuff there, for I am famished.” Therefore his name was called Edom.” Gen. 25:29-30
In most English translations of the scriptures, repetitive words and redundant phrases tend to get omitted presumably because they seem superfluous and unnecessary to understand a given passage. Each of these verses (vv 29 and 30) contains such a repetition. Verse 29 may be read as if Jacob was “boiling boiled stew”, and Esau’s request in v. 30 actually reads more like “give me some of that red, red stuff”. In the case of Esau’s statement, the original Masoretic text contains the word “red” twice.
If we venture to read between the words, as is often helpful, we see the very same Jacob which we were just told a few verses ago was wholesome and innocent is now cooking up not just stew – but also a plot – to get the birthright from his brother. (Fox) The very structure of the Hebrew is designed to steer our thinking in this direction, but this style is often not carried over to most English translations.
As for Esau, there is an obvious theme going on regarding the color red, from his reddish appearance at birth, to the repetition here of the color of the stew he asks for, and ultimately he earns the moniker ‘Edom’ which simply means red. This also hearkens to Adam, as Adam’s name not only means “man” but also “red”, to which Josephus attributes to the first man being taken out of red clay, which he termed ‘virgin earth’. (Antiquities, Book I)
It may be surprising that some rabbis and scholars speculate that Esau is a murderer. This is for at least two reasons: 1) the theme of ‘red’ in his life portends blood, and 2) it mentions Esau being ‘famished’ or ‘exhausted’ twice in these verses, and the root word of this was used in Jeremiah 4:31 regarding a soul being wearied on account of murderers. (Bereishis Rabbah 63:12, also, Rashi) No murder by Esau is recorded in the scriptures, though he does threaten to kill his brother Jacob.
The allusions do not stop there. This portion of Jacob and Esau’s story has an eery number of similarities to the story of Cain and Abel, which we will explore in the next post.