Sunday, January 13, 2008

Biblical Twin Birth

My mother called me today to ask me to explain this scripture to her.
Genesis 38:27-30. It says:
27 Now it developed that in the time of her giving birth, why, here there were twins in her belly. 28 Further, it turned out that when she was giving birth one extended his hand, and the midwife at once took and tied a scarlet piece about his hand, saying: “This one came out first.” 29 Finally it developed that as soon as he drew back his hand, why, here his brother came out, so that she exclaimed: “What do you mean by this, that you have produced a perineal rupture for yourself?” Hence his name was called Pe′rez. 30 And afterward his brother upon whose hand the scarlet piece was came out and his name came to be called Ze′rah.

I can't picture this birth. Baby A's hand came out (and was out long enough to have something tied around it), he drew it back then Baby B was born, causing the mom to tear?
I told her it couldn't happen. I also told her to keep in mind that the book of Genesis was written by a man. My mother reminded me of the scripture that says "All Scripture is inspired of God", meaning that since God inspired Moses to write about this birth, it must have happened. I still believe this is physiologically impossible.
Any birth professionals out there who can make sense of this one for me?


Karen said...

"Inspired by" doesn't mean that it happened.

For instance...finally finding my book "The Queen of Clean Conquers Clutter" inspired me to start decluttering. I still haven't actually done it. And now I've lost the book again (in all the clutter).

Just a thought. In any case. I'm no expert, but I'll bet the story was fiction.

leaner said...

Sounds impossible to me. Not that I am birth professional or anything...

I miss coming to birth circles and it is totally going to be a long time before I get to come again. Sigh.

Maybe we could get together for coffee or something outside of the birth network?

JustALittleBit_Me said...

Well... there are several issues with this passage that affect the interpretation and understanding of it. I'll try to be brief:

Trying to make sense of this as a birth story is an exercise in missing the point. My interpretation is that the story was not told by the author as a story about an extraordinary birth, but as the story of a relationship between two brothers. Other translations use the word “breach” rather than “perineal rupture,” which adds layers of subtle meaning to the exclamation of the midwife – “What a breach you have opened for yourself!” Imagine what else she could have meant rather than the most literal reference to the perineal tearing—the author could be using this example of the competition between the two sons to exit the mother’s womb as foreshadowing of future brotherly strife or imply that the wrong brother was born first and leads to a contention of who is truly the elder brother. (Birth order was very important in these times to determine not only seniority in the family but inheritance of lands, titles, wealth, or even family guilt and penance.) Another interpretation of the word “breach” is “wrongdoing,” in that there was an early sin committed by one brother upon the other, which could lead to other “breaches” as well: breach of trust, usurping of position, etc.

How the story is told is important in understanding the context as well. Contrary to what some people believe, Moses did not actually write the Book of Genesis. The Pentateuch (first five books of the Old Testament) was written and edited by many different authors, even each time someone told the story to an audience—maybe by a parent to their children, or the priests in the temple to their followers. These stories were told over and over before being written down by the first scribes. What we know as the Bible today is a collection of stories influenced by thousands of different voices, condensed and compiled by a few authors, translated several times from Ancient Hebrew or Aramaic to Modern Hebrew to Greek to Latin and to English. The detail of the birth of these twins is lost in history and only the essence of the lesson remains.

Even as it was influenced by so many storytellers, the Pentateuch is essentially the writing of four authors, one of whom is speculated to be female. When you read through the first four books of the Bible, as you hear bits and pieces repeated or details differing from sentence to sentence, it becomes obvious that the text is not contiguous or linear. The sections were mashed together from different documents in an effort to consolidate the various versions into one scripture without dishonoring their ancestral scribes by leaving anything out.

Another thing to remember is that much of the original text was written in verse form. Throughout history, poetry has always been the first and foremost method of composing long narrative works that are remembered through rhythm, rhyme, meter and song. The poetry of the Bible is very dense in meaning, metaphor and irony. To examine the Bible on a level of pure literality risks losing this poetic depth and beauty that is such a gift to us.

