March 27, 2008 Class #5
These are the notes I used for the class. Because some may like to know the sources, I’ve left some of them in. Bibliography at the end. What is listed are the ideas I brought to the class, but in many cases people brought up other interpretations, and we did not necessarily discuss everything here. However, this is useful for anyone who would like to review the texts or go over the class in their mind.
- Bible as literature – stories are carefully crafted for a purpose – human beings are messy – they will never be God – this is monotheism, but God has to work through messy humans (Alter)
- Stories show conflict between divine and human, between ordered plan and messy working out in history – like the two stories of Creation. Look for the tension in our story
- The Rachel/Leah story is revealing of personal feelings through the namings – what will the speeches show us – either about Rachel and Leah’s feelings, or about what the authors think.
- Dialog in Bible is most important way to convey action and character. Yet we almost never see direct dialog between women – only Lot’s daughters, Rachel/Leah, Naomi/Ruth. (Alter)
- What are the components of building the house of Israel (question to discuss at the end). Human beings in all their faults working out divine destiny
- Gen 29: 1-14 At the well- type-scene betrothal (Rachel means “ewe-lamb”)
- 15-30 The marriages and deceptions and slave girls (Leah commonly taken to mean “cow”)
- 14 – 15: Laban may remember Rebekah’s jewelry; Jacob serves for one month before discussing wages
- 25: “look, there was Leah” – Jacob gets his comeuppance – but we don’t know of Rachel’s feelings
- Discuss naming speeches (Pardes pp 42 ff Countertraditions)
- More often than not, mother does the naming speech
- Reveals more about character of namer than the recipient
- Direct speech predominates in providing characterization in bible
- Name – puns are not necessarily real etymology
- 31-36 Reuben, Simeon, Levi and Judah (Leah)
- Reuben (Alter) The Lord has seen my suffering, for now my husband will love me.
- Simeon (Alter) The Lord heard I was despised and He has given me this one, too.
- Levi (Alter) This time my husband will join me because I have born him three sons.
- Judah (Alter) This time I shall sing praise to the Lord. (she no longer expresses hope of winning husband’s affection – just gives thanks to God for her offspring)
- She ceased bearing (did Jacob stop cohabiting?)
- Gen 30: 1-3 Rachel is envious of sister. Rachel wants children – Give me children or I die; Bilhah given to Jacob – Jacob follows along
- Until now we do not know Rachel’s feelings – bitter after all these years of barrenness, skipped over for Leah – jealous of “sister” – connecting sibling rivalry to Jacob/Esau –
- The first speech of any character is especially revelatory – Rachel’s is “Give me children or I die.” (literally, I am dead) – Rachel shows as impatient, impulsive, explosive (Alter)
- Jacob’s answer is rhetorical, sarcastic, complex sentence (Alter)
- Rachel does not even respond to Jacob, just orders him to procreate with her maid
- What do we see in Rachel’s words – tangle of emotions – love, consideration, jealousy, frustration, resentment, rage – all the components of a conjugal relationship
- Who does Rachel call upon, God or husband? Unlike Sara, Rebekah or Hannah she neither prays to God nor is visited by God for her annunciation – perhaps this contributes to her early death
- But Rachel and Leah do call on God in the naming speeches
- 4-8 Dan, Naphthali (Bilhah)
- Dan (Alter) God heard my voice and He gave me a son. Etymology of verb dan suggests vindication of legal plea. (PW note – check Job) (RTWB pg 231 “God has vindicated me and listened to my voice”)
- Naphthali (Alter) In awesome grapplings ( Pardes pg 65 naftuley elohim = a contest of God. But God is really marginal. Maybe Rachel envisions a different outcome – in any event, this is Bilhah’s and Rachel is still barren. Is her naming speech delusional?) I have grappled with my sister and, yes, I won out.
- 9-13 Gad, Asher (Zilpah) – Leah had stopped bearing
- Gad (Alter) Good luck has come
- Asher (Alter) What good fortune. For the girls have claimed me fortunate.
- 14-16 Mandrakes (love-apples)
- Rareness of direct speech between women
- What does this say about their negotiating skills?
- Is this win-win? How does Leah fare in the bargain compared to Esau? In his craving for lentils he is no match for Esau, but Leah benefits as much as Rachel and they both become pregnant
- Jacob becomes a token of exchange between the women (Pardes pg 66), not unlike how Rachel and Leah were pawns between Jacob and Laban
- 17-21 Issachar, Zebulun, Dinah (Leah)
- Issachar (Alter) God has given me my wages because I gave my slave girl to my husband (see pg 161 for more)
- Zebulun (Alter) God has granted me a goodly gift. This time my husband will exalt me for I have borne him six sons.
