Saturday, August 15, 2009

Genesis 30, Jacob's Sheep Breeding, and Epigenetics


Sorry. I don't normally begin articles that way. But that's how I'm feeling right now. My brain absolutely blew after finding this out.

I've been having a lot of struggles with Genesis 30. I read several articles about how pre-scientific Jacob's breeding methods were. I'll just let you read the whole story.

Genesis 30:25-43
After Rachel gave birth to Joseph, Jacob said to Laban, "Send me on my way so I can go back to my own homeland. Give me my wives and children, for whom I have served you, and I will be on my way. You know how much work I've done for you."

But Laban said to him, "If I have found favor in your eyes, please stay. I have learned by divination that the LORD has blessed me because of you." He added, "Name your wages, and I will pay them."

Jacob said to him, "You know how I have worked for you and how your livestock has fared under my care. The little you had before I came has increased greatly, and the LORD has blessed you wherever I have been. But now, when may I do something for my own household?"

"What shall I give you?" he 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.

Frankly, I almost entirely lost my faith over this. Seriously, I thought, what is this even saying? That the sight of the striped branches caused the sheep to have striped kids? I mean seriously. No way.

So I went searching. And found nothing. All the articles by Bible-believing Christians were, to be honest, pretty pathetic. They ducked and skirted around the issue in any manner they could.

I got lost. I mean really. I felt like I had no one to trust anymore. I couldn't trust God, I couldn't trust the Bible. I didn't know where to turn or where to go or what to do. My life had been so real. I had been sharing God with others. I had been psyched about Him. I had been breathing Him in, experiencing God in huge ways.

And then it hit me. Doubt shot through the core of my being and left me numb. I didn't know. I remember taking a bike ride with my family and just being totally zoned out. I didn't want to be with them. I didn't want to be with anyone. I just wanted to be left alone until I could sort myself out, assemble the broken pieces I had thought of as truth.

My brother had accidentally broken a window a while ago. The gaping hole was always there in the living room, staring at me. It was like a wide, ghoulish mouth. I remember thinking that a demon must have come through that hole in the window and gotten into me somehow.

I knew myself, though. I guessed I would come back around. I knew I would be back to normal by the time that the window was fixed.

I did get back to normal. And right on time. When the hole was patched, I was patched. It was an interesting sort of metaphor for the gaping hole in my heart. My faith came back and God began to fill me in that same sort of way again.

Finally, I had sort of come to terms with things and realized that I couldn't go on with half-doubts. I needed to identify the doubt and either recognize it as the voice of truth - and make scary modifications to my beliefs - or recognize it as a plaguing doubt.

I did the latter. Simply too much of my life has revolved around God and Scripture in such real ways that it is ridiculous to think that it could all be fake. There is too much reality to it all. It exhumes the essence of reality.

Genesis 30 had to be right, somehow. My understanding of it was fallible and left plenty of room for a lot of misinterpretation.

The conclusion I came to was that I was simply having trouble understanding a God Who could break the laws of genetics He created. The fact is, during the course of Jacob's life, God was bent on blessing him. Who was I to say that God couldn't have used any means - even the funky superstitious stick thing Jacob did - to bless him?

So I sort-of officially dropped my worry about Genesis 30. The fact is, that answer should be good enough for any Christian. God can make it work.

I asked about it. This is what they said:

Thank you for your question concerning Jacob and the flock of Laban. Your desire to dig into the details of Scripture is commendable. The New American Standard Version can help on an important detail. In verses 38-39, we read, "He set the rods which he had peeled in front of the flocks in the gutters, even in the watering troughs, where the flocks came to drink; and they mated when they came to drink. So the flocks mated by the rods, and the flocks brought forth striped, speckled, and spotted." Some might call this selective breeding, or genetic engineering. Apparently Jacob had the knowledge that the natural chemicals under the bark of the plants he used could cause mutations in coloration of the animals. He put the branches in the drinking water of the animals. It was not their seeing the branches, but their drinking the water that caused the mutation. The animals that mated shortly after they drank the water were effected. Notice also that he did this only when the healthy and strong animals came to drink. The result was that Jacob’s animals flourished and he became a wealthy man. Many lessons can be learned from the life of Jacob in Genesis Chapter 30. Out of mundane and even puzzling events the foundation of the nation of Israel was laid through the sovereign plan of God. Our Lord, who is very much involved in His creation stepped into time in the person of God the Son, and brought into reality the plan of redemption for all that believe in Him.
Fudged, I thought. That sort of answer to the problem is totally fishy. There's no way that the mother sheep drinking the water with branches could possibly affect the colors of their children. Not a chance. No way.

