Rachel and Jacob, the world they lived in

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Young 2nd century woman, from a Fayum coffin portrait

Bible Women's Lives 
Choosing a husband, marrying him

The Eye of Truth: close-up of a man's eye

Bible People: Jacob
Lies, lies, lies - the story of Rachel's husband Jacob

Striped robe using natural dyes, embroidered front piece

Clothes and houses 
Clothes they wore, houses they lived in

Love is in the air: heart-shaped cloud in a blue sky 

Bible People: Rachel
Love at first sight: a shorter version of Rachel's story

Figurines excavated at Ur, original home of Abraham and Sarah; the terephim may have looked something like this

Bible Archaeology:
Ancient Religions

The Terephim, and ancient religious beliefs and practices


 

 

 


Movies

'The Scarlet Pimpernel' with Merle Oberon and Leslie Howard

 Is it ever alright to lie to someone for their own good? 

Bible Study Activities has a list of films that explore this question.

 


Looking for a mediation on Rachel's story? 
Try  WHY, GOD?

Jacob and Rachel, from the Sistine Chapel painting by Michelangelo

 


 

 


 

 

 

 

 

Rachel - the world she lived in

Jacob loved Rachel the minute he saw her, and was determined to marry her. But love does not pay the bills, even in ancient Israel, and the practicalities had to be attended to. 

The Bride Price/Dowry

A bride expected to get a present from her father when she married, either a sum of money or its its equivalent in goods – cattle, land, woven goods, work, etc.

  • Jacob paid for Leah (so he thought) with seven years work (Genesis 29:15-30).

  • David paid for King Saul’s daughter Michal with the grisly gift of one hundred Philistine foreskins from – probably meaning their death, since they would not willingly have given up this part of their body (1 Samuel 18:25-27).

  • Othniel conquered a town as payment for Achsah (Judges 1:11-15).

Bracelets from 1500-1800BC, about the time of Rachel's storyThe amount of money/goods was geared to the status and wealth of the girl’s family, and so there was family pride involved in the transaction. It was seen as compensation to the family for the loss of the girl, as well as the means of providing her with certain necessities.

The Dowry of Rachel and Leah  

The two women were deeply angry that their father had ignored this practice and robbed them of what was their rightful inheritance: Is there any portion or inheritance left to us in our father’s house? Are we not regarded by him as foreigners? For he has sold us, and he has been using up the money given for us. All this property belongs to us and our children. (Genesis 31:14-16)

They had good reason to be resentful: the purpose of the bride price was to insure the woman against being left unsupported if she was widowed. She would never be left destitute. It also meant that women as well as men received an inheritance from family wealth.Middle Eastern woman sifting grain

The World of Women

It was probably in this period that women enjoyed greatest freedom and prestige. The stories in Genesis and Exodus showed them as independent and strong, smart and tough. They displayed leadership and initiative, and almost always got their way when they wanted something. 

This was probably because women were necessary for the survival of the tribe, and they knew it. They did a wide range of tasks, without which the clan or family simply could not have managed - see the second section of Archaeology: Daily Work for the range of these tasks. 
They moved freely in society, and were not confined within the home. The Bible stories show that they spoke and acted confidently.

Ancient clay figurines from Ur, the original home of Sarah and Abraham; these date from 5,000-4,000BC Their contribution to the culture of the time was significant. The stories as we have them in the Bible were edited much later by male priests, but there are hints that women had a thriving cultural tradition of their own - most of which has been lost because it was never written down, as men's stories were.  These stories dealt with women who were famous at the time, with families, children, food supplies, security/safety and home-places. Some scholars suggest that many of the stories of Genesis were originally women’s stories, preserved by women in the clan and later written down by the male scribes.

As well, women played an active role in religious matters. The concept of monotheism was just beginning to develop, but many women  probably worshipped a fertility goddess, the Great Mother, source of plant, animal and human life. Rachel's story shows that monotheism had not completely ousted worship of the old gods/goddesses of the hearth and the land.  The terephim she stole may have been something like the figurines in the photograph above right.

Women and the Law

BIBLE WOMEN: RACHEL: Stele of Hammurabi. Steles like this were placed in a public place so that anyone could have access to the lawsThe laws of Hammurabi, a famous law-maker and king of Babylonia, provide insights into the lives of women in this period. There were laws to

  • protect the rights of women in marriage

  • protect women against rape

  • define the punishment for adultery

  • define the just treatment of women who were slaves

  • regulate the behaviour of sacred women who served in the temples

  • lay down conditions for divorce, etc.

 

 

For more information on the lives of Bible women, see 

Family, work and religion: the tribe, the family, slaves, women's tasks, beliefs

Milestones in a woman's life: Puberty, menstruation, marriage, childbirth, death, burials

Clothing and housing : ancient fabric, weaving, different styles for rich and poor

 

Nomadic tents similar to the ones Rachel's tribe would have used

Interior of the front section of a tent used by nomadic herders

Read about more fascinating women from the Old and New Testaments

 

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Copyright 2006 Elizabeth Fletcher