Son of Isaac and Rebekah, and brother of Esau whom he twice outwitted (Gen. 25: 29 ff.; 27). The traditions about Jacob were compiled over several centuries but in so far as it can be assumed that Jacob was a historical person he is likely to have lived in the period between about 1750 and 1570 BCE. Some authorities believe there are indications that he lived about 1200 BCE at the beginning of the early Iron Age, but this date would assume a surprisingly late date for the Exodus. The combination of the Jacob stories from the two sources J and E and then with the addition of P material (in Gen. 35) is in a remarkably sophisticated arrangement reflecting, by the genealogical relationship of Jacob to his sons, something of the actual social realities at the time of compilation.

Jacob is portrayed unattractively: he steals from his father-in-law Laban; he deceives his brother Esau and so obtains his birthright; and he tricks his father into giving him the blessing of the first-born which was Esau's privilege. In his old age, Jacob comes into the Joseph narrative and dies near Joseph, his favourite son (Gen. 49: 33).

In the NT Jacob is mentioned in the speech of Stephen (Acts 7: 8) in his recital of the promises of God to his people; but more importantly the preference of Jacob over Esau is used by Paul (Rom. 9: 13) to illustrate the sovereign grace of God, and by Heb. 11: 9 as one of the examplars of true faith. In the conversation between Jesus and a Samaritan woman, she asks whether he is greater than the ancestor Jacob (John 4: 12). It is an example of John's irony: she thinks it is absurd—but the readers of the gospel know otherwise.