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For various reasons, I've always wondered how long Jacob and Rachel were married before her death. Rachel's death (shortly after giving birth to Benjamin) is record in Genesis 35:16-18. As a result I've always tried to guesstimate the length of their marriage from the age difference between Benjamin and his older brothers, but unless some details are hiding in the original Hebrew that are lost in translation, it doesn't seem to me that there are enough details in Genesis to have any real idea.

Is there anything I'm missing? Are there any details that make it possible to estimate (with any accuracy) how long Jacob and Rachel were married before her death?

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Let us leave aside the age of Jacob, it is possible to deduce the a number of other facts about his chronology.

  • Following his deception of Esau, Jacob left Beersheba (Gen 28:9) and went to Paddan-aram (Gen 29) and worked for his uncle Laban for 7 years (Gen 29:20) for the hand of Rachel but ended up having to marry Leah as well as Rachel (v27). As a result, he had to work for another 7 years (v30) for the second wife as well.
  • Gen 30 describes the birth of the first 11 sons (and 1 daughter, Dinah) of Jacob born in the that second 7 year period. It was at the end of the second seven year period that Joseph was born (Gen 30:25ff) and that Jacob wanted to leave but was persuaded to stay longer.
  • Jacob worked a total of 20 years for Laban (Gen 31:38). At the end of this, Joseph is 6 years old.
  • At the end of 20 years, Jacob had to deceive Laban (Gen 31:20) and flee for his life and left to return to Beersheba but actually settled in Shechem (Gen 33:18). At this point, Joseph was the youngest son (Gen 33:2) and the only child of Rachel.
  • An unknown time later, he moved to Bethel (Gen 35:1). (This must have been at least 1 year later.)
  • Later still, the moved to Ephrath (Gen 35:16). This must have been at least 1 year later.) It was during the move to Ephrath that Benjamin was born and Rachel died. This means that it was a minimum of 13 years in Paddan-aram plus at least 2 more years that Jacob was married to Rachel. That is a minimum of 15 years. Joseph at this point must have been at least 8 years old.
  • We also know that by the time Joseph was 17 years old (Gen 37:2) his mother had been dead for some unknown time before. This was 11 years after leaving Paddan-aram. If Rachel died just (say) two years before Joseph was 17, that is at the age of (say) 15, then Jacob and Rachel would have been married for 13 years in Paddan-aram plus another 9 years, a total of no more than 22 years.

All this means that Jacob was married to Rachel for some time between about 15 years and 22 years. The uncertainty arises from the unknown time between Jacob leaving Paddan-aram and arriving in Ephrath which was presumably at least 2 years (with Bethel in between) and when Joseph was 17 years old.

My best guess (that is all) is that they were married for about 18 years on the basis that it was about 5 years between Paddan-aram and Ephrath and about 6 years before Joseph's 17 birthday. [That is Joseph was about 11 years old when Rachel died??] But that is a guess.

  • That's great, thanks! Even the range of 15-22 years is pretty precise, all things given, and pins it down much more than I would have thought possible. I don't know why I didn't think of running through the chronology myself! – conman May 30 at 13:41
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You're right, we're never given Benjamin's age so we can't link him to his brothers that way. We can, however, follow the chronology and the geography to know within about a year how long Jacob and Rachel were married. This isn't such a straightforward task, though, since the chronology of Genesis is confusing. At one point a decade passes between 2 verses (Genesis 33:17-18), then the narration continues forward without mentioning Joseph being sold by his brothers.

Then a few chapters later (Genesis 37) it goes back to that point (at the end of the fast-forwarded decade) and picks up the narrative from a Joseph's perspective and shows the events that led to Jacob abandoning his house in Succoth.

Knowing they arrived in Succoth when Joseph was 6 and that they left when he (and Dinah) was 17, we can say they were married about 25 years when she died. Here's how we get that number:

  • Jacob worked for his uncle Laban 7 years, then married Leah & Rachel
  • He worked another 7 years for Rachel

Now they've been married 7 years.

  • He worked the next 6 years for his uncle's flocks, then he left Haran

Now they've been married 13 years. Joseph and Dinah are 6 years old.

  • Jacob stayed in Succoth, built shelters for his livestock, then he built a house there and settled down to raise his 12 kids
  • As Jacob's sons got older they worked with the flocks. Jacob's flocks grazed as far south as Hebron, because "the land where they [Jacob & Esau] were strangers could not support them because of their livestock" (Genesis 36:7)
  • When Joseph was 17 years old, he went to check on his brothers, and they sold him into slavery. Then they let their father Jacob think Joseph had been killed by a wild animal.

It's now been 11 years since they left Haran (Joseph was 6, now is 17. Dinah is also 17). So now they've been married 24 years.

  • Jacob tore his clothes and refused to be consoled and said, "I shall go down into the grave to my son in mourning" (Genesis 37:35)
  • Judah did not approve of his brothers' dealings with Joseph, and lying to their father letting him think Joseph was dead. Judah left home, went to the area of Adullum, got married and had some kids (Genesis 38:1-5)
  • Jacob, distraught beyond measure, packed up the family and they left their house in Succoth, arriving first in Shechem where he bought a plot of land to pitch his tent
  • This is where Dinah (17) was sexually violated, then her brothers killed all the men of the town and the family had to flee. God told them to go to Bethel (Genesis 35:1,5)
  • The family repented, buried their idols and moved to Bethel. When they came to Bethel, God said to Jacob "Be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations shall proceed from you, and kings shall come from your body" (Genesis 35:11)
  • Joseph was Jacob's only child with Rachel, and he was presumed dead. But Rachel was pregnant with another son, and as they journeyed south from Bethel and were a short distance from Bethlehem, Rachel went into labor. Benjamin was born, but Rachel didn't survive

We're not told exactly how long after they left Succoth that Benjamin was born, but it was likely in the first year or two. We know this because Benjamin was a father when they went into Egypt 22 years after leaving Succoth (Joseph 17 years old - 39 years old)

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