Bible Review 14:1, February 1998

Jots & Tittles

Bible Review

Did Rachel Have a Breech Birth?

“They set out from Bethel; but when they were still some distance short of Ephrath, Rachel was in childbirth, and she had hard labor. When her labor was at its hardest, the midwife said to her, ‘Have no fear, for it is another boy for you.’”

Genesis 35:16–17

These verses may be the first recorded instance of a breech delivery, according to medical doctor and Bible enthusiast Joseph Jacobs, of London. Jacobs’s suggestion appears in the July-September 1996 issue of The Jewish Bible Quarterly. He notes that according to the biblical account, the midwife was able to determine the sex of the child during the delivery—possible only in a breech birth, in which the lower half of the infant’s body emerges first and the head follows, often after a prolonged interval. In a normal delivery, where the head and shoulders come first, and the rest of the body follows almost immediately, the sex of a child cannot be determined before complete delivery.

Unfortunately, the outcome of this breech birth is not a happy one. Although the child, Benjamin, survives, Rachel does not. What caused her death? Breech births, treated today mainly by Cesarean section, were a serious complication in ancient times, often causing the death of the mother.

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