The Joint of Strength and Mortality

A doctor looks at Jacob’s hip. /

His hips were titanium-vanadium,
where the angel touched.

Iain Bamforth, “Unsystematic Anatomy”

The hip is a strong joint: a bossed knuckle of bone clasped deep into a hollow of the pelvic skeleton. It’s buried beneath layers of the thickest and most powerful muscles in the body. There are four main groups of these, and all of them are active when walking: two groups have their greatest actions on the hip and two groups have their greatest actions on the knee. The process of taking a step involves countless adjustments, each muscle continuously testing itself against the strength of all the others. Each movement must take into account uneven terrain, movements of the trunk, and the balance and kinetics of the other leg.

In the book of Genesis, the joint is taken as one of the principal sources of human life. Jacob, grandson of Abraham, fools his brother Esau into forfeiting his inheritance. The two are twins and this isn’t their first fight: earlier in Genesis we’re told that Jacob was born grasping at his brother’s heel (his name, Ya’akov, is related to the Hebrew akev, meaning “heel”).

At the outset of the story, Jacob has prepared hundreds of animals as an appeasement gift for Esau. Before he can offer them to his brother he is set upon by an angelic figure who wrestles him to the ground. The two fight “until the break of day,” with Jacob trying to extract a blessing from the figure. When the angel realizes that he cannot match Jacob fairly, he forcibly ends the fight by dislocating Jacob’s hip, leaving him with a permanent limp as a reminder of the night when he took on an angel and almost won. The chapter closes with the newly named Israel’s ...

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Also in this Issue

Issue 34 / October 29, 2015
  1. Editor's Note from October 29, 2015

    Issue 34: The long, weighty future of a whale’s body, God’s childlike attention, and hip op. /

  2. Sunken Treasure

    The end of a great creature’s life is the beginning of a long, deep community. /

  3. Deeper than Deep Space

    The unbelievable and unfathomable truth of the universe is God’s childlike gaze. /

  4. Whale Fall

    “Its carrion / carries on” /

  5. Wonder on the Web

    Issue 34: Links to amazing stuff.

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