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Capital letter J. Genesis 46:2

CAT 33 Capital letter J. Genesis 46.2. Taferelen.  BA 44.jpg

CAT 32. Capital letter J. Printed as the first letter of Tableau 41 (from Genesis 46:2) in Taferelen der voornaamste geschiedenissen van het Oude en Nieuwe Testament. The Hague: Pieter de Hondt, 1728, 1: 81. Melville Memorial Room, Berkshire Athenaeum.

Genesis 46: “[1] And Israel took his journey with all that he had, and came to Beer-sheba, and offered sacrifices unto the God of his father Isaac. [2] And God spake to Israel in the visions of the night, and said, Jacob, Jacob. And he said, Here am I. [3] And he said, I am God, the God of thy father: fear not to go down into Egypt; for I will there make of thee a great nation.”

The engraving catches the mystery of the revelation with the dark concentric swirls beneath the revealed word on the right side. Jacob’s anxiety is suggested by the folds in his bedclothes as well as in the drapery overhead. In the previous chapter his “heart had fainted” when his sons told him that their brother Joseph, who had been exiled to Egypt, was still alive. And he had decided to “go and see him before I die” (Genesis 45:26-28). After this vision, he does visit Joseph in Egypt. Melville marked the subsequent passage in which Joseph and his father meet with the Pharoah, followed by that in which Joseph “commands his servants to embalm his father” after having “fallen on his father’s face” in mourning (Genesis 47:50; Cowen 3:102-3). Much earlier, alongside a margin in Genesis 28, Melville had asked, in a handwritten annotation, “Doth Jacob serve God for nought?” (Cowen 3:90).

In Israel Potter, Melville celebrates the worldly side of Jacob in an extended comparison with Benjamin Franklin, each notable for “the pastoral simplicity of his manners” and the “politic grace of his mind. . . . The history of the patriarch Jacob is interesting not less from the unselfish devotion which we are bound to ascribe to him, than from the deep worldly wisdom and polished Italian tact, gleaming under an air of Arcadian unaffectedness. The diplomatist and the shepherd are blended; a union not without warrant; the apostolic serpent and dove. A tanned Machiavelli in tents” (NN IP 46). Standing before inscrutable Egyptian pyramids in 1857, Melville wrote, “These steps Jacob lay at” (NN J 76). In Clarel, the young divinity student scans the “hills of dead Judea” for “Fit place to set the bier / Of Jacob, brought from Egypt’s mead” (NN C 4.26.74-77).