Saturday July 7
Genesis Chapter 30
Keep reading the romance and intrigues of life in the harem if you prefer. The ‘maids’ bear sons who will be ‘fathers’ of the coastal and northern hinterland tribes. Get a map now, and track the regional placements of the tribes tied to Bilhah, Dan and Naphtali, through Rachel’s maid Bilhah. Then find Gad and Asher, associated with Zilpah, Leah’s maid.
These days, we have to deal with Margaret Atwood’s success with Handmaid’s Tale, now on TV as well as movie, and a vision of misogyny in its expression in a wife supervising the husband’s impregnating of her maid, to ensure legitimate offspring. Is the threat of a patriarchal religious tyranny our great risk? I think our greater risk is in our cult of atomized individuals, rights-bearing consumers, without empathy for those with less power and more reason to affirm group identities, whether through various religious resurgences, or ethnic and nationalist identities of the ‘right’.
There’s a strange tale of aphrodisiac and fertility remedy mandrake plants resulting in Leah’s fifth and sixth sons, and daughter Dinah. She may seem an afterthought, unless you recall the part she will play in Schechem and a massacre in the name of her honour, which was not honourable. Her full brothers over-reach in anger, and others acquiesce, without asking God’s opinion.
Once Joseph is born in the old country, (and once on the way, Benjamin will be born to Rachel in Ramah, though she will die in her second childbirth, Jacob starts lobbying Laban to let him re-emigrate with his flocks. The 12 tribes of Israel and Judah were born outside the Promised Land.
Jacob the trickster comes back into his own. He tricks his uncle Laban, who had tricked him with his daughter’s wedding. Jacob uses animal husbandry and breeds strong striped animals for himself. Do we tell the story of immigration as ‘those with get up and go, got up and went’, or as ‘bring me your tired… huddled’ refugee charity? Rags to riches is the familiar narrative.
Think again of peoples and nations, rather than individuals. Idi Amin ousted a South Asian minority in Uganda, and imposed currency controls on what they could bring. The 1930’s were a nightmare of human flight in the face of Nazi racial policies. Now the story is of new waves migrants and refugees flowing out of Africa across the Mediterranean, out of Syria through Turkey, Balkans and Greece. It’s familiar human nature, not moral modeling – these are people carrying all they can in cash with them.
When Rachel saw that she bore Jacob no children, she envied her sister; and she said to Jacob, ‘Give me children, or I shall die!
’2Jacob became very angry with Rachel and said, ‘Am I in the place of God, who has withheld from you the fruit of the womb?’
3Then she said, ‘Here is my maid Bilhah; go in to her, that she may bear upon my knees and that I too may have children through her.’
4So she gave him her maid Bilhah as a wife; and Jacob went in to her. 5And Bilhah conceived and bore Jacob a son.
6Then Rachel said, ‘God has judged me, and has also heard my voice and given me a son’; therefore she named him Dan.
7Rachel’s maid Bilhah conceived again and bore Jacob a second son.8Then Rachel said, ‘With mighty wrestlings I have wrestled with my sister, and have prevailed’; so she named him Naphtali.
9 When Leah saw that she had ceased bearing children, she took her maid Zilpah and gave her to Jacob as a wife.
10Then Leah’s maid Zilpah bore Jacob a son. 11And Leah said, ‘Good fortune!’ so she named him Gad.
12Leah’s maid Zilpah bore Jacob a second son. 13And Leah said, ‘Happy am I! For the women will call me happy’; so she named him Asher.
14 In the days of wheat harvest Reuben went and found mandrakes in the field, and brought them to his mother Leah. Then Rachel said to Leah, ‘Please give me some of your son’s mandrakes.’ 15But she said to her, ‘Is it a small matter that you have taken away my husband? Would you take away my son’s mandrakes also?’ Rachel said, ‘Then he may lie with you tonight for your son’s mandrakes.’
16When Jacob came from the field in the evening, Leah went out to meet him, and said, ‘You must come in to me; for I have hired you with my son’s mandrakes.’ So he lay with her that night.
17And God heeded Leah, and she conceived and bore Jacob a fifth son. 18Leah said, ‘God has given me my hire because I gave my maid to my husband’; so she named him Issachar.
19And Leah conceived again, and she bore Jacob a sixth son. 20Then Leah said, ‘God has endowed me with a good dowry; now my husband will honour me, because I have borne him six sons’; so she named him Zebulun.
21Afterwards she bore a daughter, and named her Dinah.
22 Then God remembered Rachel, and God heeded her and opened her womb. 23She conceived and bore a son, and said, ‘God has taken away my reproach’; 24and she named him Joseph, saying, ‘May the Lord add to me another son!’
25 When Rachel had borne Joseph, Jacob said to Laban, ‘Send me away, that I may go to my own home and country. 26Give me my wives and my children for whom I have served you, and let me go; for you know very well the service I have given you.’
27But Laban said to him, ‘If you will allow me to say so, I have learned by divination that the Lord has blessed me because of you; 28name your wages, and I will give them.’
29Jacob said to him, ‘You yourself know how I have served you, and how your cattle have fared with me. 30For you had little before I came, and it has increased abundantly; and the Lord has blessed you wherever I turned. But now when shall I provide for my own household also?’
31He said, ‘What shall I give you?’
Jacob said, ‘You shall not give me anything; if you will do this for me, I will again feed your flock and keep it: 32let me pass through all your flock today, removing from it every speckled and spotted sheep and every black lamb, and the spotted and speckled among the goats; and such shall be my wages. 33So my honesty will answer for me later, when you come to look into my wages with you. Every one that is not speckled and spotted among the goats and black among the lambs, if found with me, shall be counted stolen.’
34Laban said, ‘Good! Let it be as you have said.’ 35But that day Laban removed the male goats that were striped and spotted, and all the female goats that were speckled and spotted, every one that had white on it, and every lamb that was black, and put them in charge of his sons; 36and he set a distance of three days’ journey between himself and Jacob, while Jacob was pasturing the rest of Laban’s flock.
37 Then Jacob took fresh rods of poplar and almond and plane, and peeled white streaks in them, exposing the white of the rods. 38He set the rods that he had peeled in front of the flocks in the troughs, that is, the watering-places, where the flocks came to drink. And since they bred when they came to drink, 39the flocks bred in front of the rods, and so the flocks produced young that were striped, speckled, and spotted.
40Jacob separated the lambs, and set the faces of the flocks toward the striped and the completely black animals in the flock of Laban; and he put his own droves apart, and did not put them with Laban’s flock.41Whenever the stronger of the flock were breeding, Jacob laid the rods in the troughs before the eyes of the flock, that they might breed among the rods, 42but for the feebler of the flock he did not lay them there; so the feebler were Laban’s, and the stronger Jacob’s. 43Thus the man grew exceedingly rich, and had large flocks, and male and female slaves, and camels and donkeys.