And Jacob saw that Laban did not regard him as favorably as he did before.
Greatest. Understatement. Ever.
So Jacob answers my question about how the heck his little breeding program worked by claiming he had a vision from God telling him to do it, because God knew that Laban was cheating him. Of course, it doesn’t actually say that Jacob had this dream, just that he says he had that dream. In fact, given that dreams tend to be very carefully narrated in the Bible, coupled with Jacob’s past history, when he only reveals this dream after he’s gotten in trouble for his actions, it comes across as more than a little bit suspicious. Are we supposed to be trusting that Jacob is telling the truth?
But then again, do we entirely care by now? When he decides to let loose his tirade against Laban for everything that he’s done, you can’t help but feel he’s been holding this in, and you can’t help but feel on his side. He works seven years to marry a woman he’s besotted with, gets tricked into marrying someone else, then has to work another seven years to get the first woman he’s wanted, then six years to try to build up a flock of his own after being intentionally undercut by his employer. “I cheated? I ran off without telling you?” says Jacob. “I did what I had to do to get out from under your thumb.” Laban’s behavior as a boss makes my own complaints about hours and days off at work seem like petty concerns in comparison.
I want to look at something else for this chapter, though. It’s this teraphim thing. The NRSV translates them as “household gods,” while the NCT calls them mamorigami no zou, or “figures of guardian deities.” Now, mamorigami (sometimes shugoshin) is a very real word in Japanese that can refer to various Shinto deities or the dharmapalas of Buddhism, but is also a translation of the Roman genius and the idea of a guardian angel. That teraphim were talismans or idols of family deities is a pretty old tradition of translation, since the term is never defined in the text wherever it appears.
Which begs the question, again, of how exclusively this family actually worshiped the LORD. Does Rachel take the figures because she intends to worship them? Or is this some way of cursing her father by removing their protection?
And is the “protective god” in question necessarily some local deity? Could at this point the teraphim have been idols of YHWH? In researching the term a bit, I found out that there’s a later reference to teraphim where that seems to be a possibility. Given that Laban has consulted the LORD in an oracle, recognizes prophetic dreams, and believes the LORD is responsible for all of Jacob’s prosperity, perhaps Laban has become a devotee of YHWH?
In this chapter, Jacob still does not call the LORD his God. He’s “the God of my father” (v 5, 42), “the God of Abraham” (v 42, 53), “the Fear of Isaac” (v 42, 53) and “the God of Nahor” (v 53), but never “my God.” He promised that if God gave him success he’d worship him. What is he waiting for?
What then becomes really interesting is that bit about “the God of Nahor,” who was Abraham’s younger brother and Laban’s grandfather. So perhaps the midrash that claim Abraham’s family also turned to worshiping YHWH have some more evidence in their favor… That also lends credence to the idea that YHWH may have been one of the deities of which Laban had a teraph.
This is all more stuff to keep looking at as I read. I know I’m not alone in thinking that the assumption that everyone went straight from polytheism to total exclusive monotheism isn’t upheld in the text itself, much less archeology.
The Japanese: gomakasu “to swindle” (v 1), taido “attitude,” izen “formerly” (v 2), gai o kawaeru “to be done harm” (v 7), tsugau “to mate, to pair off” (v 10), shiuchi “ill treatment, disservice” (v 12), shigyou “inheritance,” and not the usual word for it, it took some digging (v 14), tsugerareru “to be told” (v 16), hikiiru “to lead” (v 23), kokoro ni tomeru “keep in mind” (v 24), hidoi me ni awaseru “to make someone have a bad time” (v 29), haihan “go against, contradict” (v 36), umisokoneru “to miss out on giving birth,” i.e. miscarry (v 38), benshou “compensation” (v 39), shibashiba “frequently,” mousho “fierce heat,” gokkan “freezing cold” (v 40), rouku “labor, hardship,” satosu “to admonish” (v 42), shouko to naru “to bear witness” (v 44), miharu “to guard, to watch over” (v 49), shounin “witness” (v 50).
Gokkan is going to be very useful as winter approaches on me here in the Land of No Central Heating.