Dr. Alice C. Linsley
Hebrew marriages were arranged. Matches were not based on romantic love. Deliberation about suitable partners pertained to the "father's house", and were conducted under the authority of the fathers, village elders, clan chiefs, and sometimes the king.
The selection of marriage partners was based on consideration of political alliances, distribution of wealth, building up of the Hebrew lineages, and the necessity of heirs. There were many potential matches because there were many Hebrew clans other than Jacob’s clan (the Israelites). Priority probably was given to marriages within the 3-clan confederations such as Ham, Shem, and Japheth, or Og, Gog, and Magog, or Huz, Buz, and Uz.
In Abraham’s time, the deliberation about marriage partners likely involved a modular system of math with a cycle of between 9 and 12 choices. In this system, X represents firstborn son, and the possible matches are between 9 and 12 blood related (consanguine) females, drawn from the 3-clan confederations, and considered in a fixed order of rotation.
The Hebrew marriage and ascendancy pattern meant that all marriages were between Hebrew persons (caste endogamy). A bride selected from the pool of possible females would be a half-sister in the case of the ruler’s first marriage and a patrilineal cousin in the case of the second marriage. The brides for the next royal son will be considered in the rotation, beginning with the next female in the rotation after the last match was made.
The number 9 is based on the evidence that the early Hebrew were organized in groups of 3 clans: my clan, my brother’s clan, and my cousin’s clan. The deliberations would involve 3 groups of 3 Hebrew clans, which means that there were 9 clans from which a consanguine bride could be chosen. The number 12 is based on the evidence of 12-clan, with celestial animal totems related to the 12 moon phases. A similar way of selecting marriage partners is found in Hinduism with its concern for totemic origin. The most common totem names are those of animals regarded as sacred, such as the tiger, the cobra, the calf, and the elephant.
Consider the 12-hour clock, an intuitive usage of modular arithmetic. If it is 10:00 now, then in 5 hours the clock will show 3:00 instead of 15:00. 3 is the remainder of 15 with a modulus of 12.
It is possible that the account of Laban's insistence that the older sister (Leah) must marry before the younger (Rachel) alludes to a modular system. Laban insists that in his country, the younger daughter cannot marry before the older daughter (Gen. 29:16-30). Jacob, who was sent to live with his maternal uncle (avunculocal residence) agreed to work for Laban for seven years in return for marriage to his youngest daughter Rachel. However, on their wedding night, Laban switched Leah for Rachel. Later Laban claims that it is not the custom in his country to give the younger daughter in marriage before the older one.
Here a late hand on the text would have us believe that the marriage customs of the Hebrew in Padan-Aram were different than the customs in Jacob’s home country in Edom. However, all the early Hebrew followed the same pattern of caste endogamy regardless of where they lived.
The baby-making competition between Leah and Rachel is presented as an attempt to win Jacob’s favor. Leah felt unloved by Jacob and envied Rachel. The narrative presents Leah and Rachel as sisters, but Leah was probably Jacob’s half-sister, and Rachel was probably his cousin bride. These wives and their offspring constitute the clan of Jacob, one on many early Hebrew clans.
Related reading: Royal Sons and Their Maternal Uncles; Three-Clan Confederations; Why Rachel Didn't Trust Laban; The Marriage and Ascendancy Pattern of the Early Hebrew; Genetic Risks in Cousin Marriage; Rebekah Ran to Her Mother's House