The Tale of Appu’s two sons (Genesis 26)

Illustration: Jacob and Esau

In many respects the Neo-Hittite Tale of Appu’s two sons is similar to the Biblical history of Isaac’s twins, Jacob and Esau. Like Isaac (Genesis 25:24), Appu, wealthy but aging and childless, prayed for an heir. The sun god granted the request, but Appu named the child Wrong because the gods in his opinion had unjustly withheld a child from him for so long. When Appu’s wife became pregnant a second time and bore another son, he named the infant Right, implying that the gods had acted fairly this time.

When the boys had matured, Wrong attempted to defraud Right of his legitimate portion of the estate by giving him the sick livestock and keeping the healthy animals for himself. Upon perceiving Wrong’s actions, the sun god summoned the brothers before him for judgement, awarding the legal settlement to the younger.

In both the Appu and Isaac narratives the younger son emerged the victor. In Appu’s tale the deceptive elder brother was punished but his honest younger sibling appropriately rewarded. In the Genesis account the younger brother was the deceptive one, but he nevertheless came away with both the birthright and the blessing because, despite his character flaws, he was God’s chosen.

Although Jacob and Esau reconciled years later, Genesis 27 clearly demonstrates that God’s choice was not based on any merit Jacob had to offer but solely upon God’s plan for His people. The Tale of Appu’s two sons appears to have been a kind of morality play, as indicated by the son’s artificial names. In contrast, the Biblical story of Isaac and his sons is historically true and strangely counterintuitive. Similarly, a first time reader would not expect the saga of Jacob and Esau to turn out as it does; indeed, it reveals a surprising look at our God, whose unexpected and seemingly “upside-down” value system continues to amaze us anew.

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