Portrait of a Villain: Laban the Aramean in Rabbinic Literature

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis (monograph)


This study attempts to answer the question of why Laban the Aramean, a rather harmless character as presented in the biblical text, is generally portrayed in rabbinic literature as a major enemy of Jacob and Israel. It is argued that the portrait of Laban as a villain developed as a result of rabbinic hermeneutics, and that the characteristics which are attributed to him in rabbinic literature were not arbitrarily chosen due to a particular interest in his person or a wish to endow him with a certain set of negative characteristics, but rather derive from interaction between the rabbis and the biblical text in a process where the rabbis filled in the gaps that they perceived in the biblical text and explained inconsistencies with material provided by the Bible itself and by material taken from their ideological code. The study suggests that a portrait of a villain can develop as a result of hermeneutics without that portrait necessarily being inspired by a historical enemy. It also indicates that an image of an enemy can develop primarily as a side-effect of concerns other than an interest in the villain himself, observations which draw attention to the role that exegesis of the Bible played in the formation of the opinions and world view of the rabbis as well as the inseparability of exegesis and ideology. The four main chapters of the book include respectively (1) a brief survey of Laban the Aramean in the Bible and pre-rabbinic literature, (2) the rabbinic interpretations of Deut 26:5 and the role that these have played in the development of the image of Laban as wicked, (3) a survey of the narrative expansions on Laban within the Jacob-Laban story as rendered by the midrashic compilations on Genesis, (4) a narrative analysis of the Jacob-Laban story in Targum Pseudo-Jonathan and the presentation of Laban in the remaining targumim on the Pentateuch


Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • History of Religions


  • Världsreligioner (ej kristendom), Bibelvetenskap, Bible, Jacob, literary theory, deceiver, Aramean, Laban, narrative analysis, narrative expansion, targum, midrash, ideology, intertextuality, interpretation, hermeneutics, literature criticism, General and comparative literature, Non-Christian religions, Allmän och jämförande litteratur, litteraturkritik, litteraturteori
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Supervisors/Assistant supervisor
  • [unknown], [unknown], Supervisor, External person
Award date2001 Mar 30
  • Peeters Publishers
Publication statusPublished - 2001
Publication categoryResearch

Bibliographic note

Defence details Date: 2001-03-30 Time: 10:00 Place: Samarkand, Akademiska Föreningen, Sandgatan 2 External reviewer(s) Name: Zakovitch, Yair Title: Professor Affiliation: The hebrew University of Jerusalem --- The information about affiliations in this record was updated in December 2015. The record was previously connected to the following departments: Centre for Theology and Religious Studies (015017000)