Tuesday, March 10, 2009

GENESIS: Chapter 30

Chapter 30
Summary:Rachel became envious of her sister Leah having all these children and begged Jacob to give her a child. Jacob noting the absurdity in her request replies and tells her that it's God's fault that she hasn't had any children, and not his.

So Rachel decides to let Jacob sleep with her slave Bilhah, so that she could claim her slave's children as her own. Bilhah gives birth to a son that Rachel names Dan (meaning "Justice"), and later to a second son that Rachel names Naphtali (meaning "Wrestling") - due to the competition with her sister.

Meanwhile, Leah, who wasn't able to get pregnant again, gave her slave-girl Zilpah to Jacob for him to sleep with. Zilpah gave birth to a son that Leah named "Gad" (meaning "My luck has turned"), and later a second son that Leah named Asher (meaning "Happy").

One day Reuben found some mandrakes (which were thought to increase fertility) growing in the field and brought them to his mother Leah. Rachel begged Leah to share them with her, to which Leah angrily retorted, "Wasn't it enough to steal my husband? Now you will steal my son's mandrakes too?"

When Jacob came home, Leah told him about the mandrakes and insisted that he sleep with her that night. She became pregnant again and gave birth to another son that she named Issachar (meaning "Wages") - feeling that God had repaid her for giving her slave-girl to Jacob. When Leah became pregnant again and gave birth to her sixth son, she named him Zebulun (meaning "Gifts"). She later gave birth to a daughter whom she named Dinah.

God finally answers Rachel's prayers and gave her a child, a son whom she named Joseph (meaning "May I also have another").

Soon after the birth of Joseph, Jacob told his Uncle Laban that he wished to return home and was taking his wives and children with him. Laban begs him not to go as he accredits his good fortune to Jacob's being there, and he offers to let Jacob demand whatever raise he desires to convince him to stay.

Jacob agrees to stay on the condition that his Uncle lets him take all of the goats that are speckled or spotted along with all of the black sheep in his uncle's flock, adding that if his uncle ever spotted a white sheep amongst Jacob's flock then he would know it had been stolen. Uncle Laban agreed to this and formed a flock for Jacob consisting of all the male goats that were ringed and spotted; all the female goats that were speckled and spotted with any white patches; and all of the black sheep. His sons took this flock about three days travel away while Jacob stayed to work with Laban's flock.

Jacob took fresh shoots of poplar, almond, and plane trees and peeled white streaks into them. He placed the rods next to the watering trough so that the flocks would see them when the came to drink, as this was when they mated. So the flocks mated before the white streaked rods and the offspring were streaked and spotted, and Jacob added them to his flock. He then segregated the ewes from the rams of Laban's flock and let them mate only with Jacob's own black rams. Thus building his own flock from his Uncle Laban's.

Moreover he began finding the stronger animals to mate and placed the peeled branches before them, ensuring that the strongest lambs would become Jacob's own, while the weaker went to Laban. As a result, Jacob's flocks increased rapidly and he became wealthy with many camels, donkeys, and slaves.
Thoughts:The chapter starts off with a fairly humorous rivalry between Jacob's wives Rachel and her sister Leah trying to out-birth each other. Rachel who's been barren so far has Jacob knock up her slave Bilhah and claims the children as her own, while Leah retaliates by also giving Jacob the go-around with her slave Zilpah, also claiming the slave-girl's children. The whole scenario is simply sad, yet comical, while also demeaning the value of these two sisters into simply baby making machines. Jacob meanwhile scores big adding two slaves to his concubine and a slew of offspring while the two women duke it out with their slaves and their bodies.

Surprisingly, (or not surprisingly, depending on how you look at it) the bible gives credence the alleged magical fertility elements of the mandrake root. Obviously the clearly human authors of the bible believed in the common superstition surrounding the mandrake using, it as a story element to enhance the level of competition between the two sibling wives of Jacob. I'm sure religious apologists probably claim that God may have infested these particular mandrake roots with miraculous power or something to the effect.

In any event, both women and their slaves bear Jacob a couple more children - including Rachel who has her first child ever.

Jacob is now ready to leave much to his Uncle Laban's dismay who wants Jacob's magical blessings to continue to give him good fortune. He tells Jacob that he'll pretty much give him anything to stay and Jacob pulls the wool over his Uncle's eyes with a scheme designed to bilk his uncle's livestock of the choicest of the animals.

I can only guess that the bible is again using a common superstition of the day to explain how Jacob's master plan was hatched by peeling tree branches and somehow ensuring that the offspring of mating goats were born with certain colors and markings. Once again, it's sort of surprising that the bible gives credence to common superstitions of the day, but not very much so when we deduce that the bible was written thousands of years ago by primitive people who believed in magic and wizardry and not by divine inspiration which would know better. I'm sure once again that the apologist stance is probably that God did all the work of ensuring that the odds came out in Jacob's favor, but if that were the case, then why mention the superstitious elements in the first place? Also why isn't there any mention of God's hand in guiding the superstitions?

We finally end the chapter showing that Jacob has finally managed to pull one over on his Uncle Laban after that whole bride-swapping debacle from Chapter 29.

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