Monday, December 25, 2017

Romance Stories Throughout Time: Isaac and Rebekah

In Genesis, Abraham sends his servant to find a wife for his (fully legitimate) son. When the servant reaches Nahor, he waits by the well and prays for a sign. The young woman who draws water for his camels, as well as for himself, will be the chosen young woman.

Rebekah arrives and fulfills the servant's criteria. She goes beyond the request by offering the servant a place to stay (no Motel 6 in those days). The servant, who is no fool, immediately decorates her with various pieces of jewelry. Rebekah runs home to her brother Laban, who is also no fool. Negotiations ensue.

I prefer this version--note Rebekah's skepticism.
Laban's family tries to stave off the moment when Rebekah leaves. There are various theories about this; knowing Laban from later, I put down the procrastination to Laban's desire to increase the dowry. The servant, who likely deserved a fairly hefty commission from Abraham for his performance (it takes the concentrated efforts of Jacob and both his wives to outwit Laban later) pleads duty to God and his Master: I really do have to return home.

Laban's family finally agrees to ask Rebekah what she wants to do. Rebekah, who is a tough cookie and likely felt massively overshadowed in her brother's house, determines to leave.

The passage ends thus:
Now Isaac had come from Beer Lahai Roi, for he was living in the Negev. He went out to the field one evening to meditate, and as he looked up, he saw camels approaching. Rebekah also looked up and saw Isaac. She got down from her camel and asked the servant, “Who is that man in the field coming to meet us?”

“He is my master,” the servant answered. So she took her veil and covered herself.
The Bible is replete with tough women determining their marriage choices--or at least determining the type of marriage they will have. Rebekah may have ended the endless dowry negotiations; she made sure they started in the first place.

The Genesis writers did have a romantic streak, however. Although the tale would possibly be more romantic if Isaac rather than the servant was doing the negotiating--or if the servant was Isaac in disguise, it would have been far less realistic. And the writers went out of their way to mention Rebekah's first sight of Isaac and her acceptance of the marriage (when she covers herself). Individuals do matter--marriage is more than a contract between nameless, personality-less bodies.

This is a seed that will make its way through several hundreds of years to blossom in the nineteenth century. But it was there from the beginning.