Inbreeding: There Are Consequences (Gen. 25-27)

Genetic diversity and the consequences from the lack thereof is probably the most under appreciated lesson found in Genesis. The origins of humanity must begin with some sort of incest, since it begins with one man and one woman. It’s fair to dismiss the lack of genetic problems in Adam and Eve’s children and grandchildren not because sin hadn’t corrupted their genetic material yet (a common argument), but because they probably never existed. After a global flood and a handful of direct divine interventions, it’s clear that in the time of Abraham humanity has become plenty corrupt with sin. It shows too. The longevity witnessed in the first half of Genesis is tremendously reduced. Adam managed to live to the advanced age of 930 (Gen. 5:5) and Noah somehow to 950 (Gen. 9:29), while Abraham dies an old man at only 175 (Gen. 25:7). By this point the argument that sin is to blame for incest related birth defects is difficult to justify. Of course, this doesn’t stop Abraham from having children with his half-sister Sarah.

I bring this up because the behavior of Isaac, Esau, and Jacob is inexcusable and I find the account completely unbelievable in any other context. Isaac and his offspring are the result of incest, which presents them with some special challenges.

Isaac makes two mistakes in Genesis that are laughable. First, he tries to pull an Abraham on Abimelek by lying about his relationship to his wife. He does a poor job, however, and gets caught caressing his Rebekah in public by Abimelek himself (Gen. 27:6-9). It’s great that he wants to show affection to his wife, but outside the window of the king your family greatly fears shows that Isaac is either stupid or actually trying to give Rebekah away.

The next offense comes in Genesis 27 when Isaac attempts to give his blessing to his beloved eldest son, Esau. Rebekah and Jacob conspire to trick Isaac into giving his blessing to Jacob. Isaac tells Esau to go hunt some fresh game and prepare it for him to eat. Once he’s done this, he will receive Isaac’s blessing. While he’s away, Isaac steps in with some slaughtered goat and a shoddily constructed disguise and usurps the blessing intended for Esau. When Esau returns Isaac realizes his error. Apparently identity theft was just as difficult to combat in Genesis as it is now.

The plan succeeds because Isaac is blind and apparently a fool. He is suspicious at first, “Esau” returns very quickly from the hunt and the voice he hears he identifies as Jacob, but he concludes incorrectly, after weighing inferior evidence, that the man standing before him is Esau.

If we assume Isaac is just an old man with most of his wits intact, there are, of course, plenty of holes. The food that Isaac eats is goat, presumably domesticated. Surely a man who can identify his son by the scent of his clothes can taste the difference between a raised goat and wild game. Jacob completes his disguise with goat skin sleeves to imitate the hairy arms of his brother. Last I checked, goats are pretty darn hairy. Also, I imagine the expected warmth of flesh doesn’t quite feel genuine through the sleeves. I would expect this plan to fail, but surprisingly it works. Either Isaac is easily fooled or Esau is unreasonably hairy. Both scenarios could be byproducts of inbreeding.

Poor Esau. Not only did he lose his blessing, but he also inherited his father’s smarts. Before any of this took place, he had already traded his birthright for some vegetarian soup (Gen 25:29-34).

Finally, the property rites and rights created by the Nation of Abraham are lacking. The transfer of property doesn’t require a witness and if fraudulently obtained, there’s no legal process for correction! A great nation indeed.

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