Echoes of Gilgamesh in the Jacob Story – Esther J. Hamori
“It was popular for some time to seek apparent Near Eastern parallels to bibli-cal narratives. The methodology employed was at times problematic, and conclusions were often overstated, as similarities between texts explicable in any number of ways were attributed to direct relationship.For some biblical texts, of course,there is stronger evidence for Near Eastern influence. I propose that this is the casein regard to one text for which a Near Eastern counterpart has not previously been suggested: the story of Jacob’s wrestling match in Gen 32:23–33 (Eng. 32:22–32).There is reason to believe that the Israelite author knew some form of Gilgamesh,and particularly the scene of the wrestling match between Gilgamesh and Enkidu.The case presented here is not simply one of a shared motif or logical group-ing of elements, but one of an unexpected and striking series of correspondences[…]“The final outcome of the match is shared by the two texts as well. In each casethe victor is blessed by his attacker. It should be noted immediately that this is nota usual context for a blessing. As Westermann has observed, this is in fact the only place in the Tanakh in which a blessing is acquired through a struggle.
Furthermore, the two blessings are similar in both form and content. Jacob’s attacker declares: “Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel; for you have striven with God and with human beings, and have prevailed” (Gen 32:28). This can be divided into two parts. First, the divine opponent makes a declaration regarding the identity and legacy of Jacob in relation to God; second, he affirms that Jacob has prevailed over all others. Enkidu’s blessing of victorious Gilgamesh follows the same pattern: “As one unique your mother bore you, the wild cow of the sheep-folds, Ninsunna! Your head is extolled above men; kingship of the people Enlil hasdecreed for you” (P 234–39). Again, the first statement is in regard to the identity and legacy of Gilgamesh in relation to his mother, the goddess; the second statement affirms that Gilgamesh prevails over all others. In both cases, the force of the blessing is clear: the hero will continue to prevail as the divinely appointed father or leader of his people.”