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Jacob and the Piebald Sheep

Come Follow Me lesson February 28-March 6, 2022; Genesis 28-33; by Trent Dee Stephens, PhD

When I was a student of genetics, developmental biology, and teratology (birth defects) at BYU, the topic of maternal impressions was addressed several times in the context of what we now know in those modern fields vs what our ancestors believed. One of the prime examples of maternal impressions in antiquity, which has carried a great amount of influence down through the centuries, is the story of Jacob and the piebald sheep. Here is the story in its entirety:

“And it came to pass, when Rachel had born Joseph, that Jacob said unto Laban, Send me away, that I may go unto mine own place, and to my country. Give me my wives and my children, for whom I have served thee, and let me go: for thou knowest my service which I have done thee. And Laban said unto him, I pray thee, if I have found favour in thine eyes, tarry: for I have learned by experience that the Lord hath blessed me for thy sake. And he said, Appoint me thy wages, and I will give it. And he said unto him, Thou knowest how I have served thee, and how thy cattle was with me. For it was little which thou hadst before I came, and it is now increased unto a multitude; and the Lord hath blessed thee since my coming: and now when shall I provide for mine own house also? And he said, What shall I give thee? And Jacob said, Thou shalt not give me any thing: if thou wilt do this thing for me, I will again feed and keep thy flock: 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. So shall my righteousness answer for me in time to come, when it shall come for my hire before thy face: every one that is not speckled and spotted among the goats, and brown among the sheep, that shall be counted stolen with me. And Laban said, Behold, I would it might be according to thy word. And he removed that day the he goats that were ringstraked and spotted, and all the she goats that were speckled and spotted, and every one that had some white in it, and all the brown among the sheep, and gave them into the hand of his sons. And he set three days’ journey betwixt himself and Jacob: and Jacob fed the rest of Laban’s flocks.”

“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. 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. And the flocks conceived before the rods, and brought forth cattle ringstraked, speckled, and spotted. 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. 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. But when the cattle were feeble, he put them not in: so the feebler were Laban’s, and the stronger Jacob’s. And the man increased exceedingly, and had much cattle, and maidservants, and menservants, and camels, and asses.”1

Jacob’s plan to peel green poplar, hazel and chestnut trees so that white stripes appeared; and set them “…in the watering troughs when the flocks came to drink…”; so that the flocks “…should conceive when they came to drink; and bring forth cattle ringstraked, speckled, and spotted...” is a classic example of “maternal impressions.” The idea is that if a pregnant animal, including humans, sees something when pregnant, that impression will affect the developing embryo or fetus to be born looking like the image seen.

Apparently, most people from the tenth century BC down to at least the nineteenth century AD believed that the story of Jacob and the piebald sheep must be true because it wouldn’t be in the Bible if it wasn’t true. There seemed to be little concept that there might be “just so stories,” legends, or fables in the Bible, in addition to many true stories and doctrines. Furthermore, the concept of maternal impressions, also called maternal imagination, was “well documented” by numerous stories in the medical literature throughout at least the nineteenth century. Pregnant women were warned not to look at black people lest their babies turn out black. They were also warned not to go to zoos lest their babies turned out looking like monkeys or other animals. Jan Swammerdam, a seventeenth century Dutch biologist, recounted the story of a woman who had encountered a black person while she was pregnant. To save her child from being born black, she immediately went home and took a warm bath. The antidote worked, for the child was born white, except between the fingers and toes, where the lady apparently had not washed thoroughly enough.2

Maternal impressions also were believed to have long- lasting effects. The English physician, Robley Dunglison, who emigrated to America, was on the first University of Virginia faculty, and was Thomas Jefferson’s personal physician; in his textbook, Human Physiology,3 told the story of,

