I now know why I am still reading Liora Ravid’s book “HaTanakh Hayah BeEmet” (התנ”ך היה באמת). See my previous posts about her book here and here. She keeps making the most preposterous mistakes and outrageous claims but in order to check that I am in fact correct she is sending me back to the texts and making me think about why she is wrong.
The latest problem is chapter 10. All of it. This chapter explains the chronology of Jacob’s sojourn with his uncle Lavan in Haran. Her thesis goes like this. The text says that Ya’akov worked for seven years fo Rahel, got Leah, worked another seven for Rahel, this time got Rahel. Only then did Leah start giving birth. In the next six years 11 children were born. She has two problems with this. Firstly the ages of the Rahel and Leah where she assumes they were aged 8 and 9 at the start of the story and would therefore have been aged 24 and 25 when they started giving birth – which in those days was very late. Secondly physically fitting so many births into such a short time would be impossible and alternatively if you extend the period of time of the births they get way to old to have children. Therefore she cuts the amount of time that Ya’akov worked for each of them and gets to something more reasonable. She then claims that 7 being a magical important number doesn’t need to be understood literally.
All very good, only her analysis is based on a misreading (did she even read it?) of the text.
The story goes thus. Gen 29:18-22 describe how Ya’akov works seven years for Rahel, verses 23-26 tell of Lavan’s deception by switching Rahel for Leah, Ya’akov’s indignation and Lavan’s mild amusement. Verse 27 then says this:
כז מַלֵּא שְׁבֻעַ זֹאת וְנִתְּנָה לְךָ גַּם-אֶת-זֹאת בַּעֲבֹדָה אֲשֶׁר תַּעֲבֹד עִמָּדִי עוֹד שֶׁבַע-שָׁנִים אֲחֵרוֹת. כח וַיַּעַשׂ יַעֲקֹב כֵּן וַיְמַלֵּא שְׁבֻעַ זֹאת וַיִּתֶּן-לוֹ אֶת-רָחֵל בִּתּוֹ לוֹ לְאִשָּׁה. כט וַיִּתֵּן לָבָן לְרָחֵל בִּתּוֹ אֶת-בִּלְהָה שִׁפְחָתוֹ לָהּ לְשִׁפְחָה. ל וַיָּבֹא גַּם אֶל-רָחֵל וַיֶּאֱהַב גַּם-אֶת-רָחֵל מִלֵּאָה וַיַּעֲבֹד עִמּוֹ עוֹד שֶׁבַע-שָׁנִים אֲחֵרוֹת.
Or in English:
27 Fulfil the week of this one, and we will give you the other also for the work that you do for me for another seven years. 28 And Ya’akov did so, and fulfilled her week; and he (Lavan) gave him (Ya’akov) Rahel his daughter as a wife. 29 And Lavan gave to Rahel his daughter Bilhah his handmaid to be her handmaid. 30 And he (Ya’akov) alsocame to Rahel, and he loved Rahel more than Leah, and served with him another seven years.
Quite clear. After the first seven years he gets Leah, then seven days later Rahel, then he works another seven years.
The next problem is what happens after the end of the 14 years. In Gen 31:41 Ya’akov says “These twenty years have I been in thy house: I served you fourteen years for your two daughters, and six years for your flock and you changed my wages ten times”. That’s OK, only it says in 30:25 that after Yosef was born Ya’akov went to Lavan and requested a wage for continuing to work for him. The implication is that this is where the second seven years ended and the further six started.
What’s the problem? Well the first problem is that Ravid ignores this and assumes that the text is saying that all the children were born in that six years (according to her misunderstanding, he only got Rahel at the end of the 14th year and only then did Leah start giving birth). She says this is impossible.
The other problem is that if we go according to the correct reading we are still only left with seven years for all these children to be born. This is not impossible as the chart on the right shows (click it to enlarge) but not easy. The chart is based on the text giving the order of births as presented. I am assuming here (a very unlikely) 9 months only between births for each mother. I will also assume that there is no necessary connection between birtyhs by different mothers. Thus when Rahel saw that Leah was giving birth and she wasn’t it doesn’t necessarily mean that this was after the birth of Yehudah, only that Dan was born after Yehudah. This is not enitirely necessary as it is possible that the Torah just wants to finish with one story (Leah’s births) before it starts then next, but let’s leave it as it is. In any case we need a large gap between Yehudah and Yissakhar as “Leah saw she ahd stopped giving birth” before she gave Zilpah to her husband and she had two children before Yissakhar.
In any case, the whole scenario is still rather tenuous.
The key to the door that will give us our way out would be the statement by Ya’akov that I quoted above that Lavan switched his wages ten times. The text does not list these ten times, so maybe the conversation between Ya’akov and Lavan starting at 30:25 was not necessarily at the fourteenth year.
What I am suggesting is that during his long stay in Haran, Ya’akov had become one of Lavan’s household and that after completing his 14 years, he was working for the family not for any specific wage. When he wants to leave he comes to request a severance grant. This is in my opinion supported by the text (Gen 30:25-35):
כה וַיְהִי כַּאֲשֶׁר יָלְדָה רָחֵל אֶת-יוֹסֵף וַיֹּאמֶר יַעֲקֹב אֶל-לָבָן שַׁלְּחֵנִי וְאֵלְכָה אֶל-מְקוֹמִי וּלְאַרְצִי. כו תְּנָה אֶת-נָשַׁי וְאֶת-יְלָדַי אֲשֶׁר עָבַדְתִּי אֹתְךָ בָּהֵן וְאֵלֵכָה כִּי אַתָּה יָדַעְתָּ אֶת-עֲבֹדָתִי אֲשֶׁר עֲבַדְתִּיךָ. כז וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלָיו לָבָן אִם-נָא מָצָאתִי חֵן בְּעֵינֶיךָ נִחַשְׁתִּי וַיְבָרְכֵנִי יְהוָה בִּגְלָלֶךָ. כח וַיֹּאמַר נָקְבָה שְׂכָרְךָ עָלַי וְאֶתֵּנָה. כט וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלָיו אַתָּה יָדַעְתָּ אֵת אֲשֶׁר עֲבַדְתִּיךָ וְאֵת אֲשֶׁר-הָיָה מִקְנְךָ אִתִּי. ל כִּי מְעַט אֲשֶׁר-הָיָה לְךָ לְפָנַי וַיִּפְרֹץ לָרֹב וַיְבָרֶךְ יְהוָה אֹתְךָ לְרַגְלִי וְעַתָּה מָתַי אֶעֱשֶׂה גַם-אָנֹכִי לְבֵיתִי. לאוַיֹּאמֶר מָה אֶתֶּן-לָךְ וַיֹּאמֶר יַעֲקֹב לֹא-תִתֶּן-לִי מְאוּמָה אִם-תַּעֲשֶׂה-לִּי הַדָּבָר הַזֶּה אָשׁוּבָה אֶרְעֶה צֹאנְךָ אֶשְׁמֹר. לב אֶעֱבֹר בְּכָל-צֹאנְךָ הַיּוֹם הָסֵר מִשָּׁם כָּל-שֶׂה נָקֹד וְטָלוּא וְכָל-שֶׂה-חוּם בַּכְּשָׂבִים וְטָלוּא וְנָקֹד בָּעִזִּים וְהָיָה שְׂכָרִי.
Nowhere is it suggested that he will work for six years, but rather that he will get a wage for work already done. Ya’akov then spends a season or two “engineering” spotted sheep and then gets out. This assumption will allow us to extend the period of time where the children are being born.
The new chart on the right shows this new timeline. Here I am asuming 1.5 years between births. I am also assuming that Leah seeing she wasn’t giving birth means she waited a year before giving Zilpah. The only liberty I am taking is to disregard the order that Dinah was born in. My assumption is that it is not important to the teller only that she was Leah’s last child, not that she was necessarily born before Yosef. If we insist on her being born before Yosef, then we can do that as well.
In my new timeline Ya’akov has two years to do his spotted sheep stuff and amass his herd. If we make the births closer then we can give him more time for that, but let’s leave it like that.
Anyway in conclusion what I can say is that the chronology here is a bit tight whichever way you go. Tzarikh Iyun as they say. I can also say that I have confirmed once more that Liora Ravid doesn’t know her Tanakh.