What does Genesis 29

Detail view

Katharine Bergfeld

Brief description:
Gen 29: 31-30, 24 tells of Rachel's sterility, which initially existed, and the rivalry between the sisters connected with it. Rachel is sure of Jacob's love, but her childlessness makes her jealous of her sister Leah, who has many children. But at the end of Gen. 30 Rachel also gives birth to a biological son.
Additional author information: Katharine Bergfeld
Student, University of Kassel
Biblical Theological Com.
Type of school:
Primary school
Biblical reference:
Genesis 29: 31-30, 24
Additional scripts:
Gen 25.21Gen 29.17Gen 29.25-30Ex 32.9-10Lev 18.181 Sam 1.11Spr 25.11Lk 1.25
Other keywords:
Disadvantage; Marriage; Marriage; Jealousy; Family; Fertility; God; Jacob; Child; Children; Child blessing; Childhood; Conflict; Lea; Suffering; Love; Candy apples; Envy; Rachel; Sexuality; Pregnancy; Despair

1. First reading impression

It is well known that women compete for the love of a man: The two sisters Lea and Rahel also compete for the love of Jacob in Gen. 29.31-30.24 by giving birth to children and 'adopting' them. A real contest in having children is developing between the two women. The first reading makes you think: Why does God initially only accept Leas and leave Rahel sterile?

2. Synchronous approach: Complex rivalry

2.1 Delimitation and context

The pericope Gen 29,31-30,24 belongs to the Jacob's story, which connects to a larger, self-contained unit Gen 25,29-35,29 and can be classified in the context of the narrations of the ancestors (see Rendtorff, 1988, 146).

The parent-child narratives (Gen 12-50) stand between the universal human history Gen 1-11 and the folk history Ex-Num (cf. Westermann, 1989, 699). Gen 12-50 describes Israel's early history in the literary genre of family stories. Gen 29: 31-30, 24 shows the development of the people of Israel in this literary genre, in stories about infertility, pregnancy and especially births (cf. Fischer, 1997, 9).

According to Seebass, the narrative under investigation begins in the last five verses of Gen 29 and extends to Gen 30:24. This view is underpinned by stating that there is an introduction in Gen. 29.31, which takes up the aspects of 'Lea's disdain, Rachel's sterility' and concludes in Gen. 30.22-24 (Rahel gives birth to her first biological son). This exposure in Gen 29,31ff. already refers to future activities, whereby the course of the following story can be guessed (see Seebass, 1999, 337).

The pericope Gen 29.31-30.24 follows on from the story Gen 29.1-30 (Jakobs bei Laban), which thus forms the entrance to the Jacob-Laban cycle (cf. Seebass, 1999, 328). After Jacob's seven-year service with his uncle Laban, Jacob is married to Leah instead of his beloved Rachel.

The pericope Gen 29,31-30,24 is followed by the story Gen 30,25-43, in which Jacob deceived Laban by deceiving the cattle herd (cf. Gen 30,25-43). In this way Jacob earns a lot of money with his own flock in order to leave Laban and thus also Haran with his wives and children (cf. Seebass, 1999, 352ff.). Both stories surround the pericope Gen 29: 31-30, 24, which puts it in the center of the action. However, the actions of these two stories flow into the respective following story, with which the narrative circle of the whole (Gen 29.1-30.43) can be opened up and a coherent sequence of events was composed.

2.2 Structure

The stories from Gen 29 onwards mainly tell of Lea and Rahel and less of his father Laban. Nevertheless, this Genesis part is referred to as the 'Jakob Laban Circle' (cf. Fischer, 2004, 36). The episode Jacob and Laban includes the pericopes Gen 29-31 and is in Gen 29.1-30 (Jacob's arrival and service with Laban, Jacob's meeting and marriage with Leah and Rachel), in Gen 29.31-30.24 (birth of the sons of Jacob) and divided into Gen 30.25-31.54 (rivalry between Jacob and Laban) (cf. Westermann, 1989, 564).

