Some may disagree with my contention that marriage in the Ancient Near East (ANE) had nothing to do with romantic love. There are lots of love stories in the Bible, they argue. What about Ruth and Boaz? What about Esther and King Xerxes? What about Jacob and Rachel?
Warning: These aren’t your momma’s Bible stories. If you’re sensitive to blunt honesty, unappreciative of snark, or want to keep on believing that the Bible is a nice G-rated children’s book, for the love of God, RUN AWAY NOW. You’ve been warned.
Ruth needed someone to save her beloved mother-in-law’s line and rescue the two of them from poverty, so the women cooked up a scheme to seduce a well-off older man who still hadn’t married for whatever reason (ahem, workaholic, ahem). Alex, I’d like gold-diggers and cradle-robbers for 200, please. Note that the reason he noticed Ruth at all was because she was such a gosh darn hard worker, better than some of his paid employees. But, since he wouldn’t do anything about it, Ruth (under her mother-in-law’s instruction) put on a negligee and some sexy perfume, paid him visit late in the night after he had passed out drunk, and
went down on him “uncovered his feet” while he slept. Now, we can’t know for sure whether or not they had intercourse that night (though I’ve found that’s how Jews interpret it), she sure isn’t the model for feminine purity and modesty that we make her out to be today.
After Vashti was deposed (for refusing to be womanized by prancing around naked for all the drunk men of Persia to gawk at—why we don’t give her more praise is beyond me), Xerxes had Persia’s finest scour the kingdom for sexy virgins to take from their families like tax money and add to his harem. He then had them brought to him (after a year of exhaustive beautification processes) so he could force them into a one night stand with him and then decide which one to make his queen. How the hell does a sweet little Jewish virgin girl (who was supposedly a descendent of Rachel, by the way) impress a foreign king who has access to all of the exotic tail he could ever want? I don’t know, but I’m pretty sure she didn’t become queen by exercising her godly feminine purity to make him fall in love with her in one night.
Jacob fled from home after being a big thieving jerk to his older brother, who then decided he wanted him dead. I really don’t understand why anyone likes Jacob. He’s a manipulative, selfish, conniving, back-stabbing momma’s boy. How come he gets to be the hero? Oh, right, because whoever wrote Genesis just loves irony—ahem, I mean, because it shows that God repurposes misfits for use in his holy plans. Anyway, he ends up running into his cousin, Rachel, as she’s shepherding her father’s herds, and he thinks, “Yay! Relatives who don’t want me dead! I’m saved!” So, he moves in with them and goes to work for his uncle, Laban. One day, Laban says to Jacob that he should get paid for all of his hard work, and Jacob says he’ll stay on for seven more years in exchange for Rachel, the youngest of Laban’s two daughters. Why? Because he loved her, of course! That’s what the Bible says… in English.
Traditionally, the oldest daughters get married off first, but Rachel’s older sister Leah had a “weak appearance” (often mistranslated into “weak eyes”). Rachel had wide hips for bearing children and big breasts to nurse them, plus she was a hard worker and had a pretty face to boot, but Leah looked like she would be too weak for either job. What ANE man wants that? Only one that wants his name going extinct faster than a mammoth, and that was not Jacob—especially after all of that hard work he put into stealing the family birthright. He was in the market for a strong woman who could pull her weight in the home and give him more strapping sons than he could count. Ironically, Laban pulled a fast one on the master conspirator himself to get seven more years of labor out of him… and it worked. Jacob ended up married to both sisters (Leah first, then Rachel—note that neither of the women had any say in these proceedings), but in another stroke of irony it was Leah who had more kids and Rachel who struggled to compete at all with her surprisingly fertile sister (and she also ended up dying in labor). Again with the irony, mister writer!
In short, Jacob’s “love” for Rachel could be better understood as his preference for her because of her hot… assets.
But, wait! There might be one actual love story within canonized scripture. Think, Carly, think…
This post is part of a Marriage and Sexuality series.