Remember this post? It’s one of my favourites because so many people commented on it and I loved to get everyone’s opinion. It’s a topic that I’ve been thinking about for many years and when I got some insight into alternatives for the infertile people in the Bible I couldn’t wait to share it with you…
Genesis 16:1-2 (NIV): “Hagar and Ishmael 1 Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian maidservant named Hagar; 2 so she said to Abram, The LORD has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my maidservant; perhaps I can build a family through her. Abram agreed to what Sarai said.”
Genesis 30:3-7 (NIV): “3 Then she said, Here is Bilhah, my maidservant. Sleep with her so that she can bear children for me and that through her I too can build a family. 4 So she gave him her servant Bilhah as a wife. Jacob slept with her, 5 and she became pregnant and bore him a son. 6 Then Rachel said, God has vindicated me; he has listened to my plea and given me a son. Because of this she named him Dan. 7 Rachel’s servant Bilhah conceived again and bore Jacob a second son.”
Genesis 30:9-12 (NIV): “9 When Leah saw that she had stopped having children, she took her maidservant Zilpah and gave her to Jacob as a wife. 10 Leah’s servant Zilpah bore Jacob a son. 11 Then Leah said, What good fortune! So she named him Gad. 12 Leah’s servant Zilpah bore Jacob a second son.”
Modern traditional surrogacy is done via IUI. The eggs of the surrogate mother are inseminated with either the husband’s sperm or a donor’s sperm. In the biblical times there was no IUI, so it was done with intercourse. I’m sure a lot of modern women today are thankful that we don’t have to do it that way anymore!
In my reference Bible it says: “According to an ancient text from Nuzi from the second century BC it was customary for a barren woman to let her slave have intercourse with her husband, and to claim the resulting children as her own.” An Assyrian text from the 7th century BC has even more detail and roughly translated it says: “if Subetu does not get pregnant and give birth, she may appoint a slave in her place. Through the slave she (Subetu) will bring sons to life and the sons shall be hers. If she likes the slave she may keep her, but if she hates her, she may sell the slave.”
From the above verses you can see that both Rachel and Lea named the sons and it even says: “Then Rachel said, God has vindicated me; he has listened to my plea and given me a son.” Rachel is claiming the son as her own. I always thought that the slaves were more like concubines, and the children were seen as their children, but it seems that was not the case. I wonder if the slaves had any say in the matter. I think not…
Genesis 48:5 (NIV): “5 Now then, your two sons born to you in Egypt before I came to you here will be reckoned as mine; Ephraim and Manasseh will be mine, just as Reuben and Simeon are mine.”
Jacob had disinherited his eldest son Reuben, because he had committed incest with Jacob’s concubine. Jacob gave Josef his brother Reuben’s portion as well as his own portion of his inheritance, but instead of it going directly to Joseph it is given to his sons Ephraim and Manasseh, whom Jacob had adopted.
Exodus 1:22 (NIV): “22 Then Pharaoh gave this order to all his people: Every boy that is born you must throw into the Nile, but let every girl live.”
Exodus 2:2-10 (NIV): “2 and she became pregnant and gave birth to a son. When she saw that he was a fine child, she hid him for three months. 3 But when she could hide him no longer, she got a papyrus basket for him and coated it with tar and pitch. Then she placed the child in it and put it among the reeds along the bank of the Nile. 4 His sister stood at a distance to see what would happen to him. 5 Then Pharaoh’s daughter went down to the Nile to bathe, and her attendants were walking along the river bank. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her slave girl to get it. 6 She opened it and saw the baby. He was crying, and she felt sorry for him. This is one of the Hebrew babies, she said. 7 Then his sister asked Pharaoh’s daughter, Shall I go and get one of the Hebrew women to nurse the baby for you? 8 Yes, go, she answered. And the girl went and got the baby’s mother. 9 Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, Take this baby and nurse him for me, and I will pay you. So the woman took the baby and nursed him. 10 When the child grew older, she took him to Pharaoh’s daughter and he became her son. She named him Moses, saying, I drew him out of the water.”
Jochebed, Moses’ mother made a plan to try and save her son from the decree of Pharaoh. She must have known that the Pharaoh’s daughter would go to bath at that specific spot, and she must have know that Pharaoh’s daughter would take pity on her baby. I’ve read in one article that the Pharaoh’s daughter might have been infertile, as the argument is that someone who has children of her own might not accept a stranger’s baby as her own so easily.
Esther 2:7 (NIV): “7 Mordecai had a cousin named Hadassah, whom he had brought up because she had neither father nor mother. This girl, who was also known as Esther, was lovely in form and features, and Mordecai had taken her as his own daughter when her father and mother died.”
Genesis 30:14 (NIV): “14 During wheat harvest, Reuben went out into the fields and found some mandrake plants, which he brought to his mother Leah. Rachel said to Leah, Please give me some of your son’s mandrakes.”
The Dudaim or Mandrake plant was traditionally believed to increase a women’s fertility but was also know for its aphrodisiac qualities and believed to remove sterility in the East. It’s not commonly used anymore, but was also used for its anaesthetic qualities and could cause hallucinations if ingested in sufficient quantities. The mandrake fruit would have been ripe between April and May for a very short time and it was quickly eaten by birds and animals. Harvest time was late May to early June, so it was very unusual for Reuben to have found some. That’s probably why Rachel wanted them so desperately.
Ironically the mandrakes did not help Rachel to get pregnant, but Leah did get pregnant when Jacob visited her tent that night. Rachel did conceive another boy at a later stage though only after Leah had another two sons and a daughter.
So you can see from the above that there were alternatives for the childless couples in the Bible. They could adopt, have a child though a slave or even use some herbal remedies (we only have proof of the mandrakes from the Bible, but there could have been others). Why do some people expect us then to just have faith and pray for our own babies in today’s day and age?
I’m convinced that our modern methods of ART are better than the traditional surrogacy method of the Bible, and maybe we should remind the critics of ART of that next time they want to voice their opinions on a matter they know nothing about…