The framework of Gen. 29: 31-30, 24 initially contains the three elements:

1. Lea's children (Gen 29: 32-35),

2. Rachel's surrogate children (Gen 30: 1-8) and

3. Lea's surrogate children (Gen 30: 9-13).

This is followed by Gen 30: 14-24 about mandrakes and other births. The mandrakes, through which both sisters promise each other their personal happiness (Jacob's affection / own children), only benefit Leah. Even with the ingestion of mandrakes, Rachel remains childless and only gives birth to her first biological son through God's intervention. Verses 14-16 illuminate the relationship between Leah and Rachel. As a result, the structure of the narrative 'The births of the sons and a daughter of Jacob' according to Seebass results in the following structure (see: Seebass, 1999, 337):

29.31 exposure

29: 32-35 Leah rules her first four children

30: 1-8 Rachel's surrogate children

30: 9-21 Lea's two surrogate children and their last two children

V. 9-13: Lea's maid commands her sons

Verses 14-16: The conflict between Leah and Rachel with it

related barter (mandrakes vs. a night with Jacob)

V. 17-21: Leah commands her last two sons and her daughter

30: 22-24a climax: Rachel rules Joseph

30,24b Conclusion: Name interpretation as Benjamin's placeholder


2.3 Interpretation: Lea and Rahel: A double disdain?

The linguistic formulation of the pericope Gen 29,31-30,24 is above all passionate and emotional (cf. e.g. Gen 30,1.14f.). These statements clearly show the desires, but also the despair of the two young women.

Sister love cannot easily shake anything. Even small quarrels cannot break them. But when it comes to the love of a man, the love between sisters can sometimes falter. Two sisters are married to the same man. It is not surprising that this creates conflicts and disappointments. The story of Leah and Rahel also shows how quickly a happy coexistence among sisters can develop into a bitter power struggle among women.

Jacob's life is made difficult by the jealousy of the two sisters. Obviously, it is impossible for him to muster the same amount of love for both women. One (Rachel) loves Jacob and the other (Lea) he despises.

2.3.1 Jacob's marriage to Leah and Rachel

In the context of polygamous marriages it is not uncommon for an Israelite man to have more than one wife, but the privilege of having more than two wives is only granted to a few of them (cf. Görg, 1991, 477). However, the fact that these are sisters Jacob is married to is rather strange. The later Israelite law stipulates that a man may not have two sisters with wives (Lev 18:18; cf. Gunkel, 1977, 332). Gen 29: 1-30 describes the problematic beginnings of this polygynous marriage. Instead of the beloved Rachel, Jacob is induced by Laban's intrigue to first marry the first-born Leah whom he rejected - the difficulties seem preprogrammed.

2.3.2 Fertility vs. Infertility

Now that Leah and Rachel are married to the same man, the desire for offspring is not long in coming. Leah first has a group of children. God tries to compensate for Laban's crime against his daughters (Gen. 29: 25-29), for whom Jacob atone for the unloved Leah. According to this, God takes Leah, who has been resigned and is less loved by Jacob, and gives her children (cf. Fischer, 2004, 63). The vision of YHWH (Gen 29,31a) is followed by his helping intervention (Gen 29,31b). Rachel also wants to give birth to Jacob, but is prevented from doing so by her sterility.

After her first birth, Lea is convinced that her disdain is over and that Jacob will woo her from now on (Gen. 30:20). Lea gave Jacob and her daughter Dina seven children of their own. In Gen 30: 9-13 it is reported that Lea's childbearing capacity suddenly stagnates. Like her sister, Lea decides to become a surrogate mother. As a result, her maid Silpa gives birth to two sons, whom Lea, unlike her sister, does not regard as her own (cf. Seebass, 1999, 339f.).

In the ancient Orient at this time there was a conviction or belief that a woman can only get pregnant with God's help. YHWH is portrayed as "the lord of life and death, who has the power to open and close the womb, to grant or deny fertility for men and women and to make many or no children" (Görg, 1995, 473) . Rahel's womb is not opened and she remains childless for the time being. This leads to humiliation in front of her sister Leah. For this reason a "birth contest" (Fischer, ²2004, 63) arises between the two sisters. Rahel absolutely wants to have children herself, regardless of the way, because children mean happiness for her (cf. Fischer, 2004, 63). Rahel decides to become a surrogate mother. According to this, her maid Bilhah should become pregnant by Jacob to give birth on Rachel's knees. Rahel recognizes the sons of her maid as hers (see Seebass, 1999, 339). The sterile woman (main woman), adopts the children who come from the womb of the slave girl. The woman who has children in such a way by making a sacrifice in the sense of self-denial expects God's reward in order to be able to bear children again (cf. Gunkel, 1977, 332).

