Genesis of Eden

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Nancy Jay 1992 Throughout your Generations Forever:
Sacrifice, Religion and Paternity,
University of Chicago Press, Chicago ISBN 0-226-39572-3

Sacrifice, Descent, and the Patriarchs

THIS SOCIOLOGY OF SACRIFICE has focused on ethnographic and historical accounts of traditions that are remote from American experience of organized religion. I want now to look through this same lens at something closer to home: the sacrificial literature of the Hebrew Bible. I shall ask the same questions about relations between sacrifice and family continuity that have been asked of ethnographic sources. I do not propose to untangle Israelite sacrifice historically, but rather to look in detail at relations between sacrifice and descent in the biblical ancestor myths, the stories of the Patriarchs. I shall leave aside the question, dear to biblical scholars, of whether these stories provide historical information about actual society at the time of the Patriarchs.' instead I shall identiy the three major Genesis sources and show how their very different sacrificial interests are consistent with their equally different interests in descent. This leads to a new understanding of the stories. (Readers unfamiliar with the stories of the Patriarchs will find this chapter easier to follow if they consult the genealogy following page and read Genesis 11:24-29:33.) The biblical accounts of sacrifices and rules for sacrificing are the work of different authors, from different historical periods, themselves drawing in separate ancient oral traditions. These authors were noy "objective" historians, nor were they interested in pure description of their own practices (Rogerson 1980: 45-49). What they say-and do not say-about sacrifice is shaped by their own particular interests. More complicated still, all of the various authors have conflicting things to say about sacrifice. it was just these conflicting accounts of sacrifice that allowed the great nineteenth-century biblical scholar Julius Wellhausen to conclude that the first five books of the Bible are not all from the hand of a forgetful and self-contradictory Moses, but are from four different major authors. Wellhausen observed that the author of Deuteronomy (known to scholars as "D") recognizes that sacrifice at local saiictuaries and high places" was once legitimate, but insists on a reform in which sacrifice may be offered only at the temple in Jerusalem. Two other authors know nothing of this centralization, so they must be earlier than D. These two take their names from their different names for the divinity: the Yahwist, "J" (from the German spelling, Jahweh), and the Elohist, "E." A fourth source, the priestly author, "P," takes centralization for granted as eternal tradition. Consequently, although he tells stories of earlier times than D, he must be later. Wellhausen dated J and E in the ninth and eighth centuries, D in the seventh, and P in the fifth century, and most scholars still generally agree, although perhaps making them, especially J, a little earlier. Wellhausen's account of the development of the priesthood followed similar lines: an early stage when there was no priesthood and sacrifice was a family or clan celebration, as in the stories of the Patriarchs; a second stage, at the time of the monarchy, when a Levitic priesthood began to emerge; and finally the post-exilic theocracy, in which the Aaronid priestly descent group ruled the nation and Levites in general were temple servants.3 These authors differ not only in their accounts of the location of sacrifice btit also in the kinds of sacrifice they describe. J and E ignore sin offerings but they db describe the joyful meal before Yahweh, the peace offering, a communion sacrifice. For P expiatory sacrifice is primary and the peace offering has faded away. Wellhausen explained the shift from communion to expiation as, at first, following from centralization itself: as worship became separated from daily life, sacrifices not connected with a meal became more important. (As in most traditions, Israelite communion sacrifice was eaten, but eating expiatory sacrifice was restricted or forbidden.) Wellhausen understood the full development of sin offerings as a consequence of guilt: the Exile and the disasters preceding it created such despair that "the whole of tile past is regarded as one enormous sin" (1885: 279). Although Wellhausen's account of the evolution of Israelite sacrifice has received considerable criticism,l this psychological exl)lanation has been accepte(i for over a hundred years. A sociological explanation is more illuminating. Just as the priestly descent group became more sharply differentiated froni other groups, and especially when the Aaronids became an exclusive ruling group, so Israelite sacrifice became more expiatory. (A similar expiatory development occurred in the sacrifice of the Mass as the Christian priesthood became differentiated from the laity. See chapter 8.) According to P, the ordinary sin offering was almost identical in perfori,naiice to the peace offering. But while the meat of the peace offering was shared among all present, the sin offering could be eaten only by males of the priestly lineage: an expiatory sacrifice for the general population and a communion sacrifice for priests only. The peace offering could join together all participating Israelites, but the sin offering indexed (identified and integrated) only the priestly descent group, sharply differentiating it from the rest of the population. Before the Exile (in the times of the peace offering) when priests were mere royal appointees, it was not nearly as important for them to differentiate their lineage as it was after the Exile when they ruled the country. And of course, i and E, who provide accounts of peace offerings, were relatively unconcerned with purity of priestly descent. The sacrificial interests of the biblical atitliors liave receive(i i-nuch scholarly attention; their interests in descent liave been comparatively ignored. Of all the sources, P is the most concerned with sacrifice and cult; J is the least sacrificial. The prescriptions for how to do sacrifices of various kinds are all Ps work. P is also by far the most concerned with a pure and eternal patritine; J is the least concerned. It is P who repeats the phrase "Through-out your generations for ever" (e.g., Lev. 3:17; 10:9; 17:7; 23:31, 41; 24:3). Not all the genealogies in Genesis are Ps, but all those long lists of "begats" are his. A comparison of Js genealogy in Gen. 4 with that of P in Gen. 5 shows that Js genealogy is not strictly unilineal: it includes named women who conceive and bear children. J begins this way: "Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying 'I have gotten a man with the lielp of the Lord"' (4: 1). Ps account of the first generation goes this way: "When Adam had lived a hundred and thirty years, he begot a son in his own likeness, after his image and named him Seth" (5:3)5 Ps genealogy is perfectly patrilineal. No women are named; wives are not even mentioned as existing. A respected biblical scholar has written:

