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When born, Jacob is given the name "Jacob" meaning, "trickster, supplanter, heel grabber." After he wrestles at Jabbok, he is renamed "Israel" meaning "strives with God." However, after this encounter, the text still calls him Jacob most of the time. Then in Genesis 35, he has another encounter with God and it then begins to call him Israel in the text. But not all the time.

Genesis switches back and forth between the names at this point. From Gen 35:21 to the end of Genesis, he is called Jacob about 35 times and Israel about 39 times.

One explanation I heard is that he was called Jacob as long as he was living in rebellion. That works for Gen 32 to 35, but not for after because it's then back-and-forth. There are even verses such as Gen 46:2 where he is called by both names in the same verse.

What might be the reason for this back and forth?

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4 Answers 4

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When the Tanakh uses different names for the same individual, it sometimes reflects different aspects of the subject. Consider the different names of God, which reflect aspects like judgment or mercy or nurturing. Yaakov (Jacob), too, has two names, so it's worth looking at how they're used.

This explanation, which in turn cites this one, offers the following interpretations:

  • Yaakov refers to the individual, Yisrael to the head of the nation
  • Yaakov reflects subservience; Yisrael, strength
  • Yaakov is mundane, Yisrael more supernatural (I don't really understand this one, sorry)

Please note: This answer was written for a neutral, academic audience and is not intended to be interpreted in the context of a religious belief or doctrine.

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Thank you very much for that. This will also go along way towards my question regarding Jethro/Re'uel. –  Frank Luke Feb 3 '12 at 15:39
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Notice especially Genesis 46, where the Patriarch is variously referred to as “Jacob” and “Israel” in close succession, sometimes both in the same verse. E.g., verse 5: “Jacob rose up from Beer-sheba; and the sons of Israel carried Jacob their father…”. Cf. Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch’s explanation there. –  J. C. Salomon Feb 16 '12 at 23:34

The plain meaning of why the Torah suddenly calls Yaakov by his alternate name Yisrael again instead of writing "the time approached for Yaakov to die," (which would have been the natural sequence to the line: "Yaakov lived in the land of Egypt for seventeen years") is that ever since he had been given the additional name the Torah uses both names interchangeably. Throughout the Torah the names Yaakov and Yisrael are used intermittently.

From a more rational/scientific point of view we may detect a distinct pattern in the Torah sometimes choosing to refer to Yaakov by his original name and sometimes by his additional name.

The name Yaakov applies to the physical part of Yaakov's personality, matters connected to his terrestrial existence, whereas the name Yisrael refers to spiritual aspects of his personality, matters connected to his eternal existence in celestial regions. When Yaakov had first been given the name "Yaakov" the Torah stated that this reflected his holding on to the heel of his brother Esau. We find the name Yisrael first used in connection with Yaakov having successfully contended with the celestial force representing his brother Esau. It is therefore clear that the additional name Yisrael was intended principally to reflect Yaakov's spiritual accomplishments. Seeing that it is impossible for a human being while part of a body to divest himself totally of bodily needs and concerns, we can appreciate what our Sages said that, contrary to the name Avraham which replaced the name Avram, the name Yisrael did not replace the name Yaakov. It reflected the fact that this Yaakov had attained an additional dimension in his personality development, according to Kli Yakar, as reflected in the Talmud:

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It appears that you intended to quote some source material at the end of this answer but it got posted unfinished. Could we convince you to dig this up again and edit it whatever it was you were going to continue with? Thanks! –  Caleb Dec 24 '13 at 10:07

The Name Israel is the God-bestowed (spiritual) name given to Jacob after he prevailed at Bethel, and the name pertains to the continuation of the promises given to Abraham, passed to Isaac and then taken by Jacob when Isaac passed the birthright blessing to him.

Although the names JAcob and Israel may appear to be used more or less interchangeably in places, a careful consideration will reveal the flesh and spiritual natures of the application. For example, in the treatises given in Gen 48 and 49, we find:

Gen 48:16 16 The Angel which redeemed me from all evil, bless the lads; and let my name be named on them, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth.

Here he (Israel) is essentially giving the birthright spiritual blessing to Joseph's sons. (my name be named on them) ie. he is giving away his (God given, spiritual) name of Israel...to Ephraim and Manasseh.

Gen 48:20-22 20 And he blessed them that day, saying, In thee shall Israel bless, saying, God make thee as Ephraim and as Manasseh: and he set Ephraim before Manasseh. 21 And Israel said unto Joseph, Behold, I die: but God shall be with you, and bring you again unto the land of your fathers. 22 Moreover I have given to thee one portion above thy brethren, which I took out of the hand of the Amorite with my sword and with my bow.

This 'portion above' represents the first part of the "double portion" given to Joseph.

Then in Gen 49, we find that it is Jacob, (not Israel) that addresses the other of his sons. He (Jacob) then 'blesses' the others not as Israel, because he had already given that name to Ephraim and Manasseh, Josephs two sons.

The other half of the 'double portion' is then given to Joseph in

Gen 49:22-26 22 Joseph is a fruitful bough, even a fruitful bough by a well; whose branches run over the wall: 23 The archers have sorely grieved him, and shot at him, and hated him: 24 But his bow abode in strength, and the arms of his hands were made strong by the hands of the mighty God of Jacob; (from thence is the shepherd, the stone of Israel:) 25 Even by the God of thy father, who shall help thee; and by the Almighty, who shall bless thee with blessings of heaven above, blessings of the deep that lieth under, blessings of the breasts, and of the womb: 26 The blessings of thy father have prevailed above the blessings of my progenitors unto the utmost bound of the everlasting hills: they shall be on the head of Joseph, and on the crown of the head of him that was separate from his brethren.

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Yaaqub is Not Israel They are two diffrent people in the same time Read and search

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Welcome to BH.SE! We're a little different from other sites. Would you mind explaining this answer? It's hard to see how they are different people in view of Genesis 32:28 "No longer will your name be Jacob," the man told him, "but Israel, because you have fought with God and with men and have prevailed." –  Frank Luke 46 mins ago

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