a mess of pottage

mess of pottage

Something of little, trivial, or no value but which appears to be attractive or valuable on first reckoning. An allusion to Esau in Genesis 25:29–32, who sells to Jacob his birthright to his family's estate for a bowl of lentil stew (pottage). Only after the economic crash did it became fully clear what messes of pottage these sub-prime mortgages proved to be for first-time homeowners. If we allow our obsession with job creation to undermine the health of the environment, humanity will ultimately end up selling its birthright for a mess of pottage.
See also: mess, of, pottage

a mess of pottage

LITERARY, OLD-FASHIONED
If someone exchanges something of lasting value for a mess of pottage, they foolishly exchange it for something of no lasting value. I think he has sold his soul for a mess of pottage. Note: A mess of pottage is a dish of vegetables. This expression comes from a story in the Bible, which tells how Esau was hungry and sold his privileges as first-born son to his brother Jacob in return for this meal. (Genesis 25:29-33)
See also: mess, of, pottage
References in classic literature ?
So saying, he gathered together, and brought to a flame, the decaying brands which lay scattered on the ample hearth; took from the larger board a mess of pottage and seethed kid, placed it upon the small table at which he had himself supped, and, without waiting the Jew's thanks, went to the other side of the hall; whether from unwillingness to hold more close communication with the object of his benevolence, or from a wish to draw near to the upper end of the table, seemed uncertain.
But he who sold his birthright for a mess of pottage existed, and Judas Iscariot existed, and Castlereagh existed, and this man exists
Journal readers on Tuesday were told that North of Tyne devolution is comparable to the story of Esau, who sold his birthright to Jacob for a mess of pottage, a thin gruel.
Town hall numpties are selling the people's birthright for a mess of pottage.
It seems, though, that Mr Gambles wants to sell advertising space on the new building for a mess of pottage.
As usual for a mess of pottage to ruthless developers.
A year before Labour started the heavy lifting for the Libyans, the SNP were ready to effectively trade Megrahi's inclusion in the prisoner transfer agreement with Gaddafi for a mess of pottage.
My love for my children makes me glad that I am what I am and keeps me from desiring to be otherwise; and yet, when I sometimes open a little box in which I still keep my fast yellowing manuscripts, the only tangible remnants of a vanished dream, a dead ambition, a sacrificed talent, I cannot repress the thought that, after all, I have chosen the lesser part, that I have sold my birthright for a mess of pottage.
Events may prove me wrong, but I think the city fathers of Manchester have sold their birthright for a mess of pottage.
There are too many in Government on the business front, who would betray this nation for a mess of pottage.