“…the strongest case in favour of the influence of the maternal imagination is given by Sir Everard Home. ‘An English mare was covered by a quagga, - quaccha, - a species of wild ass from Africa, which is marked somewhat like the zebra. This happened in the year 1815, in the park of Earl Morton, in Scotland. The mare was only covered once; went eleven months, four days, and nineteen hours, and the produce was a hybrid, marked like the father. The hybrid remained with the dam for four months, when it was weaned and removed from her sight. She probably saw it again in the early part of 1816, but never afterwards. In February, 1817, she was covered by an Arabian horse, and had her first foal – a filly. In May, 1818, she was covered again by the same horse and had a second. In June, 1819, she was covered again, but this year missed: in May, 1821, she was covered a fourth time, and had a third; - all being marked like the quagga. Haller remarks, that the female organs of the mare seem to be corrupted by the unequal copulation with the ass…’”3

Like many similar second-hand case stories of the time, Dunglison apparently passed on Home’s account without any critical evaluation of the story. Were the colts ever examined by anyone else? How many stripes did the colts exhibit?

Dunglison also told of another case,4

“When Dr. Hugh Smith, of England, was traveling in the country, the dogs, as is customary, ran out and barked as he passed through a village, and amongst these he observed a little ugly cur, ‘that was particularly eager to ingratiate himself with the setter bitch [named Dido] that accompanied him…’ Provoked at the sight, he shot the cur…Some time after, she was put to a setter…yet not a puppy did Dido bring forth which was not the picture and colour of the cur…[and in later litters] Dido never produced a welp that was not exactly similar to the unfortunate cur…!”4

Again, this is a second-hand story with no apparent confirmation. Even more amazing among Dunglison’s stories is that of cross-species reproduction.5 “In the year 1848, a remarkable filly – seven months old – was found in the New Forest, England, which is evidently – from the sketch of it – a mixed breed between a horse and a deer.”

Dunglison also reported other maternal impressions and generational effects in humans. He described the story of an, “…Irishwoman, in a Lincoln police report…” who delivered a baby with “black” characteristics “…having eaten some black potatoes during her pregnancy!” Furthermore, “It has even been affirmed, that the human female, when twice married, occasionally bears children to the second husband, which resemble the first in bodily structure and mental powers. The mode in which the influence is exerted, in this and similar cases, is unfathomable; and the fact itself, although indisputable, astounding.”6 Dunglison never explained his basis for declaring his stories as “indisputable.” Now we assume that it is much more likely that the female in question had not completely severed ties with her first husband.

This early concept in heredity was called telegony, and was derived from the now lost Greek Epic poem of the same name in which Odysseus’ son was Telegonus, which means “born far away.” The concept of telegony played a role in the resistance in 1361 to Edward, the Black Prince’s marriage to Joan, the Fair Maid of Kent, who had been previously married. Because of telegony, it was thought, their children may not be of pure Plantagenet blood. Leading scientists of the nineteenth century espoused telegony, which was not disproven until after the modern laws of genetics were discovered. Furthermore, in his 1841 book, A Manual of Midwifery, and Diseases of Women and Children, Michael Ryan proposed that a pregnant woman touching any part of her body with her hand (an act called chirapsia) can “…induce an organic change on the same part of the foetus.”7 Such an act, as well as maternal impressions and telegony, was thought to be the cause of birth marks and birth defects.

The seventeenth century Danish physician, mathematician, and theologian, Thomas Bartholin, reported that a lady, “…conceived a child by her husband who had been absent from her for four years through the influence of imagination.”8 We now know that more than just her imagination was involved, but higher class people, whose word was unimpugnable, were believed without question, at least publicly. According to Candida Moss of The Daily Beast,9 the woman in the Bartholin story was Madeleine d’Auvermont of Grenoble, France, and the date was 1637. Moss expanded a bit on the story stating the Madeleine, “…had thought—ahem—intensely about her husband at night and had conceived through the power of imagination.” Moss continued, “Various physicians and theologians were consulted on the case and declared that this was theoretically possible…The child was named the legal offspring of her husband and heir to the de Montleon fortune.”9There are many other stories of women becoming pregnant without any physical contact with the opposite sex. One story I recall is of a woman who claimed that she became pregnant simply by walking along the sidewalk across the street from a man, with the wind blowing her direction (this concept is called panspermia, or the dissemination of sperm aura through the air, much like odors are disseminated).

