Monday, May 20, 2013

Genesis: You Might Be a Biblical Hero if…

When we left off, Jacob had just stolen Isaac’s blessing to Esau, thereby having all of his brothers turned into his servants. With this magical spell accomplished, we now find Esau in a pretty pissed off frame of mind. Rebekah or one of her servants overhears him muttering about killing Jacob, and she decides that it might be best to get her younger son out of town for a bit until tempers subside.

So she tells Isaac that she will absolutely die if Jacob marries one of the local women, so they should send him to stay with her brother and find a wife there. Actually, Isaac specifically tells Jacob to marry one of his uncle’s daughters.

Esau hears that they’re sending Jacob away to marry back into the family because the local Canaanite women (such as Esau’s current two wives) aggravate them. So, in an effort yet again to please his parents, he goes to visit his uncle Ishmael and marries one of his daughters.

If your family tree does not fork, you might be a Biblical hero.

Funny how, in each of my previous attempts to read this thing I never really paid attention to just how heavily this family married back into itself. I realize populations and communities were smaller back then, but they did live among other unrelated (or at least more distantly related) people. Yet they obsessively avoid marrying outside the family (and when they do, notice that the offspring of those unions are always second class in these stories).

Back to the story. Jacob starts his journey, and along the way he stops to sleep. He has a dream of a ladder going up to heaven, atop which stands God. Once again… promises… multitudes of children… other people’s land… yawn. When Jacob wakes up he builds a little shrine to God, topping it with the rock he’d used as a pillow when he was having his dream, then promises to give a tenth of all he earns to God.

Jacob travels on, and eventually gets to his uncle Laban’s house. Laban has two daughters: the older and less attractive is Leah, and the younger and more beautiful is Rachel. Jacob makes a deal with Laban to work for him for seven years in exchange for getting to marry Rachel. Here’s a fun little gem when the seven years are up:

“Gen 29:21 Then Jacob said to Laban ‘Give me my wife that I may go in to her, for my time is completed’”

I suppose it was normal in the time period to explicitly refer, in direct conversation with a man, to screwing his daughter? Because most fathers I know today are a little uncomfortable discussing the subject of their daughters having sex, even if it is with her husband or husband-to-be.

Anyway, after a big feast, Laban took his daughter to Jacob’s bedchamber, and Jacob “went into her.” Only in the morning, it turns out the daughter he brought was Leah. Now, apparently, they were considered married at this point? Apparently tricking people into screwing one of your daughters is just as legally binding as tricking people into giving blessings to the wrong recipient.

Jacob was kinda pissed about the deception (and, I mean, the guy was kind of a tool, but you do realize that this was a case of Leah raping him, right?), and demands to know why his uncle did that to him. Laban makes the excuse that it’s just not done to marry off the younger daughter before the elder. Then he tells Jacob that if he keeps sleeping with Leah for a week, he’ll get to marry Rachel right away in exchange for another seven years of service. So he agrees, and goes on to marry Rachel.

Jacob continues to prefer Rachel, so Leah starts popping out babies as fast as she can hoping that if she keeps bearing him sons he’ll start to love her better. It doesn’t work, but Rachel starts getting jealous because she doesn’t seem to be getting pregnant. So she gives Jacob her servant to impregnate, and claims those babies as her own. Leah doesn’t want Rachel to get ahead, so she gives Jacob her own servant for the same purpose. Then Rachel starts having babies of her own. Between the four women, they pump out twelve sons over the next several years.

So at the end of his term, Jacob goes to Laban and asks to get paid for his work so he can go home. They work out that Laban will let Jacob take any speckled or spotted goats and sheep, and any black lambs, that he finds in the flock. But before he can go make his selections, Laban has his sons separate out all of the animals that meet that description and take them to pasture 3 days travel away so Jacob can’t find them.

So Jacob puts his tremendous knowledge of genetics and breeding to come up with a scheme. He takes sticks and strips off part of the bark so that they have a speckled appearance, and lays them in front of the herd when they are breeding. And because they bred in the presence of speckled sticks, the make speckled babies. And of course this works, because the author of this piece of fiction has no knowledge of how animals pass traits on to their young (hint: it’s not based on what they’re looking at when they conceive).

Then he goes one better. He makes sure to put the sticks out only when the strongest, healthiest animal are breeding, and hides them when the weakest ones are breeding. That way his animals will be strong and healthy, while the ones that Laban is supposed to keep will be weak and sickly.

After awhile, Jacob hears that Laban had noticed the difference between the flocks and was getting pissed off about it. So he goes to his wives, tells them that God had given him his wonderful speckled flocks, and now was commanding him to return to his own lands. They agree to go with him, Rachel steals Laban’s household gods (idols of some sort, I assume?) and they sneak away while Laban is off shearing his sheep. When Laban finds out, he chases after them. God warns him in a dream not to fuck with Jacob. When he catches up with them, he accuses them of stealing his gods, and Jacob invites Laban to search his tents. Rachel hides the gods under her saddle and sits down on it, claiming she can’t get up because she’s having her period. This transparent little ruse works, and then once Jacob and Laban bitch at each other for a bit they agree to go their separate ways.

Gonna stop here, since this entry has gone on far too long. But now we know how Jacob came to marry his cousins, develop a harem, have a bunch of kids, and got rich by besting his uncle at a contest of who was better at being a dick. Next we see Jacob’s reunion with Esau.

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