Saturday, January 28, 2012

Womb Wars: The Women Finally Strike Back (At One Another, Mostly) -- Bible Study, Night Ten

How Eve persuaded Adam to eat the fruit is not recorded -- he simply, gullibly, ate it -- but how Rebekah convinced her husband, Isaac, to order their son, Jacob, to avoid the despised 'daughters of Heth' and marry one of her nieces (actually, two of them) is made novelistically explicit. She tries a brand new negotiating tactic, one that will come to define her gender's fighting style in domestic dramas to this day. Rebekah warns Isaac that if she doesn't prevail in the selection of Jacob's bride or brides, her life won't be worth living.

She threatens suicide.

With this great event -- the invention of the guilt trip -- begins the ascent of women in the Bible, who thus far (since Eve) haven't had a vivid presence, let alone independent, substantial selves. Rebekah, though, lights a fire inside her gender and Jacob, the mainstay male for many chapters now, becomes a rather wan figure by comparison, his power confined to tending flocks and such while his wives and their handmaidens have at it. Once married to Rachel and her sister Leah (and, by extension, their female helpers) Jacob can do little but pump his seed into a succession of warring wombs who treat motherhood as a way of keeping score, not an end in itself, in a battle over...what? For the Genesis men, it's God's favor that's the prize, but the women's grand objective is more obscure. Indeed, as their battle continues, one starts to sense that they have no goal, no goal at all. They seem to fight chiefly in order to go on fighting, exulting in their vitality, not their piety.

In this tit-for-tit contest for ill-defined advantage, it's mean girl and big sister Leah who draws first blood by giving Jacob four consecutive sons. This feat causes barren Rachel to ape her aunt and vow to kill herself if she doesn't conceive soon. Jacob, unlike his namby-pamby father, calls his wife out for manipulating him, forcing her to bring in Bilhah, a surrogate, who promptly gets pregnant with Jacob's fifth straight son, gives birth to him, rests a little, then bears his sixth. These new heirs allow Rachel to claim a win at last, but jealous Leah, her reproductive organs temporarily numb from overuse, summons her own stand-in, Zilpah, for yet another round of combat-by-conception. Team Leah scores two sons in no time and pulls ahead, then pulls ahead further when Rachel makes a deal to let Leah lay with Jacob for a night in return for a dose of a fertility drug that Rachel hopes will activate her ovaries. This isn't a good deal for Rachel, not initially. Using her free pass to full advantage, ambitious Leah gets herself knocked up not once, not twice, but three times in a row. That the third child comes up female dampens her triumph but, statistics being what they are, such a flip of the coin had to happen sooner or later.

How Jacob has fared throughout this musky tournament (which isn't over yet by any means) can only be inferred from his decision to ask his father-in-law's (and uncle's) permission to let him go home, back to his boyhood haunts, far from this land of gyno-cratic serfdom. Starting with fourteen years of service to Laban, which was the price of Rachel and Leah's hands, Jacob hasn't known freedom in ages, see. (Nor, the reader gathers, much peace and quiet). Laban, though, is unmoved by Jacob's plea. Thanks to his sister Rebekah's original power play, Laban has, via his daughters, been the owner of a complicated sort of sex slave, and one that he sees no good reason to relinquish just because the fellow feels overwhelmed. Can Jacob escape this trap?

Can any man?

The Bible's claims to everlasting relevance are growing stronger by the verse.


  1. Can Jacob escape this trap?

    Can any man?

    Everlasting relevance is right! Dear, Jesus! Great post.

  2. You left out which of the women ended up in a coma, only to wake up and realize that she is Jacob's daughter/niece/cousin. And I think the girls are all probably calling him Jake at this point....

  3. Forgive me if someone has already asked this question.....but do you believe in God? I'm trying to ascertain this from your posts and I'm not sure what the answer is (granted, I haven't read every word).

  4. And Joe smith had how many wives? Did it balance the historic injustice? But I called to ask about dystopias.