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Thread: The science of Jacob's spotted sheep

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    Macho Christian
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    The science of Jacob's spotted sheep

    I have heard this passage ridiculed one too many times. Are there any scientific explanations behind Jacob's methods to 'legally defraud' Laban of the next generation of livestock? My challenge for those who would ridicule this narrative is to look beyond your prejudice, if any, and find the validity in Jacob's methods.

    We'll pick up after Laban cheats Jacob out of the daughter that Jacob desired to marry after keeping Laban's flocks for seven years to earn her. Jacob serves another seven years to get the right wife. Jacob is now ready to return home but Laban entices Jacob to stay since God has blessed Laban's flocks under Jacob's care.

    Genesis 30:31-43


    "What shall I give you?" he [Laban] asked. "Don't give me anything," Jacob replied. "But if you will do this one thing for me, I will go on tending your flocks and watching over them: 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. They will be my wages. And my honesty will testify for me in the future, whenever you check on the wages you have paid me. Any goat in my possession that is not speckled or spotted, or any lamb that is not dark-colored, will be considered stolen." "Agreed," said Laban. "Let it be as you have said." That same day he removed all the male goats that were streaked or spotted, and all the speckled or spotted female goats (all that had white on them) and all the dark-colored lambs, and he placed them in the care of his sons. Then he put a three-day journey between himself and Jacob, while Jacob continued to tend the rest of Laban's flocks. Jacob, however, took fresh-cut branches from poplar, almond and plane trees and made white stripes on them by peeling the bark and exposing the white inner wood of the branches. Then he placed the peeled branches in all the watering troughs, so that they would be directly in front of the flocks when they came to drink. 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. Jacob set apart the young of the flock by themselves, but made the rest face the streaked and dark-colored animals that belonged to Laban. Thus he made separate flocks for himself and did not put them with Laban's animals. Whenever the stronger females were in heat, Jacob would place the branches in the troughs in front of the animals so they would mate near the branches, but if the animals were weak, he would not place them there. So the weak animals went to Laban and the strong ones to Jacob. In this way the man grew exceedingly prosperous and came to own large flocks, and maidservants and menservants, and camels and donkeys.
    Last edited by Questatement; 27th July 2009 at 07:09 PM.

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    Destroyer of Worlds minorwork's Avatar
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    Quote Quote by: Questatement View Post
    I have heard this passage ridiculed one too many times. Are there any scientific explanations behind Jacob's methods to 'legally defraud' Laban of the next generation of livestock? My challenge for those who would ridicule this narrative is to look beyond your prejudice, if any, and find the validity in Jacob's methods.

    We'll pick up after Laban cheats Jacob out of the daughter that Jacob desired to marry after keeping Laban's flocks for seven years to earn her. Jacob serves another seven years to get the right wife. Jacob is now ready to return home but Laban entices Jacob to stay since God has blessed Laban's flocks under Jacob's care.

    Genesis 30:31-43


    "What shall I give you?" he [Laban] asked. "Don't give me anything," Jacob replied. "But if you will do this one thing for me, I will go on tending your flocks and watching over them: 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. They will be my wages. And my honesty will testify for me in the future, whenever you check on the wages you have paid me. Any goat in my possession that is not speckled or spotted, or any lamb that is not dark-colored, will be considered stolen." "Agreed," said Laban. "Let it be as you have said." That same day he removed all the male goats that were streaked or spotted, and all the speckled or spotted female goats (all that had white on them) and all the dark-colored lambs, and he placed them in the care of his sons. Then he put a three-day journey between himself and Jacob, while Jacob continued to tend the rest of Laban's flocks. Jacob, however, took fresh-cut branches from poplar, almond and plane trees and made white stripes on them by peeling the bark and exposing the white inner wood of the branches. Then he placed the peeled branches in all the watering troughs, so that they would be directly in front of the flocks when they came to drink. 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. Jacob set apart the young of the flock by themselves, but made the rest face the streaked and dark-colored animals that belonged to Laban. Thus he made separate flocks for himself and did not put them with Laban's animals. Whenever the stronger females were in heat, Jacob would place the branches in the troughs in front of the animals so they would mate near the branches, but if the animals were weak, he would not place them there. So the weak animals went to Laban and the strong ones to Jacob. In this way the man grew exceedingly prosperous and came to own large flocks, and maidservants and menservants, and camels and donkeys.
    I had a miner buddy that knew all about breeding sheep. He'd show them at the state fair. We gave him a hard time and he went with the flow. Knew how to make them back up by putting them in front of an open barn loft door. Tricks of the trade I guess. Maybe he'd know if there was any science behind that passage.

