Welcome back to my study/review of Genesis. If you missed the previous parts of this study, you can find them HERE.
Genesis 31: 43-50
43Then Laban answered and said to Jacob, “The daughters are my daughters, the children are my children, the flocks are my flocks, and all that you see is mine. But what can I do this day for these my daughters or for their children whom they have borne? 44Come now, let us make a covenant, you and I. And let it be a witness between you and me.” 45So Jacob took a stone and set it up as a pillar. 46And Jacob said to his kinsmen, “Gather stones.” And they took stones and made a heap, and they ate there by the heap. 47Laban called it Jegar-sahadutha, but Jacob called it Galeed. 48Laban said, “This heap is a witness between you and me today.” Therefore he named it Galeed, 49and Mizpah, for he said, “The LORD watch between you and me, when we are out of one another’s sight. 50If you oppress my daughters, or if you take wives besides my daughters, although no one is with us, see, God is witness between you and me.”
The above section is Laban’s response to a now angry Jacob after he is unable to find his stolen gods among Jacob’s group – because he does not check under Rachel who has hidden them on her camel.
From The Pulpit Commentaries:
And Laban answered and said unto Jacob,—neither receiving Jacob’s torrent of invective with affected meekness (Candlish), nor proving himself to be completely reformed by the angry recriminations of his “callous and hardened son-in-law (Kalisch); but perhaps simply owning the truth of Jacob’s wants, and recognizing that he had no just ground of complaint (Calvin), as well as touched in his paternal affections by the sight of his daughters, from whom he felt that he was about to part for ever. These daughters—literally, the daughters (there)—are my daughters, and these (literally, the) children are my children, and these (literally, the) cattle are my cattle; and all that thou seest is mine. Not as reminding Jacob that he had still a legal claim to his (Jacob’s) wives and possessions (Candlish), or at least possessions (Kalisch), though prepared to waive it, but rather as acknowledging that in doing injury to Jacob he would only be proceeding against his own flesh and blood (Calvin, Rosenmüller, Gerlach, Alford). And what can I do this day unto these my daughters,—literally, and as for (or to) my daughters, what can I do to these this day? The LXX; connecting “and to my daughters” with what precedes, reads, καὶ πάντα ὅσα σὺ ὁρᾷς ἐμά ἐσι καὶ τῶν θυγατέρων μου—or unto their children which they have born?—i.e. why should I do anything unto them An ego in viscera mea saervirem (Calvin). Now therefore literally, and now, νῦν ο}un (LXX.)—come thou,—לְכָה, imperf; of יָלַךְ—age, go to, come now (cf. Genesis 19:32)—let us make a covenant,—literally, let us cut a covenant, an expression which, according to partitionists (Tuch, Stahelin, Delitzsch, et alii), is not used by the Elohist until after Exodus 14:8; and yet by all such authorities the present verse is assigned to the Elohist (cf. Keil’s ‘Introduction,’ part 1. § 2; div. 1. § 27)—I and thou; and let it be for a witness between me and thee.
Ellicott’s Bible Commentary expresses agreement that Laban’s reply is intended to bring tensions back down by pointing out that all that Jacob has comes from himself, originally, and therefore he (Laban) would have no reason to bring injuries to those things.
(43) Laban answered . . . —Laban does not attempt any reply to Jacob’s angry invectives, but answers affectionately. Why should he wish to injure Jacob, and send him away empty? All that he had was still Laban’s in the best of senses; for were not Rachel and Leah his daughters? And were not their children his grandsons? How was it possible that he could wish to rob them? He proposes, therefore, that they should make a covenant, by which Jacob should bind himself to deal kindly with his daughters, and to take no other wife; while he promises for himself that he would do Jacob no wrong. Jacob therefore sets up a large stone, as a pillar and memorial; and Laban subsequently does the same; while, probably between the two hills on which they had severally encamped (Genesis 31:25), they collect a large mass of other stones, on which they feast together, in token of friendship (Genesis 26:30).
Starting in verse 45, Jacob undertakes building a pillar to establish the covenant. Here are some key words from this section:
covenant: בְּרִית bᵉrîyth, ber-eeth’; from H1262 (in the sense of cutting [like H1254]); a compact (because made by passing between pieces of flesh):—confederacy, (con-) feder(-ate), covenant, league.
pillar: מַצֵּבָהmatstsêbâh, mats-tsay-baw’; feminine (causatively) participle of H5324; something stationed, i.e. a column or (memorial stone); by analogy, an idol:—garrison, (standing) image, pillar.
TheTorah.com provides an article by Dr. Rabbi Zev Farber titled Laban and Jacob’s Covenant at Gal-ed: How ancient scribes dealt with a confusing story — a textual critical analysis and I will include some excerpts from it below. It focuses on some textual differences between translations – the Masoretic Text and the Septuagint. The article is a good reminder that translation debates are relevant to textual understanding.
