Rachel (Hebrew: רחל, Rāḫēl; "a ewe") (ca. 2227 AM-m. 2245 AM-2266 AM) (ca. 1777 BC-1759 BC-1738 BC) was the second wife of Jacob and mother of Joseph and Benjamin. She was the younger daughter of Laban and the younger sister of Leah.
Likely Date of Birth
The Bible does not say when Rachel was born, nor how old she was when she married Jacob, nor how long she lived. The restrictions on her date of birth are:
- She married Jacob (2245 AM) when she was old enough to carry an adult responsibility, because Jacob met her when she was leading a flock of sheep to water.
- Her older sister bore her last child, Dinah, in 2254 AM (1750 BC).
- She died after bearing her second son, in 2266 AM.
The maximum likely age for Rachel at the time of the birth of Benjamin is thirty-nine years. Thus she would be eighteen years of age when she married. At such an age, a girl might be given adult responsibility in a family that did not (yet) have sons.
Some rabbinical writings suggest that Rachel and Leah were twins, and were fourteen years old at the time of Jacob's first meeting with Rachel. Thus Leah would be the older sister only in the sense of having been born first. But the Bible makes no specific statement to this effect.
Rachel first met Jacob in 2245 AM (1759 BC), at the community well in Haran. She was responsible for taking the sheep to the well for water every day. This well had a heavy stone to cap it by night, and Rachel was accustomed to waiting for someone to roll the stone away when all the flocks were gathered. But as she approached, a stranger (Jacob) rolled the stone away for her and watered the sheep.
Jacob offered to serve Laban for seven years, in exchange for the right to marry Rachel. Laban agreed. The custom in those days was for a man to wait at least a week after arranging to marry a woman. After the week had passed, Jacob prepared for his wedding night. But Laban substituted Leah, Rachel's older sister, in her place. Jacob protested, and Laban answered that local custom did not permit a younger sister to marry before the older sister. Laban immediately said that if Jacob would serve him for an additional seven years, he could marry Rachel as well. Jacob agreed to this. Thus Rachel knew that Jacob loved her more than he did Leah.
Rachel unquestionably had Jacob's favor, but Rachel was sterile, while Leah was fertile. In the four years following their marriage, Leah had four sons; Rachel had none. Possibly in the early fall of 2248 AM (1757 BC), Rachel protested to Jacob concerning her lack of children. She told Jacob that if he didn't "give" her children, she would die. Jacob retorted in anger that he did not stand in the place of God, Who alone decided questions of that sort. So Rachel offered her handmaid, Bilhah, as her surrogate.
Leah suddenly found herself sterile after the birth of Judah, and offered Jacob her own handmaid as well.
In Sivan of 2251 AM (May-June 1754 BC, or literally, "in the days of the wheat harvest"), Reuben went into the field and gathered mandrakes (Mandragora officinarum) for his mother Leah. Rachel asked Leah for a portion of them, and Leah protested that Rachel already had the favor of Jacob, and now was asking for a supply of the one thing that each woman supposed would make her fertile. Rachel then offered to allow Leah to lie with Jacob that evening. Leah agreed, and when Jacob returned from the field, Leah told him directly that she had "hired" him for the evening, at the price of a few mandrakes.
Leah conceived a son that very evening, and bore him the next year. She bore another son and a daughter over the next two years. Those were the last children she would have.
Birth of Joseph
Conception of Benjamin
Rachel probably conceived Benjamin, her second son, in the spring of 2265 AM (1739 BC). This was the year in which Jacob fled in secret from Laban. The Bible says that this took place at sheep-shearing time, which is always in the springtime. (Genesis 31:19-20 ) Jones records that the phrase "born to him in Padan-aram" that appears after the listing of Jacob's sons (Genesis 35:26 ) can also mean "engendered by him in Padan-aram." Benjamin was born on the road to Bethlehem, and therefore Rachel must have conceived him in Padan-aram, though she bore him in Canaan.
Ussher disputes the notion that Benjamin may be counted among the sons born or engendered in Padan-aram. He suggests that the Apostles were also numbered twelve, though Judas Iscariot was dead by that time, (John 20:24 ) and cites Saint Augustine to support him. However, the text of Genesis 35:9-15 is a narrative that begins with a recapitulation of an earlier incident: the second appearance of God to Jacob and the renaming of Jacob to Israel. (Genesis 32:24-30 ) The story of the birth of Benjamin and the death of Rachel follows this narrative directly and is continuous with it. Therefore Benjamin must have been conceived shortly before the flight from Laban and born nine months later.
In any case, Rachel cannot have conceived Benjamin earlier than the springtime. If she had, then she would not have been able to employ a ruse to stop her father from searching her belongings too closely (see below).
Flight from Laban
At the end of twenty years of service (seven each for Leah and Rachel, and six more for a portion of Laban's flocks), Jacob and Laban fell out. Rachel and Leah both took Jacob's side. Jacob decided to leave quietly at night. But Rachel was not content with this. She stole the household idols (teraphim) that belonged to Laban, in the belief that those idols would confer some protective power. (This mistaken belief was similar to the belief that both sisters had in the power of the common mandrake to confer fertility.) She hid these teraphim in her saddle bag, and sat on them. When Laban came to search her tent, Rachel asked him to excuse her for not rising, because she was menstruating. That was a lie. But had she been obviously pregnant, she would not have been able to lie convincingly.
Death in childbirth
Rachel died while giving birth to Benjamin. Before she died, she said that the child should be named Ben-oni, or "son of my pain." Jacob insisted on giving the child the name of Benjamin, or "son of my right hand."
Jacob said to Joseph that he had buried Rachel near Ephrath, where Bethlehem now stands. Today a site exists along the road from Jerusalem to Bethlehem that most people say is the tomb of Rachel. This traditional site lies four miles south of Jerusalem and one mile north of Bethlehem. In 1620, the Ottoman Turks surrounded the supposed grave with a cube surmounted by a dome. In 1860, Sir Moses Montefiore enlarged this structure.
- Driscoll, James F. "Rachel." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 12. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. Accessed November 13, 2008.
- Hirch E and Seligsohn M. "Rachel." The Jewish Encyclopedia, n.d. Accessed November 13, 2008.
- Schoenberg, Shira. "Rachel." Jewish Virtual Library, American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise, 2008. Accessed November 13, 2008.
- Konig, George. "Rachel." AboutBibleProphecy.com, 2001. Accessed November 13, 2008.
- James Ussher, The Annals of the World, Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2003, pgh. 125
- Schoenian, Susan. "Sheep 101: Shearing." Sheep 101, November 15, 2006. Accessed November 11, 2008.
- Jones, Floyd N. The Chronology of the Old Testament. Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2004, pp. 64, 66, 68, 278, and Chart 3e
- Ussher, op. cit., pgh. 124
- The Committee for Rachel's Tomb. Accessed November 13, 2008.
- Rossoff, Dovid. "Tomb of Rachel." Jewish Magazine, 1997. Accessed November 13, 2008.
- "Rachel's Tomb, Bethlehem." Sacred Destinations, 2008. Accessed November 13, 2008.