In the ore tales the reader encounters the topic of 'infertility' again and again. In the process, they show numerous methods to overcome infertility. Mention should be made of giving birth to the slave woman for the main wife (Gen. 30,3-5); the taking of mandrakes (Gen. 30: 14ff.); the intercession for sterile women (Gen 25,21) and the supplication of women for children (1 Sam 1,11; cf. Görg, 1995, 474).

Rahel is in an absolute low. She asks Leah for her son's mandrakes in order to become fertile herself (Gen. 30:14). However, Lea does not simply leave the mandrakes to her. There is a barter, through which the two women communicate with each other for the first time in the pericope Gen 30.1-24 and both are made happy. Lea spends the night with Jacob and Rachel gets her mandrakes, from which she wishes for fertility. This exchange takes place without Jacob's knowledge and his consent (cf. Seebass, 1999, 341).

It seems as if the focus of the pericope Gen 30.1-24 is on the drama of the rivalry between the two women of Jacob, but reading it several times makes it clear that the narrator wants to emphasize above all God's actions “With all the passion of the struggle of women Yahweh's intervention in the events remains the real center of this series of statements ”(Heister, 1986, 29). God acts by giving Leah fertility. It can be read that God remembers Rachel, hears her and “opens her womb” (Gen. 30:22). Jacob's answer to Rachel in Gen. 30: 2 makes it clear that fertility and pregnancy can be traced back to God alone. This very moving scene shows that God has not strayed from Rachel. He is always close to her, even if she does not notice this at first and threatens to despair (Gen. 30: 1). The 'belated' action of God is an indication that he apparently first observes your situation and finally intervenes. God acts according to plan or at the right time. This aspect of the right time is also referred to in the Proverbs (Prov 25:11). God sees how unhappy Rachel is, takes care of her suffering and needs, and acts accordingly in a timely manner.

2.3.3 The name interpretations of Lea's and Rachel's children

The naming of the sons of Jacob is made by Lea and Rachel alone. Jakob and the two maidservants Silpa and Bilha have no say.

It is noticeable that the reasons given for the children's names are linked to the reputation of the two women (Leah and Rahel) (cf. Fischer, 1994, 67f.). Lea's name interpretations are intended to express her hope that she will be able to withdraw from her position as an unloved woman and that Jakob will finally turn to her. Three of her sons have 'longing names' that express their love for Jakob (cf. Fischer, 1995, 107): [Ruben 'See, a son': “The Lord has seen my misery. Now my husband will love me ”(Gen 29:32); Simeon 'listener': “The Lord has heard that I am reset” (Gen 29:33); Levi 'Appendix': “Now at last my husband will cling to me” (Gen 29:34)].

Verses Gen 30: 9-13 indicate that throughout the entire pericope Gen 30: 1-24, Rachel experiences disappointments due to her childlessness. Accordingly, she perceives her sterility as degrading, so she chooses her child's name accordingly (cf. Fischer, 1994, 68): [Dan 'judge': “God has got me right; he also heard my voice and gave me a son ”(Gen 30: 6); Naftali 'fighter': “I fought against God with my sister and I prevailed” (Gen 30,8); Josef 'Suppliers': "The Lord give me another son" (Gen 30:24)].

The pericope Gen 30: 1-24 should be viewed from the perspective of God's work (cf. Seebass, 1999, 338). God's view or work was initially only for Leah. When he sees that Rahel is unhappy despite Jacob's love, he turns to her (cf. Fischer, 1995, 109). God hears Rachel and puts an end to sterility. She sees the birth of her own son as redemption and the removal of sterility (cf. Fischer, 1995, 114). A double disdain?

It seems that God wants to end injustice and rejection by turning to Leah; but at the same time it creates discrimination against Rahel. In the relevant literatures, one usually comes across the term 'the scorned Lea'. But isn't Rachel disdained because of her sterility? Although she is loved by her husband Jacob - in contrast to her sister Leah (29.18.30), the man preferred by YHWH seems to be spurned - after all, Lea's fertility is directly associated with God's actions (29.31 ).

