Questions About Jacob and his Family
by Marcus H. Martins, Ph.D.

In Genesis chapter 30 we read about Jacob's marriage to Laban's daughters. Jacob labored was deceived and had Leah to be his wife. Then I read something I don't understand: Laban, her father, tells Jacob: "Fulfill her week, and we will give thee this also..." What custom or what meaning does this have, "fulfill her week..."?

The account continues on with Leah being blessed and Rachel in a way being cursed, remaining barren - was there something behind it or just the fact that Leah was hated? And why was it later that He then "remembered Rachel..., and opened her womb..."?

Then, in verse 14 we read an interesting little situation where apparently Reuben found some mandrakes (small poisonous plant, the root of which "was thought to have magical powers because of the fancied resemblance to the human shape") in the wheat field. Rachel wants them since she was hoping that magic would let her conceive, and she barters her husband's going in to Leah, so she could have them. Man, girls could be just as scheming back then as they can sometimes nowadays!

The marriage ceremony in that society in those days lasted 7 days.  Laban tricked Jacob into marrying Leah because Jacob was a man who seemed to have the so-called "Midas touch"--everything he did prospered, and Laban was making a fortune having Jacob with him. So, the morning after the trick he proposed that Jacob works an additional 7 years in order to have Rachel, and the wedding could take place at the end of the festivities of the first wedding.

If Rachel had not been barren it is doubtful whether Jacob would have had any children with her. Having children in those days was a badge of honor for women and meant economic prosperity for men (the more children, the more workers in the family farm).

When the time came that many of the children were grown (some of them causing a lot of trouble) the Lord sent one of his pre-ordained patriarchs (certainly one of the "noble and great ones") through Rachel: Joseph. So, this was just a matter of "timing" on the Lord's part, and had nothing to do with "curses" or "punishments," although the Old Testament authors (and later its translators) chose to use words that described their own perspectives or interpretations of those events. Remember that the Bible was not translated by the gift and power of God like the Book of Mormon.

The "Mandrake" scheme you mentioned is part of what one of my colleagues, Brother Satterfield, calls "the baby wars." Rachel was desperate to have a child, and Leah wanted to guarantee a better social position be having the most children. Leah's oldest son, Reuben, tried to ensure that his mother would win. Also notice that those folks were not perfect, and OT writers were honest enough to demonstrate that (I guess the ancients didn't have "idealized" or "romanticized" pageants in those days).

This essay is published as a support for and an extension of classroom discussion and in no way represents an official statement from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or its General Authorities. Dr. Marcus H. Martins assumes full responsibility for the opinions, views, and interpretations contained herein.  For more information contact me at: