In Genesis 29:26, after Jacob asks why Laban deceived him, Laban responds:

"And Laban said, 'It must not be done so in our country, to give the younger before the firstborn.'"

I've tried researching this and have not found any resource on the matter. Is what Laban said about ancient Babylonian marriage customs correct: that the older child must be married first?

  • 1
    I think it is irrelevant whether the custom was so or not, which is why scripture does not record the background information. A promise (to give a daughter to a man) is a promise. Custom is irrelevant. No background information required.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Aug 8, 2019 at 4:39
  • Interesting, @Autodidact. Although these traditions have to do with the Chinese and Israelite specifically, not Babylonian ones as Laban brought up to Jacob.
    – Philip
    Commented Aug 8, 2019 at 4:40
  • Just showing that it’s not a stretch to think he was telling the truth, though to Nigel’s point, it’s irrelevant because they had an agreement and he broke his word. I imagine he expected to marry off his eldest (crossed eyed) daughter within the seven years but seeing he was stuck with her he forced her onto Jacob and locked him in to another seven years of free labor. Bait and switch is never justified by any tradition or custom. Commented Aug 8, 2019 at 17:11
  • People usually start looking for a spouse when they more or less reach a certain age. Obviously, the older one is, the sooner they will reach that approximate age, meaning that, statistically speaking, the overwhelming majority of people will marry according to their age, implying that there is something unusual about a more elderly person marrying later than people younger than oneself.
    – Lucian
    Commented Aug 9, 2019 at 19:04

2 Answers 2


Numerous sources agree that not only was this elder-marries-first custom observed in ancient times, it is still observed in modern times in many eastern cultures. See the well-informed comments about Gen 29:26 on such customs (with references and examples) from:

  • Ellicott
  • Barnes Notes
  • Jamieson-Fausset-Brown
  • Pulpit commentary
  • Keil and Delitzsch Biblical Commentary


Laban displays his perfidy by the very fact that if such were the custom, he should have advised Jacob before the marriage.

  • Thank you for this, @Mac'sMusings. Though your response makes sense, yes it does not absolve Laban's deceitfulness and lack of informing Jacob of said tradition. It seems he meant to deceive him from the start. If you think about it, this also is comeuppance for Jacob and Rebekah deceiving Isaac and Esau previously.
    – Philip
    Commented Aug 9, 2019 at 3:19

I think indications are in the text that that was actually the custom. “Laban brought together all the people of the place” (all my quotes are JIV) to put pressure on Iaqub the time he would find out that “there was Leah!”. Also Leah’s comment to her sister when asked his son’s mandrakes “Wasn’t it enough that you took away my husband? Will you take my son’s mandrakes too?” suggests the same. Finally, a jewish tradition explains that “Leah had weak a eyes,” (or worn) for crying because fate had given her Essav for husband and he was a paigan. Iaqub was probably informed of it when he asked for marrying Rachel, as he emphasizes“I’ll work for you seven years in return for your younger daughter Rachel.” One important trait of character of Iaqub is that he would not comply to any tradition when it would make obstacle to an expanded life. He for example waters Laban’s flock for Rachel just after being told that this was not to be done. This is why he dared to ask for marrying the younger against the custom.

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