In Genesis 31:33 we read of Laban's search of the tents of Jacob's party:
וַיָּבֹא לָבָן בְּאֹהֶל יַעֲקֹב וּבְאֹהֶל לֵאָה וּבְאֹהֶל שְׁתֵּי הָאֲמָהֹת וְלֹא מָצָא וַיֵּצֵא מֵאֹהֶל לֵאָה וַיָּבֹא בְּאֹהֶל רָחֵל
If I was translating this verse I would render it as:
And Laban came in the tent of Jacob, and in the tent of Leah, and in the tent of the two maidservants, and he did not find. And he went out from the tent of Leah and came in the tent of Rachel.
This is a literal rendering of the words. However, it creates an obvious problem. The order portrayed in the first half of the verse is Jacob-Leah-maidservants, but in the second half of the verse it is portrayed as Leah-Rachel.
A bunch of translations avoid this discrepancy by simply ignoring the clause "וַיֵּצֵא מֵאֹהֶל לֵאָה" and skip directly to Laban entering Rachel's tent. Among such translations are:
- New Living Translation
- Contemporary English Version
- Good News Translation
- Douay-Rheims Bible
(All these translations can be seen here)
What is actually going on in this verse, and how do translators have license to just ignore difficult clauses? Is there any evidence for a Hebrew text without this clause?
The Septuagint seems to have a different version of this verse:
And Laban went in and searched in the house of Lea, and found them not; and he went out of the house of Lea, and searched in the house of Jacob, and in the house of the two maid-servants, and found them not; and he went also into the house of Rachel. (Brenton)
Here the order of Jacob-Leah is switched to Leah-Jacob, and there is an additional clause of "found them not" that is not in our Hebrew text. With this version there is no discrepancy, although one could still ask why Laban went to Rachel's tent last.
The Samaritan Pentateuch has two minor differences in this verse. It adds in the word ויחפש ("and he searched") before באהל יעקב and it refers to the maidservants as שפחות rather than אֲמָהֹת. (See here.) These differences do not address the discrepancy.
Genesis Rabbah cites the verse as:
וַיָּבֹא לָבָן בְּאֹהֶל יַעֲקֹב וּבְאֹהֶל רָחֵל וּבְאֹהֶל לֵאָה וּבְאֹהֶל שְׁתֵּי הָאֲמָהֹת וְלֹא מָצָא וַיֵּצֵא מֵאֹהֶל לֵאָה וַיָּבֹא בְּאֹהֶל רָחֵל
This adds a clause in the beginning of the verse in which Laban enters Rachel's tent. This only makes matters worse, as now the first half of the verse has Jacob-Rachel-Leah-maidservant while the second half of the verse has Leah-Rachel.
Genesis Rabbah tries to deal with the discrepancy by suggesting that after Laban searched Leah's tent he went back to Rachel's tent which he had already searched, because he suspected her more. Whether this is plausible or not, it still doesn't address the fact that the first half of the verse implies that after searching Leah's tent Laban went to the maidservants' tent not Rachel's tent.
The best answer that I have seen so far is that of a number of medieval rabbinic commentators (Samuel Ben Meir, Abraham Ibn Ezra in his second interpretation, Joseph Bekhor Shor, David Kimhi, Nachmanides). They argue that the actual order of searching was Jacob-Leah-Rachel-maidservants. However, the verse could not be written this way because there was an elaboration of the story by Rachel's tent. Thus the verse describes that Laban searched everyone else's tent and didn't find anything, and then it discusses Rachel's tent separately in order to elaborate. Because of this the reader might have thought that Laban went to Rachel's tent after the maidservants' tent, so the verse throws in a clause telling us that in truth he went to Rachel's tent after Leah's tent.
Ibn Ezra has another interpretation where he suggests that Laban must have gone back to Leah's tent after searching the maidservants' tent, and therefore the verse read straight through gives us the correct order of Jacob-Leah-maidservants-Leah-Rachel. The difficulty with this explanation is that it doesn't explain why Laban would search Leah's tent twice, nor does it explain why the verse left out the fact that he went back to Leah's tent (it only tells us that he came back out of it).
Bahya Ben Asher has a variation of this interpretation which addresses the difficulties. He suggests that the tent of the maidservants was actually inside the tent of Leah. Thus, Laban went into Leah's tent and then went into the maidservants' tent, and when he came out of the maidservants' tent he was still in Leah's tent. Thus, the verse then tells us that he came out of Leah's tent and went into Rachel's tent.
Are there any other ways to make sense out this verse?
(Standard answers such as multiple authors or bad editing are harder to justify within one verse.)