The term that is most typical of this source-one might call it P's signature-is toledot, etymologically "begettings", and hence also genealogy, line, family tree.... and by extension also story, his tory; ... Ps frequent recourse to ilie term toletiot ... is a correct reflection of the writer's abiding interest ill genealogical detail. There must be no break in the chain of transmission through which God's dispensation has been hande(i down; hence it is es sential to trace the pertinent line all the way back to Crea tion.... Ps constant preoccupation with the purity of the line through which God's purpose has been implemented leads at times to motivations that are not found in the parallel versions. (Speiser 1964: xxiv-xxv)

Israelite priestly office, as described by P and later priestly sources, was always inseparable from pure patrilineal descent.6 After the Exile, issues of descent had a unique urgency, for there was an imniediate problem of deciding who among the retuming exiles was a descendant of Abraham vvith rights in the community. It is typical that the priesthood clung to patrilineal descent as the only way to legitimate this inheritanceEzra 2:59-63 refers to this time: "Those who could not prove their father's house or their descent ... were excluded from the priestof the last part of hood as unclean." In contrast, the prophet author Isaiah, writing just after the Exile, ignored descent and claimed that the true heirs of Abraham were the righteous (isa. 56:1-8). Some biblical scholars, especially Protestants, seem to feel a kind of distaste for Ps obsession with purity and continuity of descent and for his valuing the details of ritual exactness over moral concerns of a wider kind. J, who is everyone's favorite, is considered by some scholars to have been non(or even anti-) sacrificial: "The J author disclosed his dislike for ritual acts of worship by omitting from the traditional [Genesis] stories all accounts of sacrifices" (Pfeiffer, 1947: 173). This view of i as radically anti-sacrificial is exaggerated, but not without grounds.7 The i material was probably written during the time of David and Solomon by a supporter (supporters?) of the early monarchy (Soggin, 1976: 102-3). Unlike priestly political interest in patriliny, no supporter of David could claim continuity of descent as the prerequisite for succession to royal office, since David excluded Saul's sons from succession.