God's action, in that he initially left Rachel sterile, appears at first to be of little mercy. A happy woman who actually has everything in life (a man, his love) becomes a desperate woman due to her childlessness, which is also expressed in the harsh formulation in Gen. 30.1 (cf. Seebass, 1999, 339). As a result, Rahel also becomes a spurned. In Genesis 29: 31-30, 24 a disdain is represented in two ways. The reader is informed about Lea, who is set back by Jacob and at the same time about Rachel, who is 'rejected' by God.

The term "rejected" refers to Rahel's initially unfulfilled desire to have children. At first God only listens to Leah, which means that Rachel is in a sense rejected by God. Leaa's disadvantage is stopped by God's intervention, because God wants to favor her because of her difficult living conditions (Gen. 29:17, 30).

When reading the pericope again and again, the meaning behind God's work can increasingly be discovered. In a sense, God acts in a 'hierarchy'. First of all, all poor, weaker and scorned people are given his care and only then follow those who already have a happy life. So also in this pericope. First, God takes the side of Leah, the so-called number 2, and enriches her life. He then remembers Rahel and also gives her satisfaction by giving birth to two biological children. As it becomes clear in the pericope, she does not seek responsibility for her diminution of life (temporary sterility) from God (cf. Seebass, 1999, 346f.). This could be because Rachel hopes for God's support during the time of her sterility. It seems that she is certain that one day God will remember her and answer her desire for children. The waiting time may have moved Rahel to look at her own existence from a different perspective, because now she too has to experience what rejection and rejection mean. In this way Rahel can put herself in the shoes of her sister Leah, which may strengthen her sisterly relationship. Overall, within this pericope one can speak of a merciful God who ultimately comes to meet both sisters.

Despite the initially bitter struggle between two women, the pericope Gen 29.31-30.24 shows a conciliatory end for both sisters. An initial, tragic drama of two desperate and scorned women, turns into a happy ending.


3. Diachronic Observations: Part of the Jerusalem History

The proportions of the Pentateuch sources J, E, and P in the ancestral narratives and thus also the assumption that these sources were used as a guide for the biblical presentation of the early history of Israel is currently controversial (see Görg, 1991, 316). For this reason, it is difficult to give exact details about the author as well as about the time and place of origin. In the following, the specification of these aspects just mentioned is examined using the Münster Pentateuch model.

According to Zenger, there are three streams of tradition (non-priestly texts = JG; priestly texts = P and Deuteronomic texts = D) that have flowed into the Pentateuch according to this model. The stories about Abraham and Jacob were put together to form a genealogical family history, which is linked in itself. The Joseph story is also integrated into this, creating a new cross-regional family history. This family history emphasizes the family ties of the northern and southern tribes. According to Zenger, the time after the fall of the Northern Empire (722 BC) is recommended as a plausible time for Gen 13-50, which illuminates the origins of a communal Israel and Judah in the context of its neighboring peoples (cf. Zenger, 2006, 101.) It Among other things, the narrative wreaths about Abraham and Jacob are included in the Jerusalemer Geschichtswerk (JG) (cf. Zenger, 2006, 105 or the Münster Pentateuch model based on P. Weimar / E. Zenger).

The history of Jerusalem sets its narrative arc from the patriarchs via Exodus / Moses to the conquest of land under Joshua in Shechem. This means that the actual conclusion could be in Jos 24:28 (cf. Zenger, 2006, 180). In the historical classification of JG it can be observed that a counter-concept was developed through the fall of the Northern Empire (722 BC): "YHWH wants to be worshiped as the only God of Israel and has transferred the land to Israel on the basis of this" (Zenger, 2006, 181), with which the Jerusalem historical work becomes a draft of a militant single veneration of YHWH (cf. Zenger, 2006, 181).

In addition, JG is represented by the miraculous salvation of Israel from the Assyrians (701 BC) and the accession of Manasseh to rule (699 BC), in the time of the Manasseh tribe (699-643 BC) or the beginning of Joschiah (641-609 BC), i.e. in the second half of the 7th century.

According to C. Recker, the basis of the Jakober narratives was anchored in JG (cf. Recker, 2000, 136). Accordingly, it can be concluded that the pericope Gen 29.31-30.24 can be classified in the Jerusalem historical work and its time of origin. As a result, JG can be determined and viewed as a plausible theological basis for Gen 29: 31-30, 24.

