ESAU, the son of Isaac and Rebecca, in the Bible, and the elder twin brother of Jacob. He was so called because he was red (admōni) and hairy when he was born, and the name Edom (red) was given to him when he sold his birthright to Jacob for a meal of red lentil pottage (Gen. xxv. 21-34). Another story of the manner in which Jacob obtained the superiority is related in Gen. xxvii. Here the younger brother impersonated the elder, and succeeded in deceiving his blind father by imitating the hairiness of his brother. He thus gained the blessing intended for the first-born, and Esau, on hearing how he had been forestalled, vowed to kill him. Jacob accordingly fled to his mother's relatives, and on his return, many years later, peace was restored between them (xxxii. sq.). These primitive stories of the relations between the eponymous heads of the Edomites and Israelites are due to the older (Judaean) sources; the late notices of the Priestly school (see Genesis) preserve a different account of the parting of the two (Gen. xxxvi. 6-8), and lay great stress upon Esau's marriages with the Canaanites of the land, unions which were viewed (from the writer's standpoint) with great aversion (Gen. xxvi. 34 sq., xxvii. 46). For "Esau" as a designation of the Edomites, cf. Jer. xlix. 8, Obad. vv. 6, 8, and on their history, see Edom.
Esau's characteristic hairiness (Gen. xxv. 25, xxvii. 11) has given rise to the suggestion that his name is properly 'ēshav, from a root corresponding to the Arab. 'athiya, to have thick or matted hair. Mt Seir, too, where he resided, etymologically suggests a "shaggy" mountain-land. According to Hommel (Sud-arab. Chrestom. p. 39 sq.) the name Esau has S. Arabian analogies. On the possible identity of the name with Usoos, the Phoenician demi-god (Philo of Byblus, ap. Eusebius, Praep. Evang. i. 10), see Cheyne, Encyc. Bib. col. 1333; Lagrange, Etudes sur les religions sémitiques, p. 416 (Paris, 1905); Ed. Meyer, Israeliten, 278 sq. (and, on general questions, ib. 128 sq., 329 sqq.).
(S. A. C.)
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)