14 January 2010

Jan 14

Reference links:
For the record, I love having a Python script which generates the daily reading links for me.

Old Testament

Rachel agonizes over her inability to have children. To overcome her inability, she gives her maid Bilhah to Jacob. Bilhah has two sons, Dan and Naphtali. When Leah realizes she is no longer having children, she gives her maid, Zilpah, to Jacob. Zilpah gives birth to Gad and Asher. I know the culture was different and children were important, but, as usual, I wonder how voluntarily these wives gave their servants over to their husband and how the servants felt about it.

During a harvest, one of Leah's sons finds mandrake roots and gives them to his mother. Rachel wants them, and Leah agrees to exchange them for a chance to sleep with Jacob that night. Wikipedia on Mandrakes:
Mandrake is the common name for members of the plant genus Mandragora belonging to the nightshades family (Solanaceae). Because mandrake contains deliriant hallucinogenic tropane alkaloids such as hyoscyamine and the roots sometimes contain bifurcations causing them to resemble human figures, their roots have long been used in magic rituals
I do not know if Rachel wanted the drugs or wanted them for a magic ritual, but it was surely not a perfectly innocent desire. Contrary to semi-popular belief, the text does not imply Rachel used the mandrakes to cause her pregnancy. Rachel's pregnancy occurred years later after Leah had had two more sons, Issachar and Zubulun, and a daughter, Dinah (bringing the total to ten sons, one daughter). After Leah finishes having children, God answer's Rachel's prayers and she gives birth to her first and Jacob's eleventh son, Joseph.

In today's narrative, Jacob starts tiring of life as Laban's servant. Laban offers Jacob his wages, and Laban agrees to give Jacob all of the speckled, spotted, striped, or black sheep and goats. Before Jacob can separate them, Laban pulls a cheap trick and sends the marked animals to his sons.

Jacob prospers anyway; the number of marked animals grows. The reading gives two explanations for this and it is unclear whether we are supposed to believe both of them or just one of them.

Explanation one: Jacob practiced sympathetic magic.  He peeled striped of barks off branches making them stripped and put them in the water so that
when [the flocks] mated in front of the white-streaked branches, they gave birth to young that were streaked, speckled, and spotted.
Explanation 2: Jacob tells Rachel and Leah that an angel told him in a dream,
Look up, and you will see that only the streaked, speckled, and spotted males are mating with the females of you flock.
The second explanation sounds more plausible given modern knowledge of genetics and reproduction. But it is described as a dream while the first is described as what happens. I will give the benefit of the doubt and guess that the story teller wants us to think that Jacob thought his magic was effective and later found out that it was a combination of God and selective breeding that did it.

New Testament

Today we meet the full slate of twelve apostles. The apostles were sent out to preach to the people of Israel (and only the people of Israel). They were to leave behind money, extra clothing, even walking sticks, but Jesus encouraged them to accept hospitality. Jesus also tells his disciples
Whenever you enter a city or village, search for a worthy person and stay in his home until you leave town. When you enter the home, give it your blessing. If it turns out to be a worthy home, let your blessing stand; if it is not, take back the blessing.
I am now confused about blessings. In our readings two days ago, Isaac accidently blesses Jacob instead of Esau. When Esau asks to be blessed too, Isaac says that Jacob has taken away Esau's blessing, implying that Isaac cannot take the blessing back. However, today we see Jesus saying that his disciples can take blessings back. How confusing.

Psalms and Proverbs

Same old, same old in today's reading from the Psalms. Today's Proverbs reading is pretty good though. A lot of Proverbs is good if you ignore the bits about God being the only source of wisdom and encouraging child beating and the like. But back to today's good stuff
Joyful is the person who finds wisdom,
the one who gains understanding.
For wisdom is more profitable than silver,
and her wages are better than gold.
Wisdom is more precious than rubies;
nothing you desire can compare with her.