The Septuagint versus the Masoretic Text
Looking at the way this account is told in the Septuagint (LXX) and in the Masoretic Text (MT), we can see that this account was already confusing to the ancient scribes. Below is a table comparing the verses; verses appearing in one text but not the other are marked in bold, while cases of variation are marked in italics.
|43 Then Laban spoke up and said to Jacob, “The daughters are my daughters, the children are my children, and the flocks are my flocks; all that you see is mine. Yet what can I do now about my daughters or the children they have borne?||43 Then Laban spoke up and said to Jacob, “The daughters are my daughters, the children are my children, and the flocks are my flocks; all that you see is mine. Yet what can I do now about my daughters or the children they have borne?||43 Identical in both versions.|
|44 Come, then, let us make a pact, you and I, that there may be a witness between you and me.”||44 Come, then, let us make a pact, you and I, that there may be a witness between you and me.” He said to him: “Behold, there is no man among us. See, God is witness between you and me.”||44 In the LXX, one man (probably Laban) offers the other an oath formula, identical to the one offered by Laban in v. 50 of the MT.|
|45 Thereupon Jacob took a stone and set it up as a pillar.||45 Thereupon Jacob took a stone and set it up as a pillar.||45 Identical in both versions.|
|46 And Jacob said to his kinsmen, “Gather stones.” So they took stones and made a mound; and they partook of a meal there by the mound.||46 And Jacob said to his kinsmen, “Gather stones.” So they took stones and made a mound; and they partook of a meal there by the mound. And Laban said to him: “This mound is a witness between you and me this day.”||46 The LXX has an extra oath from Laban about the mound being a witness. The MT has a version of this in verse 51.|
|47 Laban named it Yegar-Sahadutha, but Jacob named it Gal-ed.||47 Laban named it Yegar-Sahadutha, but Jacob named it Gal-ed.||47 Identical in both versions.|
|48 And Laban said, “This mound is a witness between you and me this day.” That is why it was named Gal-ed;||48 And Laban said to Jacob, “Behold, this mound and this pillar which I have set up between you and me, this mound is a witness and this pillar is a witness.” That is why it was named Gal-ed;||48 LXX adds the word “behold”. LXX adds the pillar as a witness into the oath formula twice. LXX refers to the mound as witness twice, MT only once.|
|49 and [it was called] Mizpah, because he said, “May YHWH watch between you and me, when we are out of sight of each other.||49 and [it was called] Mizpah, because he said, “May God watch between you and me, when we are out of sight of each other.||49 The MT uses the name YHWH; the LXX uses the name E-lohim.|
|50 If you ill-treat my daughters or take other wives besides my daughters—there is no man among us,see, God is witness between you and me.”||50 If you ill-treat my daughters or take other wives besides my daughters—see, there is no man among us,||50 In the LXX, the word “see” appears before the phrase, “there is no man,” but in the MT it appears before the phrase, “God is witness.” The LXX does not have the phrase about God as witness here, though it uses this phrase in verse 44.|
|51 And Laban said to Jacob, “Here is this mound and here the pillar which I have set up between you and me:||51||51 This verse does not appear at all in the LXX. But a version of it does appear in verse 46.|
|52 this mound shall be witness and this pillar shall be witness that I am not to cross to you past this mound, and that you are not to cross to me past this mound and this pillar, with hostile intent.||52 that I am not to cross to you, and that you are not to cross to me past this mound and this pillar, with hostile intent.||52 The LXX does not have the opening phrase about the mound and pillar as witnesses, though they do appear in the LXX’s longer version of v. 48. The phrase “past this mound” appears twice in the MT but only once in the LXX.|
|53 May the god(s) of Abraham and the god(s) of Nahor”—the gods of their fathers—“judge between us.” And Jacob swore by the Fear of his father Isaac.||May the god(s) of Abraham and the god(s) of Nahor judge between us.” And Jacob swore by the Fear of his father Isaac.||53 The gloss explaining the identity of the gods does not appear in the LXX.|
We can return to the text with The Pulpit Commentaries at verse 45:
And Jacob took a stone, and set it up for a pillar—or Matzebah, as a memorial or witness of the covenant about to be formed (Genesis 31:52); a different transaction from the piling of the stone-heap next referred to (of. Genesis 28:18; Joshua 14:1-6.15.27).
And Jacob said unto his brethren,—Laban’s kinsmen and his own (vide Genesis 31:37)—Gather stones; and they took stones, and made an heap:—Gal, from Galal, to roll, to move in a circle, probably signified a circular cairn, to be used not as a seat (Gerlach), but as an altar (Genesis 31:54), a witness (Genesis 31:48), and a table (Genesis 31:54), since it is added—and they did eat there—not immediately (Lange), but afterwards, on the conclusion of the covenant (Genesis 31:54)—upon the heap.
The commentary notes that the piling of stones into a heap is a formulaic practice in establishing a covenant, something we see elsewhere in Genesis and in the Old Testament.