I just contented myself with the it-was-a-miracle answer. Which, I might remind you, is not a bad answer, because in Genesis 31 Jacob does attribute his success with the sheep to God's providence, not his fancy breeding.

But nevertheless, tonight I searched again for answers on the subject, not really expecting to find anything.

But I did. Something came up.

This is so radical I cannot begin to describe the effect it has had on me. It is so amazing. God is so good. I have been in total shock tonight.

Read this article. Read it. Seriously.

"In people, a forebear's diet can influence obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes. In mice, diet can influence body weight, blood pressure and even fur color. Because examples of this inheritance are only starting to emerge, scientists still don't know the full extent to which diet influences health. But they may be starting to figure out how."

Read this article, too. Yeah, read it.

"The reason some animals were yellow and some were brown lay deep in their fetal past, biologists at Duke University Medical Center, Durham, N.C., reported this month: Some of the mothers consumed supplements high in very simple molecular compounds that zip around the genome turning off genes. One silenced gene was for yellow fur; when it is turned off, the mouse's fur color defaults to brown. For the mice, it wasn't just that "you are what you eat," but that you are what your mother ate, too."

"There is no doubt that, in the case of the brown or yellow mice, the "you are what your mom ate" phenomenon reflects just such epigenetic influences."
No. Way. So, as we get into the science of epigenetics, we may just find out that Genesis was right after all.

My doubt is gone, I've been set free.


  1. As a fellow Bible-believing Christian, reading this made me smile. ;-)
    I actually stumbled across your website having googled for Jacob and Epigenetics. I first came across Epigenetics at, and one of the first thing I thought of was Jacob and the flock. Actually, the first thing that I thought of was Exodus 34:7. The three-to-four generations have now come to have a whole new meaning~


  2. This is an answer from

    This answer cleared all my doubts - it was just that the rams breeding with the females were all ringstraked, speckled, and spotted - God caused it to happen so. And thus the offspring were also ringstraked, speckled and spotted.

    Genesis 30:37 And Jacob took him rods of green poplar, and of the hazel and chesnut tree; and pilled white strakes in them, and made the white appear which was in the rods. 30:38 And he set the rods which he had pilled before the flocks in the gutters in the watering troughs when the flocks came to drink, that they should conceive when they came to drink. 30:39 And the flocks conceived before the rods, and brought forth cattle ringstraked, speckled, and spotted.

    If you read Genesis 31:7-16 the answer is resolved. While no doubt Jacob hoped that giving the ewes something striped to look at might help them concieve spotted offspring, that was not how the final result came about. Genesis 31:7-16 explains that God intervened, and made plain what he was doing by speaking to Jacob in a dream. God disabused Jacob of the idea that striped wooden rods would help him in any way. Instead, God made rams that were "ringstraked, speckled, and grisled" to jump upon the cattle. Genesis 31:7-16 is to be read also, to fully understand.

  3. Hey!

    I'm in the same boat as you. A Bible-believing Christian and I'm in University for Biochemistry. These verses have always been a way for me to agree with the obviously correct micro-evolution, while still holding to creation for the harder to believe extrapolated macro-evolution.

    I think many people deal with these things, but as you said there are two ways to do so, to give up everything or to seek the truth.

    God reveals when you seek the answers.

  4. The epigenetic argument has some profound implications.

    In a paper by Dr. Joshua Backon, who teaches at the Hebrew University of Medicine cites study of Epigenetics which is a study of how prenatal nutrition can affect the Agouti gene that can affect fur color in both sheep and mice. The study demonstrates that fungi that resides in the bark of the three specific types of branches listed in Genesis 30 do provide the chemicals the comprise the exact amino acid to create alterations in the color of fur without having any direct affect on the DNA.

    “Dr. Josh Klein, a plant pathologist and expert on plant fungi at the Volcani Research Institute of the Israeli Ministry of Agriculture, suggested that there are fungi as filaments under the bark of these trees that would contain these specific amino acids. He stated that these fungi are very host-specific. Peeling the bark could make these fungi available for water extraction of their components."

    Though Jacob probably didn't understand epigenetics, being trained Abraham, Isaac, and if Jewish history is correct Eber and Shem then you can imagine literally more than a thousand years of shepherding experience well could have provided insight into this phenomena.

    My mother-in-law is a compounding pharmacist. And she attested that prayer and wisdom in experimentation helped her discover crucial processes in the use of chemical suspensions that allowed a treatment for MS to be compounded. At a certain point a particular form of refrigeration was required. The point is that in our work God does give wisdom and knowledge of how things work to those interested in knowing.

