🔼The name Esau: Summary
- Doer, Maker, Worker
- From the verb עשה ('asa), to do or make.
🔼The name Esau in the Bible
🔼Etymology of the name Esau
The two nicknames of Esau, Edom and Seir, are both obvious in meaning and have to do with Esau's looks (red and hairy). His proper name however is not as easily derived.
Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names reports that there once was a root עשה ('asa) that meant to be hairy, and refers to an existing Arabic verb that means just that. Hence Jones translates with Covered With Hair, and the NOBSE Study Bible Name List reads Hairy.
However, the regular Hebrew word for hair in the Bible is שער (s'r) — this noun also yields the name Seir — and a Hebrew audience would probably have a much stronger association to the very common Hebrew verb עשה ('asa), meaning to do or accomplish. Note for instance the wordplay in Deuteronomy 2:29: כאשר עשו־לי בני עשו, meaning: as have done (עשו) to me the sons of Esau (עשו):
The verb עשה ('asa) means to do, make happen or work with. Noun מעשה (ma'aseh) means deed, act, work, doing, making and so on.
The twins Jacob and Esau have appealed to the imagination of Biblical exegetes since forever. Augustine of Hippo for instance thought that Jacob represented the saved and Esau the lost, which is of course a polytheistic worldview (in the Bible, nobody is lost because they descend from the wrong fore-father). In our article on How The Mind Works, we explain that the divide between Jacob and Esau is self-similar to that between the flat-footers and toe-walkers in nature. The flat-footers (mice, rabbits, beavers, humans) are home-centered, whereas the toe-walkers (cows, sheep, horses, deer) are self-centered. From the flat-footers came societies centered on temples, whereas the toe-walkers spawned the carnivorous predators (all forms of cats and dogs are also toe-walkers). All farm animals, without whom hominids could not have become modern humans, are of course all toe-walkers.
Since Esau is also called Edom (meaning Dustling or Corporeal One), perhaps these twins reminded Isaac and Rebekah of the basic workings of a human individual: the animal body, though wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14) should be subjected to the grace filled mind (Romans 8:10).
To a Hebrew audience the name Esau means Doer.