I would like to have been a consultant in those cases, or at least, a fly on the wall. How would we have dealt at that time, armed with our modern understanding, with the numerous ancient cases of maternal impression, chirapsia, telegony, and panspermia? Maternal impressions aside, birth defects are a real, critical part of our human existence. Three percent of all babies born have birth defects severe enough to require medical attention within their first year of life. Despite the best efforts of those of us who study birth defects, that number has remained constant probably throughout all of human history. Many more, less obvious or masked internal birth defects go unnoticed, even for years.

The entire ninth chapter of John’s gospel is devoted to Jesus healing a man who was blind from birth, a birth defect, and the ramifications of such a healing. The first part of that chapter is very interesting given what has just been said about the history of birth defects.

“And as Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth. And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind? Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.”10

This story appears to make plain a paradigm of the time that birth defects were the result of sin. The disciples didn’t ask if the blindness was the result of sin, that seems to have been a foregone conclusion. They only wanted to know who had committed the sin. Clearly the disciples believed that the sins of the parents could be visited on their son, but the possibility of the son sinning before birth is more complicated. There are three possible explanations for such a belief. First, the disciples believed that the son had sinned in the premortal world. This seems a possibility as they could read in Jeremiah 1:5, “Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee…” Perhaps some of the private, unrecorded teachings of the Savior to his disciples had included discussion of the pre-existence. Second, the disciples may have been referring to some notion of reincarnation, such that this man could have sinned in some past life. Apparently belief in reincarnation was around during the first century AD, and Yerachmiel.Tilles has stated,

“…many Jews are surprised to learn, or may even wish to deny, that reincarnation - the ‘revolving’ of souls through a succession of lives, or ‘gilgulim’ - is an integral part of Jewish belief. But this teaching has always been around.”11

Third, the disciples may have believed in some sort of original sin. This seems unlikely as original sin is an incorrect early Christian concept. However, Psalm 51:5 states, “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.” Another translation of that verse states, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” Both translations seem to fit the concept presented at the beginning of Psalm 51, and both suggest that Christ’s disciples may have believed in prenatal sin of some kind. We may never know which of the three concepts, or perhaps some combination, spurred the disciples to ask the question. Christ’s simple answer was that neither of them had sinned – not directly addressing the underlying paradigm.

The impotent man at the Bethesda pool, whom Jesus healed had been unable to walk for thirty eight years.12 That certainly would be most, if not all, of the man’s life, but it is not clear that his defect was from birth or if there was any perceived cause. Then, of course, there is the story of Goliath, a giant, and his brother, a giant with polydactyly (six fingers on each hand and six toes on each foot;),13 presumably being giants because of a congenital pituitary tumor. There is also the case of Moses trying to get out of going back to Egypt to save the Israelites.

“And Moses said unto the Lord, O my Lord, I am not eloquent, neither heretofore, nor since thou hast spoken unto thy servant: but I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue. And the Lord said unto him, Who hath made man’s mouth? or who maketh the dumb, or deaf, or the seeing, or the blind? have not I the Lord? Now therefore go, and I will be with thy mouth, and teach thee what thou shalt say.”14

Here, in Exodus, God is telling us that, even with our defects, we are in his hands and under his control, and he will strengthen us in our infirmities. God did not heal Moses' apparent defect, but gave him a way to get around it. Beyond these statements, I know of no other birth defects discussed in the scriptures.

There are, however, a number of monsters mentioned in the Bible, such as behemoth (probably and elephant), leviathan (probably a whale), Nephilim (perhaps giant humans), satyrs (probably referring to wild goats rather than half goat – half human creatures of Greek mythology), unicorns (probably an aurochs, the ancient ancestor of modern cattle; Pliny also called a rhinoceros a unicorn, which it is) cockatrices, and dragons. I will discuss the latter two in some detail.

One case of a dragon, with which I am very familiar and about which I have written papers, comes to mind. The Italian naturalist and museum creator, Ulisse Aldrovandi described a “dragon” that had been killed and brought to his museum:

“The dragon was first seen on May 13, 1572, hissing like a snake…he was caught on a public highway by a herdsman named Baptista of Camaldulus, near the hedge of a private farm, a mile from the remote city outskirts of Bologna…the herdsman noticed a hissing sound and was startled to see this strange little dragon ahead of him. Trembling, he struck it on the head with his rod and killed it.”15

The “dragon” must have been quite small for the herdsman to kill it by a blow to the head with his rod. It ultimately became part of Aldrovandi’s museum of anatomical oddities and curiosities. As with many other specimens in his museum collection, Aldrovandi made a careful, and in my opinion, accurate, drawing of the specimen. The drawing is of a snake-like animal, with two front limbs at the cranial (toward the head) end of a swelling in the snake’s body. The inscription with the drawing on page 404 of Serpentarum et draconum historiae reads, “Draco bipes apteros captus in Agro Bononiensi” (Bipedal, wingless dragon captured in field [near] Bologna). Apparently Aldrovandi thought this was an immature dragon based on its size and apparent lack of wings. The reader can see drawings of this and other of Aldrovandi’s dragons by doing a Google Image search for Aldrovandi’s dragon (the one I’m discussing is the one without wings).

The possibility that the “dragon” that Aldrovandi depicted and described in his book may have been a snake with a birth defect does not seem to have occurred to him – or to his museum curator Bartolomeo Ambrosini (Aldrovandi’s books were not published until 35 years or more after his death and it is not clear how much Ambrosini contributed). The color pattern depicted in the drawing could match the horseshoe whip snake (Hemorrhois hippocrepis), native to Italy. This snake could have hatched with a congenital tumor, which induced limbs to form at one end. I am still trying to find the right experimental conditions to test that hypothesis.

Research conducted in my laboratory with salamander embryos has demonstrated that if a cut is made in a salamander embryo’s yolk sac so that two yolk sacs are formed, up to four extra legs will develop around the new yolk sac (the maximum we have produced is a salamander with seven legs and 31 toes).16 I think this extra yolk sac in our salamander embryos was functioning like the tumor in Aldrovandi’s snake – dragon. Even though we turned a salamander from a tetrapod into a heptapod, we did not change the species, the animal is still a tiger salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum). Aldrovandi’s snake was still a snake.

The concept of species was first introduced by the English naturalist, John Ray, in 1686:

“No surer criterion for determining species has occurred to me than the distinguishing features that perpetuate themselves in propagation from seed. Thus, no matter what variations occur in the individuals or the species, if they spring from the seed of one and the same plant, they are accidental variations and not such as to distinguish a species ... Animals likewise that differ specifically preserve their distinct species permanently; one species never springs from the seed of another nor vice versa.”17

Ray’s very modern definition of species points out that even though a snake may hatch with a tumor, which, in turn, induces legs to form, the tumor and legs do not turn the snake into a dragon – it’s still a snake.

Aldrovandi’s other drawings, such as those of birds with extra legs and human birth defects in his Monstrorum historia cum Paralipomenis historiae omnium animalium (1642),18 are often quite accurate, although sometimes with a fanciful twist.19 The difference between his realistic drawings and the more fanciful ones probably reflects the difference between specimens he actually examined, like the “dragon” and those he had heard about second hand – as was probably the case with some of his other dragon drawings. It may, thus be presumed that his wingless “dragon” drawing is relatively accurate. However, without a modern understanding of species, although Aldrovandi got the description correct, his interpretation of what he observed was flawed.

In recent times, photos of snakes similar to Aldrovandi’s “dragon” have appeared on the internet. According to The Telegraph (no author listed),

“Dean [sic; Duan?] Qiongxiu, 66, said she discovered the reptile clinging to the wall of her bedroom with its talons in the middle of the night…Mrs Duan of Suining, southwest China…said she was so scared she grabbed a shoe and beat the snake to death... The snake – 16 inches long and the thickness of a little finger – is now being studied at the Life Sciences Department at China's West Normal University in Nanchang. Snake expert Long Shuai said: ‘It is truly shocking but we won't know the cause until we've conducted an autopsy.’”20

Although this event allegedly happened about 2011, I have been unable to find any “autopsy” report, or any information about Long Shuai (or Shuai Long). On this Chinese snake, there is a tumor-like growth at the site of the extra limb. There is also another photograph on the internet of Duan Qiongxiu holding the snake.21 There is a photograph of yet another snake with legs posted on another blog site. This snake, with two legs growing from what appears to be an abdominal tumor, was apparently photographed in Davie County, North Carolina.22 There has been some speculation that the recent snake with legs photographs have been faked, and this is always a possibility with modern Photoshop techniques. However, I have considerable experience with birth defects in both humans and other animals (my specialty is limb defects – defects of the arms and legs), including examination of fakes, and it is my opinion that these are real photographs of actual birth defects. The coloration and pattern of scales on the legs match that over the rest of the body and, more importantly, someone faking the photo would not necessarily have known to give the snake a tumor where the legs have grown. None-the-less, my conclusion concerning authenticity of the photographs is only contingent on what I have seen, and I would love to have the opportunity to examine one or both of those snakes more thoroughly.

An interesting twist on the Aldrovandi “dragon” story is an illustration of what appears to be the same dragon in Johann Jakob Scheuchzer’s Itinera alpina tria (1708).23 Here the “dragon” is depicted as being over ten feet long, compared to a man walking along the road beside it. Scheuchzer says this dragon was seen in Switzerland, and, while claiming he does not believe in dragons, presents an illustration, clearly inspired by Aldrovandi’s dragon.

So from a herdsman named Baptista killing a small snake with a tumor and legs, to Aldrovandi obtaining the specimen for his museum and calling it a dragon, to Scheuchzer depicting the same snake as being over ten feet long and somehow balancing on its tail; reality was transformed into fantasy.

Dragons are mentioned several times in the Bible, especially in the Old Testament: once perhaps describing an animal similar to a snake,24 once like a leviathan or sea serpent,25 but most often in relation to desolate, isolated places: For example, we read in Jeremiah 10:22, “Behold, the noise of the bruit is come, and a great commotion out of the north country, to make the cities of Judah desolate, and a den of dragons.” Again, we read in Isaiah 34:13, “And thorns shall come up in her palaces, nettles and brambles in the fortresses thereof: and it shall be an inhabitation of dragons, and a court for owls.”26 Job declared, “I am a brother to dragons, and a companion to owls.”27 Apparently, the Hebrew word in these scriptures that has been rendered “dragon” in the King James Bible, is tannin (תַּנִּין), which could be translated as dragon, sea-monster, serpent, jackal, or even as whale.28

The King James Bible was written between 1604 and 1611, right at the time when Aldrovandi was calling a little snake with legs a “dragon,” and when dragon lore in general may have been at a height. The Bible authors cited above in Jeremiah, Isaiah, and Job may have had in mind something very different from what the word “dragon” conjures in the modern mind. In all three cases, the authors appear to have been describing an animal that lives in a desolate place. Maybe the word jackal would have been a better translation there.

I have written a paper about a similar transliteration for the word Cockatrice in the Old Testament.29 In 1986, I attended the Teratology Society (the society for the study of birth defects) meetings and banquet in Boston. At the banquet, Ernest Hook gave a most fascinating after-dinner speech about the birth defects of Richard III. In his Speech, Hook quoted from Shakespeare’s Richard III, act IV, scene 1, lines 53 and 54, wherein Richard’s own mother stated of Richard,

“O my accursed womb, the bed of death! A cockatrice has thou hatch’d to the world…”

When I returned home, I wrote a letter to the editor of the journal Teratology, discussing the history of cockatrices and basilisks.29

Like the dragon, we encounter the cockatrice several times in the Old Testament. For example in Isaiah we read about some very dangerous animal:

“Rejoice not thou, whole Palestina, because the rod of him that smote thee is broken: for out of the serpent’s root shall come forth a cockatrice, and his fruit shall be a fiery flying serpent.”30

Isaiah then says that even eating the eggs can be fatal:

“They hatch cockatrice’ eggs, and weave the spider’s web: he that eateth of their eggs dieth, and that which is crushed breaketh out into a viper.”31

Then in Jeremiah we get a clue as to what cockatrices might be:

“For, behold, I will send serpents, cockatrices, among you, which will not be charmed, and they shall bite you, saith the Lord.”32

He defines it as some sort of snake that bites and cannot be charmed. That sounds a bit like a cobra.

The Oxford English Dictionary says that the term cockatrice was derived from the Greek word ichneumon, an Egyptian quadruped that ate crocodile eggs. Pliny (book VIII, part XXXV) stated that ichneumons were mortal enemies of crocodiles. When a crocodile was asleep, with its mouth open, an ichneumon would dart down its throat and kill the croc by eating through its belly. This description may derive from watching trochilus birds, which feed on food lodged between crocodile’s teeth while the croc lies sleeping with its mouth open. Being quadrupedal, however, the animal was identified as an otter by some of Pliny’s followers.29

At some point, the English term cockatrice replaced ichneumon and was thought to be some Nile River fish or reptile, in some cases, cockatrice even became another name for crocodile. In the same book where Pliny described an ichneumon, he also described a basilisk:

“The basilisk serpent…is a native of the province of Cyrenaica [on the north coast of Africa], not more than 12 inches long, and adorned with a bright white marking on the head like a sort of diadem. It routes all snakes with its hiss, and does not move its body forward in manifold coils like the other snakes but advancing with its middle raised high. It kills bushes not only by its touch but also by its breath, scorches up grass and bursts rocks. Its effect on other animals is disastrous: it is believed that once one was killed with a spear by a man on horseback and the infection rising through the spear killed not only the rider but also the horse. Yet to a creature so marvelous as this, indeed kings have often wished to see a specimen when safely dead, the venom of weasels is fatal…They throw basilisks into weasel’s holes, which are easily known by the foulness of the ground, and the weasels kill them by their stench and die themselves at the same time…”29

This very deadly snake with a white crown or diamond on its head, crawling along raised high at the middle, sounds a lot like a cobra, especially if its enemy the weasel is actually the weasel-like mongoose. During the Middle Ages, the names basilisk and cockatrice became equated, perhaps because they were both very dangerous snakes. This composite animal was then described as a fantastic reptile hatched by a serpent (or a toad) from a rooster’s egg. It is black and yellow striped, has fiery red eyes, and kills simply by looking at a person – by the “basilisk stare.” As if these features were not enough, the medievals often added wings as well, perhaps based on Isaiah’s “fiery flying serpent.”33 At this point, some readers may be confused, not being aware that roosters can lay eggs – well they can’t, but to the medieval mind, full of fantasy, an egg laid with only a shell membrane and no shell (which sometimes happens, although rarely – I’ve seen one myself in our chicken coop when I was a boy) was thought to have been laid by a rooster. To add to the rarity, not only was the basilisk hatched from a rooster egg, but a seven-year-old rooster during the days of the dog star Sirius (the dog days of summer, starting the end of July). So, to keep a basilisk or cockatrice from hatching in your chicken coop: 1. Don’t let any rooster live past six years – use the old ones for chicken soup. 2. Don’t let any snakes or toads into your chicken coop during the dog days of summer. 3. And, for heaven’s sake, don’t eat any rooster eggs – immediately discard any eggs you encounter in a nest with only a shell membrane and no shell – you may want to wear gloves and a mask (just kidding)..

It appears that, from a purely biological perspective, the term “dragon” in the Bible should be translated as jackal and “cockatrice” should be cobra, but I’m not just a biologist, I’m also a romantic and I love literature. To me, removing dragons and cockatrices from the King James Bible would be like translating Shakespeare into modern English. Life without King James, Shakespeare, dragons, and cockatrices, would be a life much less interesting. I also leave room in my garden for fairies to dance.

Now that I’ve covered the man born blind, whom Jesus healed, and basilisks, let’s return to the story of Jacob. Laban had pulled a fast one on Jacob, giving him Leah rather than Rachel after Jacob had served seven years.34 Then Jacob had to work another seven years for Rachel.35 Then after Jacob had been given Rachel, he served Laban another seven years.36 during that time, he had twelve sons, by his wives and their handmaids.

Then Jacob said to Laban,

“Send me away, that I may go unto mine own place, and to my country. Give me my wives and my children, for whom I have served thee, and let me go: for thou knowest my service which I have done thee.”37

Then Laban asked Jacob to stay a little bit longer and said to him, “Appoint me thy wages, and I will give it.”38 Jacob reminded Laban that he had served Laban by watching his cattle and Jacob said that Laban had little before Jacob came twenty-one years earlier, and he said to Laban, “Thou shalt not give me any thing: if thou wilt do this thing for me, I will again feed and keep thy flock.”39 So here was the deal:

“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. So shall my righteousness answer for me in time to come, when it shall come for my hire before thy face: every one that is not speckled and spotted among the goats, and brown among the sheep, that shall be counted stolen with me.”40

Laban agreed, probably thinking he was putting one over on Jacob once again. Then comes the part about the poplar, hazel, and chestnut rods.41 We now know that maternal impressions don’t work, not even a little bit; the whole idea is pure fantasy. So something else must have been at work there. It may have been that Jacob was not aware of what was actually happening and thought that maternal impressions were at work, but Jacob wasn’t the one who actually wrote the story. The oral story was certainly passed down for many generations before it was compiled into the written form we have today. Somewhere along the line the part about maternal impressions and the rods in the water troughs may have been added. It seems that after twenty one years of working with Laban’s herds and flocks Jacob knew something about animal breeding. After all, he told Laban, “For it was little which thou hadst before I came, and it is now increased unto a multitude; and the Lord hath blessed thee since my coming…”42 and Laban agreed, “…I have learned by experience that the Lord hath blessed me for thy sake.”43

So what happened? It’s clear that there was a difference between the stronger cattle, which birthed ringstraked, speckled, and spotted offspring; and the feeble cattle, which apparently birthed the white offspring.44 As a result, in the end, “…the feebler were Laban’s, and the stronger Jacob’s.”45 Striped rods or not, after twenty one years with the cattle, Jacob certainly would have recognized this trend, whereas Laban, apparently not being with the cattle all the time, did not. What Jacob recognized in the cattle, goats, and sheep is probably what is known today as hybrid vigor. Those animals that were “pure” and white did not have the stamina as those with “defects” in color. The inbreeding involved in keeping certain markers, such as white coats in the population, also often selects for weak recessive traits in the same population.

Ironically, during the middle of the twentieth century, the Nazis did not comprehend that aspect of genetics – hybrid vigor. Rather, they believed in a false genetic concept called eugenics (good genetics) and promoted, then enforced, then demanded inbreeding within select “Arian blood lines,” and committed mass murder in an attempt to prevent undesirable “blood lines” from breeding – because, deep down, they knew and feared that given equal opportunity, those “inferior blood lines” would eventually overpower the “superior” Arians, just like the ringstraked, speckled, and spotted cattle of Jacob.

When Jacob finally left Laban and returned to his homeland, he had, “…increased exceedingly, and had much cattle, and maidservants, and menservants, and camels, and asses.”46 I believe that God blessed Jacob, not through the magic of pealed branches and maternal impressions, but through his greater knowledge of animal husbandry.

Trent Dee Stephens, PhD


1. Genesis 30:25-43

2. Encyclopaedia Medica, vol 7, Longmans, Green and Co., 1901

3. Dunglison, Robley, Human Physiology, vol 2, 7th edition, Lea and Blanchard, 1850

4. Dunglison, Robley, Human Physiology, vol 2, 7th edition, Lea and Blanchard, p 467-468, 1850

5. Dunglison, Robley, Human Physiology, vol 2, 7th edition, Lea and Blanchard, p 468, 1850

6. Dunglison, Robley, Human Physiology, vol 2, 7th edition, Lea and Blanchard, p 466, 1850

7. Ryan, Michael, A Manual of Midwifery, and Diseases of Women and Children, 1841

8. Bartholin, Thomas, Encyclopaedia Medica, vol 7, Longmans, Green and Co., 1901

9. Moss, Candida, The Daily Beast, 1/22/2014

10. John 9:1-3

11. John 5:2-8

12. Tilles, Yerachmiel, Judaism and Reincarnation, Kabbalah Online,

13. 2 Samuel 21:20

14. Exodus 4:11-13

15. Aldrovandi, Ulysses, Serpentarum et draconum historiae libri duo, published posthumous by Bartolomeo Ambrosini, p 404, 1640, Bologna;

16. Stephens, Trent D., Bunde, Carolyn J., and Fillmore, Bradley J., Non-molecular, epigenetic, physical factors in limb initiation. J. Exp. Zool. 284: 55-66, 1999.

17. Ray, John, Historia plantarum generalis, Tome I, Libr. I. p. Chap. XX, page 40., 1686, quoted in Mayr, Ernst, The growth of biological thought: diversity, evolution, and inheritance, Belknap Press. p. 256, 1982.

18. Aldrovandi, Ulysses, Monstrorum historia cum Paralipomenis historiae omnium animalium, published posthumous by Bartolomeo Ambrosini, 1642, Bologna.

19. Wiggington, Waller B and Stephens, Trent D, The monsters and theology of Isidore of Seville, Ulisse Aldrovandi, and modern science. Rendezvous 25, 67-82, 1989.

20. The Telegraph, 2009;; see photos at that and other websites by Googling snake with legs



23. Scheuchzer, Johann Jakob, Itinera alpina tria, London, 1708

24. Psalm 91:13

25. Isaiah 27:1

26. See also Isaiah 35:7, and Malachi 1:3

27. Job 30:29

28. Strong’s Concordance;

29. Stephens, Trent D., A basilisk by any other name ... (A short history of the cockatrice). Teratology 25, 277-279, 1987.

30. Isaiah 14:29

31. Isaiah 59:5

32. Jeremiah 8:17

33. Isaiah 14:29

34. Genesis 29:23-26

35. Genesis 29:27-28

36. Genesis 29:30

37. Genesis 30:25-26

38. Genesis 30:27-28

39. Genesis 30:29-31

40. Genesis 30:32-33

41. Genesis 30:37-43

42. Genesis 30:30

43. Genesis 30:27

44. Genesis 30:41-42

45. Genesis 30:42

46. Genesis 30:43

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I will try to Zoom tonight's Where Science Meets Religion talk and future talks on Zoom. Meeting ID: 935 754 2152 Passcode: nka I hope you can make it. Trent Stephens, PhD

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