Saturday, November 2, 2013

The Bible, Pt. 10: Genesis, Chapter 29 - 31

This continues my ongoing series, for which I'm reading the Christian Bible, from Part 9. All quotes are from the King James version, 1769 edition.

Chapter 29:
1 Then Jacob went on his journey, and came into the land of the people of the east.

Jacob has left home because he played a nasty trick on his twin brother, and Esau has vowed ("in his heart," at least) to kill him.

But he's also directed to find a cousin to marry, since anyone outside of their immediate family would distress his parents too much. (Rebekah was "weary of (her) life" because Esau had married Hittite girls, and she was determined that Jacob wouldn't do the same.)
10 And it came to pass, when Jacob saw Rachel the daughter of Laban his mother's brother, and the sheep of Laban his mother's brother, that Jacob went near, and rolled the stone from the well's mouth, and watered the flock of Laban his mother's brother.

11 And Jacob kissed Rachel, and lifted up his voice, and wept.

Perfect, right? (Although, it's not actually clear if Jacob is happier at seeing Rachel or all those lovely sheep. Apparently, it's some of both.) After all, Rachel is his cousin, so the clan can continue becoming more and more inbred. But there's just one problem:
16 And Laban had two daughters: the name of the elder was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel.

17 Leah was tender eyed; but Rachel was beautiful and well favoured.

18 And Jacob loved Rachel; and said, I will serve thee seven years for Rachel thy younger daughter.

Leah had a nice personality, but Rachel was hot, so Jacob agrees to work for his uncle for seven years in exchange for the younger daughter. Laban agrees, and after seven years, Jacob asks for his wife.
22 And Laban gathered together all the men of the place, and made a feast.

23 And it came to pass in the evening, that he took Leah his daughter, and brought her to him; and he went in unto her.

...

25 And it came to pass, that in the morning, behold, it was Leah: and he said to Laban, What is this thou hast done unto me? did not I serve with thee for Rachel? wherefore then hast thou beguiled me?

26 And Laban said, It must not be so done in our country, to give the younger before the firstborn.

His uncle tricks him - all women being alike in the dark, apparently - because he wants to marry off the elder daughter first. But hey, no problem, because Jacob can have Rachel, too, if he just agrees to serve another seven years. (Luckily, he's allowed to marry her first - a week after he's married Leah - and pay for her later.)

Hmm,... you have to wonder how old these girls were, don't you? After all, he's already waited seven years after getting the hots for Rachel, and in all that time, Leah has also stayed unmarried. Were his two cousins just little kids when he first met them? Well, they could have been in their late teens, so early to mid-twenties now, I guess.
30 And he went in also unto Rachel, and he loved also Rachel more than Leah, and served with him yet seven other years.

31 And when the LORD saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb: but Rachel was barren.

Here is God being a dick again, just because Jacob prefers the wife he really wanted to marry in the first place! Or is it really God? There are a lot of problems with barren women in Genesis (it's never the man's problem, of course), but there's a whole lot of inbreeding, too. Just sayin'...
32 And Leah conceived, and bare a son, and she called his name Reuben: for she said, Surely the LORD hath looked upon my affliction; now therefore my husband will love me.

33 And she conceived again, and bare a son; and said, Because the LORD hath heard that I was hated, he hath therefore given me this son also: and she called his name Simeon.

34 And she conceived again, and bare a son; and said, Now this time will my husband be joined unto me, because I have born him three sons: therefore was his name called Levi.

35 And she conceived again, and bare a son: and she said, Now will I praise the LORD: therefore she called his name Judah; and left bearing.

Rachel remains barren (and beautiful?), but Leah starts pumping out kids. Now Jacob will love her best, right? You really have to feel sorry for Leah. But it's not Jacob's fault, either.

Chapter 30:
1 And when Rachel saw that she bare Jacob no children, Rachel envied her sister; and said unto Jacob, Give me children, or else I die.

