LABAN (Heb. לָבָן; "white"), son of *Bethuel son of Nahor and the brother of Rebekah, wife of *Isaac; the father of Leah and Rachel, the wives of *Jacob. Laban was a breeder of sheep and goats. He is first mentioned as having taken a leading role in the negotiations between Abraham's servant and the family of Bethuel in connection with the marriage of Rebekah to Isaac (Gen. 24). Possibly, Laban's prominence in this story reflects a fratriarchal society (cf. 24:60; 25:20). Later, when Jacob fled from his brother Esau to Mesopotamia, he found refuge with Laban in the city of Haran (27:43; 29:4–5), where he was cordially received (29:13–14). A month later Laban offered Jacob employment for wages. Jacob agreed to tend his uncle's flocks for seven years as a bride-price for Laban's daughter Rachel. At the end of the seven years, however, Laban cheated Jacob, substituting his oldest daughter Leah for Rachel, as Jacob discovered the following morning. Thus he compelled Jacob to work, though not to wait, for another seven years for Rachel (29:18–20). After that time Laban prevailed upon him to work in exchange for all the kids and lambs of a certain description dropped by mature females in the flock (30:25–34). As a result of folkloristic prenatal influences, well applied by Jacob (30:37ff.), most of the prime lambs that were dropped fitted just that description (see *Biology), and Jacob became wealthier than his employer. Apparently, Laban also deceived his son-in-law in the matter of wages (31:7), thus straining relations between the two to such an extent that Jacob and his family fled Haran, pursued by Laban and his kinsmen, who overtook him in Gilead in Transjordan (31:23). The two sides were eventually reconciled and a peace pact was made between them (31:44–54). Both in the negotiations over Rebekah's marriage and his relationship with Jacob, Laban emerges as a greedy and crafty man (cf. 24:30; 31:7).
Laban's native land is sometimes referred to as Paddan Aram (25:20; 28:2, 5, 6; 33:18; cf. 48:7) or "the country of Aram" (Hos. 12:13). In the description of Jacob's flight from him and his pursuit of and eventual reconciliation with the former, the epithet "the Aramean" is added to his name (Gen. 31:20) and he is represented as speaking Aramaic (31:47). The covenant between Laban and Jacob serves as an etiology for an ancient agreement between Aram and Israel, establishing the cairn of Gal-ed (31:47; pun on Gilad) as the boundary mark between the two lands (31:52). Indeed, the tales of relations between Laban and Jacob serve as allegories of relations between Israelites and Arameans in the earlier first millennium B.C.E.
S. Smith, in: Revue d'assyriologie et d'archéologie orientale, 23 (1926), 127; E.A. Speiser, in: AASOR, 10 (1928–29), 31–33; C.H. Gordon, in: JPOS, 15 (1935), 30; idem, in: RB, 44 (1935), 35–36; idem, in: BASOR, 66 (1937), 25–27; Daube-Yarron, in: JSS, 1 (1956), 60–62; U. Cassuto, A Commentary on the Book of Genesis (1961); D.N. Freedman, in: IEJ, 13 (1963), 125–6; E.A. Speiser, Genesis (1964); N.M. Sarna, Understanding Genesis (1967), index. For further bibliography see *Jacob. IN THE AGGADAH: Ginzberg, Legends, index. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: J. Finkelstein, in: JAOS, 68 (1968), 30–36.
Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.