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by Richard Faussette


The paper applies a Darwinian perspective to two fundamental stories in Genesis.

The ontological structure of the religious experience is determined from the obvious references to psychological states and evolved behaviors in the story of the fall of Adam and Eve. A table presents concepts from the Biblical text with their Darwinian equivalents.

The eugenic practices of biblical Judaism are revealed in the allegory of Jacob and Esau, “the elder shall serve the younger,” by observing the successes and failures of Jacob and his progeny over three generations coupled with Jacob’s cunning breeding of Laban’s flocks, cited by Charles Darwin in the first chapter of The Origin of Species.

As a result of researching the paper, a translation concern over the nature of Leah’s eyes was identified in a few newer editions of the Bible by its departure from an otherwise perfect allegorical structure demonstrating the utility of the Darwinian toolkit for Biblical exegesis.

A paradigmatic upheaval has traumatized the entire religious world, but particularly the educated and therefore vulnerable first world. The upheaval began when Charles Darwin articulated the processes of natural selection. The Bible’s literary rendition of the creation of the world and the first man and woman, Adam and Eve, contrasts sharply with the painfully slow though rationally apprehensible processes of evolution. Without a rational foundation, and with a rational alternative explanation available, the confidence in Genesis and even all of Scripture erodes and many religionists have abandoned their ancient and once sacredly held beliefs.

But if the Biblical stories are not just fiction but allegories -- tales that conceal underlying truths -- what do they mean, and can they be safely abandoned?

In The Origin of Species, Charles Darwin wrote that there was evidence man had harnessed natural selection in Genesis along with the allegories. I looked and found the evidence in chapters 25 through 29 in the story of Jacob and Esau and I discovered the Darwinian foundation of the Biblical account of Adam and Eve. When I read the text literally without interpretation and from a distinctly Darwinian perspective I could see science in the religion. Walking away from Genesis was literally walking away from the truth.

In the beginning…

When Adam and Eve ate the fruit from the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil” the “eyes of both of them were opened and they discovered that they were naked; so they stitched fig-leaves together and made loincloths… and hid from the Lord God.”1 

Adam and Eve’s eyes are opened, their nakedness is revealed and they hide. They see something they could not see before, something upon which they suddenly and intensely focus, they feel shame and they feel fear. From these lines in Genesis you can readily discern two states of the human mind: a prior state of consciousness and an emerging and “fallen” consciousness that sees. You can also infer from the Biblical text that this prior state of consciousness does not have an experience of “self” since Adam and Eve do not feel shame until after they have eaten the forbidden fruit. One is necessarily ashamed of one’s self. Without a sense of self, what would one be ashamed of?

The Bible speaks of two states of consciousness. Do scientists speak of two states of consciousness? Do they speak of a unique consciousness that only man possesses? Of course they do. But scientists use language peculiar to science and religious men use language peculiar to religion, so you have to penetrate the language to discover the religious in the scientific and the scientific in the religious. Here in Genesis was a transition from one consciousness to another. Scientists also speak of a transition from one consciousness to another, but scientists characterize the transition as an “evolution.” Scientists also say the consciousness of lower forms of life is relatively inflexible and grounded in instinct while man’s current consciousness is largely learned one life at a time.

If Adam and Eve’s eating of the forbidden fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil is the pivotal event that marks the Biblical transition from one consciousness to another and we are to apply a Darwinian perspective to the text, we must ask: what is the corresponding pivotal event that marks the scientific evolution from one consciousness to another? What do scientists say about “the beginning?”

Scientists claim irrefutable evidence that some time around 4 million years ago man’s hominid ancestors left the safety of the jungle canopy for the open African savannas. Over countless generations they evolved to walk upright on two legs. Once their hands were free and they could manipulate objects skillfully, man’s ancestors made tools and began to learn sophisticated survival strategies. One of the things they did was use the new tools and the learned strategies to methodically kill others of their own kind. When a number of individuals were required to manufacture and deploy an effective tool or mount an effective strategy, again over countless generations, our ancestors evolved speech to facilitate communications. They learned to tolerate one another in greater numbers in their efforts to organize and defend themselves from other groups of early men. 