2 And Jacob's anger was kindled against Rachel: and he said, Am I in God's stead, who hath withheld from thee the fruit of the womb?

3 And she said, Behold my maid Bilhah, go in unto her; and she shall bear upon my knees, that I may also have children by her.

So now Rachel gets jealous of Leah, so she tells her husband to have sex with her maid (the slave her father gave her when she got married). Yeah, that's a great solution, huh? But Jacob is happy to oblige.
5 And Bilhah conceived, and bare Jacob a son.

6 And Rachel said, God hath judged me, and hath also heard my voice, and hath given me a son: therefore called she his name Dan.

7 And Bilhah Rachel's maid conceived again, and bare Jacob a second son.

8 And Rachel said, With great wrestlings have I wrestled with my sister, and I have prevailed: and she called his name Naphtali.

Apparently, that poor slave girl not only gets raped, she doesn't even get to keep her own children! Rachel names them, because she has "prevailed." God has given her these sons.

So, what do you think Leah does about this?
9 When Leah saw that she had left bearing, she took Zilpah her maid, and gave her Jacob to wife.

10 And Zilpah Leah's maid bare Jacob a son.

11 And Leah said, A troop cometh: and she called his name Gad.

12 And Zilpah Leah's maid bare Jacob a second son.

13 And Leah said, Happy am I, for the daughters will call me blessed: and she called his name Asher.

Yup. Leah has stopped bearing kids (apparently), so she gives her slave girl to her husband, too, and she takes the resulting sons for her own. Jacob has got two wives and two concubines (you've got to love these 'traditional marriages' in the Bible, don't you?), and he's building quite a family here.

Note that God doesn't care in the slightest that Jacob is having sex with four women - two of them his wives and two slave girls. But when the Pharaoh had sex with Sarah, despite both Abraham and Sarah swearing that she was just Abraham's sister, not his wife, God had a conniption fit, plaguing (literally) the whole household - the Pharaoh's household, not Abraham's.

And we've seen this same thing - pretty much the exact same story, in fact - twice more in Genesis, too. There's a real double-standard when it comes to men and women, isn't there? Of course, that's not the half of it. It's just one example of many.
14 And Reuben went in the days of wheat harvest, and found mandrakes in the field, and brought them unto his mother Leah. Then Rachel said to Leah, Give me, I pray thee, of thy son's mandrakes.

15 And she said unto her, Is it a small matter that thou hast taken my husband? and wouldest thou take away my son's mandrakes also? And Rachel said, Therefore he shall lie with thee to night for thy son's mandrakes.

16 And Jacob came out of the field in the evening, and Leah went out to meet him, and said, Thou must come in unto me; for surely I have hired thee with my son's mandrakes. And he lay with her that night.

17 And God hearkened unto Leah, and she conceived, and bare Jacob the fifth son.

18 And Leah said, God hath given me my hire, because I have given my maiden to my husband: and she called his name Issachar.

Mandrakes were considered magical. Note that they're very poisonous, but the poison is in the dose, so perhaps they were considered a folk remedy for barrenness, too? (Of course, in those days, medicine and magic were pretty much the same thing.)

But when Leah's eldest son, Reuben, discovers mandrakes in the field, Rachel wants them, so she trades away a night with her husband. (At this point, Jacob is having sex with four different women, so I suppose they've got him on a strict schedule, huh?)

But it's Leah, not Rachel, who becomes pregnant again. And she decides that God must be happy with her, since she let Jacob have sex with her slave. Then she gives birth to a sixth son ("now will my husband dwell with me" - she's still hoping he'll like her best), and finally a daughter, too.

But after all this, God decides to throw a monkey wrench into the works:
22 And God remembered Rachel, and God hearkened to her, and opened her womb.

23 And she conceived, and bare a son; and said, God hath taken away my reproach:

Finally, Rachel gets pregnant and delivers a son, Joseph, Jacob's twelfth child and - inevitably - the favorite. (You really have to wonder about the children born of those two slave girls, don't you? They were important at first, when Leah and Rachel were keeping score. But after Rachel finally has a kid of her own, and Leah starts bearing children again, I'll bet they had a rude awakening.)
25 And it came to pass, when Rachel had born Joseph, that Jacob said unto Laban, Send me away, that I may go unto mine own place, and to my country.