  5. Which raises the question: Why would Jacob need to use striped wood if he expected God's providence? Wouldn't he just let the sheep breed and be confident that God will provide him speckled sheep? If it was diet-related, surely Jacob would have no need of the patterned wood. Why did he still do it?

    1. stripping the bark, though it visually produces a pattern, is done to increase contact between the branches' vascular system and the water. similar to how reed-diffusers operate, removing the bark allowed the transfer of chemical compounds into the water.

    2. as for Jacob's faith in God's providence, one could ask why Jesus, in John 9, made mud. surely he could have, and elsewhere did, heal people without such a show, but i see the purpose in action was the measure of faith beneath it. the definition of a miracle is often that science cannot explain it. one can scientifically test the healing properties of mud on blind eyes, or the influence of three types of trees on the breeding of goats, but if the faith isn't there, the expectations are rightfully low.
      the Scriptures say he did it. we can't ask why, but see that God did ultimately provide.

  6. Jacob = Dr Yakub the big head scientist that came up with a determined idea while playing with two pieces of steel that opposites attract and alikes repel and that he would create a race of people designed to rule for six thousand years.. But their time is up and the truth has been set free. If you relay the sheep that they are talking about as human beings then it would make sense. I know that by being a christian it is gonna be hard to believe but there is nothing new under ther sun and cloning been going on way before the days of Moses

  7. That is incredible. I am so pleased that you read into it instead of just blind faith. God wants us to learn about His world; that's why He made it for us. This is really encouraging :) Well done!! :)

  8. Although I do think it is possible for epigentics to be the explanation for the speckled, spotted animals I am more inclined to believe that this may be a similar circumstance to when God told Abraham that he would have a son in his old age. After the passing of time he started to doubt and was persuaded to try to do it in his own strength so he put his own plan into action rather than wait on God. One difference here is that right from the start Jacob went about trying to do what he thought would swing things in his favor as far fetched as it may seem. Perhaps he was told an "old wives tale" about the poplar plants or striped wood having an effect on the fur color of animals. So it was entered into the story to show how we usually set about doing things our way rather than trusting in God. Since Jacob had already made the deal with Laban God made it happen in spite of Jacob.

  9. The "flock" never ate the branches. No massive change in diet took place, how can you buy this crap? How far do you have to stretch logic to make your belief work?

    Actual physical changes cannot occur unless there is a significant change in diet, which isn't what happens in the bible story at all.

    That's so sad. You seemed so close to breaking away from the horrible chains of religion, yet you just couldn't do it, could you?

    1. from where does your hate stem? should we deny God because we can't grasp some part of His Word? should the rest of it crumble because our minds are presently incapable of understanding it? that makes sense if you're considering dropping out of school, but faith doesn't work like the world. if we drop out, Jesus is the principal who searches the streets for us.

    2. "from where does your hate stem? should we deny God because we can't grasp some part of His Word?"

      Actually, syzygy, Crossroads isnt an atheist because of "some part of His Word." The whole of your textbook is evil. From Genesis where the enemy of sinless living is KNOWLEDGE to Leviticus where slavery of all nations around was permitted to the "chosen people" all the way through to verses like Isaiah 45:7, Amos 3:6, Lamentations 3:38, where we learn God causes the tsunamis tornadoes and floods that wipe people out, all the way through to Philemon, where slaves are told to not leave their masters but serve them well like a good slave, and never try to attain a higher calling in life.

      If you believe truly that a book that is so evil that it condones human sacrifice (Judges 11) and says massive balls of superheated plasma will fall upon the Earth (yet they are all larger than the Earth, mind you)(Mark 13:25) and that it took a divine being 3 days to create Heaven and Earth and then 1 day to create what is the equivalent of more than 400 billion Earths in our galaxy alone times an immense more scale of trillions of galaxies visible to our telescopes IN ONE DAY (Day 4 of creation)(Genesis 1:16)

      There is no hate from the atheistic side, there is only pity for the poor saps who believe what their grandparents taught them and a wish that they, like us, will use the brains that they believe he blessed them with, and realize that the writers of this book were ignorant of the things which we now KNOW the explanations for today. No need for a war bow in the clouds, it's a circular prism of light. No need for a god who brings rain, its a natural precipitation cycle. And no need for gods to explain away the diversity of Speciation, evolution is a fact and has been given science's highest honor, being called a Theory, up there with the Theory of Gravity, Theory of Continental Drift, Theory of Relativity, Quantum Theory, Atomic Theory, String (M) Theory, and all other things we could now consider facts.