The escalating conflict caused by the freeing of the hands for technology naturally selected for bigger brains that could juggle more behavioral alternatives. The behavioral repertoire expanded rapidly. As the behavioral repertoire expanded, man found himself consciously choosing from among a growing number of behavioral alternatives and his unique sense of self emerged; a consequence of having to consciously juggle many behavioral alternatives in his struggle for survival.

The consciousness that emerged from the evolutionary expansion of the behavioral repertoire is unique in the scope of its potential behavioral alternatives. Imagination resides in consciousness and we boast that man is only limited by his imagination. There is a distinct disadvantage, however, to having many behavioral alternatives. You no longer know what choices to make. Decisions had been fixed to a much greater extent in the prior state of consciousness, behavior was regimented and in-stinctual, a manifestation of inborn tendencies that were unlearned responses to stimuli. Now behavior would be learned one life at a time and more and more behavioral choices would be consciously made rather than reflexively intuited. 

Then the pivotal event(s) in human evolution corresponding to Adam and Eve’s eating of the forbidden fruit is the expansion of man’s behavioral repertoire accompanied by the rapid evolutionary growth of the brain culminating in man’s knowledge of good and evil. 

What Genesis does not specifically say about either of man’s two states of consciousness is easily inferred from the Biblical text. According to Genesis, in man’s original state, before:
The rapid expansion of the behavioral repertoire
The enlargement of the brain
And the emergence of self-consciousness

he generally knew what to do and had little or no sense of self. Without self-consciousness, he did not continuously ponder his own mortality and from that we can assume his ability to imagine fear was severely limited.

In man’s current state, again according to Genesis, he often doesn’t know what to do, he does the wrong thing, he is self-conscious and he hides from God.

Those scientific categories of instinct and acquired behavior are embedded in this religious language. If you behave instinctively you intuit what to do and do not have to make a decision based on what you have learned previously. An organism that behaves instinctively cannot behave otherwise and does not make conscious mistakes. On the other hand, if you rely on acquired behaviors you have learned, you must consciously choose from among many possible behavioral alternatives in any given situation. You are prone to error and your awareness of that fact generates ontological anxiety.

Given these few lines from the Bible, literally read, it is clear that if one wanted to attain the original state of consciousness, the one intended by the Biblical text, one would have to abandon one’s self-consciousness and learn to intuit appropriate behavior. I believe I am reading Genesis correctly when I say that one could then stand in God’s presence without fear. This is consonant with theology for despite countless artistic renderings of a celestial Eden, the Catholic catechism defines heaven very simply as -- being in the presence of God.2

The hunger for spirituality, then, is the natural desire of an evolved self-conscious mind to return to a time (the beginning) and a place (paradise) before men made tools and plotted the murder of other men, before the dawn of self-consciousness, when behavior was intuitive and a “man” could stand in the presence of God without fear. In the Gospel of Thomas, Jesus says,
“When you disrobe without being ashamed… you will not be afraid.”3

Jesus’ words in this Nag Hammadi text from 1st century Egypt dovetail remarkably with the nature of the fall in Genesis. The fall brought shame and fear (self-consciousness and ontological anxiety). Returning to God (by abandoning the “self”) would remove them.

We have easily identified a corresponding evolutionary principle for each Biblical fact. The comparison suggests that our awareness of God evolved with self-consciousness. Adam and Eve, Biblical archetypes of the human condition, did eat the “forbidden fruit” from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The allegories in Genesis regarding human consciousness chronicle scientific facts. Those scientific facts cannot contradict Scripture. They are Scripture.

Man’s Former State of Consciousness Man’s Current State of Consciousness
Before the rapid evolution of the brain Before the “fall” After the “fall” After 3 million years of selection for larger brains

Man was Characterized by
Man was characterized as
Man is characterized as
Man is characterized by
Instinct Doing God’s will Not doing God’s will Learned behavior
A Limited behavioral repertoire Having eyes closed
Having no Shame
(No Self-consciousness) Having eyes open
Having Shame
(Self-consciousness) An expanded behavioral repertoire

And A small brain And being in God’s presence
(Unafraid) And hiding from God
(Fearful) And A large brain


After the Biblical fall, countless behavioral alternatives became available. Wrong behavioral choices often led to unnecessary suffering and premature death. Man had ventured out beyond the borders of instinct. He’d begun to create his own world of countless possibilities and his creations often failed him. The newfound freedom to make personal choices based on what an individual learned was also the freedom to “sin,” to make the wrong personal choices.

As a creature of acquired behavior, man could only hope to avoid the wrong choices by learning as much as he could and continuing to learn for as long as he lived. Under relentless selection pressures in the struggle for survival, disciplines developed that bound groups of men to common practical traditions. Families that acquired significant knowledge and passed that knowledge down to their sons tended to survive and prosper. Families that failed to acquire and instill in their sons the knowledge of what were fast becoming “adaptive disciplines,” did not.

The Biblical patriarchs were shepherds who survived by domesticating and breeding their animals. They learned to manipulate the reproductive differences in their flocks from generation to generation. They weren’t aware of the underlying genetic processes. They simply observed the differences wrought by their choices, as all pastoralists do. We know that they knew the difference between instinct and learning because their knowledge is embedded in the story of Adam and Eve. They passed down their wisdom religiously from father to son. When writing developed, the oral traditions were inscribed on tablets and written on scrolls. In Chapter 1 of The Origin of Species, titled Variation under Domestication under the heading Principles of Selection Anciently Followed and Their Effects, Charles Darwin makes the following remark:

“From passages in Genesis, it is clear that the colour of domestic animals was at that early period attended to.”4

Darwin does not give chapter and verse for the passages in Genesis he mentions, but once the great naturalist and lapsed seminarian brought them to my attention, I had to find them. A Darwinian reading of Adam and Eve would not stand in isolation. It made no sense for the Biblical author(s) to have established a Biblical perspective only to abandon it immediately and completely. If we can read the story of Adam and Eve from a Darwinian perspective, we should be able to find continuing strands of the allegorical thread, using that same Darwinian perspective, as it weaves its way through the Bible.

Charles Darwin had specifically written that the principles of selection were anciently followed in Genesis. I looked and found those principles applied throughout the story of Jacob and Esau, beginning in Genesis 25, just where Darwin said it was. It was precisely what I was looking for, a continuing strand in the Darwinian thread begun with Adam and Eve. The Lord said to Rebecca, the mother to be of Jacob and Esau:

“Two nations in your womb. Two peoples going their own ways from birth! One shall be stronger than the other; the older shall be servant to the younger.” 5

There are twins in Rebecca’s womb. When the time comes, the first-born is Esau and the second born Jacob. Jacob is born with his hand grasping Esau’s heel. Esau grows up to be a hunter, a man of the plains while Jacob grows into a settled life among the tents. One day Esau arrives home from the hunt famished. When he asks Jacob for some broth, Jacob asks for Esau’s birthright in return. Esau agrees, carelessly offering his birthright for the broth. What is the significance of birthright? What has Esau bartered for broth?

With the birthright the oldest son inherits his father’s authority and assumes leadership of the family. He becomes the next generation’s patriarch with a special place. “He is a central figure – leader, priest, bearer of the religious experiences of his clan, guardian of its traditions, and invested with the power to bless and curse as a means of preserving acceptable social behavior.”6

In one careless exchange Esau has given up his patriarchal authority to his brother Jacob who has treacherously initiated a negotiation that earns him a birthright not rightfully his. Later, Esau makes a second wrong choice. He brings bitter grief to his parents when he marries a Hittite woman.

Years later, Isaac, the father of Jacob and Esau, near death, calls for his first born Esau to proffer his blessing, but Rebecca and Jacob deceive him by arranging for Jacob to take Esau’s place so that it is Jacob who receives the blessing from Isaac. Esau is angry to learn he has been deceived a second time. Rebecca arranges for Jacob to leave for Harran to find a wife among the daughters of Laban because she cannot bear for one of her sons to marry another Canaanite woman and because she fears Esau’s anger toward Jacob.

Esau’s careless attitude toward his own birthright certainly suggests a lack of cunning and intelligence. When Esau asks his father for his blessing, Isaac refuses to take back the blessing he has already given to Jacob even though Isaac is aware of Jacob’s deception. Isaac’s blessing stands, and Jacob receives Esau’s birthright. The elder serves the younger, as God predicted.

On the way to Harran to procure a wife, Jacob has a dream. In the dream God makes promises to Jacob and Jacob responds by promising that if God protects him, Jacob will tithe to God. He erects a sacred pillar as a sign of their covenant. Jacob reaches Harran and agrees to work seven years for Laban’s younger daughter Rachel but when the time comes Laban insists that according to tradition the older “dull-eyed” Leah must be married before the younger daughter (the elder before the younger). Laban’s treachery forces Jacob to work seven more years for the younger, more vivacious Rachel. While working for Laban and caring for his flocks, Jacob and Laban argue over Jacob’s wages and there are repeated attempts by both men to negotiate exchanges to their own advantage as Laban had negotiated the marriages of his daughters to his own advantage.

We have determined from the story of Adam and Eve that man’s fall from grace was a result of his reliance on learned behavior. From that we deduced that religion is man’s attempt to learn as much as he can for as long as he lives until learning becomes intuitive and he can stand in the presence of God without fear. In the story of Jacob and Esau the birth-right does go to the most cunning and intelligent, the one “closest to God,” just as God predicted in an appearance to Rebecca who participates in her son Jacob’s treachery. Having won the birthright, Jacob dutifully obeys his mother and goes to Harran to find a wife among her relatives. Laban cunningly substitutes the dull-eyed older daughter Leah for Jacob’s first choice, the younger and more vivacious Rachel. The substitution reintroduces the theme of the elder and the younger. The elder Leah is dull-eyed, as the elder Esau was careless. But in this instance, as Rebecca had schemed to have the smarter younger Jacob obtain the birthright, Laban arranges to have the older, duller Leah marry Jacob. It is the same switch in reverse. If Leah is truly dull-eyed, and the principles of selection were at that early period attended to as Darwin and Genesis tell us, then Jacob expects the offspring of Leah to inherit the dull-eyes of their mother while retaining the birthright. He also knows that Rachel’s sons, though gifted with their mother’s vigor and more suited for leadership, are destined to follow. It would at first appear that the less intelligent accrue the advantages while the more intelligent are denied, which is just the opposite of what had transpired between Jacob and Esau.

Jacob works the seven extra years for Rachel but he is incensed by Laban’s continuing treachery and decides to wreak his vengeance on Laban. It is here that we find Darwin’s reference to the color of domesticated animals.

“As for the rams, Jacob divided them, and let the ewes run only with such of the rams in Laban’s flock as were striped and black, and thus he bred separate flocks for himself.”7

Some of the methods Jacob employs to effect birth differences are magical but his intent is obvious. Genesis concludes by saying:

“Thus the weaker came to be Laban’s and the stronger Jacob’s.”

The Darwinian reading of the allegory is straightforward. We are told outright that Jacob deliberately weakens Laban’s flocks. He breeds only the less vigorous animals in Laban’s flocks while breeding the most vigorous animals in his own. This is the core of the allegory and we shall see as the story unfolds that this is precisely what Jacob must believe Laban has done to him. By forcing Jacob to marry a dull-eyed wife first, Laban has weakened Jacob’s human flock. The son of a dull-eyed woman will procure the birthright and title of patriarch and will rule over Jacob’s next generation.

As the passage in Genesis explicitly states, Jacob knows he can select for desired traits in his flocks. It would be highly unusual for a pastoralist not to know that intelligence is a selectable trait passed down from parents to their offspring. Jacob had wanted Rachel as his first wife for her vigor rather than the literally “dull eyed” Leah, but if God prefers those who are most intelligent as our Darwinian reading of Adam and Eve establishes, why would God allow a weakening of Jacob’s human family to stand? God made a covenant with Jacob. If our Darwinian reading of the allegory of Adam and Eve is correct; that man returns from the fall by embracing learned behavior and making it intuitive, then intelligence must always prevail in the Bible. The return to intuitive decision-making is the return to God. God must keep his covenant.

While pondering the seeming contradiction, a simple solution arose. The Darwinian truth of the matter would be borne out in the progeny of Leah and Rachel. I went back to Genesis to find out what had happened to their children. This is what I found.

Reuben, the first-born of the dull-eyed Leah, defiles his father’s concubine. His father says he will not excel. Simeon and Levi the next two sons of Leah have spades that become weapons of violence. Their father curses them. Judah, next son of Leah, sells Joseph; Rachel’s first born into slavery, and marries a Canaanite woman.

Leah’s sons have made some very wrong choices.

The son of vivacious Rachel (Jacob’s second wife but the true intended mother of Jacob’s first born) is Joseph, who should rightfully have carried the birthright in God’s eyes and Jacob’s eyes. Although sold into slavery by his own brother, Joseph rises to become counselor to the pharaoh. Joseph, who had been cheated of the birthright by the machinations of Laban, becomes a prince among his brothers and his brothers become subject to him - and the elders serve the younger.

Nearing his deathbed, Jacob summons Joseph’s sons and says to Joseph, “Now, your two sons…shall be counted as my sons; Ephraim and Manasseh shall be mine as Reuben and Simeon are.” Jacob, now called Israel, then goes on saying of Manasseh, Joseph’s first born, that Ephraim, “…his younger brother shall be greater than he” and now, even of Joseph’s sons, the elder serves the younger.

** Laban’s wrong has been righted. The sons and now the grandsons of the vivacious Rachel have become equal to the firstborn of the dull-eyed Leah. The reversal is complete. God’s Law is immutable. The allegory of the elder serving the younger is three generations deep. Intelligence is passed down from generation to generation and intelligence prevails over birthright.

Adam and Eve fell from God’s grace when they ate the apple from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. They broke the bonds of instinct and were now forced to rely on learned behavior. They would learn the wrong things and make the wrong choices. Their only recourse was to learn as much as they could for as long as they lived. In the story of Jacob and Esau, a continuing strand in the allegorical thread begun with Adam and Eve, we find that God does indeed favor the learned. Isaac, father of Jacob and Esau, is cunning. Jacob is cunning. His mother Rebecca is cunning. Her father Laban is cunning. Rachel, the woman Jacob prefers as mother of his first-born, is cunning. And when the learned are denied their birthright, superior breeding prevails and Jacob eventually elevates even Joseph’s sons over dull-eyed Leah’s unfortunate progeny.

Darwin pointed to the science in the religion when he told us he knew what Jacob had done to Laban’s flocks. Human families, like a shepherd’s flocks, can be bred for specific traits. The most important selectable human trait is intelligence and as we clearly see in the very beginning of the Bible -- God favors the learned. The story of Jacob and his sons rests on the principles of selection applied to human populations.

The Darwinian reading of Adam and Eve is not an anomaly but the beginning of a thread that certainly runs through the entire Bible; a thread that must be completely revisited through the eyes of its own underlying Darwinian perspective. The evolution of the brain, the advent of self-consciousness and the birth of the religious sensibility are scientific facts embedded in the story of the fall of Adam and Eve. The principles of selection, the inheritance of intelligence and deliberate breeding for intelligence are in Jacob’s family history.

We’ve learned rationally and definitively that religion is not pathology as the postmodernists would have it. In addition to any other benefits it may or may not offer, Biblical religion, at the very least, contains a discipline for making learned behavior intui-tive. We find the basis of the divine likeness, as “Saint Augustine said, in mente, in thought.”8 We have learned that differences in human intelligence are heritable and that the Biblical patriarchs religiously pursued greater intelligence through eugenics.

Almost a quarter century ago, in On Human Nature E.O.Wilson wrote:

“...Beliefs are really enabling mechanisms for survival. Religion, like other human institutions, evolves so as to enhance the persistence and influence of its practitioners.”9

And so religion has enhanced the persistence and influence of this ancient Biblical people. In A History of the Jews Paul Johnson wrote:

“…Jewish society had been designed to produce intellectuals… Jewish society was geared to support them... rich merchants married sages’ daughters… quite suddenly, around the year 1800, this ancient and highly efficient social machine for the production of intellectuals began to shift its output. Instead of pouring all its products into the closed circuit of rabbinical studies... it unleashed a significant and ever growing proportion of them into secular life. This was an event of shattering importance in world history.”10

In A People That Shall Dwell Alone, Kevin MacDonald assessed the differences:

“Taken together, the data suggest a mean IQ in the 117 range for Ashkenazi Jewish children, with a verbal IQ in the range of 125 and a performance IQ in the average range. These results, if correct, would indicate a difference of almost two standard deviations from the Caucasian mean in verbal IQ - exactly the type of intellectual ability that has been the focus of Jewish education and eugenic practices.”11

These modern orthodox religious communities obviously maintain Jacob’s concerns.

“Mathematical necessity tells us that a large majority of the smart people in Cheop’s Egypt, dynastic China, Elizabethan England, and Teddy Roosevelt’s America were engaged in ordinary pursuits, mingling, working and living with everyone else. Many were housewives. Most of the rest were farmers, millers, bakers, carpenters, and shopkeepers. Social and economic stratification was extreme, but cognitive stratification was minor. So it has been from the beginning of history into this century.

Then, comparatively rapidly, a new class structure emerged in which it became much more consistently and universally advantageous to be smart.”12

Jacob’s concerns are our concerns, now more than ever. There is science in the religion. If you must walk away from the truth, go with a (Biblical) blessing and (a Darwinian) admonition.

“Learn as much as you can for as long as you live. Marry well.”

God favors the learned.

Table of Descent By Birth Order and Intelligence

“The Elder”
Order of BIRTH “The Younger”
Isaac’s Offspring
Jacob ∣
↓ ↑
∣ Jacob
Jacob’s Offspring
Children of:
Leah (elder)
Children of:
Rachel (younger)

Joseph’s Offspring
Ephraim ∣
↓ ↑
∣ Ephraim


Note on translation: In the preparation of this paper, it was suggested that the translation of “dull-eyed” was uncertain and that the correct translation was “lovely,” therefore my Darwinian reading of the allegory of the “elder serving the younger” rested on a mistranslation. I’d first encountered “dull-eyed” Leah in the New English Bible published in 1970 by Oxford and Cambridge University Presses. The line reads: “Leah was dull-eyed, but Rachel was graceful and beautiful.”13

In a translation of the Scriptures published by The Hebrew Publishing Company of New York, dated 1961, I found the following:

“And the eyes of Leah were tender, but Rachel was of handsome form and handsome appearance.”14

In The New King James Version of the Holy Bible dated 1982, I found:

“Leah’s eyes were delicate, but Rachel was beautiful of form and appearance.”15

The above translations conform to our Darwinian reading of the allegory and may be generally categorized as defining a negative trait (-), a weakness of constitution, reflected in Leah’s eyes. In the context of the Biblical story, that weakness of constitution is easily determined to be a lack of cunning or intelligence. In the 1989-1990 edition of the New American Bible published by Catholic Bible Publishers of Wichita, Kansas, however, there is an explanation in a note. The translation is now:

“Leah had lovely eyes, * but Rachel was well formed and beautiful.”16

The asterisk refers to the note, which reads:

“Lovely eyes: The adjective modifying eyes is often translated as weak, but ‘lovely’ is the more probable word.”

The translator is unsure of the translation. It is only “more probable.” What is not explained is the preposition “but” which indicates an exception and emerges as an issue when the quality of Leah’s eyes becomes a positive trait (+). I cannot see a clear and obvious exception between “lovely” and “well formed and beautiful” even if lovely is a quality confined to Leah’s eyes. The translation of “but,” however, appears to be unequivocal since it is maintained in spite of the awkward and obscure exception it establishes between “lovely” and “well formed and beautiful.” The translator, who is unsure of the quality of Leah’s eyes but set-tles on “lovely,” rather than “dull-eyed” or “tender” or “delicate,” all of which in combination with “well formed and beautiful” provide the necessary exception the use of the preposition “but” requires, is sure enough of the translation of “but” to let the awkward construction stand.

Then I consulted the New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition of the Holy Bible, published by the Catholic Bible Press in 1990. Its translation reads,

“Leah’s eyes were lovely, l and Rachel was graceful and beautiful.”17

The note ( l ) reads “meaning of Hebrew uncertain,” and the possible alternatives which we know to be “dull-eyed” or “tender” or “delicate” or even “weak” are omitted. Since we can no longer consider them, the note suffers from their absence. Also, in this translation, the “but” which was awkwardly maintained in the New American Bible translation has been removed entirely. I can only wonder if the translator’s primary intention was to eliminate the awkwardness. The effect is dramatic. The qualities of Leah and Rachel are no longer contrasted at all, a distinct departure from the other translations.

We’ve examined five different translations: three older translations that conform to our allegorical hypothesis:
Dull-eyed (-) but Rachel was graceful and beautiful
Tender (-) but Rachel was of handsome form and handsome appearance
Delicate (-) but Rachel was beautiful of form and appearance

A relatively new, significantly modified and linguistically awkward translation in which Leah’s eyes are a positive rather than a negative trait.

Lovely (+) but Rachel was well-formed and beautiful

And another recent translation in which the awkward artifact of original meaning has been removed by replacing a preposition to make this one translation a departure from the other four translations we examined.

Lovely (+) and Rachel was graceful and beautiful

What appears at first glance to be a particularly difficult translation is rendered decisively “dull-eyed” and to a lesser degree “tender” or “delicate” or “weak” rather than “lovely” by simply considering the quality of Leah’s eyes in association with the consistent allegorical relationships in the story of Jacob and Esau we’ve identified.

Translating the original Hebrew as “lovely” constitutes a departure from older translations and an anomaly in the otherwise perfect allegorical construction of the “elder serving the younger” in which there is a marked and consistent contrast between intelligence and the lack of it from the birth of Jacob and Esau, to the marriage of Jacob to Leah and Rachel down through the next two generations to Joseph’s sons.

Additional Notes on translation:

In February 2004, I asked the members of the Ancient Bible History Discussion List on Yahoo Groups which of the above translations was most likely? I received two responses:

1. Message 36184 on 2/12/04 @ 1:12 pm
The adjective rak appears 16 times in the Bible, always meaning something like soft, weak, tender, delicate, etc. There is no “but”. There is just a vav, which is generally “and”, although it can sometimes be translated with another conjunction based on context. What I would take away is: Leah had weak/soft/unimpressive eyes; Rachel’s were strong/flashing/beautiful (as was her appearance in general).
I do think a contrast is intended; thus the translation “but” is not out of line. Gabe

2. Message 36186 on 2/12/04 @ 4:20 pm
I agree with this. Rak does not seem to be used in a positive sense elsewhere, but has the general feel of being undeveloped or lacking in some way. The conjunction vav just links the two bits and it is up to the translator to decide if “and”, “but” or something else (perhaps just a colon between the two bits) is the best rendering.
The Hebrew is roughly as follows:
And-the-eyes-of Leah weak
And-Rachel she-was fair-of-form and-fair-of-appearance

The hyphens show groups of English words that are actually single words in the original. A couple of explanatory notes: “weak” in the first half is plural so refers to eyes rather than Leah herself, and the omission of a verb in a descriptive sentence like this is quite normal. “She-was” is emphasized, thus highlighting the fact we have a contrast here rather than a continuation. “Vision” here refers to her capacity to see, not how she was to look at! In the Hebrew Publishing Company translation Rich posted, the repetition of “fair-of” (“handsome” as quoted) was explicitly made.

I think it is significant that the description of Leah is short, and that of Rachel long - again it highlights the contrast, and you could go for a rather loose translation along the lines of:

“Leah had poor eyes: now Rachel, well, she was a good shape and good to look at too!” Doesn't sound quite so religious as the KJV but it just might capture Jacob’s mood at the time...

Richard Abbott - http://www.oldtestamentstudies.net

Richard Abbott was also kind to read the completed paper and later comment:

“Thanks for this; I enjoyed the read, recognising it as a systematic development of things you have said before. Interestingly, I have just been reading a quite differently focused exploration of the Jacob/Laban conflict, and it did occur to me you could use Laban's words in support of your suggestion. Now, the NIV renders them as ‘it is not our custom here to give the younger daughter in marriage before the older one’ but a more pithy and direct translation is ‘it is not done, in this place, to give the younger before the firstborn.’ Now of course you can see this as an overt dig at Jacob’s own past, but in terms of your suggestion you can also see it as a rather reactionary approach denying the more progressive evolutionary strategy being adopted by the key members of the patriarchal line.”


1. Genesis 3: 6-7
2. The Catholic Encyclopedia: “In heaven, however, no creature will stand between God and the soul. He himself will be the immediate object of its vision. Scripture and theology tell us that the blessed see God face to face.”
3. The Gospel of Thomas (37) The Nag Hammadi Library, revised edition, James. M. Robinson, general editor, Thomas O. Lambdin, translator, Harper Collins, 1978
4. The Origin of Species, Charles Darwin, New American Library, 1958, p.50
5. Genesis 25:23
6. Mysticism, Its Mystery and Challenge, Bruno Borchert, Samuel Weiser, Inc. 1994, p. 107
7. Genesis 30:40
8. The Intelligence in the Service of Christ, Etienne Gilson, in The World Treasury of Modern Religious Thought, Jaroslav Pelikan, ed. Little Brown and Company 1990 p.219
9. On Human Nature, E.O. Wilson, Harvard University Press 1978, p.3
10. A History of the Jews, Paul Johnson, 1988, 340-341 in Kevin MacDonald’s Culture of Critique, An Evolutionary Analysis of Jewish Involvement in Twentieth-Century Intellectual and Political Movements, Praeger, 1998, p.1
11. A People That Shall Dwell Alone, Judaism as a Group Evolutionary Strategy, Kevin MacDonald, Praeger, 1994, p. 190
12. The Bell Curve, Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life, Richard J. Herrnstein, Charles Murray, The Free Press, 1994, p.27
13. New English Bible, Oxford and Cambridge University Press, 1970.
14. Twenty Four Books of the Holy Scriptures, carefully translated after the best Jewish authorities by Isaac Leeser, Hebrew Publishing Company, NY, dated 1961 oly Scriptures
15. Holy Bible, The New King James Version, Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, 1982
16. New American Bible, Catholic Bible Publishers of Wichita, Kansas, 1989-1990 edition
17. New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition of the Holy Bible, Catholic Bible Press 1990.

Richard Faussette © 2003