Wednesday, October 19, 2005

I served thee fourteen years for thy two daughters (Gen 29)

This is probably one of the strangest love stories in the Bible, if not ever, anywhere.

Jacob comes to the land of his uncle Laban. Note that he is repeatedly referred to as his "mother's brother", but the description of the familial relation is referred to fluidly in general. At least one time Laban calls Jacob his "brother". I think I resolved the specific relationship between Laban and Jacob in yesterday's post, and discussed previously that "brother" often figuratively means "relative" or "close friend" and "father" and "son" are respectively used to mean "ancestor" and "descendant".

Shortly after Jacob gets there, he sees his cousin Rachel, who is apparently really hot, and it's love at first sight. So he helps her water her father's sheep, gives her a kiss, and then meets his uncle. His uncle is excited to meet him (apparently, it seems, because he sees an opportunity to milk this kid for cheap labor) and offers him an ongoing job helping with the livestock. Jacob asks to be paid by marrying Laban's daughter.

Now, Laban has two daughters, Leah and Rachel. While Rachel is supposedly pretty hot, the best the Bible can say about Leah is that she is "tender eyed". (Actually, it's not really clear whether this is a compliment or not.) Jacob wants Rachel, and agrees to work seven years to earn her hand. Laban tricks Jacob and after he works for seven years, he gives him Leah instead. I guess Jacob is too drunk on his wedding night to notice or something, since he doesn't even notice until morning. Jacob ends up having to serve another seven years to pay for Rachel, whom he loves enough to do so.

The SAB has a lot of notes on this story as to its general goofiness and bizarre quality, but once again, it's not clear what the actual objection is. Yes, Laban is being dishonest. Yes, this is something that from our modern standards (and even to some extent the standards of the day) is pretty twisted and shocking on both a business and sexual level. Yes, while polygamy is wrong, Jacob ends up with two (or four if you count Zilpah and Bilhah) wives. All of this leads to a number of problems that begin at the tail end of this chapter. This in no way means that the Bible is setting up this situation as an example that anyone is meant to follow, so I'm not sure the point of the objections, if indeed they are objections. Perhaps, as someone told me (maybe it was Steve Wells himself) the point here is that there are stories far less salacious that Christians would be horrified to find that their children were reading. I don't think this story is appropriate for children.

Yet, in the midst of this, children do come! The baby wars between Rachel and Leah start here, when God causes Leah to have children, and Rachel to be barren. Leah has four sons and names them: Reuben = "behold a son"; Simeon = "heard"; Levi = "joined to"; Judah = "praised". Apparently, Leah is hoping that having children will make her more loved by her husband, but it's never made clear whether this actually works.


kaonashi said...

The story of Jacob is considered inappropriate for children? You'd censor the bible for your kids? The one book I thought I'd never hear of a Christian trying to censor o.O

word verification: goatse ^_^

Brucker said...

Well, I don't know for sure, but I know a lot of people feel uncomfortable talking to their kids about how there are so many people in the Bible who are polygamous. Since it's not standard in our modern culture, it's hard to explain. I know that I don't recall being taught that Jacob was a polygamist when I was a kid (I was raised Jewish, as I've mentioned elsewhere), only that he had a lot of sons. Would I read this story to my kids (who are now seven years old)? Yeah, I think they're old enough to understand. I probably would avoid large portions of the book of Judges, though.

Oh, and goatse is not appropriate for any age. : P