Jul 21, 2016

Jacob Wrestles the Angel

When I was a kid, our Sunday school classes went over all the great Old Testament stories of skullduggery, betrayal, abandonment, and murder (and those were the heroes).  In junior high, they were gradually phased out in favor of up to date "raps" about the evils of rock music and Roman Catholicism, but for a few years it was a wild ride.

My favorite hero/villain of the Old Testament was Jacob, son of Isaac.  It had deceit, sibling rivalry, and weird paranormal experiences. .

1. Esau, the eldest son, gets the birthright, but when he comes in famished from hunting, the sneaky Jacob tricks him into trading it over in exchange for a "mess of pottage."  Surely that constitutes duress.

2. He sneakily pretends to be Esau to get his father's blessing, too (his conniving Mother puts him up to it).

3. By this point, everyone is mad at him, so he runs away.  On the road, has some weird visions, like a Stairway to Heaven, with angels climbing up and down it.  Weird!

4. And, in the middle of the wilderness, an angel appears and wrestles with him all night.  That's quite a lengthy wrestling bout! The angel wins by wounding Jacob on the thigh.

Wait -- "thigh" is an ancient Hebrew euphemism for "penis." Maybe these guys weren't exactly "wrestling."

Other passages in the Bible state it was a "man" or "God," adding to the mystery of the encounter.

The "Wrestling with an Angel" story has received the most artistic interest, since it allowed artists to depict a homoerotic embrace between two naked men who aren't trying to kill each other.

This nude head-grabbing statue is by Hendrik Christian Andersen (1872-1940), the boyfriend of author Henry James.

A more stylized pair, with their crotches pressed together, was erected on the grounds of the University of Scranton in 1982 by sculptor Arlene Love.

I don't know what these guys are up to, but Jacob's backside is emphasized.  It's by British artist Sir Jacob Epstein (1880-1959).

Painters have gotten into the act, too.  The muscular legs and backsides are emphasized in this painting by Leon Bonnat (1833-1922).

Eugene Delacroix (1768-1863) clothes the angel, but gives Jacob almost a modern bodybuilder's physique.

Contemporary painter Paul Gilbert Baswell mysteriously hides the angel's face.

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