What Rachel And Leah Really Looked Like According To The Bible
The Biblical tale of Jacob, Rachel, and Leah is one of the more enduring love stories from the Bible’s Old Testament. The narrative, which can be found in Genesis 29, is described by National Geographic as “the Bible’s original love triangle,” inasmuch as it involves a man, two women, and his, shall we say, “complicated” feelings for both of them. The story also weaves a tale of deception and chicanery being overcome by love and pure force of will. And although the ending is not exactly happy, the entire narrative offers a glimpse into the cultural and religious practices of Jacob’s day.
But what did the two sisters actually look like? It’s difficult to say with certainty since the Bible is generally quite thin when it comes to describing the physical attributes of its characters. However, in this case, the text does give readers precious little to go on. Unfortunately for one of the two women, the narrative doesn’t paint a very flattering picture of her physical appearance.
Rachel is described as beautiful; Leah, not so much
To set the scene of how Jacob came to be in love with Rachel: As National Geographic explains, he was fleeing from his brother, Esau, when he took refuge in the household of his cousin, Laban. There, he fell in love with Laban’s daughter, Rachel, and asked to marry her. However, Laban wanted Jacob to pay for Rachel, and indeed, Jacob worked for his relative for seven years to earn her hand. But according to the text, it only “seemed like a few days” to him because he was so in love with her.
But Laban deceived Jacob. And on the day following his wedding night, Jacob woke up to find that he’d been given Leah, not Rachel. After some more bargaining, Jacob worked another seven years and wound up with Rachel, but only after 14 years of servitude to his father-in-law. She must have been pretty beautiful, right?
Actually, yes. The Bible describes Rachel as “beautiful and lovely” — or similar words, depending on the English translation. Leah, however, is described as having “weak eyes.” As Rabbi Sarah Mack writes in T’Ruah, the Hebrew word in that passage could be translated in several ways, and the contextual clues here don’t really help. Was Leah visually impaired? Were her eyes droopy and unattractive? For whatever it’s worth, Mack believes that her eyes were “weak” in a metaphorical sense from crying over how little Jacob loved her compared to her sister.
Rachel and Leah were Eurasian spinsters
According to Britannica, the region in which Jacob lived when he married Rachel and Leah was Harran, which is in the modern-day nation of Turkey. It’s not a huge stretch, then, to assume that Rachel and Leah weren’t unlike modern Turkish women. If you’re unclear what modern Turkish women look like, you can see four of them in the image above.
They were also likely quite old, at least, for marrying. As Study.com notes, it was not uncommon for ancient cultures to marry off their girls at puberty. Assuming Laban had been itching to marry off Leah as soon he could, she was likely around 13 or 14 when Jacob first took a shine to her sister. Following seven years of servitude, she’d have been pushing 20. Jacob then had to work another seven for Rachel — the woman he wanted to marry from the beginning. The math means that she’d likely have been in her middle 20s, if not pushing 30, by the time their marriage was consummated. And while that’s not unusual today — particularly in the West — in Jacob’s day and age, the two women would have been practically ancient in terms of being marriage material.
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