The world that is disclosed in the stories of the Patriarchs (or in any narrative) is not permanently fixed in the text itself, but will vary with the context of meaning, including academic training, that the reader brings to the text (the situatedness of the interpreter). The stories as recounted below are read with reference to relations between sacrifice and descent, and therefore yield an interpretation which differs from that of orthodox biblical scholarship. And if an interpretation is judged by its power to make intelligible that which had been unintelligible, by how miicli it opens to understanding, this interpretation has validity, for it provides a single coherent context of meaning that illuminates more than one issue that is problematic for biblical scholars. (E.g., How can we understand the wife/sister stories? Why is Isaac such a shadowy figtire?-or why was Rebekah's father so niarginal? What is the significance of Isaac's taste for game?-or of Rachel's theft of her father's household gods? And so on.) Biblical scholars consider a number of confusing passages to be scribal errors or additions: Gen. 24:50; 25:19; and especially 49:26a. In the context of meaning presented here, all these passages can be understood to mean exactly what they say. Throughout the stories of the Patriarchs, there is a continuing tensioii between descent froni fathers and descent from mothers, which is treated in consistent an(i in(lividually difl'erent ways by the three authors. P mostly refuses to acknowledge that such a problem exists. He cannot use sacrifice to remedy it because he excludes accounts of sacrifice from his own stories of the Patriarchs: It is not in his interest to legitimate sacrifice witliout priests. E, and especially J, recognize the descent problem, but J is willing to let it be, while E corrects it sacrificially. All accounts of sacrifice in the patriarchal stories are from E and all remedy the descent from mothers (from Sarah, Rebekah, and Rachel) that threatens unifineal descent from fathers. Only J tolerates "bilateral" descent and consequently needs no sacrificial remedies. P and J both exclude sacrifice from their Genesis stories, but for different reasons. J's regular recognition of descent from women presents a real threat to "etemal" patrilineal continuity. As an illustration of how such recognition destroys the continuity of the patriline, consider P's genealogy of Abraham in Gen. I 1. In the tenth ascending generation only the name of Noah is needed for perfect continuity. But had bilateral descent been consistently recognized, for perfect continuity one thousand and twenty-four ancestors would have had to be named in Noah's generation-a task beyond even Ps ability. Some societies protect finilineal continuity by denying one parent's role in procreation. There was, for example, the firmly accepted idea in ancient Greek society (and still current in Western society despite modem embryology) that only the father is the real parent, the mother being just the nurse for the seed (Eumenides 658, in Aeschylus 1926: 335). (Conversely, there are examples in societies stressing descent through mothers of the strongly held idea that only the mother counts in procreation [Cf. Malinowski 1948: 220-311.)g Israelite tradition did not deny descent from women and consequently faced the dilemma: How is a pure and etemal patriline to be maintained if descent from women is not denied? Endogamy appears to be a solution; mamage to a woman of the same patrilineage ensures the offsprings' patrilineage membership even if it is figured through the mother. Close agnatic endogamy (marriage within the patriline) is extremely rare except in Semitic traditions. In a way reminiscent of the Patriarchs, throughout the Arab world families have preferred men to marry their father's brother's daughters.9 The descent line of the Patriarchs continued only through endogamy: Isaac and Jacob (but not ishmael) married endogamously. Joseph married exogamously but his sons were adopted by Jacob, correcting this, and other, irregularities of their descent. Agnatic endogamy does seem to solve the dile?hma of how to maintain unilineal descent from fathers while recognizing descent from mothers. But notice that it also conceals a conflict: it is unclear about which is the "real" parent through whom unilineal descent flows. Some Semitic societies still face similar difficulties. According to the e American anthropologists R. F. Murphy and L. Kasdan, agnatic endo gamy "produces a latent bilateral structure that is the very antithesis of the patrilineal ideology." In Bedouin genealogies, as in Ps, "patrilineal ity is maintained by the suppression of female names-indeed of the s very fact of marriage.... The patrilineality of endogamous descent groups is an untruth that can perdure only through a suppression of t truth" (1967: 13)." In the stories of the Patriarchs there are three superintensive representations of agnatic endogamy, three accounts in which husband and wife are presented, or present themselves, as brother and sister (Abra ham and Sarah twice, Gen 12:10-20 and 20:1-18, J and E; Isaac and Rebekah once, 26:6-1 1, J). Biblical scholars, who are burdened with the requirement that the Patriarchs be respectable, have long wrestled with these embarrassing wife/sister accounts, which appear to portray the Patriarchs as either liars or incestuous. All three accounts tell of a Patriarch in a foreign land who, fearing that he would be killed by those coveting his beautiful wife, claimed she was his sister. The king of the country took her into his harem, was beset with catastrophes, recog nized his error and restored her. E's account states that Sarah was an actual half sister of Abraham, having the same father but a different mother. Such a marriage would be impossible in any regular patrilineal descent system. Unless we reject E's account (thereby making the Patriarchs liars) we must see here a recognition of descent from women so pronounced as to be almost "matrilineal," for if Abraham and Sarah had the same father but different mothers, it is only as their mothers' offspring that their marriage was not incestuous. There is no way P would have told such a story. These accounts (none in P, one in E, two in J) are exactly consistent with the various authors' willingness to recognize ambiguity of descent between fathers and mothers. J even allows uncertainty about Isaac's pate mity: only E says Sarah was untouched by the king (20:4). he archaeological discovery of the Nuzi texts, cuneiform legal doc Liinents from a city in Haran (an area in Mesopotamia which was Abra liam's original homeland and the home of Rebekah, Rachel, and Leah) spurred on biblical scholars' longing to ground the Patriarchs in a real historical society. Some of these texts record a marriage in which the wife was adopted as the husband's sister. Drawing very general concili sions from these texts, SI)eiser believed he had finally solved the mys teries of the wife/sister accounts:

In Hurrian society the bonds of marriage were strongest and most solemn when the wife had simultaneously the juridical status of a sister, regardless of actual blood ties.... The practice was ap parently a reflection of the underlying fratriarclial system, and it gave the adoptive brother greater authority than was granted the husband. (1964: 92)

Speiser believed this was a general practice of upper-class Hurrian society. The "underlying fratriarchal system" on which his explanation depends presupposes "survivals" of an original "matriarchal" system in which brothers, rather than husbands or fathers, would possess what family authority a man might have. In actual matrilineal systems the mother's brother is, of course, the head of the family. Speiser's explanation has been powerfully undermined by Greengus (1975) and others.11 Greengus shows that of thirteen texts concerning Nuzi sister adoption only three also include a marriage, and all involve those at the very bottom of Nuzi society. The adoptive sisters were commonly slaves, and in one case the adoptive brother was given the right to make the woman work as a prostitute. Greengus has no alternative explanation to offer, and although the failure of Nuzi sister adoption to fulfill the respectability requirement for Patriarchal antecedents is a devastating argument against Speiser's theory, no one has yet suggested a better one. According to Cazelles, the Nuzi contracts are still the best background for the wife/sister accounts. "Greengus is far from contradicting Speiser on this point" (1978: 241). Constructing an entire historical society from the impoverished medium of three cuneiform texts is precarious work. It seems more useful to think of the wife/sister accounts as symbolizing genuine social issues rather than as recording actual social practices. Speiser's theory depends for sense upon an "underlying fratriarchal system," that is, an underlying system of matrilineal descent. He did not see that positing such a system endangers patriarchal descent. Imagine a society in which wives are regularly adopted as sisters: the practice can best be understood as a solution to a conflict between patrilineal and matrilineal systems. A man is at the same time the father and the mother's brother of his children. His son is also his nephew and can inherit both patrilineally and matrilineally from his father-uncle. This would solve all kinds of inherlance problems, but concealed within it is still the potential conflict: Whose is the son?-the mother's or the father's? Is the line of descent really through fathers?-or is it through women? A similar conrlict can be identified in the patriarchal narratives. The Patriarchs themselves are represented as figuring (or wanting to figure) descent through fathers, but J and E represent the families of their wives as figuring descent through mothers. (When I use the phrase "mother's son" below, I mean that a son's descent from his mother is recognized to a degree that tyhreatens patriliny)

