What determined the respective fates of the twins? Were their futures foretold by Rebecca’s oracle, or rather, by its interpretation? Were their fates traded through the exchange of a bowl of lentil stew for the birthright? Or was it Isaac’s blessing, secured through subterfuge, that sealed the respective paths of the boys? Was it all of these things together, or perhaps none of them, that determined that Esau would become a ruffian, while Jacob would emerge as the spiritual father of a people covenanted to God?
Twins are a source of fascination, especially for scientists who research the relative influence of genetics and environment in human development. But even non-scientists wonder about siblings who gestated and were born together, were raised in the same environment, and yet whose paths diverged dramatically one from the other. Twins provide a special vantage point into the nature/nurture dichotomy, and allow us to imagine that it is possible to resolve the mystery of character if we can just isolate the inputs of genes or environment.
Such efforts to simplify human development are, however, prone to fail. True, there are physical characteristics and even some personality traits that are heritable, and there are certainly environmental influences that affect character development. And yet, it is never simple to say that entirely because of parentage, or parenting, that a person became the way that they are. Continue reading