Does the Bible attempt to explain the origin of striped animals in the story of Jacob? I must admit, I had never heard this claim before and found myself a bit perplexed. The claim is that Jacob caused the first speckled and striped sheep and goats to appear by laying out branches of various trees in front of his flocks. Since the Bible is claiming that this is the origin of striped animals, the Bible must be lying. This is obviously not what Genesis is stating, but we will get to that in a moment. Read the claim for yourself below.
So let’s go ahead and start with the last sentence in the comment, “If it’s really the word of God, the God must be pretty stupid”. Personally, I would make sure that I have a complete grasp of the text at hand prior to making such a grandiose claim. So let’s take a closer look at the verses at the root of this claim.
Jacob, however, took fresh branches of poplar, almond, and plane trees, and peeled the bark, exposing the white inner wood of the branches. Then he set the peeled branches in the watering troughs in front of the flocks coming in to drink. So when the flocks were in heat and came to drink, they mated in front of the branches. And they bore young that were streaked or speckled or spotted.Genesis 30:37-39
As usual, out of context these verses could be read in the manner described. If we assume that striped animals did not exist prior to this then it would certainly seem that the Bible is making the claim that Jacob created the first striped animals by arranging some tree branches in front of them while they mated. Of course, if we take the time to look back a couple of verses, we will see that striped animals already existed and were documented in this very chapter.
“You do not need to give me anything,” Jacob replied. “If you do this one thing for me, I will keep on shepherding and keeping your flocks. Let me go through all your flocks today and remove from them every speckled or spotted sheep, every dark-colored lamb, and every spotted or speckled goat. These will be my wages. So my honesty will testify for me when you come to check on my wages in the future. If I have any goats that are not speckled or spotted, or any lambs that are not dark-colored, they will be considered stolen.”Genesis 30:31-33
Here we see that Jacob is making a deal with Laban regarding all of his future dark, spotted, speckled, or streaked lambs and goats. Jacob wishes to take these animals as a wage instead of money, laban agrees and then betrays Jacob by removing all of the “blemished” sheep from his flock and gives them to his sons.
“Agreed,” said Laban. “Let it be as you have said.”
That very day Laban removed all the streaked or spotted male goats and every speckled or spotted female goat—every one that had any white on it—and every dark-colored lamb, and he placed them under the care of his sons. Then he put a three-day journey between himself and Jacob, while Jacob was shepherding the rest of Laban’s flocks.Genesis 30:34-36
How could Laban do this if they did not yet exist? Obviously he could not. It would seem that a cursory reading of the story of Jacob easily dismisses the claim made by this particular Facebook user. However, for those paying close attention to the story, one may wonder the following; If Laban removed all of the “blemished” lambs and goats from his flocks, how was Jacob able to produce speckled and spotted offspring from the flocks?
Mendel’s Law Of Inheritence
The simplest explanation of this is that speckled or spotted coats were simply the dominant gene in the remaining members of the flock, even though they had solid white coats. Mendel’s experiments with peas proved that dominant traits will be passed on to following generations regardless of the visible traits of the parents. In this case, the white lambs carried a dominant gene that was likely to produce spotted or speckled lambs. This has been indicated to be true even in modern “Jacob’s Sheep” today.
Jacob did not need to perform strange rituals in order to “create” speckled lambs, he simply needed to be familiar with the flocks that he had already been tending for fourteen years up to this point. Jacob witnessed the speckled and spotted males breeding with the females prior to his deal with Laban so he likely knew, given his years of service to Laban and experience with the flock, that a majority of the young would be spotted or speckled. Later on, Jacob explains that this was confirmed to him in a dream. In this scenario, I don’t think the dream was necessary to influence Jacobs decision, but rather to inform him that he was making the correct one.
Law of Heterosis
This is where the poplar, almond, and plane trees come into play. The law of heterosis explains that animals which our outbred, as opposed to inbred, produce stronger, healthier offspring. I believe that Jacob is using this as a method to control the breeding process. Fresh cut poplar produces a sap that mixes with the water and attracts the flocks to drink. If Jacob were to separate the stronger males and appropriate females while they were in heat, he could have used the poplar as a method to lure the females to drink, allowing the males to mount and mate with them. This would help him to ensure that mating occurred with the groups that he wanted, while the others grazed elsewhere. This method would ensure that Jacobs select groups of lambs and goats would reproduce at a faster rate, and produce stronger, healthier offspring due to heterosis, than Laban’s flocks. Coincidentally, there have been studies which show that poplar can increase the likelihood of reproduction by up to 30%.
As you can see, Genesis is not making an origin claim for some new species here. It is also not saying that Jacob used some kind of trickery to produce spotted or speckled flocks of lambs and goats. Although there have also been studies to show that recessive genes can be made dominant through visual stimuli, I do not think that is the case here given that modern sheep of the same species have been shown to have dominant speckled traits.