Genesis 35:1–8

35  1 God said to Jacob, “Arise, go up to Bethel, and dwell there. Make an altar/slaughter-site there to the God who was seen by you when you fled from Esau, your brother.”
     Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, “Put away the foreign gods that are in your midst. Cleanse yourselves and change your garments. Then let us arise and go up to Bethel where I will build an altar to the God who answered me on the day of my distress and was with me on the way that I went.” They gave Jacob all the foreign gods that were in their hands, along with the rings in their ears, and Jacob buried them under the terebinth that is near Shechem. 
     They journeyed on. The terror of God lay on the nearby towns, so they did not pursue Jacob’s sons. Jacob came to Luz in Canaan, that was also known as Bethel, along with all those who were with him. He built an altar there and named the place El-Bethel,[a] because God was revealed to him there when he fled from his brother. 
     And Deborah, Rebekah’s nurse, died and was buried below Bethel under the oak. Jacob named it Allon-Bacuth/Oak-of-Weeping.

After the slaughter at Shechem to restore Dinah’s lost purity, there is another voice relating a miscellany of bits and pieces about Jacob before his sons become the main storyline.

Jacob is instructed by G*D to arise and go up to Bethel and there to raise an altar. We are back to Bethel and previous altars raised there. Altars seem to be both for one and for always. A particular altar can be in response to a particular experience. A place of such altars takes on a trans-generational significance as experience after experience adds meaning to a place. Sacredness becomes imputed to the location.

At Bethel, Jacob and company put a further distance between themselves and their Mesopotamian roots. This is similar to Abram having landed at Shechem and the Terebinth of Moreh, raising an altar, and moving on to Bethel to raise another. Abram moved to Bethel on his own; Jacob moved to Bethel at the direction of G*D. Jacob rings a new change on an old tune.

There, at the Terebinth of Moreh, Laban’s household gods and more picked up along the way were buried, and their past with them. The violence of retribution, an old idol, could also have been buried there, but the terror set loose proved all too helpful in cowing any who would do the same to Jacob’s extended household. This terror is attributed to G*D, and we will see it in generations and stories to come.

We are not told the relationship between Jacob’s altar-building after he left Isaac and Rebekah and before arriving at Laban’s, and this altar. Altar beside altar beside altar finally come to be recognized in this place as El-Bethel, not simply Bethel. Imputed sacredness is at work.

There is a stray obituary, not part of a genealogy, inserted about Deborah, Rebekah’s nurse. It is written in the plural, which has been variously interpreted—including the otherwise unnoted death of Rebekah. This type of midrash suggests Rebekah was with Jacob at El-Bethel. There is no other notation of Rebekah’s death. We will only find out later that Rebekah was buried, with Isaac, at the grave first purchased by Abraham for Sarah.

The burial of foreign gods and the strange story of Deborah’s death brings the focus on Jacob to an end, and we shift to Rachel’s death and the story cycle of Joseph and Jacob’s sons. Jacob will still periodically appear to remind people of the land of Bethel and Canaan, but the extended story of Joseph steps forward, and we follow his dream of power and his erasure as a part of the twelve tribes.

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