Why do you believe there was such as focus on fertility in Genesis 35-46? Why is fertility handled so publicly?

You perceptively notice the struggle with fertility between Rachel and Leah. I have mentioned elsewhere that female fertility is central to the post-exile concept of “woman of valor,” a term which is only assigned to Ruth and the “ideal wife” or “woman of valor” of Proverbs 31. It isn’t just that Ruth cares for her mother in law, although that’s important. Her key accomplishment is  finding a redeemer for the dead Elimelech’s line and having a son for him. Because their numbers were decimated before exile and because so many people drifted away or married away during exile, Jews had an absolute duty to marry and reproduce. (Some scholars have used this expectation to argue that Jesus himself must have married). This may be one reason for the prohibition against same-sex relations in Leviticus, which was written entirely by P and P’s friends. 

Leah, the favored wife, almost doesn’t have an heir, and in this she resembles other women in Genesis like Sarah, who is like 9000 years old and she finally gives birth (and then has to endure her husband sacrificing him or almost sacrificing him). Eve loses her first two sons, only belatedly getting a replacement son in Seth (whose name may mean compensation). Edward Everett Fox has noted this motif, which is one of several that are repeated: 

Chosen Figure (Noah)

  • Sibling Conflict with sympathy for youngest (Cain/Abel – Seth)
  • Family Continuity Threatened (Abel murdered)
  • Ends with Death (Haran, Terah, Sarah barren)
  •       Humanity Threatened (Flood)
  •       Ends Away from Land of Israel (“In Haran”)

Chosen Figure (Abraham)

  • Sibling Conflict with sympathy for youngest (Ishmael/Isaac)
  • Family Continuity Threatened (Sarah barren; Isaac almost sacrificed)
  • Ends with Death (Sarah, Abraham)
  •       Wife Rivalry (Hagar-Sarah)
  •       Wife/ sister story (Chs. 12 “J” and 20 “E”)        
  •       Barren wife (Sarah)
  •       Ends with Genealogy of Non-covenant Line (Ishmael)

Chosen Figure (Jacob)

  • Sibling Conflict with sympathy for youngest (Jacob/ Esau)
  • Family Continuity Threatened (Jacob almost killed)
  • Ends with Death (Deborah, Rachel, Isaac)
  •       Wife Rivalry (Rachel/ Lea)
  •       Wife/ sister story “J” (E believes Isaac is dead?) (Ch. 26)
  •       Barren wife (Rachel)
  •       Ends with Genealogy of Non-covenant Line (Esau)

Chosen Figure (Joseph)

  • Sibling Conflict with sympathy for youngest (Brothers/ Joseph)
  • Family Continuity Threatened (Juda’s sons die, Joseph almost killed; family almost dies in famine)
  • Ends with Death (Jacob, Joseph)
  •       Humanity Threatened (Famine)
  •       Ends Away from Land of Israel (“In Egypt”)

These themes emphasize a few ideas over and over again: The near-extinction of the chosen people or “covenant line,” rescued by God at the last moment; perpetual wandering and homelessness; struggles with famine and pestilence, and emphasis on younger sons being chosen over their older brothers (maybe a Judah vs. Israel thing). 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *