Biblical Fiction (inspiration from Genesis Chapter 31)
By Ben-Tzion Spitz
Rachel put her shearing knife in her belt. She ran her fingers through the thick wool of the sheep as she stood listening to Jacob amongst his flock. She loved the rich scent of the docile animals.
“It’s agreed then,” Jacob told Rachel and her sister Leah. Leah, co-wife, partner, ally and sister all rolled into one. Now that Rachel had given birth to Joseph, the old rivalries and jealousies ebbed.
“We’re leaving in the morning,” Jacob continued. “Please pack your belongings and prepare the children. I don’t know that we shall ever return to your father’s house again.”
The three of them glanced across the Aramean plains and looked at Lavan’s compound in the distance. Rachel remembered before Jacob’s arrival it had been a simple mud-brick house. Now, twenty years later, it had grown into a stone mansion, with a series of smaller mud-brick houses and large stables. It’s all Jacob’s work, Rachel thought. And father would steal it all over again.
Rachel and Leah walked back to the compound silently with the setting sun. Rachel knew that Leah’s dislike for their father mirrored her own. They were little more than slaves to him. And so was Jacob. Strong, honest, hard-working Jacob had built their father’s wealth, but was still treated little better than a beast of burden. It was within the rules of their people. As long as Lavan was the master, he owned them. Running away would not make them free. She knew Lavan would chase them. He would bring his Idols in hand and demand they all return to him as per the Law.
The Idols, those hated Idols. She wondered if Lavan controlled the Idols or if perhaps it was the other way around. She needed to get her hands on those Idols. She needed to remove the Idols from Lavan’s control and thereby sever the eternal bondage. Joseph must grow up free.
The sun sank below the horizon, with a full moon taking its place in the sky. As Rachel and Leah reached the compound they nodded to each other and separated to their private quarters. Rachel walked past her own door and continued to Lavan’s private Temple. Lavan is several days away, she thought. He would not have taken his Idols to the shearing of his distant flock. They must be here in his Temple.
Rachel walked to the back of the compound where the Temple stood. She blessed the full moon for lighting her path in the dark night. A wild black cat screeched suddenly. Rachel jumped back in fright.
“Damned cat,” she murmured, shaking. “You scared me to death.”
Rachel approached the Temple. It was a circular earthen structure, capped with a simple dome. The Temple’s diameter was the length of two men as was its height. Rachel remembered Lavan lovingly building the structure himself, casting spells and protections for his Idols. The Temple’s door was on the eastern side, to face the rising sun, with open windows at the three other points of the compass.
Rachel walked gingerly to one of the windows and peered inside. One lone long candle burned brightly in a brazier hanging from the ceiling. On a stone pedestal in the center of the Temple Rachel could see the Idols. Both of them were on the pedestal. They were less than an arm’s length in height. There was a golden statuette of a man, carved in exquisite detail, next to a matching silver one. If one looked at them long enough, one might think they were alive. That is not what troubled Rachel. It was the mastery they represented.
The holder of the Idols was the holder of their fortunes. It gave the right to land, to slaves and to flocks. The Idols were passed down from father to son. A freed Aramean man needed to receive his own Idol from his master. Lavan would never release Jacob, nor would her righteous Jacob agree to accept an Idol for his release. By Aramean law, Jacob and his descendents would forever be slaves. Jacob did not care and would simply leave. But Rachel would not accept this. She did not want this doom hanging over her Joseph.
At the floor of the Temple a black sinuous form slithered around the pedestal. It had the thickness of a tree truck, and at some points Rachel was able to see through its body to the dirt floor underneath. A demon, she thought in alarm. That is how he is protecting it. How can I get through it?
Rachel found the head of the slithering form. Two bright red eyes shone from its face. It had neither nose nor ears. Just deep set eyes and a wide mouth that took up half its head. It reminded her of a giant eel, except that she could see long arms and legs at rest on the side of its body. The form shifted in and out of solidity proving its demonic source.
How can I trick the demon? Rachel wondered. Catch it? Distract it? What did she know about demons? Her father had never taught her the magics, but he often liked to brag about how he captured them or controlled them. Blood. Yes. They liked blood. They were addicted to blood. They would follow the scent of fresh blood and feast on it. In gratitude they would obey your wishes.
Rachel retreated quietly from the Temple and scanned the ground carefully. Then she spotted it. The cat sat against one of the buildings licking its paws. With a speed born of desperation Rachel pounced on the cat, with both arms outstretched. The cat eluded her right hand, but she caught the cat by the neck with her left. The cat screeched and scratched at Rachel’s arm. Rachel smashed the cat’s head into the ground, drew out her shearing knife and sliced the cat’s neck. The blood flowed rapidly on the ground.
