The large amount of leeway in modern life has become second nature to how we judge the actions of the ancients, and this conceals some of the punch of the text, for the Bible was ever AN ADVENTURE STORY in shorthand.
Thanks to the massive efforts over centuries of our civilization, few of us get up in the morning genuinely not certain we will live to see the sun go down. We don’t spend half the day foraging for sedges, roots, nuts, and berries or we will not have a meal, nor do we walk miles to find water. I only know a handful of men who know how to fish or hunt or women who could clip the wool from a sheep or even (!) brush the hair off a fluffy wolf-like dog, spin and card it into yarn, and knit it into a sweater.
How many of us could even begin to carry in our memories all of the technology that will enable us to feed, clothe, and house ourselves, treat illness and injury, travel, protect ourselves from animals, the elements, and each other using branches, stones, water, mud, the light of the sun or the spark of friction, the skins of animals, leaves and bark, and the labor of beasts of burden to make it through a day?
It is soothing to watch an hour of survival television from time to time and gawk at Goretex-clad geeks turning mud and leaves into first bricks and then small houses. To learn the knots that can transform a vine into a net. The life hacks of sticks and stones that were readily at hand for our ancestors but a complete mystery to us. Few last more than a month, even when significant prize money or a career in survival television acting is in the offing.
Let us consider the pickle the young Patriarch-in-Progress Jacob finds himself in when we get to these poplar tree advertisements.* Here are some of my thoughts: https://buildingtheunderworld.com/2019/11/18/the-torah-jacob-and-esau/
I don’t know exactly what was going on with Jacob and Esau, but it does seem that Jacob feared for his life in the aftermath of his father’s death. Did this birthright carry with it a sizeable inheritance? That seems more likely than getting all worked up over some magic folderol. In any case, Jacob showed up at his uncle’s place in faraway Syria with pretty much nothing and arranged to work for his family for a distinctive set of wages as well as a promised bride.
The wages, as we recall, were all of the baby animals that bore distinctive markings. This wage offer was made after Jacob had worked for Laban for seven years and had married two of his daughters, and had several children by them, so it was, in effect, Laban providing for his children and grandchildren. (Genesis 30) 28 Appoint me thy wages, and I will give it. 32 I will pass through all thy flock to day, removing from thence all the speckled and spotted cattle, and all the brown cattle among the sheep, and the spotted and speckled among the goats: and of such shall be my hire.
This made his annual paycheck a game of chance instead of a numerical percentage, and one that was liable to slippage in the form of the castration or outright slaughter of the male animals who had those particular characteristics, a fact perhaps not readily at hand for those who did not grow up with animal husbandry.
This is a succinct yet apropros page about a breed of sheep that has been WORLDED in agriculture in the Near East for 5,000 years, well within the range of our study: http://www.fao.org/3/p8550e/P8550E01.htm
Jacob approached the situation of WEALTH using some of the mental technology that slips into folk magic, as we see:
(Genesis 30)37-39: And Jacob took him rods of green poplar, and of the hazel and chestnut tree; and pilled white strakes in them, and made the white appear which was in the rods. 38 And he set the rods which he had pilled before the flocks in the gutters in the watering troughs when the flocks came to drink, that they should conceive when they came to drink. 39 And the flocks conceived before the rods, and brought forth cattle ringstraked, speckled, and spotted.
Here we check in with some Commentary, and I urge my dear readers to consult it as much as they please at http://www.sefaria.org In brief, Ibn Ezra posits that the hazel is perhaps the almond tree, Rambam says that goats are not usually brown, and Sforno hints — as do I — that the phenotypically propitious animals were likely removed by Laban in order to cheat Jacob’s wages. Rashi adds, with his usual panache, “The female animal saw the rods, it was startled at the sight of them and recoiled; its mate then pairing with it, it afterwards gave birth to young marked similar to the rods.” RECLINING AFTER A DAY WITH THE DRAGON SHAX.
First of all, what would poplar have meant to the ancient Mesopotamians?
Poplar is a tree that grows by streams and rivers, so involving the poplar in the idea of watering the flocks can serve as a pnemonic device for where to look for water.
In Greek mythology, the poplar is also associated with underworld healing functionality: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leuce_(mythology) Healers are often present at and associated with death, and would thus be natural candidates for necromancers.
Why would the animals be particularly prone to conceive at the watering hole?
One way to increase the odds of a particular set of markings in the flocks would be to separate the males from the females, uniting them only under certain circumstances, thereby assuring that mating could only take place as the shepherd required and perhaps between the very rams and ewes most likely to produce cattle ringstraked, speckled, and spotted, as records Genesis 30:
40 And Jacob did separate the lambs, and set the faces of the flocks toward the ringstraked, and all the brown in the flock of Laban; and he put his own flocks by themselves, and put them not unto Laban’s cattle. 41 And it came to pass, whensoever the stronger cattle did conceive, that Jacob laid the rods before the eyes of the cattle in the gutters, that they might conceive among the rods. 42 But when the cattle were feeble, he put them not in: so the feebler were Laban’s, and the stronger Jacob’s. 43 And the man increased exceedingly, and had much cattle, and maidservants, and menservants, and camels, and asses.
Since this was Jacob’s idea, perhaps he had practiced the breeding procedure in the seven years of working for Laban so that he had a good sense of the outcome before proposing it as his wages.
Second, what is he doing with the “pilling” of the rods? Commentary does not provide much insight except that he peeled the bark, but modern archaeology would note that the earliest Hebrew alphabet was designed to be carved onto hardened objects like stone, wood, and the like https://www.haaretz.com/jewish/.premium-why-hebrew-should-be-called-jewish-1.5316745 while cross-cultural CONTAMINATION would compare the pilled tree branches with the construction of runes http://www.therunesite.com/keyword/tacitus/
In any case, the branches laid down at the watering site appear to contain instructions concerning the procreation of cattle in the desired phenotype, a sympathetic magic(k) that could reasonably extend into tree shamanism and necromancy — even shamanic necromancy. Thus guidance could be arranged for which mating pair would be most likely to produce the year’s desired phenotype, as the type of marking was changed “ten times” by Laban who was clearly getting the raw end of the deal!
And studies in the Druidry of our dear animus GENGHIS KHAN would, no doubt, yield much insight into how the tree magic(k) functioned throughout ISRAEL, and, as we see from the motto of A.O.D.A., three trees here.
It would probably also increase the likelihood of the birth of particular cattle. Just as souls of humans remain in families over long stretches of time, we can speculate that the souls of the animals do as well, preparatory to entering the lives of humans, a process done carefully within a RUBRIC, a family, a state, or a given geographical area.
Thus we see that operative power, religious authority, and THE TEST OF TIME is full of these old scribes telling the truth, for in spiritual matters, that is often the best policy when the Angels have to bind a LARGE CONTINUUM.
Hazel and chestnut trees bear edible and delicious nuts, for which they were prized. I used to buy meat from a farmer who ran his flocks in a hazelnut orchard on his property, and the outcome was tinged with sweetness. If you take a gander at the above article on sheep, note the low fertility rates among the Bedoins and the high fertility rates among the professional and passionate agriculturalists in Israel. No doubt good animal husbandry procedures including the provision of high quality food would offset such losses.
Thus the mating of culture, religion, social structure and the use of available technology has a decided outcome on a group’s wealth, and, in some cases, their very survival — a case made repeatedly throughout history JUDAISM.
*Joseph Campbell called the Bible “over-advertized.”