4th S.come from research

4.1 Jacob as an extra

Jacob seems to be more in the background in the pericope Gen 29,31-30,24: "In this part of the story, Jacob not only takes on the role of the obedient husband, but also a subordinate role; he only hears orders from his wives". (cf. Ohler, 1987, 33) The pericope also informs the reader about Jacob's position in his marriage: "Jacob has a considerably minor position compared to Leah and Rachel; in addition, he does not have the same social status as his two wives because he was still dependent on their family". (Seebass, 1999, 341)

4.2 Lea and Rahel as protagonists

Gen 29: 31-30, 24 reports primarily about the two sisters Leah and Rachel. This can be evidenced by their role as main actors: "Leah and Rachel name the sons (and the daughter) and explain why they were each named. They organize the cession of the maids to Jacob, they also have control over his sex life […]. It is women who act". (Boecker, 1992, 76)

4.3 Jakob a passionate small actor?

Jakob mainly takes on the function of the extra within the pericope, but in some scenes he proves that he also functions as a small actor with little text.
Jacob shows himself in his love for Rachel as a passionate fighter who waits for her for several years and works for her in order to be allowed to marry her (Gen. 29:18). He is ready to fight for his great love (Gen. 29:30). That is wahe passion - passion with all my heart! (Own thesis)


Boecker, Hans Jochen, 1992, Genesis 25: 12-37.1 / Jacob and Isaak (ZBK AT 1.3), Zurich

Fischer, Irmtraud, 1994, The Erzeltern Israels: Feminist-Theological Studies on Genesis 12-36, Berlin / New York

Fischer, Irmtraud, 1995, Divine Warriors: Biblical narratives about the beginnings of Israel, Stuttgart / Berlin / Cologne.

Fischer, Irmtraud, 1997, Mothers and Children in the Old Testament, in: World and Environment of the Bible, H.4, 6, in: www.bibelwerk.de/fileadmin/ev_daten/DL-allgemein/ fischer_kinder_wub.pdf? PHPSESSID = 717ca22002c34eae275bfa48ee30573

Fischer, Irmtraud, 2004, Gender-faire exegesis: Collected contributions to the reflection of gender bias and its effects in the translation and interpretation of biblical texts, ExuZ 14, Münster

Fischer, Irmtraud, ²2004, Genesis 10-36, in: Zenger, Erich (ed.), Stuttgart Old Testament: Standard translation with commentary and lexicon, Stuttgart, 32-76

Görg, Manfred / Lang, Bernhard, 1991, Neues Bibellexikon, Vol. 1 (A-G), Zurich, 316 (Arward- Bruderliebe) / 477f. (Marriage / polygamy)

Görg, Manfred / Lang, Bernhard, 1995, Neues Bibellexikon, Vol. 2 (H-N), Zurich; Düsseldorf, 473f. (Childlessness)

Gunkel, Hermann, 91977, Genesis, Göttingen

Heister, Maria-Sybilla, ²1986, Women in the Biblical History of Faith, Göttingen

Ohler, Annemarie, 1987, Frauengestalten in der Bibel, Würzburg

Recker, Christoph, 2000, The stories of the Patriarch Jakob: a contribution to the multi-perspective interpretation of the Bible, (Theologie 27), Münster

Rendtorff, Rolf, 1988, The Old Testament. An introduction, Neukirchen-Vluyn

Seebass, Horst, 1999, Genesis II. Father's story II (23.1-36.43), Neukirchen-Vluyn

Westermann, Claus, 1989, Genesis, vol. 2, Genesis 12-36, (BK 1), Neukirchen-Vluyn

Zenger, Erich, 62006, The books of the Torah / the Pentateuch: The emergence of the Pentateuch, in: Zenger, Erich (ed.), Introduction to the Old Testament, Stuttgart, 101-105.179-184


Explanations of words:

Mandrakes= "Aphrodisiacs" were probably used in the ancient Orient not only as a drug, but also as a means of magic spells (cf. Fischer, 1994, 27).

polygamy= Much marriage or more marriage; Marriage with more than one woman (see Görg, 1991, 478).



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