Posted by: mattcolvin | August 21, 2014

Brothers Serve for Nought


We’re reading Genesis in family worship right now [note: Oct. 6, 2006], so I was especially excited to have my understanding of Gen. 29:15 corrected and expanded by Daube:

“Laban receives Jacob with the words “Surely thou art my bone and flesh,” a recognition of ties in kinship. Upon this, Jacob “dwelt with him for a month.” “To dwell together,” yashabh yachadh, technical of the remaining together of coheirs as a united family; “to dwell with somebody,” yashabh ‘im, presumably implies a measure of inequality — Jacob is a full member of the family, but Laban is still its head. At the end of the month, however, something curious happens. Laban makes a declaration commonly translated thus: “Because thou art my brother, shouldest thou therefore serve me for nought?” But this rendering is objectionable both from the philological point of view and considering the character of Laban, anything but openhanded. The correct rendering is: “Art thou my brother, and shouldest thou serve me for nought?”, meaning, “Thou art not my brother and shouldest therefore not serve me for nought.” Laban, that is, repudiates the relationship; and Jacob, instead of serving for nothing as any junior member of a family has to, undertakes service for a reward — degraded. (Of service within a family, the parable of the prodigal son offers an illustration, the elder son saying to his father: “Lo, these many years do I serve thee.”)…

“The similarity to the exodus story is striking: the Israelites for a while resided in Egypt as welcome guests, to be subjugated by an arbitrary decision of their hosts. Later on, it is the hostility of Laban and his sons, caused by the uncanny increase in Jacob’s wealth despite all their precautions, which brings about the ultimate crisis: just as the Egyptians cannot stop their slaves from multiplying and only lose them by their excessive harshness…”

– D. Daube, “The Exodus Pattern in the Bible”, in C. Carmichael, ed. Biblical Law and Literature, Berkeley, 2003

Daube goes on to point out many further similarities, but that’s enough for a teaser.


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