26 Give me my wives and my children, for whom I have served thee, and let me go: for thou knowest my service which I have done thee.

So now Jacob decides that it's time to go home again. It's been nearly twenty years, so surely Esau has forgiven him by now.

Laban doesn't want him to leave, because he's prospered while Jacob has been working for him. But he agrees to pay Jacob for his work. What does Jacob think is fair?
31 And he said, What shall I give thee? And Jacob said, Thou shalt not give me any thing: if thou wilt do this thing for me, I will again feed and keep thy flock:

32 I will pass through all thy flock to day, removing from thence all the speckled and spotted cattle, and all the brown cattle among the sheep, and the spotted and speckled among the goats: and of such shall be my hire.

Jacob agrees to stay, suggesting that he get all the speckled and spotted animals in his uncle's flocks. That will be his hire. And Laban agrees to that.

But before Jacob can go through the herd to pick out his share, Laban removes all of the speckled and spotted creatures and gives them to his sons. Well, too bad. I guess there aren't any in his flocks now, huh? Then he prudently moves three days away, just so Jacob can calm down from being tricked by his uncle a second time.

You know, this is a place where God might reasonably have interceded, don't you think? But there's no sign of that. Instead, Jacob has a trick of his own up his sleeve:
37 And Jacob took him rods of green poplar, and of the hazel and chesnut tree; and pilled white strakes in them, and made the white appear which was in the rods.

38 And he set the rods which he had pilled before the flocks in the gutters in the watering troughs when the flocks came to drink, that they should conceive when they came to drink.

39 And the flocks conceived before the rods, and brought forth cattle ringstraked, speckled, and spotted.

40 And Jacob did separate the lambs, and set the faces of the flocks toward the ringstraked, and all the brown in the flock of Laban; and he put his own flocks by themselves, and put them not unto Laban's cattle.

41 And it came to pass, whensoever the stronger cattle did conceive, that Jacob laid the rods before the eyes of the cattle in the gutters, that they might conceive among the rods.

42 But when the cattle were feeble, he put them not in: so the feebler were Laban's, and the stronger Jacob's.

43 And the man increased exceedingly, and had much cattle, and maidservants, and menservants, and camels, and asses.

Jacob cuts fresh branches, oozing white sap, and puts them where the herd has to brush through them to get water, making them speckled and spotted. Furthermore, in this early example of animal breeding, he makes sure to do this with the best of Laban's flock, but not the feeble animals. Those he leaves for his uncle.

(Note: That's how I interpret this passage, although it could also be interpreted as Jacob using magic. Maybe "the white appear which was in the rods" had some magical effect on the next generation of animals? That could be what is meant here. But I think it's simpler than that, myself.)

And Jacob prospers. No God necessary.

Chapter 31:
1 And he heard the words of Laban's sons, saying, Jacob hath taken away all that was our father's; and of that which was our father's hath he gotten all this glory.

2 And Jacob beheld the countenance of Laban, and, behold, it was not toward him as before.

3 And the LORD said unto Jacob, Return unto the land of thy fathers, and to thy kindred; and I will be with thee.

Jacob's uncle is unhappy with how this has turned out, and so are his sons, so God finally shows up and tells Jacob that it's time to go home. Well, duh!

So Jacob talks to Rachel and Leah:
6 And ye know that with all my power I have served your father.

7 And your father hath deceived me, and changed my wages ten times; but God suffered him not to hurt me.

8 If he said thus, The speckled shall be thy wages; then all the cattle bare speckled: and if he said thus, The ringstraked shall be thy hire; then bare all the cattle ringstraked.

