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Rachel's theft of her father's teraphim small idols of gold and silver empowered by the stars to tell the future is one of the plot elements which best elucidates the tension in the text between conflicting notions of power and lineage. In this story Rachel is not acting under orders from her husband or father, but pursues her own interests. The 1st century ce Jewish historian Josephus claimed that the theft occurred because Rachel wanted to use the idols for bargaining power against Laban if necessary Antiquities 1.

The Genesis Rabba Jewish Biblical commentary maintains that Rachel wanted to purge Laban of his idolatry, and another early Jewish source says that she stole the gods so that they would not reveal the fleeing family's whereabouts to Laban.

Others have proposed Rachel was simply spiteful, dealing with Laban the way he had dealt with her, or was herself idolatrous in that she was planning to establish an Aramaean-style shrine in her new home. In other words, Rachel's was a matriarchal system where leadership of the clan resided in the woman's line, and she wanted the teraphim in order to maintain that authority for her son, Joseph.

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Some scholars view the inclusion of the plot element in which Rachel bleeds on the teraphim and subsequently dies in Ramah as a device to subvert the matriarchal claims implicit in the story. Several philologists claim that not only did matriarchal patterns hold in Israel's pre-history, but that the founders of the dynasty were goddesses. Leah translates as "wild cow" and Rachel means "ewe," suggesting vestiges of pagan worship of the female and that the mythological origins of the tribes were at one time traced back to founding goddesses.

Throughout Genesis there is a persistent emphasis on the role of Yahweh as life-giver. It is God who opens the wombs of the mothers of Israel. When Rachel cannot conceive, Jacob demands of her, "It is my fault that God closed your womb? Yahweh must be seen as not only the creator of the universe, but also the fountainhead of the mysterious process of female productivity. In the incident of the mandrakes, God's prerogative is threatened.

For Rachel to have conceived because of this plant whose roots resembles the male genitals would have been a form of sympathetic magic, so one midrash has Rachel giving the mandrakes over to a priest rather than ingesting them, and for this meritorious act of resisting temptation, God rewards her with a child.

In this story Rachel's integrity is preserved and so is the omnipotence of God as the well-spring of human life. Although the Bible is sketchy in its characterization of Jacob's wives, subsequent ancient and medieval commentary, particularly by Jewish writers, tends to develop their personas more fully, giving them life and considerably more mettle. Post-Biblical tradition, rather than viewing the sisters as passive and guiltless "fields to be ploughed," attributes to them autonomous intentions that do not always align with plans the men in the text have designed for them.

Later writers particularly make Leah more concrete, meritorious, and fully human.

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According to the Babylonian Talmud, Rachel and Leah, like Esau and Jacob, were twins; Leah was the elder, and both sisters were very beautiful. Despite her ugliness, Jacob would have asked for Leah first, but he hesitated to take the older of his cousins and further defraud Esau of his right as first-born. In medieval mystical exegesis, Leah represents messianic hopes of the fruitful reunion of Israel with God, and Philo 1st century ce Jewish historian claimed Leah had the virtue of a virgin because she was alienated from men and close to God, she was "out of reach of the passions" De Posteritate Caini , According to a 5th-century ce account, when Jacob discovered he had married the wrong sister, he reproached Leah angrily: "Deceiver, daughter of a deceiver!

I learned from your example. Did you not answer your father when he called Esau? For she had heard Jacob himself explain how he swindled his own brother seven years earlier. Here Leah was complicit in the marriage fraud and unintimidated by her husband's reproof. Another midrash shows Leah's authoritative traits as she furiously arraigned Rachel who snatched the mandrakes from Reuben. Dinah was responsible for her rape because she "went out" and played the floozy, like Leah in the incident of the mandrakes.

At the hands of Jewish scholars, the daughters are especially assertive in the face of their greedy father. From the beginning, Rachel advised Jacob not to trust her father, and she warned him that Laban would try to substitute Leah for her. They arranged a series of signals they would exchange on the nuptial night so Jacob would know the woman about to enter his bed was Rachel. But when the wedding night came, Rachel could not find it in herself to allow her less fortunate sister to be shamed, so she showed her the code signals she and Jacob had devised.

She lay under the nuptial bed and answered when Jacob spoke so that he would not recognize Leah through her voice. As a reward for this sisterly self-sacrifice, God granted Rachel the privileged position of being mother to Samson, Joshua, and King Saul. Leah repaid Rachel's generosity. After giving birth to six boys, when Leah again conceived, knowing that Jacob was destined to have 12 sons, she prayed for a girl so Rachel would have at least 2 sons.

God changed the male fetus to a female and gave Rachel Joseph as a reward for Leah's goodness. Rachel and Leah have become favored topics for modern feminist Biblical scholars, but evaluations of the sisters differ widely. Some have observed that Old Testament women are given short shrift, that none of the Biblical matriarchs match the human depth and literary complexity of the father figures.

Their appearances are designed to bolster the main narrative, which is ultimately about men—male patriarchy and an exclusively male-identified god. Esther Fuchs claims that the Genesis authors typically neglect full explanations of motivations behind the female protagonists' decisions, and at crucial points in the narrative the text is opaque regarding women's reactions.

For example, the female slaves Bilhah and Zilpah are completely muzzled in the text. Rachel's agony at childbirth is over-written when Jacob alters her dying words by changing her son's name. Further, mothers often interfere to help sons but not daughters; there are few stories of mother-daughter relationships in the Old Testament. The reader is ignorant as to how Leah responded to the rape of her daughter; in fact, we never hear how Dinah herself felt about her situation. Was the intercourse between her and Shechem really rape?

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The author's silence about women's motivations often results in their actions becoming morally troubling. Whereas the text provides a full explanation and justification for Jacob's theft of Esau's birthright and his flight from Laban, Rachel's robbery is never made clear so she is never vindicated. Rachel's stealing of the teraphim is tainted with the suspicion of paganism, but in the same scene Jacob's distaste for idolatry is unequivocal because he dismisses the gods as "household objects.

These attitudes echo in medieval commentaries, which interpret Rachel's early death at Ephrath as the unwitting consequence of Jacob's curse on whomever carried off Laban's property. There is, however, a more positive way to view Rachel's behavior. She may be, in the mind of the Biblical narrator, the female counterpart of Jacob.

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Like him, Rachel must jockey and scheme to establish her status in the family in which she exists in a state of competitive friction with her sister. Like Jacob, who is favored by his mother and his God, Rachel is younger than her sibling rival, but best loved. Both Jacob and Rachel are forced by circumstances to play the part of "trickster"—a role often assumed by those in positions of powerlessness. Rachel filches her father's teraphim and prevents Laban looking into the camel bags by claiming that she can not rise to kiss him because "the common lot of women" Gn.

Most have seen this as a reference to menses, some to pregnancy, but in either case she understands the horror Laban has of touching a menstruating or pregnant woman, two conditions considered unclean and polluting in much of the ancient world see Lev. Is she lying to her father? The answer is not clear, but perhaps what is most important is that we see this female protagonist not as mendacious but as resourceful, in much the same light that Jacob is portrayed when he designs stratagems to achieve his ends in the face of Laban's rapacious greed or in obtaining his brother's birthright.

Just as Jacob steals the patriline, Rachel steals the matriline.

Genesis 30: Rachel Has a Beloved Son

Much of the ancient and modern commentary on Rachel and Leah has focused on the sisters' relationship. Some have attempted to see beyond the apparent oppression of the two daughters and view Rachel's and Leah's lives as valiant, inventive, and selfless attempts to satisfy the demands of the patriarchal autocracy of their culture and in so doing prove how thoroughly they comprehend God's mandates. According to this reading, the two women recognize that Jacob's romantic preferences and their own jealous competitiveness are standing in the way of God's designs: the building up of his people.

Therefore, with one another's help they bear and exercise the maternal prerogative of naming the children who will father the Twelve Tribes of Israel. This story then becomes an analogue of women working together to further communal goals. Others claim that the primary motives of the women are personal and that there is unremitting conflict between them. Of the 12 sons of Jacob, the names of 8 are related directly to the antagonism between Rachel and Leah. Interestingly, the authorial voice through these chapters is sympathetic to the plight of the sisters. The reader is invited to view the deep hurt produced by the patriarchal system in which Rachel and Leah are trapped.

The two sisters are used by a father who cheats them of their inheritance and exploits their husband. The only legitimacy possible to them comes through bearing sons.

Leah - New World Encyclopedia

When Rachel finally delivers her long-desired boy, all she can think of is having more; the name "yosef" means "may the Lord add another son" Both sisters secure proxies to get ahead in the race for status. They haggle over who will have access to Jacob's body, fountainhead of the only power these women can attain.

The text is not silent about the injustice nor is it indifferent to the two women. Rather it acknowledges the sacrifice of personal happiness required for the building up of the 12 tribes. Leah and Rachel are both active players in the drama of their lives, maneuvering as best they can within the confines of a patriarchal system that the text does not criticize, but implicitly problematizes. The tension in the narrative may be due to multiple authors from different time periods with widely divergent views about patriarchy working with the same inherited material.

One of the reasons for this is because of the humanity of Rachel's love affair with Jacob. Nowhere else in Genesis is the relationship between a man and woman described in such tender and exuberant terms. The spontaneous kiss of Jacob is so imbued with youthful passion that it has been viewed as scandalous by many historical commentators, including the Protestant reformer John Calvin.

For Josephus, Rachel embodies the ideal of romantic love. She is the romantic ingenue par excellence, and Jacob is her match.