Genesis (Part 132)

Welcome back to my study/review of Genesis. If you missed the previous parts of this study, you can find them HERE.

Genesis 30: 14-21

14 In the days of wheat harvest Reuben went and found mandrakes in the field and brought them to his mother Leah. Then Rachel said to Leah, “Please give me some of your son’s mandrakes.” 15 But she said to her, “Is it a small matter that you have taken away my husband? Would you take away my son’s mandrakes also?” Rachel said, “Then he may lie with you tonight in exchange for your son’s mandrakes.” 16 When Jacob came from the field in the evening, Leah went out to meet him and said, “You must come in to me, for I have hired you with my son’s mandrakes.” So he lay with her that night. 17 And God listened to Leah, and she conceived and bore Jacob a fifth son. 18 Leah said, “God has given me my wages because I gave my servant to my husband.” So she called his name Issachar.

19 And Leah conceived again, and she bore Jacob a sixth son. 20 Then Leah said, “God has endowed me with a good endowment; now my husband will honor me, because I have borne him six sons.” So she called his name Zebulun. 21 Afterward she bore a daughter and called her name Dinah.


Here we have the explanation for how Leah bartered with Rachel to get Jacob to sleep with her. What does she barter? Mandrakes.

What is a mandrake?

mandrake is the root of a plant, historically derived either from plants of the genus Mandragora found in the Mediterranean region, or from other species, such as Bryonia alba, the English mandrake, which have similar properties. The plants from which the root is obtained are also called “mandrakes”. Mediterranean mandrakes are perennial herbaceous plants with ovate leaves arranged in a rosette, a thick upright root, often branched, and bell-shaped flowers followed by yellow or orange berries. They have been placed in different species by different authors. They are highly variable perennial herbaceous plants with long thick roots (often branched) and almost no stem. The leaves are borne in a basal rosette, and are variable in size and shape, with a maximum length of 45 cm (18 in). They are usually either elliptical in shape or wider towards the end (obovate), with varying degrees of hairiness.[1]

Because mandrakes contain deliriant hallucinogenic tropane alkaloids and the shape of their roots often resembles human figures, they have been associated with a variety of superstitious practices throughout history. They have long been used in magic rituals, today also in contemporary pagan traditions such as Wicca and Odinism.[2]

The English name of the plant derives from Latin mandragora through French main-de-gloire.[3]

All species of Mandragora contain highly biologically active alkaloidstropane alkaloids in particular. The alkaloids make the plant, in particular the root and leaves, poisonous, via anticholinergichallucinogenic, and hypnotic effects. Anticholinergic properties can lead to asphyxiation. Accidental poisoning is not uncommon. Ingesting mandrake root is likely to have other adverse effects such as vomiting and diarrhea. The alkaloid concentration varies between plant samples. Clinical reports of the effects of consumption of Mediterranean mandrake include severe symptoms similar to those of atropine poisoning, including blurred vision, dilation of the pupils (mydriasis), dryness of the mouth, difficulty in urinating, dizziness, headache, vomiting, blushing and a rapid heart rate (tachycardia). Hyperactivity and hallucinations also occurred in the majority of patients.[4][5]

The root is hallucinogenic and narcotic. In sufficient quantities, it induces a state of unconsciousness and was used as an anaesthetic for surgery in ancient times.[6] In the past, juice from the finely grated root was applied externally to relieve rheumatic pains.[6] It was also used internally to treat melancholyconvulsions, and mania.[6] When taken internally in large doses, however, it is said to excite delirium and madness.[6]

In the past, mandrake was often made into amulets which were believed to bring good fortune, cure sterility, etc. In one superstition, people who pull up this root will be condemned to hell, and the mandrake root would scream and cry as it was pulled from the ground, killing anyone who heard it.[2] Therefore, in the past, people have tied the roots to the bodies of animals and then used these animals to pull the roots from the soil.[2]

The ancient Greeks burned mandrake as incense.[7]

If you consider the word “Mandragora” you might be led to think of the character al’Lan Mandragoan from The Wheel of Time series – the TV version of which begins in a couple of days. Alternatively though, and more likely, mandrakes probably lead your mind to think of this:

Mandrakes played a role in “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.” I assume that real mandrakes do not have arms, legs, and faces that shriek.

For whatever purpose that Rachel wanted the mandrakes, she barters for them, and Leah ends up bearing more children for Jacob.

From Ellicott’s Bible Commentary starting in verse 14:

(14) Reuben went . . . —When Leah ceased from bearing, there would be a considerable interval before she and Jacob gave up all expectation of further seed by her. Slowly and unwillingly she would substitute Zilpah for herself, and there would then be a further period of three or four years, to give time for the birth of Gad and Asher: and as Jacob at this time utterly neglected Leah, we do not know but that even a longer space intervened. Moreover, Jacob had other daughters besides Dinah (Genesis 37:35), and probably by these handmaids. We may well believe, therefore, that Reuben at this timewas from fifteen to twenty years of age, and might be trusted to wander at his will over the wild uncultivated waste.

In the days of wheat harvest.—This is mentioned to fix the time, namely, early in May. As Laban led a settled life, he may have grown wheat, as Jacob did in Canaan (Genesis 37:7), but mandrakes would most assuredly not be found on tilled land.

Mandrakes.—Heb., love-apples. It is generally agreed that the fruit meant is that of the Atropa mandragora, which ripens in May, and is of the size of a small plum, round, yellow, and full of soft pulp. The plant belongs to the same family (the Solanaceœ) as the potato, and the egg plant, the fruit of which is largely used as a vegetable in North America.

The mandragora has a long carrot-shaped root, from which grows a mass of leaves of a greyish colour, not unlike those of the primrose, but larger, and which lie flat upon the ground, and from among them rise blossoms, singly, of a rich purple colour. Canon Tristram (Nat. Hist. of Bible, p. 467) says that the fruit is not unpleasant, and that he has often eaten of it without experiencing any soporific or other bad effect. But in the East it has been, and is, the subject of many superstitions, and its Hebrew name arose from the popular belief that it was a specific against barrenness. Rachel, therefore, who still hankered after children of her own, was anxious to obtain some of the fruit, and Leah consents only upon the proffered condition that Jacob shall spend the night in her tent.

From The Pulpit Commentaries.

And Reuben (at this time four or five years old) went (probably accompanying the reapers) in the days of wheat harvestand found mandrakes—דּוּדָאים, μῆλα μαδραγορῶν, (LXX; Josephus), apples of the mandragora, an herb resembling belladonna, with a root like a carrot, having white and reddish blossoms of a sweet smell, and with yellow odoriferous apples, ripening in May and June, and supposed, according to Oriental superstition, to possess the virtue of conciliating love and promoting fruitfulnessin the field (when at his childish play), and brought them unto his mother Leah (which a son of more mature years would not have done). Then Rachel (not exempt from the prevailing superstition) said to Leah, Give me, I pray thee, of thy son’s mandrakes (in the hopes that they would remove her sterility).

The commentaries suppose the purpose for Rachel wishing to have the mandrakes (to aid in removing her sterility.) We are not told specifically within the text that this is the reason, though the note makes a lot of sense.

mandrake = דּוּדַי dûwday, doo-dah’-ee; from H1731; a boiler or basket; also the mandrake (as an aphrodisiac):—basket, mandrake..

It is also sometimes thought of as a “love apple.”

Continuing with The Pulpit Commentaries:

Genesis 30:15

And she (Leah) said unto her,—stomachose (Calvin)—Is it a small matter that thou hast taken my husband?—literally, Is it little thy taking away my husband? meaning that Rachel had been the cause of Jacob’s forsaking her (Leah’s) society—and wouldest thou take away (literally, and to take also = wouldst thou take? expressive of strong surprise) my son’s mandrakes also? Calvin thinks it unlikely that Jacob’s wives were naturally quarrelsome; sod Deus confligere eas inter se passus est ut polygamiae puma ad posteras extaret. And Rachel said (in order to induce Leah’s compliance with her request), Therefore he shall be with thee tonight for thy son’s mandrakes.

Genesis 30:16

And Jacob came out of the field in the evening,—i.e. the harvest-field (Genesis 30:14)—and Leah went out to meet him, and said, Thou must come in unto me (the Samaritan codex adds “this night,” and the LXX. “today”); for surely I have hired thee (literally, hiring; I have hired thee) with my son’s mandrakes. And (assenting to the arrangement of his wives) he lay with her that night.

Genesis 30:17

And God hearkened unto Leah,—i.e. unto Leah’s prayers (Onkelos, Jerome, Rosenmüller, Murphy), which Calvin thinks doubtful—quis enim putaret, dum odiose sorori suae negat Lea fructus a puero collectos, et hoc pretio noctem mariti mercatur, ullum esse precibus locum. The historian employs the term Elohim to show that Leah’s pregnancy was not owing to her son’s mandrakes, but to Divine power (Keil, Lange)—and she conceived, and bare Jacob the fifth son—or, counting Zilpah’s, the seventh; while, reckoning Bilhah’s, this was Jacob’s ninth child.

Leah bears Jacob more children, starting with Issachar. From Ellicott:

(18) Issachar.—Heb., there is hire. As is so often the case in Hebrew names, there is a double play in the word: for, first, it alluded to the strange fact that Jacob had been hired of Rachel by the mandrakes; but, secondly, Leah gives it a higher meaning, “for God,” she says, “hath given me my hire.” In her eyes the birth of her fifth son was a Divine reward for the self-sacrifice involved in giving her maid to Jacob, and which had been followed by years of neglect of herself. As, too, it is said that “God hearkened unto Leah,” we may feel sure that she had prayed for God’s blessing upon her re-union with her husband; for Calvin’s objection that prayer would scarcely accompany such odious courses has little weight. Leah and Rachel were uneducated and untrained country women, whose sole anxiety was to have offspring. Leah was the most religious and best disciplined of the two; and the shame ideally was that she should have been forced thus to buy her husband’s attentions.

The note points out that Issachar has twin meanings – the first referring to how Leah hired her husband from Rachel and the second referring to Leah receiving her wages from God.

Issachar = יִשָּׂשכָר Yissâˢkâr, yis-saw-kawr’; (strictly yis-saws-kawr’); from H5375 and H7939; he will bring a reward; Jissaskar, a son of Jacob:—Issachar.

More on Issachar from Wiki:

Issachar (Hebrew: יִשָּׂשכָר‎, Modern:YīssaḵarTiberian:Yīssāḵār, “reward; recompense”) was, according to the Book of Genesis, a son of Jacob and Leah (the fifth son of Leah, and ninth son of Jacob), and the founder of the Israelite Tribe of Issachar. However, some Biblical scholars view this as an eponymousmetaphor providing an aetiology of the connectedness of the tribe to others in the Israelite confederation.[2]

Two different etymologies for the name of Issachar have been proposed based on the text of the Torah, which some textual scholars attribute to different sources—one to the Yahwist and the other to the Elohist.[3] The first derives it from ish sakar, meaning man of hire, in reference to Leah’s hire of Jacob’s sexual favours for the price of some mandrakes.[4] The second derives it from yesh sakar, meaning there is a reward, in reference to Leah’s opinion that the birth of Issachar was a divine reward for giving her handmaid Zilpah to Jacob as a concubine.[5] Scholars suspect the former explanation to be the more likely name for a tribe,[citation needed] though some scholars have proposed a third etymology—that it derives from ish Sokar, meaning man of Sokar, in reference to the tribe’s perhaps originally worshipping Sokar, an Egyptian deity.[6]

In the Biblical account, Leah’s status as the first wife of Jacob is regarded by biblical scholars as indicating that the authors saw the tribe of Issachar as being one of the original Israelite groups;[6] however, this may have been the result of a scribal error, as the names of Issachar and Naphtali appear to have changed places elsewhere in the text, and the birth narrative of Issachar and Naphtali is regarded by textual scholars as having been spliced together from its sources in a manner which has highly corrupted the narrative.[3][2] A number of scholars think that the tribe of Issachar actually originated as the Shekelesh group of Sea Peoples[7][8] – the name Shekelesh can be decomposed as men of the Shekel in Hebrew, a meaning synonymous with man of hire (ish sakar);[8] scholars believe that the memory of such non-Israelite origin would have led to the Torah’s authors having given Issachar a handmaiden as a matriarch.[2]

In classical rabbinical literature, it is stated that Issachar was born on the fourth of Av, and lived 122 years.[6] According to the midrashic Book of Jasher, Issachar married Aridah, the younger daughter of Jobab, a son of Joktan; the Torah states that Issachar had four sons, who were born in Canaan and migrated with him to Egypt,[1] with their descendants remaining there until the Exodus.[9] The midrashic Book of Jasher portrays Issachar as somewhat pragmatic, due to his strong effort in being more learned, less involved with other matters which led him to such actions like taking a feeble part in military campaigns involving his brothers, and generally residing in strongly fortified cities and, depending on his brother Zebulun‘s financial support in return for a share in the spiritual reward he gains.[6]

The Talmud argues that Issachar’s description in the Blessing of Jacob – Issachar is a strong ass lying down between two burdens: and he saw that settled life was good, and the land was pleasant; and bowed his shoulder to bear, and became a servant unto tribute[10] – is a reference to the religious scholarship of the tribe of Issachar, though scholars feel that it may more simply be a literal interpretation of Issachar’s name.[11]

Some Muslim genealogists link Shuayb to Abraham through both Sarah and Keturah by making Shuayb’s genealogy to be Shuayb b. Isaachar b. Midian b. Abraham.[12]

The text continues as Leah bears Jacob two more children. We are not told that she needed to barter for the next two children. In fact, the subtext of the text seems to be that Jacob’s heart toward Leah appears to have finally changed. From The Pulpit Commentaries:

Genesis 30:19Genesis 30:20

And Leah conceived again, and bare Jacob the sixth son. And Leah said, God (Elohim; vide supra) hath endued me with a good dowry. Δεδώρηται μοι δῶρον καλον (LXX.), dotavit me dote bona (Vulgate), hath presented me with a goodly present. The word זָבַד is a ἄπαξ λεγόμενον. Now will my husband dwell with me. זָבַל, also a ἅπαξ λεγ; signifies to be or make round (Gesenius), to limit round or encompass (Furst); hence, according to both, to cohabit or dwell together as husband and wife. The LXX. render αἱρετιεῖ, the meaning being that Leah’s six sons would, in her judgment, be an inducement sufficiently powerful to cause Jacob to select her society instead of that of her barren sister. And she called his name Zebulani.e. Dwelling; from zabal, to dwell with, with a play upon the word זָבַל, to hire, which, commencing with the same letter, was regarded as similar in sound to זָבַד, the ד and the ל being sometimes interchangeable (Keil, Kalisch).

Genesis 30:21

And afterwards she bare a daughter, and called her name Dinah—i.e. Judgment. Dinah (the female Dan) may not have been Jacob’s only daughter (vide Genesis 37:35Genesis 46:7). Her name is here recorded probably because of the incident in her history afterwards related (Genesis 34:1).

Zebulan = זְבוּלוּן Zᵉbûwlûwn, zeb-oo-loon’; or זְבֻלוּן Zᵉbulûwn; or זְבוּלֻן Zᵉbûwlun; from H2082; habitation; Zebulon, a son of Jacob; also his territory and tribe:—Zebulun.

More on Zebulan from Wiki:

Zebulun (Hebrew: זְבֻלוּן/זְבוּלֻן/זְבוּלוּן‎, Modern: ZəvūlūnTiberian: Zeḇūlūn; also ZebulonZabulon, or Zaboules[2]) was, according to the Books of Genesis and Numbers,[1][3] the sixth and last son of Jacob and Leah, and the founder of the Israelite Tribe of Zebulun. Some biblical scholars believe this to be an eponymous metaphor providing an aetiology of the connectedness of the tribe to others in the Israelite confederation.[4][verification needed] With Leah as a matriarchbiblical scholars believe the tribe to have been regarded by the text’s authors as a part of the original Israelite confederation.[5]

The Tomb of Zebulun is located in SidonLebanon. In the past, towards the end of Iyyar, Jews from the most distant parts of the land of Israel would make a pilgrimage to this tomb.

The name is derived from the Northwest Semitic root zbl, common in 2nd millennium BCE Ugaritic texts as an epithet (title) of the god Baal, as well as in Phoenician and (frequently) in Biblical Hebrew in personal names.[6]

The text of the Torah gives two different etymologies for the name Zebulun, which textual scholars attribute to different sources – one to the Jahwist and the other to the Elohist;[7] the first being that it derives from zebed, the word for gift, in reference to Leah’s view that her gaining of six sons was a gift from God; the second being that it derives from yizbeleni, meaning honour, in reference to Leah’s hope that Jacob would give her honour now that she had given birth to six sons. In Deuteronomy, however an allusion is made to a third potential etymology[8] – that it may be connected with zibhe, literally meaning sacrifice, in reference to commercial activities of the tribe of Zebulun[9] – a commercial agreement made at Mount Tabor between the tribe of Zebulun and a group of non-Israelites was referred to as zibhe-tzedek, literally meaning sacrifice to justice or sacrifice to Tzedek.[9]

Some believe the depopulated village of Sabalan in the District of Safad was named after Zebulun

We even learn – finally – of a daughter born to Jacob. Her name is Dinah.

Dinah = דִּינָה Dîynâh, dee-naw’; feminine of H1779; justice; Dinah, the daughter of Jacob:—Dinah.

We will hear more from Dinah later in the text. However, here is what her Wiki entries says:

In the Book of GenesisDinah (/ˈdiːnə/Hebrew: דִּינָה‎, Modern: DīnaTiberian: Dīnā, “judged; vindicated”) was the daughter of Jacob, one of the patriarchs of the Israelites, and Leah, his first wife. The episode of her violation by Shechem, son of a Canaanite or Hivite prince, and the subsequent vengeance of her brothers Simeon and Levi, commonly referred to as the rape of Dinah, is told in Genesis 34.

Dinah is first mentioned in Genesis 30:21 as the daughter of Leah and Jacob, born to Leah after she bore six sons to Jacob. In Genesis 34, Dinah went out to visit the women of Shechem, where her people had made camp and where her father Jacob had purchased the land where he had pitched his tent. Shechem (the son of Hamor, the prince of the land) then took her and had sex with her, but how this text is to be exactly translated and understood is the subject of scholarly controversy.[2]

Midrashic literature contains a series of proposed explanations of the Bible by rabbis. It provides further hypotheses of the story of Dinah, suggesting answers to questions such as her offspring: Osnat a daughter[12] from Shechem, and links to later incidents and characters.

One midrash states that Dinah was conceived as a male in Leah’s womb but miraculously changed to a female, lest the maid-servants (Bilhah and Zilpah) be associated with more of the Israelite tribes than Rachel. (Berakhot 60a)

Another midrash implicates Jacob in Dinah’s misfortune: when he went to meet Esau, he locked Dinah in a box, for fear that Esau would wish to marry her,[13] but God rebuked him in these words: “If thou hadst married off thy daughter in time she would not have been tempted to sin, and might, moreover, have exerted a beneficial influence upon her husband” (Gen. R. lxxx.). Her brother Simeon promised to find a husband for her, but she did not wish to leave Shechem, fearing that, after her disgrace, no one would take her to wife (Gen. R. l.c.).[13] However, she was later married to Job (Bava Batra 15b; Gen. R. l.c.).[13] When she died, Simeon buried her in the land of Canaan. She is therefore referred to as “the Canaanitish woman” (Gen. 46:10).[13] Joseph’s wife Asenath (ib.) was her daughter by Shechem (Gen. R. l.c.).[13][14][15]

Early Christian commentators such as Jerome likewise assign some of the responsibility to Dinah, in venturing out to visit the women of Shechem. This story was used to demonstrate the danger to women in the public sphere as contrasted with the relative security of remaining in private.[16]

As a result of all of the above, the mandrakes that Rachel purchased, perhaps to help with her sterility, has an immediate aftermath of Leah winning the affection of Jacob and having three more children.