Ellicott comments on the name of the pillar given in verse 47:
(47) Jegar-sahadutha.—These are two Syriac words of the same meaning as Gal-’eed, Heap of Witness. A Syriac (or Aramaic) dialect was most probably the ordinary language of the people in Mesopotamia, but it seems plain that Laban and his family also spoke Hebrew, not merely from his calling the placo Mizpah, a Hebrew word, but from the names given by his daughters to their children.
The Pulpit Commentaries also comments on this name:
And Laban called it Jegar sahadutha:—A Chaldaic term signifying “Heap of testimony,” βουνὸς τῆς μαρτυρίας (LXX.); tumulum testis (Vulgate)—but Jacob called it Galeed—compounded of Gal and ‘ed and meaning, like the corresponding Aramaic term used’ by Laban, “Heap of witness,” βουνὸς μάρτυς (LXX.); acervum testimonii (Vulgate). “It is scarcely possible to doubt,” says Kalisch, “that an important historical fact,” relating to the primitive language of the patriarchs, “is concealed in this part of the narrative;” but whether that fact was that Aramaic, Syriac, or Chaldee was the mother-tongue of the family of Nahor, while Hebrew was acquired by Abraham in Canaan (Block, Delitzsch, Keil), or that Laban had deviated from the original speech of his ancestors, or that’ Laban and Jacob both used the same language with some growing dialectic differences (Gosman in Lange, Inglis), Laban simply on this occasion giving the heap a name which would be known to the inhabitants of the district (Wordsworth), seems impossible to determine with certainty. The most that ran be reasonably inferred from the term Jegar-sahadutha is that Aramaic was the language of Mesopotamia (Rosenmüller); besides this expression there is no other evidence that Laban and Jacob conversed in different dialects; while it is certain that the word Mizpah, which was probably also spoken by Laban, is not Chaldee or Aramaic but Hebrew.
As the notes imply, these verses are subtly part of a debate among scholars regarding which language was the “Mother Tongue” of this family.
Returning to The Pulpit Commentaries, we can finish this section:
And Laban said, This heap is a witness between me and thee this day. The historian adding—Therefore was the name of it called (originally by Jacob, and afterwards by the Israelites from this transaction) Galeed (vide on Genesis 31:21). The stony character of the regon may have suggested the designation. And Mizpah;—watchtower from Tsaphah, to watch. Mizpah afterwards became the site of a town in the district of Gilead (Judges 10:17; Judges 11:11, Judges 11:19, Judges 11:34); which received its name, as the historian intimates, from the pile of witness erected by Laban and his kinsmen, and was later celebrated as the residence of Jephthah (Judges 11:34) and the seat of the sanctuary (Judges 11:11). Ewald supposes that the mound (Galeed) and the watch tower (Mispah) were different objects, and that the meaning of the (so-called) legend is that, while the former (the mountain) was riled up by Jacob and his people, the latter (now the city and fortress of Mizpah on one of the heights of Gilead) was constructed by Laban and his followers; but the “grotesqusnesa“ of this interpretation of the Hebrew story is its best refutation—for he (i.e. Laban) said, The Lord—Jehovah; a proof that Genesis 31:49, Genesis 31:50 are a Jehovistic interpolation (Tuch, Bleek, Colenso, Kalisch); an indication of their being a subsequent insertion, though not warranting the inference that the entire history is a complication (Keil); a sign that henceforth Laban regarded Jehovah as the representative of his rights (Lange); but probably only a token that Laban, recognizing Jehovah as the only name that would bind the conscience of Jacob (Hengstenberg, Quarry), had for the moment adopted Jacob’s theology (‘Speaker’s Commentary’), but only in self-defense (Wordsworth)—watch between me and thee, when we are absent one from another—literally, a man from his companion. If thou shalt afflict my daughters, or if thou shalt take other wives beside my daughters, no man is with us;—either then they stood apart from Laban’s clan followers (Inglis); or his meaning was that when widely separated there would be no one to judge betwixt them, or perhaps even to observe them (Rosenmüller), but—see, God (Elohim in contrast to man) is witness betwixt me and thee.
Ellicott also comments on the confusion surrounding Laban’s language and religion, in a note on verse 49:
(49) Mizpah.—That is, Watchtower. There is, probably, a play in this name upon the pillar which Laban proceeds to set up, and which in Hebrew is Mazebah. In the reason given for the name Labau calls Jacob’s God Jehovah, an appellation which he must have learned from Jacob. and which proves not merely that he had some knowledge of Hebrew but that he and Jacob had talked together upon religious subjects, and that he was not a mere idolater, though he did call the teraphim his gods.
Though Laban’s family is demonstrably idolatrous, it would make some sense of the determination by Abraham’s family to marry into Laban’s family, if Laban’s family is at least familiar with Abraham’s God. These verses imply that at a minimum this familiarity has been learned.