9 Thus God hath taken away the cattle of your father, and given them to me.

10 And it came to pass at the time that the cattle conceived, that I lifted up mine eyes, and saw in a dream, and, behold, the rams which leaped upon the cattle were ringstraked, speckled, and grisled.

11 And the angel of God spake unto me in a dream, saying, Jacob: And I said, Here am I.

12 And he said, Lift up now thine eyes, and see, all the rams which leap upon the cattle are ringstraked, speckled, and grisled: for I have seen all that Laban doeth unto thee.

This is different from the previous chapter. Now it's God which has done all this. It's not that Jacob played a clever trick (after Laban tricked him). And it's not even that Jacob used magic, if that's the correct interpretation of the previous story. Now, it's God which has caused the speckled male animals to dominate the others in the herd, causing more speckled young to be born.

This is clearly a different story, isn't it? Or,... I wonder if it wasn't just added to the tale when someone realized that Jacob had solved his problems without God. After all, that's very typical among believers, to "improve" stories like this.

Anyway, Rachel and Leah agree with their husband/cousin. Furthermore, they ask, "Is there yet any portion or inheritance for us in our father's house? Are we not counted of him strangers? for he hath sold us, and hath quite devoured also our money."

That sentiment seems to cause Rachel, at least, to take action on her own:
17 Then Jacob rose up, and set his sons and his wives upon camels;

18 And he carried away all his cattle, and all his goods which he had gotten, the cattle of his getting, which he had gotten in Padanaram, for to go to Isaac his father in the land of Canaan.

19 And Laban went to shear his sheep: and Rachel had stolen the images that were her father's.

20 And Jacob stole away unawares to Laban the Syrian, in that he told him not that he fled.

Jacob secretly gathers up his family and all of his belongings - all of his goods, all of the animals, all of his slaves - and flees back towards Canaan, where his parents live. But Rachel has also taken the graven images of their gods.

(Clearly, 'God' isn't the only god they worship. We've already seen how the writers of Genesis used different names to refer to their god. In the King James version, Elohim was translated as "God," while Adonai was translated as "LORD" or "the LORD God." Thus, it's easy to see that the two different versions of Creation were written by two different people.

(Were they referring to the same god? Maybe. Probably, I suppose. I don't really know. But it's pretty clear here that it wasn't the only god they worshiped, in any case. Christians may translate these various names as "God," but that's because of what they believe, not what these people necessarily believed.)
22 And it was told Laban on the third day that Jacob was fled.

23 And he took his brethren with him, and pursued after him seven days' journey; and they overtook him in the mount Gilead.

...

26 And Laban said to Jacob, What hast thou done, that thou hast stolen away unawares to me, and carried away my daughters, as captives taken with the sword?

27 Wherefore didst thou flee away secretly, and steal away from me; and didst not tell me, that I might have sent thee away with mirth, and with songs, with tabret, and with harp?

28 And hast not suffered me to kiss my sons and my daughters? thou hast now done foolishly in so doing.

29 It is in the power of my hand to do you hurt: but the God of your father spake unto me yesternight, saying, Take thou heed that thou speak not to Jacob either good or bad.

30 And now, though thou wouldest needs be gone, because thou sore longedst after thy father's house, yet wherefore hast thou stolen my gods?

Laban is pissed. He's angry because they ran away secretly, making it seem like they'd been his captives. He's angry that he couldn't say good-bye appropriately (this was probably a big loss of face to him). And he's angry that they've stolen his gods!
31 And Jacob answered and said to Laban, Because I was afraid: for I said, Peradventure thou wouldest take by force thy daughters from me.

32 With whomsoever thou findest thy gods, let him not live: before our brethren discern thou what is thine with me, and take it to thee. For Jacob knew not that Rachel had stolen them.

33 And Laban went into Jacob's tent, and into Leah's tent, and into the two maidservants' tents; but he found them not. Then went he out of Leah's tent, and entered into Rachel's tent.

34 Now Rachel had taken the images, and put them in the camel's furniture, and sat upon them. And Laban searched all the tent, but found them not.