So within this context, what about the assertion that "All Scripture is inspired of God?" What Biblical scholars have concluded is that even if the stories and words were put into the heads of the prophets directly by God, the reality is that the stories were handed down verbally for many, many generations before being committed to paper. Just as there are different versions and translations in English, there were different versions and translations used amongst the different tribes of the Israelites. Inspired, maybe – edited by humans, definitely.

So what about the birth story? Back to the original question, could this have happened? As a birth professional, with my limited knowledge of twin birth, the only explanation I can think of for this scenario that was pointedly remembered and handed down through the Bible is that the twin birth was difficult and the midwife was maneuvering the mother to try to get her to push the babies out. Maybe the first baby, the one that is said to have put the hand through, might have been presenting a shoulder? Or if it had actually put a hand down the birth canal, the midwife might have moved the mother to a different position if the baby was not deliverable? Or could the midwife have pushed the baby back up into the uterus, thereby changing the positions of the babies? I don’t know, but with so little information in the story, so many authors, and knowing the tradition of using poetry to remember history, I kind of doubt that the story is told literally as it (may have) happened.

I meant to be brief. Sorry it came out so long! This was an interesting question, one that intrigued me, but it has been almost 18 years since my class on the Theology of the Old Testament in college.

Connie said...

Stories are told to make a point, ponder a point or reflect upon a point.

The facts many times are moved, changed or omitted in order to strengthen the point whatever that may be.

I do not believe in this scripture (a piece of a story) that the facts are the point but more of a way of making a point.

What point is being made is of course left up to interpertation. There are many different ways to view the point in this story as another poster pointed out. Birth order, sibling rivalry even before birth, possibly the ability of another to change the order of life, who knows for sure the exact point being made.

That is the beauty of scripture or poetry, song or story the reader/listener can take from it what they want or need.

As for the birthing part being physically possible, all I can truly say is: ALL things are possible but not All things are very probable.

It is possible to part a river or move a mountain but how many will of us will actually do it or see it in our lifetimes.

Nicole D said...

Totally OT, just wanted to thank you for coming to Brooke's defense of a hijacked comment space. I was going to write 'this and that' but then saw your concise comment and stopped. I almost made as bad an ill as she and made her safe space a place to bicker. Again thanks. BTW, is this by any chance lala from justmommies or doulala from cafemom?

Sam said...

I wouldn't be quick to dismiss this as a mythical account. History is filled with folks who casually dismissed a Biblical account as fictional only to have the cold hand of archaeology or some other science correct them (rabbits don't chew the cud,eh?)

First, the Bible writer has no reason to lie about this, and it isnt' written as metaphor, it's written as fact.
Second, a casual search of 'birth anomalies' in your favorite search engine will reveal a whole host off odd things that can happen during child birth, many of which are on the level of this situation. Here, I'll get you started:

This poor woman went through a lot to bring this child into the world, I wouldn't be so quick to dismiss it.

derekbayer2 said...

get a time machine and watch the birth i wasnt there but according to a medical dictionary perineal rupture is also another name to perineal tear the point it was a difficult birth but more importantly perez who was one of the children born was an ancestor of jesus so his birth with judah being the father was significant as was the fact the mother tamar was a daughter in law not wife
so perhaps the most important point from this is the lineage of jesus hope this helps

the account is true and inspired also jehovah god does not lie and his book is here to listen to.
however dont stumble yourself on this the most important thing is jehovahs kingdom is ruling in heaven and jeus is the king about to intercede in mans affairs get your spiritual life in order now
see one of jehovahs witnesses for a free bible study or goto the nearest kingomhall and hurry

Doulala said...

You're right Random Internet Person that doesn't know me, or even more importantly, I don't know! I should run as fast as I can to the nearest Kingdom Hall to get my life in order. I hadn't thought of that before. Thank you so much for your input!
My question was actually about the birth process but you have helped me see that what I really need is a bible study.

*Please take note of the heavy sarcasm!