Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn 1606 – 1669

Esau Selling his Birthright to Jacob

drawing with pen and brush (20 × 17 cm) — c. 1640-1641 Museum British Museum, London

Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn biography

This work is linked to Genesis 25:30

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Isaac and Rebecca had two sons: the twins Esau and Jacob. Esau was the first-born, giving him the birthright. Among Jews the birthright gave the eldest son authority over the family, and two parts of the inheritance.

One day Esau returns from the hunt, hungry. He asks Jacob for some of the lentil pottage that Jacob was eating. The soup (or stew) was red, just like Esau's hair. Jacob gives him the soup, but asks for the birthright in exchange. For Esau the right doesn't have much value, as he thinks he will die prematurely while hunting anyway. So he agrees.

The episode is the origin of the English expression "for a mess of pottage": giving away something that is important in the long term in exchange for short-term satisfaction.

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