1

In Gen 25:26 we read:

After that came his brother out, and his hand took hold on Esau's heel; and his name was Jacob: and Isaac was threescore years old when she bare them. (KJV)

3

The literary artistry here is (at least) threefold:

  1. It continues the struggle predicted by Yahweh (v. 23) and begun in the womb (v. 24), now at the moment of emergence from the womb. (To be continued, below.)

  2. It builds on the folk etymology offered for Jacob's older brother in 25:25. ("Hairy" (śēʿār) ~ "Esau" (ʿēśāw) — this one is a stretch, but it's apparently intended.)

  3. It's a wordplay in Hebrew. The noun ʿāqēb = "heel"...

    so his name was called yaʿăqōb

    using the same triliteral root: ʿ-q-b. The pun culminates in 27:36:

    Esau said, "Is he not rightly named Jacob (yaʿăqōb)? For he has cheated me (yaʿqĕbēnı̂) these two times."

    Although not totally obvious even in transliteration, the consonants עקב (ʿ-q-b) are consistent from the noun (heel = ʿāqēb) to the name (Jacob = yaʿăqōb) to the verb ("he cheated": ʿqb > wayyaʿqōb). Here is one of the best developed and most satisfying folk etymologies in Genesis.*


*N.B. While it appears to be the case that the verb "he cheated" is derived from the noun "heel" — BDB: "follow at the heel, fig. assail insidiously, circumvent, overreach" — this is likely unrelated to the etymology of the name yaʿăqōb. This was beyond the concern of the author, however.

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