The story about Esau and Jacob may be found in the book of Genesis 25-27. Here is a brief passage we shall examine:
24 When her time to give birth was at hand, there were twins in her womb. 25 The first came out red, all his body like a hairy mantle; so they named him Esau. 26 Afterward his brother came out, with his hand gripping Esau’s heel; so he was named Jacob.d Isaac was sixty years old when she bore them (NRSV).
d That is He takes by the heel or He supplants
25:24 וַיִּקְרְאוּ שְׁמוֹ עֵשָׂו — so they named him Esau. — The etymology of the name עֵשָׂו (asev = Esau) is unclear. Some scholars think that it is related to the Arabic athaya to be covered with hair; athai, ‘hairy’ Based on this conjecture, Esau may mean “the hairy one” The Hebrew wording suggests that he was completely developed, made, formed, or perfected; or perfect, robust.
Esau’s hairy skin also becomes an important detail in the story of Jacob stealing his father’s blessing (Gen. 27:11-23). In addition, it hints at Esau’s wild and unrefined nature which is in some ways, and is reminiscent to the Babylonian hero Enkidu (whose hairy body is similar to Esau), who also lived among the animals in the forest.
25:26 וַיִּקְרָא שְׁמוֹ יַעֲקֹב — so he was named Jacob — The name “Jacob” means “one who grabs the heel,” or “one who trips up,” or “one who supplants.” Jacob’s name comes from the root עָקַב (eqab) “to take by the heel,” or “supplant.” Hence, the name “Jacob” ought to be rendered as “Supplanter,” or, “Deceiver.” Further scriptural evidence supports this hypothesis. The verb עָקַב is often used for those who ambush an unsuspecting party (this was actually Gad’s method of warfare alluded to in Gen. 49:19), and implies cunning and deceit (e.g. Psa. 41:10;49:5; et al.).
Only a punster could appreciate the beauty of the biblical text here. Puns embedded in this name might suggest an interesting translation seldom seen in English translations. Jacob might just as easily mean “trickster” and lends itself to an unusual but common English pun–we could say that Jacob behaves like a real “heel”!
The narrative’s irony is remarkable–note how the “quiet homebody” Jacob hunts and ambushes his brother–Esau–“the hunter”!