The patriarchal narratives tell the story of the resolution of this descent conflict, a resolution in which sacrifice plays a crucial role. A reding in thse terms sreveals a steady development of an increasingly tense plot": Will Isaac's loss of control over his descent line destroy the patriarclial line? Will Laban, the mother's brother, triumph and succeed in claiming Jacob's sons as his own? Of course hope for the final resolution is held out from the beginning in the meaning of Abraham's name. "The father is exalted. Biblical scholars have not recognized interpretations of the patriarchal narratives this descent conflict in their because they bring to the stories a presupposition of established certainty of patrilineal descent not to be found in the text, except in P J, E, and P naturally differ in their.account of Abraham's descent problems. For P there is almost no such problem. There is a hint of trouble in Sarah's initial barrenness (16:1) but it is solved without con braham her maid Hagar, who bore Ishmael (16:15flict. Sarah gave A 16)." Chapter 17 is pure P. "And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your descendants after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant" (17:7) said God Almighty (P's special term to Abraham. God Almighty's blessing of Sarah is certainly problematic for patriliny: "I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of peoples shall come from her" (I 7:16b). There is also some related obscurity, for some versions of 17:16, including the Septtiagint, read "he" and "him," meaning Isaac, as the source of the issue. Only these passages suggest descent conflict in P. Isaac was bom and circumcised with no reference to strife in the home. J and E, on the other hand, tell stories full of conflict over issues of descent. Sarah, in offering Hagar, said, "It may be that I shall have children through her." But ishmael, although he was Abraham's son, turned otit not to be Sarah's. Ishmael was the offspring of an exogamous union (Hagar was an Egyptian) and descent from Abraham alone was not enough to make him the true heir. Ishmael was only a "father's son"-insufficient for continuity. Only Isaac could be the true heir, for lie could trace his patrilineal descent through his mother (who, according to E, had the same father as Abraham). When Sarah demanded that Hagar and Ishmael be sent away, this Abraham was putty in her hands. E (21:10-13) tried to save the patriarchal image: Abraham obeyed not Sarah, but God, who told him to do whatever Sarah said since his line of descent would be through Isaac. In Js story, the angel of the Lord said directly to Hagar, alone in the wilderness, "I will so greatly multiply your seed that it cannot be numbered for multitude" (16: 10). This is too much for E. His version cleans things Up patrilineally: God said to Abraham, "I will make a nation of the son of the slave woman also, because he is your seed" (21:13). The barrenness of the Patriarchs' wives always indicates descent problems. J accents Sarah's barrenness by reporting that the wife and concubine of Abraham's brother Nahor have borne him twelve sons. (A winner in the patriarchal descent struggle must beget twelve sons.) 17 J leaves Isaac as much a "mother's son" as a "father's son," but E's story (22:1-19) of the near sacrifice of Isaac restores him to patriliny. At the last minute Abraham's hand was stayed and he offered a ram in place of Isaac. By this act, Isaac, on the edge of death, received his life not by birth from his mother but from the hand of his father as directed by God (Elohim); and the granting of life was a deliberate, purposeful act rather than a mere natural process, a spiritual "birth" accomplished without female assistance. Abraham received, at this sacrifice, assurance of countless descendants. J has no parallel to this story.11 (In Islamic tradition, the Arabs being descendants of Ishmael, it was Ishmael and not Isaac who was nearly sacrificed and who carried the important line of descent. See Combs-Schilling 1989 for an account of lbrahim's near sacrifice of Isma'il as transcendent male childbirth.)

The story of Isaac is a patriarchal cautionary tale. Isaac is a transformation of the same theme as Abraham, but without sacrifice. Like Abraham, Isaac married a patrilineal classificatory sister. Like Abraham, his brother had twelve sons while his own wife was barren. Like Abraham, Isaac claimed his wife was his sister and she spent a time in a foreign kings harem. Like Abraham, he had two sons, the older a "father's son," the younger a "mother's son," who also carried the ambiguous line of descent. The outside/inside contrast, which in Abraham's generation was a feature of the two women (one exogamous, the other endogamous), has shifted to the two sons: Esau was a man of the outdoors, "a skillful hunter, a man of the field, while Jacob was a quiet man, dwelling in tents" (25:27). The stories of both Abraham and Isaac tell of conflict about descent, but Abraham saved patrilineal descent by sacrificing, and Isaac never sacrificed. In the Isaac stories the descent conflict latent in the Abraham narratives is played otit to its full disastroLis consequences. Even P, who typically ignores most of Isaac's crisis of descent, does not pretend that things were otherwise. Gen. 25:19 I)egins, ill P'.s listial style, "These are the generations of Isaac: . . ." (literally "the t)egettings of Isaac"). When P does that elsewhere a long list of patrilineal dmcendants follows, but here P begins and ends, "Abraham begot Isaac." Tilat is, P records iio begettings of Isaac. "Abraham begot Isaac" is a "generation" of Abraham. This is so unlike P that scholars conclude it is a scribal error:

