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A Mendelian Interpretation of Jacob’s Sheep

S & CB 13 (1)
April 2001


The story of Jacob producing flocks of striped goats and black sheep starting from flocks in which these characteristics had been removed is considered from a Mendelian genetic viewpoint. Previous commentators have implied that the placing of branches in front of the animals arose from the belief that vivid sights during pregnancy would leave a mark on the offspring. However, the fact that Laban removed all the coloured animals from the flock he entrusted to Jacob, shows that the herdsmen knew that the colour of the offspring was influenced in some way by the colour of the parents. It was not necessary for the herdsmen to understand the exact rules of inheritance, only sufficient that, wherever possible, female animals were served by coloured males. It is proposed that the use of the branches referred to in the story was not an attempt to generate visual impressions influencing the females during pregnancy or conception, but instead the branches were used to build a fence to ensure that only coloured male animals could serve the females.

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