    I'd guess that the strong animals drinking the treated water made them unattractive to flies, mosquitos, and other disease carrying critters. Sheep have this rear end problem I'm told. Sheep Pocket Guide Perhaps the treatment repelled insects from the sheep's anus area and so breeding insertion infections might be lessened in the womb and so result in more birth survivals and healthier sheep than those not treated before breeding.

    The treated water could have had other effects that exaggerated the birth success of those carefully chosen for health and strength. The treated water could have been used as a dip.

    The key is to look when the use of natural insecticides was known. If these things were known immediately prior to the final editing of the verse then the chance exists that an inserted entry was added based on known pest control techniques to enhance the myth.

    How did he know? Lightning hit stripped these trees by a watering hole and those animals watered at the hole or downstream had less of a fly problem. These were stronger over time as a result. The stream would lose its insecticidal potency over time and could be refreshed by the stripping technique.

    But you was probably gettin' ready to say all that.
    If the terrain and the map do not agree, follow the terrain.

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    Macho Christian
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    Quote Quote by: minorwork View Post
    I had a miner buddy that knew all about breeding sheep. He'd show them at the state fair. We gave him a hard time and he went with the flow. Knew how to make them back up by putting them in front of an open barn loft door. Tricks of the trade I guess. Maybe he'd know if there was any science behind that passage.
    I'll be the first to admit that my research is anything but firsthand experience with livestock so any informed opinion is more than welcome.

    Quote Quote by: minorwork View Post
    I'd guess that the strong animals drinking the treated water made them unattractive to flies, mosquitos, and other disease carrying critters. Sheep have this rear end problem I'm told. Sheep Pocket Guide Perhaps the treatment repelled insects from the sheep's anus area and so breeding insertion infections might be lessened in the womb and so result in more birth survivals and healthier sheep than those not treated before breeding.
    This could be possible but to be true to the text - it was the visual stimuli of the stripped branches that brought the inferred benefit for Jacob. Also keep in mind that the poles were added and removed many times in the same day for this effect to work and any chemicals in the water would most likely remain consistent despite the poles being removed.

    Quote Quote by: minorwork View Post
    How did he know? Lightning hit stripped these trees by a watering hole and those animals watered at the hole or downstream had less of a fly problem. These were stronger over time as a result. The stream would lose its insecticidal potency over time and could be refreshed by the stripping technique.

    But you was probably gettin' ready to say all that.
    If you spend enough time simply observing nature, it is truly amazing what you can learn. I have been hunting in the ocean for about 15 years and my ability to know and predict game has developed into a mix of laser-like focus and unexplained, yet reliable, instinctual processes.

    I have no doubt that Jacob had no understanding of the specific mechanisms behind this stimulus, only that it worked for the purposes he had in mind.

    Here's my take. Stripes create a sense of apprehension and/or fear in livestock animals. Cattle will not cross a road painted with a series of white stripes on asphalt. Sheep will buck entering an enclosed transport with sunlit slats. I believe Jacob put the striped poles all around the watering hole so that he didn't have to drag the livestock into proximity of the visual stimulus. Eventually the thirsty animals would have no choice. The acute stress caused an immediate spike in cortisol concentrations which in turn spiked the LH/GnRH secretion - forcing ovulation in the ewes/nannys, etc. Chronic cortisol concentrations are known to suppress LH but short-term stress does just the opposite. The Hebrew word often translated "mated" or "conceived" which occurs in front of the rods is literally translated "to make hot" or "heat up" - so what occurred was forced ovulation/oestrus. Jacob then placed these ewes "in front" of the herd since grazing livestock predominately face the same direction. The visual signs of the vulva being swollen and the area around the tail being wet and dirty would signal the males to mate with the chosen females.

    Laban felt safe giving Jacob the minority share of the flock as long as they were separated and could not interbreed. What Laban forgot or didnít know was that some of his livestock would be pregnant with speckled/spotted coats and other would have recessive genes that when bred with other recessives, would throw speckled/spotted offspring. Jacob simply started off small then exponentially took the lionís share of the next few generations of combined livestock. A very shrewd man indeed.

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    Stephen Best barts's Avatar
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    Seems to me, you need to do the experiment.

    If the sheep's offspring become spotted, the Bible account is correct. If they don't, what does that say about the Bible, if anything?