"Abraham begot Isaac" gives the appearance of being a gloss by a scribe who missed a heading, "These are the generations of Abraham." To have Isaac's birth mentioned in his own genealogy is quite without parallel. (Cross, 1973: 303-4)

But P may have intended just what the text says: Isaac was begotten but (iid not perpetuate his patriline. P says nowhere that Isaac begot Jacob and Esau. He only tells us that Isaac married Rebekah," sister of Laban the Aramaean"-and this is also the key to the problem. The story begins in Gen. 24, Js well-known account of the quest for Rebekah. Abraham, concerned that Isaac not marry exogamously in Canaan, instructed a servant to retum to his native Haran for an endogamous bride for Isaac. Aware of the dangers of Hurrian (Aramaean) "matriliny," Abraham twice wamed the servant on no account to take Isaac (24:6,8). Rebekah's father, Bethuel, was doubly a patrilineal nephew of Abraham. (See figure 5.) For agnatic endogamy, Rebekah should have been a perfect bride. But, strangely, J describes her family as oiganized around descent from her mother instead of her father. J presents kinship relations at Rebekah's "mother's household" (24:28) as so consistent with matriliny that to make them conform to patriliny requires supposing, on no other grounds, that there is an error in the text. Biblical scholars accept this solution, but it is more faithful to the text to conclude that J meant what he said. Speiser comments,

Rebekah's father Bethuel, however, presents some difficulties in the present context . . . In vs. 50 ... the text states that "Laban and Bethuel spoke up in reply." The listing of the father after the son is irregular enou 'h; what is worse, no gifts for the father are mentioned in vs. 53, although the recipients include Rebekah's "brother an 'd mother" as well as the young woman herself; sim ilarly in vs. 5 5 it is once again "her brother and her mother" who ask that Rebekah postpone her journey, while nothing is said about the fathen Hence there can be little doubt that Bethuel was no longer alive at the time, which is why Laban was free to ex ercise his prerogative as brother.... The inclusion of Bethuel in vs. 50 is (hie either to a marginal gloss inspired by the genealog ical references, or to soi-ne textual misadventure. (I 964: 184)

