Okay, at this point, we don’t talk about playing catch-up, we just admit we fell off the wagon for a few days and get back into the habit again. I really do want to do these daily – there’s no other way I will finish this before I die – but sometimes life, work, and the stupid Brain Tank level in Psychonauts will interfere.
Part of my problem may have been that this portion wasn’t all that inspiring. There’s a lot you can say about how the system wasn’t fair to handmaidens who got used as surrogates for bitter wives, or you can debate whether Jacob or Laban was the bigger cheating jerk. Actually, there’s probably too much, and that’s the point. Do I really want to write up character profiles on all these people based on the bad behavior they display in these chapters? Rachel’s mean-spirited, Leah’s endlessly insecure, Laban’s milking his successful nephew for all he’s worth, and Jacob is back to figuring out how to cheat his way into success.
In the midst of all of that, the main thing that jumped out to be was the science in these chapters. Or rather, the kind of folk-science that the people of the time believed in.
The first folk-science story is about mandrakes ( 14-18). Or rather, “love plants,” which a lot of Bible have translated as “mandrake” ever since the Vulgate. The Japanese calls them koinasubi, or “love eggplants,” playing it both ways, since mandrakes are related to eggplants. Regardless of what the plant actually was, it’s clear that it was believed to be a kind of fertility treatment. Rachel wants them in the hopes that she’ll get pregnant, enough to have her husband go back to sleeping with her sister/rival-wife. It doesn’t work; Leah starts having children again, and Rachel stays infertile until Joseph is finally born (v 23-24).
If they really were intended to be mandrakes, well, according to Wikipedia (take it with a grain of salt), mandrakes can potentially cause delirium and hallucinations in high doses (they’re related to nightshade). I don’t think that will help you get pregnant. But the roots are vaguely human-shaped, and that was enough to make the connection that eating them might make a human grow inside of you.
The other folk-science story is how Jacob manages to trick Laban out of his flocks (v 24-42). Laban doesn’t want to leave, because having an employee blessed by God has been good for business. The fact that they were apparently poor before (v 30) would also explain why their family seems to jump at the chance to marry their daughters to their wealthy cousins from the southwest. Jacob manages to strike a deal where he will claim the speckled goats and sheep as his. Laban then cheats by sending all the speckled goats away with his sons to a different pasture, so that Jacob is confronted with a sea of white sheep to choose from.
What’s a guy to do in this situation? Why, resort to a weird sort of breeding program of course! He takes striped pieces of wood and places them in the breeding grounds, and suddenly the lambs and kids are all speckled. How this was supposed to work, I have no idea. I think it may have been a sort of “magic” – like produces like. You could make an argument that, over several generations in the wild, the presence of speckled branches as camouflage would give an advantage to speckled sheep, but that’s pushing it as a viable interpretation of how this worked.
People who believe the Bible is inerrant, I challenge you to try this method and see if you can get the same results. If it actually works, epigeneticists would like to see the process, I’m sure.
The Japanese: netamu “to be envious” (v 1), yadoru “to be pregnant” (v 2; I knew yadoru meant “to lodge” or otherwise stay in a location for a while, but I didn’t know it could be used for pregnancy), uttae “complaint” (v 6), koinasubi “love eggplant, i.e. a mandrake” (v 14), ki ga sumazu “not satisfied” (v 15), yatou “to hire” (v 16), houshuu “reward, recompense” (v 18), susugu “to rinse,” or metaphorically, “to wipe out a disgrace” (v 23), saishi “wife/wives and child/ren,” tsukusu “to serve a person devotedly” (v 26), wazuka “few, negligible” (v 30), buchi “spots,” madara “speckles” (v 32), kyori “distance” (v 36), sakari ga tsuku “to rut” (v 38), koubi “copulation” (v 39).
The use of “wiped away my disgrace” versus “removed my reproach” is a good one, I think, because while “reproach” can mean disgrace, to most readers (at least if they’re like me), a reproach is something deserved for bad behavior. Rachel may not have reacted well to her infertility, but she didn’t do anything to deserve it; God made Leah the breeder because otherwise was likely to be neglected by her husband. There still is a lot of pressure on women even now to be able to have children of your own, like some of your worth is tied up into the ability to pop babies on demand.
I am so glad I somehow avoided feeling that way.