      But isnt it convenient, regardless of what science says, regardless of what logic demands, and regardless of what is obvious to those like me, a former true believer until last year, we still hold onto that which we were not born with, but that which we were taught by those we trusted when we were younger. Its a shame, I certainly hope you will join us, and stop giving psychopaths a means to live off of others via an occupation as a "Shepherd" of a dumb flock.

    3. This might get your goat:

  10. Great article. Glad you checked it out and glad Google sent me to you when I was checking it out. Keep up the good work brother.

  11. Thank you for sharing and being real. Makes sense. Love how God allows doubts to arise to propel us to dig into His Word. His Word remains faithful and true despite our doubts:)

  12. As a christian i will say this, while Jacob indeed probably used selective breeding to achieve his desired results, i think the exactitude of his methods were recorded with some misunderstandings. But i will say that the error or misunderstanding in the recording of a particular event in the bible should not invoke doubt in God himself, specially someone who has felt and experienced God's reality. We the people of the book in a way unknowingly equate the book to God himself, and that false equivalency is modern day Christian idolatry

  13. to me , this whole article hinges on genetics and and the manipulation of ......but wait you may have overlooked what may be the simple truth here ........and that is that you are what you imagine you are ......what you think , you will manifest ...... our eyes and ears are the receptors of this world once again , what you see becomes reality unless you have the truth of a higher authority ......who is the the ruler of this world ......Lucifer .....he is a liar ,,,,,so what you see in this world is not necessarily true ....Jacob used the speckled sticks to make the sheep think they were spotty ,,,,,,,you are what you see and believe

  14. I love it that 6 years after your original post on the way God helped you through this, I was helped too! Thank you for posting this! A great and wonderful benefit of the internet and how God is using it!

  15. Thanks so much you proved again the Bible is 100% correct in everything it talks about. btw its common knowledge now that in humans mother's diet can affect the babies traits including even their chance of developing cancer.

  16. I highly suggest anyone who is interested in this topic (including you, Cameron, if you still check this site!) check out this informative article:

  17. Why is a salmon pink inside?? Because of the shrimp it eats as part of its diet. Salmon are born white inside and because of their diet, their colors change.
    Farm raised salmon, who are stuck inside a net, don't eat shrimp, therefore, they are white, I which no one would buy it. SO, they have to put a dye inside their food so they turn pink.
    So there you go! Pigment mutation happens everyday people!

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    1. The bible was written by men trying to understand what he cannot: GOD... ask a child 3-5 to describe you and your reasoning, your job, goals and your temperment... The fact that there are several similar accountings of The same stories like lawgiver (moses), The Flood (noah) and the savior (jesus)... through different cultures actually point towards these people events being fact... Can you really discredit all other religions to be 100% false, After Babel...only 1 people retained all knowledge? Totaly disreguarding the fact that constantine saw christianity as a better stick and carrot, ambition calming, big brother, and war engine system than Greek lightning? WE KNOW the holidays were rewritten we KNOW theres over 100 translations... How much more do we NOT KNOW... Vatican has archives and archives of this evidence... they cant turn back now... The Pope understands evolution.. Rome understood Exploiting religion after corrupting the greek religion... They were a successful war machine and left big brother in its wake... So why did everyone else disregard their own history after babel? they didnt... theres God in All Religion that teaches us to act like jesus and be excellent to eachother... The Bible Explains how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go... the earth isnt flat.. Evolution is evident, Moths In Russia Can change their color depending on the coal emmitions found on trees... Because Its going to be a great BIG suprise to us all... Especially for Westboro Baptists ... Dont trip, listen ... consider and Ponder: How could smartguy Solomon actually be THAT DUMB he had 2 sit downs!... thats the point of the story... dont be so sure you think you know it all... it makes you bitter.. Bigot and Fanatic are parallels. The Pope is getting it... ask tokemata, dawkins, and fred phelps and osama they are 100% sure they knew it all.. if Jesus' birthday isnt dec 25th in the will you be suprised? theyre a lot thats going to blow our minds keep it open for now God talks to us all... I used to hand out Ray comfort tracts Untill my pastor got too vain with Gods word i said nah im out.. Jesus quit going too ... and left then met john.... who didnt say i can do with your 20% better than you, God Gave me my beach pay up then we discuss your needs..

  21. thank you for sharing your journey! We love to dive into Scripture as well, and get 'caught', well more caught up with a certain verse, there is so much to be found in it, if you are willing to listen to Him. Blessings!

  22. Love this!!!! Thank you for sharing your jouney!