All iliese "difficulties" vanish if the family was "matrilineal," or rather, if J wished to recognize descent through women. in a matrilineal system, Lal)aii, as Rebekali's brother, would be in a position of authority concerning her marriage; quite likely only he, his sister, and their mother would receive gifts or be in a position to decide the date of Rebekah's departure. That Rebekah's own consent was required for her marriage and departure (24:38) is inconsistent with ordinary patrilineal virilocal marriage, and so surely is her family's final blessing: "Our sister, become thousands of ten thousands, and may your seed possess the gate of those who hate them" (24:60). J's well-known story tells how Rebekah, after years of barrenness, finally gave birth to twins. Esau the hunter, the older, was a hairy "father's son," and Jacob was a smooth-skinned "mother's son": "Isaac loved Esau because he ate of his game; but Rebekah loved Jacob" (24:28). Isaac's taste for game must be understood in sacrificial terms; in the Bible the difference between game and domestic animals is a sacrificial difference. All over the world game is ordinarily unsuitable for sacrifice.20 Among the Israelites, only domestic animals and sometimes birds or humans were suitable victims, never game. According to the Holiness Code, domestic animals once were slaughtered only sacrificially (Lev. 17:3-4). D, in calling for centralization, allowed domestic animals to be slaughtered without sacrifice as if they were game, "like the gazelre and the hart" (Deut. 12:15). Although J (typically) never listed rules for sacrificing, it is safe to conclude he was aware of game as specifically non-sacrificial meat. Js Isaac did not merely fail to sacrifice, like Hawaii's Liholiho, he explicitly avoided doing so, with consequences (but for Jacob's saving sacrifice) nearly as disastrous. Isaac's refusal to sacrifice led to his loss of control of his line of descent. J's Gen. 27 tells how the failing and nearly blind Isaac commanded Esau to go out to hunt for game "such as I love," to prepare and serve it in order to receive his father's blessing as the heir. Rebekah, who overheard, ordered Jacob to kill two kids of the flock (domestic animals), to prepare and serve them to his father, and receive for himself the blessing. Jacob protested, but was told to do as his mother said. She (lisgilise(i him with the skins of the "victims" so that I)Iin(i Isaac, feeling for his liairy son Esau, was deceived and gave Jacob his irrevocable blessing. When the deception was discovered to the rage and dismay of Isaac and Esau, Rebekah ordered Jacob to flee to lier brother's home in Haran. Descent flows through this blessing (Westermann 1985: 444), as it does throughout the Genesis blessings (including Rebekah's family's blessing). Blessings from God are similar in that they are priniarily the granting of descendants (e.g., 15:5; 16:10; 17:5fl'.; 22:17; 26:4,24; 28:14; 35:1 1). In conveying descendants, all these blessings also convey a line of descent. This entire story is from J. P tells it otherwise (27:46; 28:1-9): there was no deception, no descent conflict, no "mother's son" opposed to a "father's son." Isaac himself, well and uninterested in game, sent Jacob off, but only to get a wife in order to become fruitful and multiply. Laban is called the son of Bethuel. In Js version he is only Rebekah's brother. In Ps account there has been no threat to the paternal line. In J's account all appears lost, and Jacob, the sister's son, fleeing his patemal relatives, has gone to the mother's brother in "matrilineal" Haran, taking with him the blessing of the heir, the line of descent. Jacob's arrival in Haran (J) repeats the themes of Abraham's servant's arrival there in quest of Rebekah. Also at a well, Jacob recognized Rachel. She brought him to her father, Laban, Jacob's mother's brother, who said (ominously), "Surely you are my bone and my flesh" (29:14). Now we see why Abraham was so adamant about not allowing Isaac to go to Haran, for Jacob, entangled in the local "matrilineal" scene, a sister's son working for his mother's brother, married uxorilocally and avunculocally" to his mother's brother's daughters, could not escape for twenty years. Now, when descent through mothers appears to have triumphed, the repeated theme of two siblings, the younger carrying the important line of descent, becomes for the only time two sisters: Leah and Rachel. The discussion among biblical scholars (see Van Seters 1975: 7885) as to whether Laban did or did not adopt Jacob becomes superfluous if Laban's family is seen as figuring descent through women. In matrilineal systems, the sister's son is regularly the mother's brother's heir. Looked at this way, the uncertainty about whether Jacob was or was not recognized as Laban's heir becomes a feature of the uncertainty about whether Jacob's descent is to be figured through women as Laban's sister's son, or patrilineally as Isaac's son. Jacob wanted to marry Rachel in retum for seven years service to Laban, but, J tells us, Laban gave him Leah instead and Jacob served seven more years for Rachel. Leah bore six sons (her share of the twelve iiec(led to win) an(i the sisters' two maids each bore Jacob two sons. The two maids are structurally necessary since Rachel, in whom the descent conflict centers, must bear only two sons, but nevertheless iacob must end up with twelve sons. Rachel, like Sarah and Rebekah, was barren for some years, indicating that she, not Leah, is the one to watch for developments in the descent conflict. Finally she gave birth to iosel)li. Jacob now had eleven sons-still one short. (Meanwhile, back in l,pairilineal" Canaan, Jacob's brother Esau had, of course, begotten twelve sons.) Laban was a paradigm of the authoritarian mother's brother, except that lie acted alone in decisions about his daughters' marriages. Blit Rachel and Leati appear to have had neither mother nor brothers; even in an actual matrilineal system, under such conditions, a father might well have similar authority. What is important is that J and E not only describe Laban's family as one in which there was no descent of authority from father to son, but on the contrary as one in which Laban himself insisted on the principle of descent through women. For example, when he overtook the fleeing Jacob, Laban claimed that "the daughters are my daughters and the sons are my sons" (31:43)-these sons" being the ones everyone else thinks of as Jacob's sons, and whose relation to Laban can only be traced through women. Genesis 31 begins the resolution of the conflict in favor of patriliny. It is mostly E's work, but even in (31:3) says the Lord told Jacob, "Return to the land of your fathers ." According to E, Rachel and Leah encouraged the departure, saying that Laban regarded them "as foreign ers," as not members of his family (31:15). E's account makes even Jacob's right to the flocks he took with him a matter of the animals' divinely ordained patemity (31:10-12), while for i their breeding is ambiguous to say the least (30:25-43). E cleans up Jacob's morality but leaves Rachel's in bad shape: She stole and took with her Laban's "household gods." Rachel's theft has almost as long a history of attempted interpreta tion as the wife/sister accounts .24 Like them, an interpretation based on the Nuzi texts has been widely accepted. This claims that "possession of the house gods could signify legal title to a given estate" (Speiser, 1964: 250); and therefore Rachel stole them to legitimate Jacob's possession of the flocks he took with him. Greenberg has criticized this interpretation:

What is determined by bequeathal of the gods is not title to an inheritance share but, rather, who is to carry on as paterfamilias ... Hence Rachel's desire to possess the gods of Laban, if it meant anything in this connection, could mean only that she wished Jacob to be recognized as paterfamilias after Laban's death. (1962: 242)

