How are we to understand Genesis 27:29 in Isaacs blessing to his son Jacob? Didn't Isaac only have two sons, Jacob and Esau? In Jewish tradition, were there other children between Isaac and Rebekah? Or is this just a Hebrew literary technique?

Genesis 27:29 Let peoples serve you, and nations bow down to you. Be lord over your brothers, and may your mother's sons bow down to you.

Cursed be everyone who curses you, and blessed be everyone who blesses you!”

And again

Genesis 27:37 Isaac answered and said to Esau, “Behold, I have made him lord over you, and all his brothers I have given to him for servants, and with grain and wine I have sustained him. What then can I do for you, my son?”

1 Answer 1


There are a few possible understandings, as "brothers" meant "close male kin" in ancient Hebrew, in addition to "male siblings" (they didn't have a word for cousin, for example, as even in modern Arabic, which uses periphrasis like 'son of my uncle' or 'daughter of my uncle').

That is, it could be a parallelism, "brothers/one's mother's sons," where, as part of Hebrew rhetorical style, one repeats the same idea in two synonymous ways: "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my saviour" (Luke 1:46-47). This is very common in Hebrew Scripture (especially the Psalms).

Alternatively, it could be specifying the degree of relation, given the ambiguity of the word brother or sister at least with regard to when it's important which degree of relation is meant in that specific context (i.e. as making clear he means siblings rather than uncle, cousin, nephew, or a male family member of whatever other kind).

Again, it could mean "thy brethren" as in your fellows (close male relations, your 'house') will serve, in addition to your siblings. If this is the case, it plays on the synonymity of brother (i.e. as having wider use than sibling in Biblical Hebrew) and sibling for rhetorical effect.

  • Is it possible that there are other literal brothers that just aren't ever mentioned in the biblical text? Jan 16, 2020 at 7:47
  • @MicahGafford What evidence do you have for suggesting that ?
    – Nigel J
    Jan 16, 2020 at 10:37
  • I was literally not suggesting anything and was asking a question. Why are you suggesting I'm suggesting something? Jan 17, 2020 at 3:59

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