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Why does Jacob get renamed to Israel on two separate occasions?

  1. The first time Jacob is renamed Israel is by the "angel/divine being" when they finish "fighting". This is in Genesis 32:25.

  2. The second time he is renamed Israel is in Genesis 35:9, and this time the text says that "God appeared to him."

The angel/divine being he fought with was surely sent by God, and thus acts by God's orders in renaming him Israel, no? Why is there a second mention of him being renamed in Genesis 35:9, and why is Genesis 35:9 so significant as to require him being renamed? Wrestling with divine beings isn't enough to be permanently renamed? Why is Genesis 35:9 significant enough to warrant Jacob being renamed Israel a second time?

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It should be noted that ch. 32 contains the reason for what the name is, but 35 contains the promise and inheritance that comes with it. God had to repeat his covenant with Abraham too, are they competing accounts? Or simply Abraham needing to be reminded? –  Joshua Bigbee May 2 at 16:23

1 Answer 1

The renaming of Jacob in both Genesis 32 and 35 is a doublet; the editors of Genesis have preserved two versions of how Jacob received the name 'Israel'. It has long been recognized that Genesis was comprised of multiple sources, sometimes including alternate traditions of the same stories. This falls under the realm of the Documentary Hypothesis.

Michael D. Coogan writes:1

The Documentary Hypothesis explains only partially why some passages are similar. Another reason for repetition is that the compilers of the Bible wanted to preserve traditions that circulated, probably originally orally, in different groups.

Sometimes these alternate traditions are set next to each other (e.g. the two creation stories, one after the other, in Genesis 1–2). Other times these alternate traditions are edited together (Genesis 6–9 has two versions of the flood story weaved into each other).

Traditionally, at least four layers of material have been identified in Genesis: the Elohist source (where God is primarily identified as 'Elohim), the Yahwist source (where God is primarily identified as Yahweh), and the Deuteronomist and Priestly redactors.

Coogan (2006) summarizes the Priestly source as follows:2

For the most part, P (the Priestly source) in the rest of Genesis [i.e. chapters 12–50] functions primarily as a compiler and editor, with few independent narratives of its own.

One characteristic of the Priestly source in Genesis is to refer to God by the title 'El Shaddai ('God Almighty').3 We find this term used in Genesis 35.11.

The account of Jacob being renamed 'Israel' in Genesis 32.22–32 is attributed to the Elohist source, while the second account in Genesis 35.9–15 may be attributed to the Priestly source.4, 5


1 Michael D. Coogan, The Old Testament: A Historical and Literary Introduction to the Hebrew Scriptures (2006), p. 73.

2 Ibid., p. 69.

3 R.W.L. Moberly, Genesis 12-50 (1992), p. 63.

4 Coogan (2006), p. 82.

5 Ed. Evans, Lohr, Petersen, The Book of Genesis: Composition, Reception, and Interpretation (2012), p. 104.

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