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«Had God Not Been on My Side»

An Examination of the Narrative Technique of the Story of Jacob and Laban Genesis, 29,1 - 32,2


Stephen K. Sherwood

Framed by the incidents at Bethel (Gen 28), and at Penuel (Gen 32), the story of Jacob in Haran stands at the center of a chiastically arranged cycle at whose core lies the genesis or birth of the «Sons of Israel». Jacob travels to the land of the patriarchal past (qedem), where he both recapitulates that history and anticipates future events of the Exodus. The births of the twelve patriarchs take place in a context of competition between Jacob's wives, Rachel and Leah, which is framed, in turn by contention between Jacob and Laban. This work concentrates on an in-depth analysis of Genesis 29-31 from the viewpoint of narratology. The puzzles that these narratives present to the reader are looked at from a literary perspective: why doesn't the narrator identify Jacob's interlocutors at the well (29,2-4)? Why is Laban's speech so often ambiguous? What is the significance of the exchange of the mandrakes for a night with Jacob (30,16)? What is the meaning of the confusing changes in color terms in the story of Jacob's sheep-breeding activity? The choices the narrator has made are sometimes illuminated by contrasting them with other re-presentations to be found in Josephus, the pseudepigrapha or the midrash. Much attention is given to the narrator's choice of words, their nuances and implications.
Contents: Episode Five 31,1-32,2 - Jacob Steals Away - Hebrew Text - Translation - Unity - Text - Summary - Plot - Narrative Structure - Moments - Point of View - Characterization - Close Reading - Semantic Overview.