Sunday, 3 March 2013

Reading the Bible 16 Gen 25 The Significance of Twelve

Chapter 25 cover many different topics in a relatively short space – the marriage of Abraham to Ketyurah, the death of Abraham, Ishmael’s  descendants, the birth of Esau and Jacob and the selling of Esau’s birthright for ‘a mess of pottage’.  These –particularly the selling of Esau’s birthright are well known and discussed at length. 

What engaged me in this reading was the fact, that hadn’t impressed me previously, that Ishmael  – the son of Abraham by Sarah’s slave Hagar – had twelve off-spring – twelve sons – ‘twelve princes according to their tribes’.  This is a type of the twelve tribes of Israel which would descend from Jacob (later Israel after the encounter with the angel).  This number twelve must have been significant to the Israelite people and by inference to God. 
Twelve is significant in many ways in antiquity and myth and history.  There are twelve months of the year, twelve signs of the zodiac, and probably other ways that I am not aware of at this point.  Checking with the Dictionary of Symbols by J.E. Cirlot I found that the number twelve id ‘symbolic of cosmic order and salvation.  And is the basis of all dodecanary (symmetrical) groups.   Linked to it are the notions of space and time and the wheel or circle”.   The twelve tribe therefore seem to be a basic structure in the universe which has been brought into play in the generations of Abraham – in both his sons Ishmael and Jacob



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