Patriarchal ethics and narrative representation : ethics, values and morality of the biblical narrator in the Jacob’s story

Michael, Matthew (2016)

CITATION: Michael, M. 2016. Patriarchal ethics and narrative representation : ethics, values and morality of the biblical narrator in the Jacob’s story. Stellenbosch Theological Journal, 2(1):261–284, doi:10.17570/stj.2016.v2n1.a13.

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The patriarch narratives have continually become stories of ethical embarrassment to the modern readers because of the participation and support of the patriarchs for unethical practices which directly undermine the conception of these patriarchs as paragon of virtues and faith by later religious traditions. Implicated in the representations of the patriarchs are God and the narrator who largely distanced themselves, and also directly refused to make explicit moral condemnation of this unethical behaviour. Significantly, Yahweh persistently promises unconditional blessings and protections to these patriarchs in spite of their lying, deception, and cheating within the stories. To further reinstate this ethical dilemma, there are no divine thunderbolts, no wrathful confrontations or the outburst of divine holy anger that apparently addresses and punishes the moral flaws of these patriarchs. On this same ethical template, the narrator appears also sympathetic to the divine neglects of these unethical behaviours because in spite of these behaviours of the patriarchs and even matriarchs of his stories they were still largely considered the heroes and heroines of his stories. Departing from this general understanding of patriarchal ethics, the present study points to the subtle representation of Jacob’s deception of his father and the punishment of this misdeed through his direct connection and implication in three subsequent scenes of deception where he himself was the object of these deceptions. Through this placement of Jacob in these other scenes of deceptions, the narrator subtly presents a moral universe where ethical misdeed continually haunts the perpetrators, and wrong deeds are clearly punished. Consequently, in spite of the many moral problems in the patriarch narratives, the narrator skilfully upholds a high morality, and the paper appropriately underscores the ethical significance of this representation of Jacob’s story for the contemporary Christian community.

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