So here we have our first “romance” in the Bible, as Jacob falls in love with his cousin Rachel, apparently after knowing her for less than a month. I put romance in quotes, because we’re never told how Rachel feels about it. Jacob asks her father, and he approves because it’s better for her to marry a cousin who loves her and stands to inherit a lot of money than to someone without a clan relationship of lesser means who doesn’t care about her. Laban never asks Rachel whether she wants to marry Jacob. It’s never her choice – her aunt was luckier in that regard.

But before you expend all your sympathy on Rachel, think on poor Leah, the older sister that apparently Laban couldn’t find any takers for, and who he marries off to an unsuspecting husband who doesn’t want her. The implication is that Leah isn’t very pretty, while Rachel is gorgeous. The NRSV says that “Leah’s eyes were lovely and Rachel was graceful and beautiful” (v 17), while noting that the “lovely” is a somewhat uncertain translation. The NCT opts for yasashii, “kind” or “gentle”, while Rachel has a beautiful face and an excellent figure. It also uses “but” instead of “and,” setting up a contrast between the two descriptions.

The difference carries an important resonance for the passage. In the English, they’re both set up as pretty, with Rachel maybe being a little more so. In the Japanese, Leah is depicted positively for her personality, while in contrast Rachel is praised for her appearance. And it’s by this measure that Jacob makes his decision: he chooses the hot girl. It sounds shallow, and implies that maybe Leah would have been a better choice. You could argue that with seven years working maybe Jacob and Rachel developed a deeper relationship, but if arrangements for unmarried men and women were as gender segregated as they still are in many, many cultures around the world (at least for the wealthy who can afford it), then Jacob may barely have spoken with Rachel during those seven years. He doesn’t know her well enough to not realize he’s having sex with someone else on his wedding night. I think that speaks for a lot about their relationship.

(Also, to me this scenario makes more sense if you ignore the wonky math on ages and assume Jacob is much younger than 40, though I suppose even middle-aged men aren’t immune to this kind of nonsense.)

God spares most of his sympathy for Leah. As the unwanted wife, she was in danger of neglect or even divorce. But God makes it so that she has children while Rachel doesn’t, meaning she’s the mother of Jacob’s heirs and he can’t abandon her. Leah’s naming of her children show her almost desperation to try to win Jacob’s affection against his adoration of Rachel. “Surely now my husband will love me,” she says for son number 1 (v. 32), and “Now this time my husband will be joined to me” (v 34, emphasis mine). You can feel all her hopes and fears in these passages.

Man, I want to give her a hug across space and time.

The Japanese: noseru “to place on” (v 2; I’m familiar with the verb, but the character used was different), shidai “circumstances” (v 13), houshuu “remuneration, reward” (v 15), youshi “figure,” sugureteita “excellent” (v 17), iinazukee “fiance” (v 21), konrei “marriage ceremony,” sumaseru “to finish, to get through” (v 27), utonjiru “to neglect” (v 31), sazukeru “to grant” (v 33).

Apologies for the massive delay. I blame a combination of work, a bad cold, and Psychonauts. I’ll try to post another entry before bed tonight to play a little catch-up.

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