But Jacob had no desire to be "paterfamilias" in Laban's family, says Greenberg, and even had he so desired, possessing the gods must ndemn him as a thief. The only way "the regnant view of Rachel's Co motives" can be accepted is if Rachel "acted irrationally, or under gross misapprehension of the legal effect of the theft" (ibid.: 244). Greenberg's own interpretation is based on an anecdote by Josephus about a Parthian woman, a "millennium and a half" after%Rachel, who took her gods along when going abroad. Like her, according to Greenberg, Rachel took Laban's gods to continue her customary worship. That Greenber is willing to turn to an unrelated society five hundred years later to support his interpretation is indicative of the lengths to which competent and erudite biblical scholars will go rather than recognize descent through women. Greenberg cleared away the obscuring idea that possession of the gods legitimated rights in property alone, and recognized that what was legitimated was control over a line of descent, that is, control over a social structure organized around property. But for him this must mean Jacob's right to be "paterfamilias," and because he did not see that Laban's line of descent was through women, he was obliged to reject that whole scheme of interpre ion. From the point of view of the continuing conflict of descent, Rachel's theft, which only became necessary when she was going to Jacob's father's home, was to legitimate her claim to Joseph as a "mother's son," as her descendant in her family's line of descent through mothers. Her possession of the gods would make iicob not a "paterfamilias" but a mere husband in a system of descent through women. Rachel's theft is the reverse of Jacob's theft from Isaac and Esau, and her theft is necessary to balance and correct his. Jacob stole a paternal line. Rachel stole a maternal line. Jacob's departure for "matrilineal" Haran was a consequence of his theft. Rachel's theft was a consequence of her departure for "patrilineal" Canaan. Both used deceit to gain control of a line of descent and both thereby lost it. But Jacob's loss was only temporary, for Rachel's loss is like a double negative, canceling out his. Rachel's theft is E's antidote to i's chapter 27. The inter[)retation that Rachel had stolen her family's line of descent through women makes increasing sense as E's story continues: Laban pursued and overtook Jacob, and was angry about the theft of his gods, (laughters, and grandchil(iren, but didn't even mention the flocks. Jacob, unaware that Rachel was the thief, told Laban to search: Anyone found with the gods would die. Laban searched first Jacob's tent, then Leali's, then the two handmaidens', but did not find them. Rachel, meanwhile, had hidden them under a camel saddle, and when Laban entered her tent to search, she was sitting upon it. Stie apologized for not rising, "but the way of women is upon me." (E here presupposes ilie Levitical Law, according to which anyone who touched what a menstriiating woman was resting on became unclean.) Ttie deliberate, purposeful use of menstrual blood (that polluting I,oi)posite" of purifying sacrificial blood) occurs nowhere in the Bible except in this story of a woman's struggle for control of a line of descent. Just as Js story of Jacob's theft opposed the killing of domestic animals to that of killing game, so E's story of Rachel's theft is told in terms of an even stronger sacrificial opposition. From a patrilineal perspective, I)otii are tales of shocking actions by women from the same dangerous line of descent through mothers. In E's story the blasphemy has escalated-but not the threat to patriliny. Js Rebekah deceived her husband Isaac. Had it been Jacob whom Rachel defeated by her deliberate use of menstrual blood, this would surely have been patriliny's darkest daybut it was only Laban, a father, it is true, but one from the "matrilineal" side. Before E.s story is finished, the sentence of death Jacob foretold for the thief has been carried out and Rachel has met a final defeat. Failing to recover his ancestral idols, Laban admitted defeat and proposed a covenant between himself and Jacob. In Js account, Jacob and Laban made a mound of stones and concluded their covenant. But E does not leave it at that.11 Once again he restores patriliny by sacrifice. Laban invoked "the God of Abraham, the God of Nahor, the God of their father" to keep peace between them, and Jacob swore by the "Fear"26 of his father Isaac. Then he sacrificed (his first sacrifice) and invited his "brothers" to eat. Sense requires that Laban must have shared the sacrificial meal, yet, as one biblical scholar writes, "Laban is not said to partake, but the 'brethren' of Jacob," and Jacob had no brethren with him (Thompson 1963: 67@. Interpreted in terms of relations between sacrifice and patriliny, this obscurity vanishes. Jacob and Laban's resolution of their descent conflict was to rephrase their relationship, by means of sacrifice, in terms of patrilineal descent. This is why the invocation was to "the God of Abraham, the God of Nahor, the God of their father." Nahor, Abraham's brother, was Laban's patrilineal grandfather, just as Abraham was Jacob's patrilineal grandfather. The father of both Abraham and Nahor was the ancestor who represented the point of patrilineal alliance between Jacob and Laban. This common great grandfather is what anthropologists call an "apical ancestor."17 (in ancestral cults, the ancestors who are ritually important are just those that mark alliances and distinctions between lineages.) In terms of this sacrifice, Laban was no longer Jacob's i-nother's brother, but one of his "brethren," his patrilineal classificatory brother. Jacob liad sacrificially reconstituted (had atoned) their descent relations: they had become agnates sacrificing together. E's story continues after sacrifice has restored patriliny. Rachel bore a second son, and following a hard labor, died in childbirth. The same birth that killed Rachel made Jacob the father of the necessary twelve sons. "And as her soul was departing (for she died) she called his name Ben-oni, but his father called his name Benjamin" (35:18). There are two others accounts of name changes in the patriarchal narratives: those Patriarchs who restored patriliny by sacrifice, Abraham and Jacob, also changed their names. Those who did not sacrifice and who lost control of their line of descent, Isaac and Joseph, did not change names.18 Benjamin's name change surely indicates that he too has crossed over into patriliny. The name Benjamin means literally "son of the right (side or hand)." For evidence, also from E, that the Israelite tradition, like other sacrificial traditions, associated the right side with the proper line of paternal descent, see Gen. 48:13-19. The name Benoni, "son of my sorrow," reflects Rachel's post-sacrificial defeat, for Benjamin was not a "mother's son." Only one of the twelve sons, Joseph,

