"Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed."

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A few observations from OT stories

One time while visiting a local book warehouse, I found a rather small book in the religious section.  Out of the Garden: Women Writers of the Bible was different from many of the others, and I immediately snatched it up as a good book to trade for.  (For two of my own books, they will give me one of theirs.)  It's a collection of essays from Jewish and Christian women who were asked to choose a theme, person or story from the Old Testament in a quest to see how contemporary women read the Bible.

I started reading it a couple days ago, and have already found some thought-provoking stuff.  I enjoyed the alternate view of Lot's wife turning to salt. Such a clever ending to that essay by Rebecca Goldstein!

During a chapter on Rachel and Leah, I decided to jot down a few observations (some pointed out in the book; some my own).  These aren't necessarily new "aha!" moments for me, but I don't believe I've mentioned them here before.

Here goes:

--- Have you ever noticed how many barren women are mentioned in the Bible? 

--- The author mentioned this one: Rachel demanding from Jacob children lest she die (Genesis 30:1). And then she died having her second son (Genesis 35:18).

Also, why would she demand children from Jacob when it was clearly her inability to conceive? (It seems women in the past were often blamed for infertility when it was not their faults, but clearly Jacob was fertile.)  So why demand children of Jacob this way?  Any ideas?  (The author has one, but I'll see what you say first.)

--- Also, ever notice this verse from Deuteronomy 21, and how often it wasn't necessarily followed before it became Law? By God's decree even?

15 If a man has two wives, and he loves one but not the other, and both bear him sons but the firstborn is the son of the wife he does not love, 16 when he wills his property to his sons, he must not give the rights of the firstborn to the son of the wife he loves in preference to his actual firstborn, the son of the wife he does not love.

--- Read this from Genesis 30:

14 During wheat harvest, Reuben went out into the fields and found some mandrake plants, which he brought to his mother Leah. Rachel said to Leah, “Please give me some of your son’s mandrakes.”
15 But she said to her, “Wasn’t it enough that you took away my husband? Will you take my son’s mandrakes too?”
“Very well,” Rachel said, “he can sleep with you tonight in return for your son’s mandrakes.”
16 So when Jacob came in from the fields that evening, Leah went out to meet him. “You must sleep with me,” she said. “I have hired you with my son’s mandrakes.” So he slept with her that night.

The joys of polygyny? Jacob seems reduced to a token between his two wives who decide it's fair to exchange a night in his company for plants.

I'll see if I have more as I continue the book.


Unknown said...

Sounds like a good book! The book trade is a pretty neat idea. Is it something online anyone can do?

The question of why she would demand children from Jacob is really interesting, and I'm curious about the author's answer. I don't remember covering it in class or seeing it in commentaries, and I don't really have any well-informed guesses.

Sort of grasping at straws, I wonder if maybe our idea that women were blamed for infertility is just a guess, since Jacob clearly says that God has withheld children from her and I'm not sure where we get the idea of women being blamed in the first place. In that case, we might have no idea what they actually thought about why some people didn't have children, and maybe Rachel thought Jacob was holding out on her or something.

It's also possible that he was holding out on her and was spending more time with Leah since she was the one conceiving, but then he would know what Rachel was saying and probably wouldn't say that it's not his fault. Maybe. Or maybe he was justifying his decision not to sleep with her as much by pointing out God wasn't giving her children anyway. Hm.

Amber said...

*Interesting*. I've already added it to my list of things to be read! :D

Okay...so Jacob. It is historically consistent that when there were fertility troubles in a couple it was typically blamed on the woman. I sort of assume that this is because the society was patriarchal and the implication that there was something wrong with a mans 'manhood' meant a loss of face and power. However if there was something wrong with his wife, well. Hardly his fault, is it? He'll just marry someone else.

Perhaps Rachel was asking Jacob to give her a child because she knew of his close relationship to God and believed that if Jacob wanted it badly enough God would grant it?

*Or*, Jacob wasn't having sex with Rachel at all because...*shrug* maybe she'd fallen out of favor with him? Or maybe she had other health problems and Jacob wasn't sex with her because of those? *shrug*

I do like that last bit. :) Jacob Stud for Hire. *snicker*

Susanne said...

Sanil, unfortunately, I don't think they are set up for online trades. Apparently it's been in the area for a while, but I've only been to it this year after being made aware of it. I was surprised at how many books there were to browse through.

Yes, maybe we are presuming that women were blamed. I've often heard this, and gathered it from contemporary stories. Not entirely the same, but Samer and I were talking about polygyny in Damascus, and he said how rare it was. He only knew of a couple men with more than one wife. One being a man whose first wife only produced daughters. (The nerve!) So he married another to get his son, but she also had a girl! Annnnd, I've just sort of gathered in certain societies that women are often blamed for infertility even if it's not their faults.

I like your ideas though! This seems like what the rabbis did when they wrote the midrashim - it's interesting to speculate and fill in the gaps, huh?

Amber, I like your ideas, and yours seem close to what the author had to say. Here it is from page 36,

"Given the examples of his paternal precursors [Abraham for Sarah, Isaac for Rebekah], who prayed for the sake of their barren wives and succeeded in procuring divine intervention, Jacob indeed should have tried to use his higher position in relation to God to help bring about the opening of his wife's womb. Rachel's exposure of his ineptness, in other words, is justifiable, and this is precisely what makes Jacob so angry."

She bases some of this off a "midrashic elaboration" which she quotes - from Genesis Rabba. LXXI. 7

What do y'all think?

And, yes, Jacob Stud for Hire -- ha! Perfect! It IS funny when you think of these women saying, "Ok, you go sleep with my handmaid so I'll have more children" and seemingly the men obey. I guess protesting against have another sex partner ain't gonna happen with most men. Especially if the wives approve!

Amber said...

I'm always reminded of Henry VIII when I think of men blaming the women for either not having children or only having daughters. As we now know it's the sperm that determines gender in the offspring, not the egg.

I think it's because they just didn't understand how reproduction really worked. Sure, they knew the mechanics of it: tab A, slot B. Repeat as necessary. But they didn't have the knowledge of the finer points of the internal working. After all, if a man could get an erection, clearly his equipment was in working order. But with a woman, who can tell? It's all mysteriously just in there...

I'd like to try that in modern times. "Hey. I bargained with your wife for use of you for one night." *guy starts salivating* "Now go take out the trash. And then my lawn needs mowed."

Susanne said...