35 And she said to her father, Let it not displease my lord that I cannot rise up before thee; for the custom of women is upon me. And he searched, but found not the images.

Jacob answers, reasonably enough, that he was afraid (and right to be afraid, I'd say, given the tricks his uncle has already played on him). But he doesn't know that Rachel has stolen those graven images of their gods (again, "gods" - plural), so he lets Laban search the camp.

Rachel, however, is pretty sneaky, too. She sits on top of the images and tells her father that she's menstruating, so she can't get up. So he doesn't find them. But he's still very angry. Well, so is Jacob.
36 And Jacob was wroth, and chode with Laban: and Jacob answered and said to Laban, What is my trespass? what is my sin, that thou hast so hotly pursued after me?

37 Whereas thou hast searched all my stuff, what hast thou found of all thy household stuff? set it here before my brethren and thy brethren, that they may judge betwixt us both.

38 This twenty years have I been with thee; thy ewes and thy she goats have not cast their young, and the rams of thy flock have I not eaten.

39 That which was torn of beasts I brought not unto thee; I bare the loss of it; of my hand didst thou require it, whether stolen by day, or stolen by night.

40 Thus I was; in the day the drought consumed me, and the frost by night; and my sleep departed from mine eyes.

41 Thus have I been twenty years in thy house; I served thee fourteen years for thy two daughters, and six years for thy cattle: and thou hast changed my wages ten times.

As I say, Jacob isn't too happy, either. He's served his uncle for twenty years - fourteen of them for Laban's two daughters (when he only wanted one of them) and six years past that. And Laban has tricked him at least twice. (He says "thou hast changed my wages ten times." I suppose that's an exaggeration - quite natural - but maybe not.)
43 And Laban answered and said unto Jacob, These daughters are my daughters, and these children are my children, and these cattle are my cattle, and all that thou seest is mine: and what can I do this day unto these my daughters, or unto their children which they have born?

44 Now therefore come thou, let us make a covenant, I and thou; and let it be for a witness between me and thee.

...

55 And early in the morning Laban rose up, and kissed his sons and his daughters, and blessed them: and Laban departed, and returned unto his place.

Luckily, they're all kin here (not that that always seems to make much difference among these perpetually-feuding, inbred hillbillies), so they come to an agreement and part peaceably.

But keep in mind that they're heading back to Isaac (still alive, despite being at death's door twenty years previously), Rebekah,... and Esau, who was threatening to kill Jacob for his twin's earlier behavior. So they may be out of the frying pan, but it's not guaranteed where they'll land.

But I'll get to that in the next episode. Nothing like ending on a cliffhanger to get you coming back for more, right? :)

___
Note: This entire series can be found here.

3 comments:

Chimeradave said...

I really wonder who these other gods that were being worshiped are. If the original text explained who they were, it's been lost over the years. I wonder if they are the Greek Gods or ones we don't know about anymore.

And it's so funny to me how God doesn't care about the women in this story God's convent is with Jacob so he doesn't seem to care that Rachel worships another God.

And Jacob really has some nerve huh? He is forced out of his own household for lying to his dad and he gets to Laban's place and he acts like Laban should treat him like an heir instead of just a drifter, which is what he basically was.

WCG said...

John, in this situation, I'm more sympathetic to Jacob. He worked for his uncle for seven years, as payment for Rachel, and then he gets tricked into marrying Leah, instead. So then he has to work another seven years as payment for Rachel.

Note that he's not a drifter, he's family, even before he marries his two cousins. He continues to work for his uncle, giving Laban lots of grandchildren, and then Laban tries to cheat him out of the wages they both have agreed to.

No, Jacob wasn't very sympathetic when he was young, but I can't blame him for anything in this part of the story. He tricks Laban, but justifiably, I'd say.

Re. those multiple gods, I suspect that they all had their own gods they worshiped. But most of the evidence of that probably disappeared as Abraham's god became paramount in this particular clan.

Chimeradave said...

Yeah Laban was no saint that's for sure.