Rachel ran back to the Temple and stood behind the structure. A moment later the door to the Temple opened and the black demon slithered out. Rachel ran into the Temple. She stopped at the entrance, looking for further traps or defenses. She noticed a heavy layer of dust around the central pedestal. She took one light step forward and felt a burning sensation through her leather sandals. She pulled her foot back and looked closely at the floor. She saw the outline of footprints in the dust. She placed her foot on the footprint and felt no pain. She stepped on successive footprints and made it to the pedestal unharmed.
The golden Idol stared at her. It was beautiful. She had rarely seen a man-made object of such fine workmanship. Rachel grabbed the idol, only to cry in pain as the Idol seared the fingers of her right hand. She ripped the bottom of her skirt and wrapped the woolen fabric around the both idols. She grabbed the wrapped idols with her left hand and backed away from the pedestal, careful to tread on the footprints again. She reached the doorway and breathed a sigh of relief.
As she turned and walked away a dark hand clutched her ankle and pulled her back to the Temple doorway. Rachel held on to the frame of the door, the Idols still wrapped and clutched in her left hand.
“You have deceived me, daughter of Lavan,” the Demon hissed from the ground.
“I fed you blood, Demon. Release me. That is my request.”
“You think us dumb, human? We are merely constrained. The blood drew me, but it is not enough to subjugate me. My task was to protect the Idols and I have failed. Though a thief, you are now the master of the Idols. But you will not leave unscathed.”
“Then obey me, Demon. I am the master now. Release me and return to your circular vigil.”
“I shall release you, but you have shamed me. For that you shall pay. No human may shame a demon and live long to tell about it. I place a death curse upon you.”
“I fed you blood, I am the master of the Idols now, I am the daughter of your former master. How dare you curse me? Stop this nonsense right now and let me go.”
“I shall let you go young Rachel. I shall even grant you a dying wish. Name your wish and I shall make sure it is granted before you die.”
“I do not accept your curse, demon. Though if I could make one last wish before I die, it would be for another son.”
“So it shall be. Now stand as I sing your doom.”
The demon, still holding Rachel’s ankle, curled his long body into a ball and looked at Rachel with his bright red eyes. He sang in a deep rumble.
“O, deceiver of the deceiver,
You have bested the son of Betuel.
Beautiful, youngest, Rachel,
The queen of he who shall be Yisrael.
Mother of warriors and kings,
Name forever revered.
Wealth and honor for your progeny,
Strife and battle with your sister’s kin.
One more shall you see, child of sorrow,
Son of your right hand, son of strength.
Joseph shall rule an empire,
And hasten the exile.
You shall stand guard over your sons
On their long return home.
Not to see them in this world,
A power amongst the righteous.”
The demon released Rachel’s ankle.
Rachel walked back to her quarters, trembling. I did it, she thought. I have the Idols. Joseph shall be free. Jacob and even Leah’s children will be free. We must leave at first light before Lavan finds out.
But what about the death curse, she wondered.
Rachel smiled. If the dying wish comes true, I will be satisfied.
* * * * * *
Genesis Chapter 31
4 And Jacob sent and called Rachel and Leah to the field unto his flock, 5 and said unto them: ‘I see your father’s countenance, that it is not toward me as beforetime; but the God of my father hath been with me. 6 And ye know that with all my power I have served your father. 7 And your father hath mocked me, and changed my wages ten times; but God suffered him not to hurt me.
9 Thus God hath taken away the cattle of your father, and given them to me.
11 And the angel of God said unto me in the dream: Jacob; and I said: Here am I. 12 And he said: Lift up now thine eyes, and see, all the he-goats which leap upon the flock are streaked, speckled, and grizzled; for I have seen all that Laban doeth unto thee. 13 I am the God of Beth-el, where thou didst anoint a pillar, where thou didst vow a vow unto Me. Now arise, get thee out from this land, and return unto the land of thy nativity.’ 14 And Rachel and Leah answered and said unto him: ‘Is there yet any portion or inheritance for us in our father’s house? 15 Are we not accounted by him strangers? for he hath sold us, and hath also quite devoured our price. 16 For all the riches which God hath taken away from our father, that is ours and our children’s. Now then, whatsoever God hath said unto thee, do.’ 17 Then Jacob rose up, and set his sons and his wives upon the camels; 18 and he carried away all his cattle, and all his substance which he had gathered, the cattle of his getting, which he had gathered in Paddan-aram, to go to Isaac his father unto the land of Canaan. 19 Now Laban was gone to shear his sheep. And Rachel stole the teraphim that were her father’s.
Role of idols based on lecture at Machon Herzog that explained importance and prominence of master idols in Aramean culture and law, and therefore motivation of Rachel to steal them and that of Lavan to chase Jacob for them.
Demonology based on Sforno and various Talmudic accounts.
Lavan’s magical powers based on his being identified with Bilaam the sorcerer.
Stealing of idols inspired by Indiana Jones.