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Rachel WilliamDyce.jpg
Rachel and Jacob by William Dyce
Holy Matriarch
Born Paddan Aram
Died Canaan
Venerated in
Major shrine Rachel's Tomb
  • Roman Catholicism: 1 November [1]
  • Orthodox Church: Sunday before Christmas

Rachel (Hebrew : רָחֵל, romanized: Rāḥêl, lit.  ' ewe ') [2] was a Biblical figure, the favorite of Jacob's two wives, and the mother of Joseph and Benjamin, two of the twelve progenitors of the tribes of Israel. Rachel's father was Laban. Her older sister was Leah, Jacob's first wife; their mother was Adinah. [3] Her aunt Rebekah was Jacob's mother. [4]


Marriage to Jacob

Rachel and Jacob at the Well by James Tissot (c. 1896-1902) Tissot Jacob and Rachel at the Well.jpg
Rachel and Jacob at the Well by James Tissot (c. 1896–1902)

Rachel is first mentioned in the Hebrew Bible in Genesis 29 when Jacob happens upon her as she is about to water her father's flock. She was the second daughter of Laban, Rebekah's brother, making Jacob her first cousin. [4] Jacob had traveled a great distance to find Laban. Rebekah had sent him there to be safe from his angry twin brother, Esau.

During Jacob's stay, he fell in love with Rachel and agreed to work seven years for Laban in return for her hand in marriage. On the night of the wedding, the bride was veiled and Jacob did not notice that Leah, Rachel's older sister, had been substituted for Rachel. Whereas "Rachel was lovely in form and beautiful", "Leah had tender eyes". [5] Later Jacob confronted Laban, who excused his own deception by insisting that the older sister should marry first. He assured Jacob that after his wedding week was finished, he could take Rachel as a wife as well, and work another seven years as payment for her. When God "saw that Leah was unloved, he opened her womb" (Gen 29:31), and she gave birth to four sons.

Rachel, like Sarah and Rebecca, remained unable to conceive. According to Tikva Frymer-Kensky, "The infertility of the matriarchs has two effects: it heightens the drama of the birth of the eventual son, marking Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph as special; and it emphasizes that pregnancy is an act of God." [6]

Rachel became jealous of Leah and gave Jacob her maidservant, Bilhah, to be a surrogate mother for her. Bilhah gave birth to two sons that Rachel named and raised (Dan and Naphtali). Leah responds by offering her handmaid Zilpah to Jacob, and names and raises the two sons (Gad and Asher) that Zilpah bears. According to some commentaries, Bilhah and Zilpah are actually half-sisters of Leah and Rachel. [7] After Leah conceived again, Rachel was finally blessed with a son, Joseph, [4] who would become Jacob's favorite child.


Rachel's son Joseph was destined to be the leader of Israel's tribes between exile and nationhood. This role is exemplified in the Biblical story of Joseph, who prepared the way in Egypt for his family's exile there. [8]

Fresco by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo of Rachel sitting on the idols (1726-1728) Giovanni Battista Tiepolo 066.jpg
Fresco by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo of Rachel sitting on the idols (1726–1728)

After Joseph's birth, Jacob decided to return to the land of Canaan with his family. [4] Fearing that Laban would deter him, he fled with his two wives, Leah and Rachel, and twelve children without informing his father-in-law. Laban pursued him and accused him of stealing his idols. Indeed, Rachel had taken her father's idols, hidden them inside her camel's seat cushion, and sat upon them. Laban had neglected to give his daughters their inheritance ( Genesis 31:14–16 ). [6]

Not knowing that the idols were in his wife's possession, Jacob pronounced a curse on whoever had them: "With whoever you will find your gods, he will not live" ( Genesis 31:32 ). Laban proceeded to search the tents of Jacob and his wives, but when he came to Rachel's tent, she told her father, "Let not my lord be angered that I cannot rise up before you, for the way of women is upon me" ( Genesis 31:35 ). Laban left her alone, but the curse Jacob had pronounced came true shortly thereafter.

Death and burial

Rachel's Tomb, near Bethlehem, 1891 Rachel's Tomb, near Bethlehem, 1891.jpg
Rachel's Tomb, near Bethlehem, 1891

Near Ephrath, Rachel went into a difficult labor with her second son, Benjamin. The midwife told her in the middle of the birth that her child was a boy. [9] Before she died, Rachel named her son Ben Oni ("son of my mourning"), but Jacob called him Ben Yamin (Benjamin). Rashi explains that Ben Yamin either means "son of the right" (i.e., "south"), since Benjamin was the only one of Jacob's sons born in Canaan, which is to the south of Paddan Aram; or it could mean "son of my days", as Benjamin was born in Jacob's old age.

Rachel was buried on the road to Efrat, just outside Bethlehem, [10] and not in the ancestral tomb at Machpelah. Today a site claimed to be Rachel's Tomb, located between Bethlehem and the Israeli settlement of Gilo, is visited by tens of thousands of visitors each year. [11] Rachel's tomb is said to be in the ancient city of Zelzah in the land of the Tribe of Benjamin (First Book of Samuel, chapter 10, v. 2).

Additional references in the Bible

Rachel is weeping for her children, 14th-century fresco from Marko's Monastery. Freso - Rachel is weeping for her children.jpg
Rachel is weeping for her children, 14th-century fresco from Marko's Monastery.

In Islam

Despite not being named in the Quran, Rachel (Arabic : رَاحِـيْـل, Rāḥīl) is honored in Islam as the wife of Jacob and mother of Joseph, [13] who are frequently mentioned by name in the Qur'an as Ya‘qūb (Arabic : يَـعْـقُـوْب) and Yūsuf (Arabic : يُـوْسُـف), respectively. [14] [15]

Related Research Articles

Benjamin Biblical figure and son of Jacob

Benjamin was the last-born of Jacob's thirteen children, and the second and last son of Rachel in Jewish, Christian and Islamic tradition. He was the progenitor of the Israelite Tribe of Benjamin. In the Hebrew Bible unlike Rachel's first son, Joseph, Benjamin was born in Canaan.

Jacob Regarded as a Patriarch of the Israelites, later given the name Israel

Jacob, later given the name Israel, is regarded as a Patriarch of the Israelites and so is an important figure in Abrahamic religions, such as Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Jacob first appears in the Book of Genesis, the son of Isaac and Rebecca, the grandson of Abraham, Sarah and Bethuel, the nephew of Ishmael. He was the second-born of Isaac's children, the elder being his fraternal twin brother Esau. However, by deceiving Isaac when he was old and blind, Jacob was able to usurp the blessing that belonged to Esau as the firstborn son, and become the leader of their family. Following a severe drought in his homeland Canaan, Jacob and his descendants, with the help of his son Joseph, who had since become a confidante of Pharaoh, moved to Egypt, where he died, aged 147 years, and was buried in the Cave of Machpelah.

Asher, in the Book of Genesis, is the second son of Jacob and Zilpah, and the founder of the Tribe of Asher.

Bilhah is a woman mentioned in the Book of Genesis. Genesis 29:29 describes her as Laban's handmaid, who was given to Rachel to be her handmaid on Rachel's marriage to Jacob. When Rachel failed to have children, Rachel gave Bilhah to Jacob as a concubine to bear him children. Bilhah gave birth to two sons, whom Rachel claimed as her own and named Dan and Naphtali. Genesis 35:22 expressly calls Bilhah Jacob's concubine, a pilegesh.

The Tribe of Joseph is one of the Tribes of Israel in biblical tradition. Since Ephraim and Manasseh together traditionally constituted the tribe of Joseph, it was often not listed as one of the tribes, in favour of Ephraim and Manasseh being listed in its place; consequently it was often termed the House of Joseph, to avoid the use of the term tribe. According to the Targum Pseudo-Jonathan, the ensign of both the House of Joseph and the Tribe of Benjamin was the figure of a boy, with the inscription: the cloud of the Lord rested on them until they went forth out of the camp. There were obvious linguistic differences between at least one portion of Joseph and the other Israelite tribes. At the time when Ephraim were at war with the Israelites of Gilead, under the leadership of Jephthah, the pronunciation of shibboleth as sibboleth was considered sufficient evidence to single out individuals from Ephraim, so that they could be subjected to immediate death by the Israelites of Gilead.

Leah Biblical matriarch

Leah is described in the Hebrew Bible as the daughter of Laban. She and her younger sister Rachel became the two concurrent wives of Hebrew patriarch Jacob. She had six sons, whose descendants became some of the Twelve Tribes of Israel. She also had a daughter, Dinah.

In the Book of Genesis, Zilpah was Leah's handmaid, presumed slave, whom Leah gave to Jacob "to wife" to bear him children. Zilpah gave birth to two sons, whom Leah claimed as her own and named Gad and Asher.

According to the Book of Genesis, Naphtali was the sixth son of Jacob and second son with Bilhah. He was the founder of the Israelite Tribe of Naphtali.

Ephraim Biblical character

Ephraim ; was, according to the Book of Genesis, the second son of Joseph and Asenath. Asenath was an Egyptian woman who Pharaoh gave to Joseph as wife, and the daughter of Potipherah, a priest of On. Ephraim was born in Egypt before the arrival of the children of Israel from Canaan.

Laban (Bible) Biblical figure

Laban is a figure in the Book of Genesis of the Hebrew Bible. He was the brother of Rebekah, who married Isaac and bore Jacob. Laban welcomed his nephew as a young man, and set him the stipulation of seven years' labour before he permitted him to marry his daughter Rachel. Laban tricked Jacob into marrying his elder daughter Leah instead. Jacob then took both women as wives.

Reuben (son of Jacob) eldest son of Jacob with Leah, in the Bible

According to the Book of Genesis, Reuben or Re'uven was the eldest son of Jacob and Leah. He was the founder of the Israelite Tribe of Reuben.

Patriarchs (Bible) the Biblical figures Abraham, his son Isaac, and Isaacs son Jacob, or the ancestor-figures between Adam and Abraham

The patriarchs of the Bible, when narrowly defined, are Abraham, his son Isaac, and Isaac's son Jacob, also named Israel, the ancestor of the Israelites. These three figures are referred to collectively as the patriarchs, and the period in which they lived is known as the patriarchal age.

Twelve Tribes of Israel Tribes descended from the 12 sons of Jacob in the Hebrew Bible

In the Hebrew Bible, the Twelve Tribes of Israel or Tribes of Israel descended from the 12 sons of the patriarch Jacob and his two wives, Leah and Rachel, and two concubines, Zilpah and Bilhah.


Vayetze, Vayeitzei, or Vayetzei is the seventh weekly Torah portion in the annual Jewish cycle of Torah reading. It constitutes Genesis 28:10–32:3. The parashah tells of Jacob's travels to, life in, and return from Haran. The parashah recounts Jacob's dream of a ladder to heaven, Jacob's meeting of Rachel at the well, Jacob's time working for Laban and living with Rachel and Leah, the birth of Jacob's children, and the departure of Jacob's family from Laban.

<i>The Red Tent</i> (Diamant novel) novel by Anita Diamant, published in 1997

The Red Tent is a novel by Anita Diamant, published in 1997 by Wyatt Books for St. Martin's Press. It is a first-person narrative that tells the story of Dinah, daughter of Jacob and Leah, sister of Joseph. She is a minor character in the Bible, but the author has broadened her story. The book's title refers to the tent in which women of Jacob's tribe must, according to the ancient law, take refuge while menstruating or giving birth, and in which they find mutual support and encouragement from their mothers, sisters and aunts.

<i>Jacob</i> (film) 1994 German/Italian/American television movie directed by Peter Hall

Jacob is a 1994 German/Italian/American television movie by Five Mile River Films, based on the novel Giacobbe by Francesco Maria Nappi, which is in turn based on a biblical account from the Book of Genesis about Jacob.

Manasseh (tribal patriarch) biblical figure

Manasseh or Menashe was, according to the Book of Genesis, the first son of Joseph and Asenath. Asenath was an Egyptian woman whom Pharaoh gave to Joseph as wife, and the daughter of Potipherah, a priest of On. Manasseh was born in Egypt before the arrival of the children of Israel from Canaan.

<i>The Story of Jacob and Joseph</i> 1974 television film directed by Michael Cacoyannis

The Story of Jacob and Joseph is a 1974 American historical drama television film directed by Michael Cacoyannis, based on the Biblical Book of Genesis with a screenplay written by Ernest Kinoy. It stars Keith Michell as Jacob, Tony Lo Bianco as Joseph, Colleen Dewhurst as Rebekah, Herschel Bernardi as Laban, Harry Andrews as Isaac, and Julian Glover as Esau.

<i>The Red Tent</i> (miniseries) two-part, one-hour American television miniseries

The Red Tent is an American television miniseries produced by Paula Weinstein and directed by Roger Young. The first two-hour episode premiered on Lifetime on December 7, 2014; the second and final episode aired the next day. The series is based on the best-selling novel of the same name by Anita Diamant.


  1. "Rachel the Matriarch". Star Quest Production Network. Retrieved 28 April 2011.
  2. Bible Hub
  3. Seder Hadoros
  4. 1 2 3 4 "Rachel", Jewish Virtual Library
  5. "Leah had tender eyes" (Hebrew : ועיני לאה רכות) (Genesis 29:17). It is debated as to whether the adjective "tender" (רכות) should be taken to mean "delicate and soft" or "weary". Some translations say that it may have meant blue or light colored eyes. Some say that Leah spent most of her time weeping and praying to God to change her destined mate. Thus the Torah describes her eyes as "soft" from weeping.
  6. 1 2 3 Frymer-Kensky, Tikva. "Rachel: Bible." Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. 20 March 2009. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on August 6, 2014)
  7. Ginzberg, Louis (1909) The Legends of the Jews, Volume I, Chapter VI: Jacob, at sacred-texts.com
  8. "Joseph" at jewishencyclopedia.com
  9. Reisenberger, Azila, "Medical history: Biblical texts reveal compelling mysteries", University of Cape Town News, January 10, 2003
  10. "Rachel" at http://jewishencyclopedia.com
  11. "Kever Rachel Trip Breaks Barriers" by Israel National News Staff at israelnationalnews.com, Published: 11/14/05
  12. Weisberg, Chana, "Rachel - Biblical Women" at chabad.org
  13. "Tomb of Rahil (Rachel)". Islamic Landmarks. Retrieved 19 February 2018.
  14. Quran   12:4–102
  15. al-Tabari, Muhammad ibn Jarir (Translated by William Brinner) (1987). The History of al-Tabari Vol. 2: Prophets and Patriarchs. SUNY. p. 150.