born before the sacrifice, was a "mother's son." P ignores all this. For P, Jacob acquired wives without conflict with Laban, begot twelve sons uneventfully in Paddan-aram, including Ben jamin, who never had another name (35:26). Jacob departed in peace with all his wives, sons, flocks, and possessions "to go to his father, Isaac" (31:18b). There was not theft of Laban's gods, no sacrificial reconstituting of kinship with Laban (nor any need for it), no death in childbirth, and Isaac was still alive when Jacob returned to him. Rachel's sons, Joseph and Benjamin, are another version of the two siblings theme. ishmael and Esau, as father's sons, were excluded from the patriarchal line of descent. Joseph as a mother's son, also could not directly carry the line of descent, for @he Patriarchs' underlying line of descent tlvrough mothers needed to be decently veiled by patriliny. The story of Joseph belongs to a separate literary tradition from the rest of the patriarchal narratives, almost certainly much later than J or E. Certain portions of the text, however, are not part of the original Joseph narrative, but are more consistent with the other patriarchal narratives. The evidence that Joseph was a "mother's son" is found only in these portions. There are two such indications. The first, and less important, is in Ps account of Jacob's adoption of Joseph's sons (48:36). Being Ps account, this passage naturally does not recognize descent from women, or indicate positively that Joseph is a "mother's son." It simply wipes out any remaining problems of descent from Rachel. Jacob (who, in E's parallel account of this final restoration of patriliny, had thought it wise to sacrifice again before setting out) has ar-rived in Egypt and been reunited with his lost son. Prefacing his demand with a reference to God Almighty's appearance to him when lie was promised countless descendants, he said to Joseph: "Ephraim and Manasseh shall be mine, but progeny bom after them shall remain yours." He explained this as consoling him for Rachel's death, but nevertheless, he adopted ttiem as Leali's children, ensuring that their descent was uncomplicated by Rachel's theft. Joseph's own "progeny" could not be direct descendants of Jacob. (Manasseh and Ephraim, to put them in the order of their birth, are the final version of the theme of two siblings.) The second justification is far more significant. Once again it is a matter of taking at face value a passage that scholars reject as meaningless because they do not recognize descent through women. The passage is in the "Blessing of Jacob" (Gen. 49). This ancient poem is older than the work of J, E, or P, although it was probably incorporated by J. it is the testament given by the aged and dying Jacob to his twelve sons, one by one. As in other Genesis blessings, descent flows through the blessing. All twelve sons were blessed, but only Joseph received a blessing of the mother: "blessings of the breasts and the womb" (49:25). Biblical scholars who try to explain this blessing of the mother do not ask why only Joseph was so blessed, nor do they consider that a social issue of descent may have been involved.19 The next verse (49:26a) continues Jacob's Blessing and is a lucid and explicit expression of the conflict and resolution of patriarchal descent: It condenses the whole story into a single phrase. But scholars are in universal agreement that it is an untranslatable scribal error. Back in 1611 when this passage was still being translated, the King James Version rendered it this way: "The blessings of thy father have prevailed above the blessings of my progenitors unto the utmost bound of the everlasting hills: they shall be on the head of Joseph, and on the crown of him that was separate from his brethren." The obstacle is the word translated 4s "my progenitors" (horay). The Hebrew word is "conceivers," otherwise found in the Bible only in the feminine singular, meaning "mother" (Hos. 2:5; Song of Sol. 3:4) Here it is masculine plural, a form scholars find "incomprehensible" (Westermann, 1985: 241); "hopeless" (Speiser, 1964: 368); "v. 26a is obviously corrupt and cannot be restored" (Vawter, 1955: 16). In Hebrew, as in French, the masculine form takes precedence over the feminine whenever the referent includes both males and females. The ancient poet needed a word referring to Rebekah and to Laban and probably also to their whole family, including Rachel. (Jacob's struggle was with Laban, not with Rebekah.) Not having access to terms like "matrilineal descent group" the author sensibly, grammatically, and aesthetically chose "conceivers," in the masculine plural. The passage is to be understood this way: The blessings of (and therefore descent from) your father (Jacob, who restored patriliny by sacrifice) have prevailed over the blessings of (descent from) my conceivers (my mother's family: Laban and his line of descent through mothers) unto the utmost bound of the everlasting hills. That 49:26a should remain unintelligible for hundreds of years is a vivid example of how the situatedness of the interpreter limits the possibilities of interpretation. Having taken patrilineal descent for granted, scholars cannot see its establishment as an achievement, and consequently they cannot ask how it is achieved. I have discussed these stories not as records of patriarchal history, btit to identify the different positions of the three authors on issues of descent and sacrifice. J, whose characters build altars but never sacrifice on them, reveals the ambiguity of patriarchal descent most fully. The entire story of the disastrous course into "matriliny" is his, from the quest for Rebekah through Jacob's integration into Laban's family. J's resolution covers this with a decent patrilineal veil, but leaves ambiguity underneath. E recognizes the ambiguity of patriarchal descent as a menace to be remedied sacrificially. Just as all the accounts of sacrifice are his, so also are all the high points of the achievement of patriliny. He tells nothing about Isaac's loss of his line of descent, but the whole cycle of stories restoring patriliny are his, beginning with Rachel and Leah's complaint that Laban had cast them out of the family, through Rachel's theft, Jacob's sacrifice, Rachel's death in childbirth, Benjamin's name change, and finally, the adoption of Joseph's sons.10 Except for this final patrilineal triumph, P does not tell any of these great stories. Since he can recognize only priestly sacrifice, he rielies on denial rather than sacrifice to defend patriarchal descent. He (almost completely) ignores the danger and gives a bland account of an (almost) unchallenged eternal continuity of patrilineal descent.