- Dinah – no naming speech – narrative – she called her name Dinah.
- 22-24 Joseph (Rachel)
- Joseph (Alter) God had taken away my shame; and May the Lord add me another son. (She will be granted the second son a the cost of her life)
- 25-43 Jacob once again takes charge of ewes and goats- in charge of virility – 38: rechelekha
- Gen 31 Laban’s sons say Jacob has taken all that was their father’s and built up his wealth so that the sons will loose their inheritance
- 14-15 Daughters’ attitude to father is revealed (Pardes pg 68). Rachel and Leah answered “Have we a share in our the inheritance of our father’s house? All the wealth that God has taken away from our father belongs to us and to our children.
- They ignore Jacob’s blustering and posturing about how God has guided the cattle and the come back with how their father has treated them. (Pardes pg 70)
- Rachel and Leah are united here in support of husband – speak with one voice, although Rachel may take precedence, and she is the one who steals the teraphim
- Both Rachel and Leah are abandoning the land of idol worshippers and the land of their father and mother – Ruth does the same
- 16 Do just as God tells you
- 32 Anyone who has your gods shall not remain alive – Jacob did not know Rachel had stolen them – or did he guess? Was he secretly thinking she had gotten out of hand with her independence?
- Gen 33:1 Children divided amongst maids and wives
- Gen 35 16-20 Rachel’s last birth, naming and death.
- Benjamin (Alter)
- Rachel calls him Ben-Oni can mean either son of my affliction or son of my vigor – the latter more likely –
- sole instance of competing names. Jacob calls him Bin-Yamin = son of right hand (dexterity) or dweller in the south or son of old age (yamim)
- Leah will be left with 13 children. The audience is accustomed to women in pioneer society being full partners in work event with childbearing (Eve)
- (Pardes pg 72) Does Rachel die because Jacob has cursed her as the Rabbis say? Shades of Jephthah’s daughter? Was there any intention? Could Jacob have guessed she stole the teraphim?
- 21 Reuben lies with Bilhah
- consider this when we look at Tamar and Judah
- 23-26 list of the sons
What are the components of building the house of Israel (question to discuss at the end). Human beings in all their faults working out divine destiny.
- How does this pair compare to Abraham/Lot, Esau/Jacob, Jacob/Laban? Can they separate, are they tied together, how well do they negotiate with each other?
- Does God intervene directly? This leaves them both frailer. Rachel and Leah have no oracles.
- The issue is no longer which son will be heir – they are all children of Israel – emphasis on progeny – mold of heroic women who preserve people of Israel and ensure continuity
Some bibliography (abbreviated)
Alter, Robert, The Five Books of Moses, 2004
Alter, Robert, The Art of Biblical Narrative, 1980
Alter writes about the careful crafting of the bible and what can be learned from studying its literary conventions. In his translation he tries to capture accurate Hebrew, both in the meaning and in the cadence of language. He differs in this regard from Fox, whose translation tries to be word for word, but not to convey the power of the language.
Meyers, Carol, Discovering Eve, Ancient Israelite Women in Context, (1988)
Myers studies the archeology, anthropology, historical documents, the Bible, and cross cultural studies to uncover the life of the early, pre-monarchic Israelite settlement in the land, and to discover the role of women therein. Scholarly but very readable.
Frymer-Kensky, Tikva, Reading the Women of the Bible 2002
Frymer-Kensky, Tikva, In the Wake of the Goddesses, Women, Culture and the Biblical Transformation of Pagan Myth 1992
Frymer-Kensky is a prominent scholar of ancient Near Eastern religion, and using many historical and cultural tools, seeks to convey the marginalization of goddesses that preceded biblical monotheism in Israel, and the new concepts of humanity, culture and society found in the bible. Excellent source for understanding the Mesopotamian period. A bit hard on the rabbis, whom she blames for introducing Greek misogyny to an otherwise egalitarian biblical culture. I think she goes overboard there.
Pardes, Ilana Countertraditions in the Bible A Feminist Approach 1992
Pardes uses, feminist theory, biblical scholarship, literary criticism and psychoanalysis to explore the dialogue between patriarchal discourse and counter female voices in the Bible. She looks at a few specific women and ideas.
Knohl, Israel The Divine Symphony: The Bible’s Many Voices 2003
Knohl divides the Priestly source (“P”) into Priestly and Holiness School (“H”) and discusses at length the different layers and the differing interpretations of biblical ideas in the J, E, D, P and finally redacted bible, which is symphony of voices. His thesis is that the Bible was redacted by H.