It wasn’t the length of this chapter that delayed this, just a combination of the usual Tuesday and Wednesday exhaustion, plus mistakenly going on TVTropes. Nor is this project the only thing to be neglected in the last few days; I have a sink full of dishes and a hamper full of laundry.
And as it turns out, this chapter is long because it’s crazily repetitive, as if the Biblical author was trying to meet their NaNoWriMo goal. Why on earth they didn’t just say “So he told them everything” in verse 34 rather than having verses 34-49 be recap of everything that had happened in the last 33. I’m sure there’s some narrative reason, like proving that the servant was truly 100% honest.
But I’ll admit I’m more fascinated by the math involved here. Follow my thoughts if you will:
Abraham is 100 when Isaac is born, right? Well, Nahor is his younger brother, and given that Terah their father had multiple wives (Sarah being the daughter of another wife) we can maybe space them about 10 years apart, assuming some sisters in there. That would leave Nahor at 90 when Isaac was born. Then Nahor had eight children by one wife, Milcah. Let’s say he started late, as a rich man who could be picky about a wife, and say he didn’t start having children until he was about 30, with his wife being near 20. His wife could potentially have a child into her 40s; let’s make it 45, so we have 25 years for the eight son, Bethuel to be born. That would make Nahor be 55 when Bethuel was born, and Bethuel thus 45 when Isaac was born.
So… just how old is Rebekah supposed to be? And for that matter, how old is her brother Laban, who the Japanese specifies as an older brother. Is Rebekah a “virgin no man has touched” because she’s still in her teens (making it slightly creepy to a modern reader that she’s marrying a 40-year old man), or because she’s the old maid that, for whatever reason, they couldn’t find a husband for and were thus thrilled to find her such a wealthy man to marry, and even better, a cousin!
Or are we again supposed to play the Bible’s narrative game that everyone lived a lot longer back then, where Isaac getting married for the first time at 40 wouldn’t have made the neighbors talk, where Rachel could easily have been 20 years younger than him thanks to a grandfather who had her father at 60 and a father who gave birth to her at 50?
This disconnect between what we know was lifespan and reproductive capacities of people in the late 3rd millennium BCE and what the Bible reports isn’t one of the don’t-read-the-Bible-as-science-or-history observations I frequently hear about, but it should be. People didn’t live that long or get married that old.
Speaking of things that make a modern reader chuckle, the whole “So Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death” line (v 67) would have given Freud a lot to work with. If he could fashion a mother complex out of thin air in Hamlet, who knows what he could have done with Isaac taking Rebekah “into his mother Sarah’s tent” Nevermind that this was apparently part of the ancient Near Eastern marriage ceremonies; clearly she is a mother-replacement, it’s all Oedipal dontcha know.
Another thing that struck me in this chapter was how Rebekah refers to her parentage. “I am the daughter of Bethuel son of Milcah, whom she bore to Nahor.” (v 24) Why not “Bethuel son of Nahor”? Did Nahor marry above his class? Was Milcah the daughter of someone prestigious, whose name would be better known? Was Milcah still alive, perhaps, and managing her husband’s estate, of which Bethuel’s house would be a minor branch? Little tidbits that hint at bigger pictures. I still wonder what was left on the redacting room floor…
And, of course, there’s how Abraham makes his servant swear (v 2). I vote that at inauguration, Obama doesn’t place his hand on a Bible, but rather in between Chief Justice Roberts’ thighs. Why not? It’s Biblical!
The Japanese: zensaisan “all his assets” (v 2), azukaru “to take hold of, to be entrusted with,” tazusaeru “to carry” (v 10), itsukushimi “affection, love for a fellow living being” (v 12), katamukeru “to tilt” (v 14), kiwadatte “conspicuously” (v 16), kumu “to draw (water),” tappuri “plenty, heartily” (v 19), suisou “water tank” (v 20), esa “animal feed” (v 25), hizamazugu “to kneel down,” fushiogamu “to kneel in worship” (v 26), totonoeru “to prepare” (v 31), youken “business” (v 33), yuzuru “to hand over, to transfer” (v 36), hokanaranu “no less than, none other than” (v 48), soushingu “ornaments, jewelry” (v 53), uba “wet nurse” (v 59), sansaku “roam” (v 63), nashitogeru “to accomplish” (v 66).
The big effect that reading this had in Japanese was actually requiring me to look up all the terms that this chapter uses for various items, and it made me realize how very foreign this all is, how rooted it is in a time and a place that I don’t live in, and yet I can feel somehow connected to it. Particularly the final scene, where Rebekah and Isaac meet for the first time by accident, feels almost cinematic in a way.
I have work off tomorrow, so I’ll try to do two chapters to catch up a little.