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Denison Journal of Religion

Article Title

Son of My ... ?

Abstract

Henning In Genesis 35, the beloved Jewish matriarch, Rachel, dies in childbirth outside of Bethlehem. Before her death, Rachel names her son "Ben-Oni" which means "son of my sorrow." Hearing this, her husband Jacob says his son will be called "Ben Yamin" which means "Son of my Right Hand" or "Son of the South." Scholars have long looked at this moment as a step in the process that turned the Israelites from tribal and matriarchal to monarchical and patriarchal. This article reimagines this story in a less domineering manner. In order to make her point, Henning first clarifies the importance and power of naming. Not only do names reflect upon those that receive them and take part in crafting identity, but the entire process is also linked to creation and divine power. To give someone or something a name is to participate in God's work. Henning also notes that traditionally in Hebraic culture, the naming of the children was the duty of the mother and midwife. At the moment of Rachel's death, however, Jacob steps into the process and asserts a new role. This has long been thought of as a domineering practice that has stolen one of Rachel's few powers at the very moment of her demise. Henning, however, sees this moment as a gift of hope and comfort from Jacob to Rachel. By referring to Rachel's son as the "Son of my Right Hand," Jacob shows a preference for Rachel's lineage that would have been a comfort after her long struggles with her own barrenness, and her competition with Leah. Henning's reimagining turns this story from a tragic moment characterized by patriarchal insensitivity and domination, to a hopeful and loving moment between spouses and within the family structure.

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