    The Speckled and Spotted Goats and the Black Lamb Shall Be My Wages looks at the science.
    Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd - Voltaire

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    Macho Christian
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    Mendelian inheritance needs no further experimentation. If some of the livestock were speckled/spotted then the genes were present and could be capitalized upon. The only remaining question is Jacob's method for putting the selected females into heat so as to increase their mating frequency and capacity. Although not written for biblical purposes, I also have studies and documentation as to the validity of the process I have described.

    I only started this thread because of the ignorant ridicule I have encountered on this and other sites over this narrative - ultimately attempting to discount the validity of God and/or the bible.

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    Macho Christian
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    I have read the scent/fragrance theories but since there is no current science behind it other than same species pheromones, I have to question the validity of it.

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    Stephen Best barts's Avatar
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    Quote Quote by: Questatement View Post
    I only started this thread because of the ignorant ridicule I have encountered on this and other sites over this narrative - ultimately attempting to discount the validity of God and/or the bible.
    How would any interpretation of the story have any bearing on the validity of God or the Bible? The Bible is rife with tales that could not possibly have occurred except in a literary sense. And, the validity of God cannot be demonstrated by anything in the Bible. To do so is a tautology.
    Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd - Voltaire

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    Macho Christian
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    You're asking me why so many atheists pick this passage to ridicule?

    Funny.

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    Macho Christian
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    Example of said ignorance.

    Jacob and the case of the magical genetics

    And the most bizarre tale in the Bible goes too…this head-scratcher from Genesis, with its utterly bemusing explanation of the genetic code. Basically, Laban is taking all of Jacob’s beloved striped and spotted cattle. Jacob is left with boring old, plain-coloured cattle, which he doesn’t seem to like at all. So Jacob concocts a cunning plan: he gets some sticks and begins painting stripes on them. He then plants them next to his cattle. What Jacob thinks is that if he gets his cattle to look at the striped sticks while copulating, then they will give birth to striped young. Now, we’d all expect this idiotic plan to fail and Jacob to learn a lesson about something or other, but no it actually works. The cattle give birth to striped young, and Jacob is happy. What on earth is going on here? Anyone with the most basic understanding of genetics knows that this is bunk. The odd thing is that this story seems to have no purpose and moral – it’s just there. And I can’t help wondering how many scientists with painted sticks had attempted to repeat this process before Mendel came along and said, “I’m pretty sure that’s not how it’s supposed to happen fellas, why don’t we try this instead?”

    The moral of this story? Your guess is as good as mine.

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    Stephen Best barts's Avatar
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    Quote Quote by: Questatement View Post
    You're asking me why so many atheists pick this passage to ridicule?

    Funny.
    The humor is missed on me, and I'm an atheist.

    The passage is a story about two people. And, while I'm not aware of all that atheists have said or written about Biblical stories, until you raised the story I'd never heard about it.

    What do atheists say about the passage? If you'd prefer not to bother with an answer, that's fine by me.
    Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd - Voltaire

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    Stephen Best barts's Avatar
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    Quote Quote by: Questatement View Post
    Example of said ignorance.

    Jacob and the case of the magical genetics

    And the most bizarre tale in the Bible goes tooÖthis head-scratcher from Genesis, with its utterly bemusing explanation of the genetic code. Basically, Laban is taking all of Jacobís beloved striped and spotted cattle. Jacob is left with boring old, plain-coloured cattle, which he doesnít seem to like at all. So Jacob concocts a cunning plan: he gets some sticks and begins painting stripes on them. He then plants them next to his cattle. What Jacob thinks is that if he gets his cattle to look at the striped sticks while copulating, then they will give birth to striped young. Now, weíd all expect this idiotic plan to fail and Jacob to learn a lesson about something or other, but no it actually works. The cattle give birth to striped young, and Jacob is happy. What on earth is going on here? Anyone with the most basic understanding of genetics knows that this is bunk. The odd thing is that this story seems to have no purpose and moral Ė itís just there. And I canít help wondering how many scientists with painted sticks had attempted to repeat this process before Mendel came along and said, ďIím pretty sure thatís not how itís supposed to happen fellas, why donít we try this instead?Ē

    The moral of this story? Your guess is as good as mine.
    Thanks for the explanation, Questatement. It seems the writer got the passage wrong.
    Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd - Voltaire

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    Macho Christian
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    Do you see this attitude and subsequent approach as indicative of a predisposed bias?

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