In recent years, elements of Christianity are reconciling with Judaism and Israel. This is taking on new forms, such as Hebrew Roots and the Noahide Movement. One Jewish scholar sees this as the manifestation of prophecy as interpreted by Jewish sources, bringing about the reconciliation between the Biblical twin brothers Esau and Jacob. He explains that Judaism is the physical and spiritual descendant of Jacob, while Christianity is the spiritual descendant of his twin brother, Esau.
Efraim Palvanov, a teacher and author, writes the blog Mayim Achronim (final waters), named for the little-known Jewish ritual of washing the fingers after a meal. Like the eponymous mitzvah, the blog covers Jewish subjects that are misunderstood or not normally discussed.
Palvanov began by identifying modern Christendom as the spiritual descendants of Esau.
“In rabbinic literature, Esau takes on a very negative aura,” Palvanov wrote in his book, Garments of Light‘. “Although the Torah doesn’t really portray him as such a bad guy, extra-Biblical texts depict him as the worst kind of person.” But Esau has some fine qualities. According to many commentaries, he had a sincere affection for his brother. Despite Jacob cheating him out of the birthright, Esau welcomed him back with open arms. The Midrash (Devarim Rabbah 1:15) famously states that no one honored their parents better than Esau did. Palvanov also cites the Book of Jubilees, which, while not portraying Esau too kindly either, nonetheless suggests that Esau had repented at the end of his life. “At the end of the day, Esau is not so much a villain as he is a tragically failed hero,” he concluded.
“By the times of the Talmud, there were no real Edomites left, so the Sages began to associate Edom with a new entity: the Roman Empire,” Palvanov explained. “The Sages certainly didn’t believe that the Romans were the direct genetic descendants of Esau, but rather that they were their spiritual heirs.”
This was embodied in Herod, who was an “Idumean”, who were Edomites who had loosely, or perhaps forcibly, converted to Judaism in the time of the Hasmoneans. Likely because of Herod, Esau became a symbol of the Roman oppressor. Before Rome had collapsed, it had adopted Christianity as a state religion. The seat of Christianity would remain in Rome forever after, thereby further associating the Church with the Biblical Esau.
“There is a great deal of irony here,” Palvanov noted. “The mighty Roman Empire that so violently suppressed the Jews and their Torah soon adopted a quasi-Jewish cult as the state religion and worshiped a Jewish man from Judea (Jesus) as their god! Christians would go on to push a ‘replacement theology’: that they are the new ‘Israel’, that God had abandoned the Jews in favor of the Christians, and that the New Testament supersedes the ‘Old Testament’. In some ways, this is little more than Esau trying to take his old birthright back!”
“It is interesting to see that just as Esau teetered back and forth between loving Jacob wholeheartedly and wanting to exterminate him, Christian history displays much the same love-hate relationship with the Jews,” he continued. “There were times when the two happily coexisted side-by-side and times that were the exact opposite. We see the same today, when there are Christian groups that are some of Israel’s biggest supporters and the staunchest opponents of anti-Semitism, and at the same time, other Christian groups that are some of Israel’s staunchest opponents and the biggest supporters of anti-Semitism. As a whole, Christians really do look like the spiritual descendants of Esau.”
Palvanov cites Malachi as a hint that just as Esau was passed over for the blessing of the firstborn, Christianity was destined to fall into disfavor.
I have shown you love, said Hashem. But you ask, “How have You shown us love?” After all—declares Hashem—Esau is Yaakov’s brother; yet I have accepted Yaakov and have rejected Esau. I have made his hills a desolation, his territory a home for beasts of the desert. Malachi 1:2-3
“Maybe He hates that Esau who is obsessed with converting Jews, or falsely accusing them of all sorts of horrible things, or constantly persecuting them; that Esau who simply won’t leave Jacob alone to “sit in his tents’.”
Palvanov explained that, as a whole, Christians really do look like the spiritual descendants of Esau, and reconciliation with Jacob is an essential element in the coming of the Messiah.
“From a religious perspective, Jacob and Esau are undeniably brothers, for Christianity emerged out of Judaism, and believes in the same ancient origins, texts, and traditions. Hopefully, the true Mashiach will soon come to bridge that gulf, and Esau and Jacob will finally reunite as the old brothers that they are.”