Genesis 49

Jacob utters his last sounds. They are difficult sounds. Some sons receive a good sound while others are given dissonant ones.

Rueben won’t excel, Simeon and Levi will be scattered.

Judah receives an extravagant and generous sound.

he washes his garments in wine
    and his robe in the blood of grapes;
his eyes are darker than wine,
    and his teeth whiter than milk.

Through these sounds Judah becomes a special one, holding a promise of kingship.

Depending on how you understand Jacob he riffs and improvises on all their names, sometimes with a blessing and sometimes with a harsh warning.

Jacob's sons

NameMeaning (all initially named by Leah and Rachel)Jacob's last words
ReubenSee, a sonYou shall not excel
Simeonhearing... shall be scattered
Levijoined... shall be scattered
JudahGod's PraiseYour brothers will praise you
DanJudgeDan will provide justice for his people.
NaphtaliWrestlingA doe who provides beautiful words
GadA troopA band of raiders will attack you
AsherHappyAsher's food will be rich and he will provide royal delicacies
IssacharRewardA strong donkey who will be a slave of forced labour
ZebulunHonoured dwellingWill become a haven for ships
JosephMay he addblesses
Benjamininitially son of my trouble changed to son of my right handhe is a ravenous wolf

There are several puns and allusions that are silent to me here since I don’t inhabit the sounds of the language. Yet it’s clear to see Jacob’s manipulations of the sounds his wives recorded for his sons. The malleability of the sound is resonant with the malleability of personhood and identity. Jacob could be merely observing his son’s current state. But he is also sounding their possible future state of being.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *