Harper’s Bible Dictionary
edited by Paul J. Achtemier (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1985)
You are strongly recommended to add to your library the excellent revised edition of Harper's Bible Dictionary titled, The Harper Collins Bible Dictionary, Revised Edition [book review], edited by Paul J. Achtemeier, with the Society of Biblical Literature (NY: Harper Collins, 1996). It is currently the best one-volume Bible dictionary in English, and it is available at Border's Books, Christian Science Reading Rooms, http://www.borders.com, or http://www.christianbook.com.
Laban (Heb., white or pale).
1 An unknown location east of the Jordan connected with the Israelites wilderness wandering (Deut. 1:1); some scholars identify it with Libnah (Num. 33:20).
2 A member of Abrahams ancestral family through Nahor, Abrahams brother; he was the brother of Rebekah and father of Leah and Rachel (Gen. 24:24, 29; 29:16). His home was near Haran in Paddan-aram (or Aram-naharaim, the river country), the upper region of the land lying between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers (upper Mesopotamia); he and his father are both called Aramaeans (Syrians in some versions; Gen. 24:10; 25:20; 27:43).
Labans greedy nature and subsequent role in the patriarchal narratives are aptly foreshadowed in his first introduction into the story where his lavish and servile greeting of Abrahams servant was prompted by the sight of the gifts (Gen. 24:29-32). Laban is encountered later in the narrative as Rebekah sends Jacob to the ancestral home at Haran to escape the anger of Esau and to find a wife from among the family clan group of Laban (Gen. 27:43-28:5). Labans covetous nature is fully revealed in his rather uneven bargain with Jacob of seven years labor for Rachel and his subsequent deception in tricking Jacob into another seven years labor (Gen. 29:1-30). However, he finally outwitted himself in agreeing to give Jacob the oddly marked livestock; thinking to take advantage of Jacob again, he found himself with dwindling herds as Jacob shrewdly used his knowledge of animal husbandry to carry out the poetic justice of God (Gen. 30:25-43).
Labans anger at Jacobs secret departure for Canaan was, no doubt, partly caused by the prospect of losing his daughters, much of what he considered to be his flocks, and the cheap labor of Jacob, all of which amounted to a breaking up of the family unit to which Jacob had willingly attached himself. But Laban was also concerned over the theft of the household idols (teraphim). These were more than just pagan images; they were tribal or clan symbols of ownership whose possession gave title to the family inheritance. Tablets found at the Hurrian city of Nuzi illustrate and confirm much of the legal and social background of this narrative. According to the customs portrayed in these tablets, Laban adopted his son-in-law as legal heir since, at that time, he had no male children. Jacob then had a right to the teraphim and the family inheritance, unless Laban had sons of his own who would then have precedence. Sons were later born to Laban, so neither Jacob nor Rachel had a legal right to the idols or inheritance and Laban was understandably upset over their disappearance (Gen. 31:22-30). The final parting of Laban and Jacob at Mizpah symbolizes the break between the Hebrews and their ancestral homeland in Aram and probably also reflects an ancient treaty of nonaggression between the two peoples (Gen. 31:43-55).
In the entire narrative Laban is characterized as greedy and devious and many scholars see the development of his character in the story as a satire aimed at the Aramaeans. On another level, the defeat of Laban, who seemed to have the upper hand initially, is attributed to the action of God, who used even the devious Aramaean to fulfill his divine purpose for his people (Gen. 31:5-13, 24, 42).
Edited for BibleTexts.com by Robert Nguyen Cramer