LABAN (lā'băn, Heb. lāvān, white). 1. The nephew of Abraham who lived in Haran on a tributary of the Euphrates River in Mesopotamia. He belonged to that branch of the family of Terah (Abraham’s father) that came from Abraham’s brother Nahor and his niece Milcah (
Laban’s later history is interwoven with Jacob’s. When Jacob fled from the anger of his brother Esau, he settled in his uncle Laban’s house in Haran and stayed there twenty years. The relationship between Laban and his nephew is an interesting one. Both appear to be resourceful, often grasping men, each eager to best the other in every transaction. Even in the circumstances surrounding the marriage of Jacob to Laban’s daughters Rachel and Leah (
At the end of the twenty years, Jacob quietly stole away from Laban, taking his now-large family with him to Canaan (
These Aramaic references are interesting guides in the quest for better understanding of the origins of the patriarchs. In an old confession the Hebrews were taught to say, “My father was a wandering Aramean” (
2. Laban is also the name of an unidentified place in the Plains of Moab, or perhaps in the Sinai peninsula (
LABAN lā’ bən (לָבָ֧ן, white). The name of a person and a place in the OT. 1. The brother of Rebekah and son of Bethuel and grandson of Nahor, the brother of Abraham (
Laban is first mentioned in connection with the arrival of Abraham’s servant at the home of Nahor to find a wife for Isaac. Although Bethuel was still living at the time of the servant’s arrival, Laban was apparently the spokesman for the household (
Some years later, when Rebekah’s son Jacob was forced to leave his home, he was sent to his uncle Laban’s home to escape Esau’s wrath (
Laban was undoubtedly well-known there as is evidenced by his large holdings and the immediate recognition of his name by the strangers whom Jacob met at the shepherd’s well (
Jacob soon discovered that Laban had a beautiful daughter, Rachel, and he immediately fell in love with her (
Oriental politeness was once again shown by Laban toward Jacob as it had been earlier toward Abraham’s servant (
After a month had passed, Laban offered to hire Jacob to work for him. Jacob willingly agreed to work for the privilege of marrying Rachel. After seven years’ labor, Jacob asked for his wife. Laban’s shrewdness became evident, as he substituted Leah, before unmentioned, for Rachel. Leah was both older and less attractive than Rachel (
Not able to outwit Laban, and still poor after fourteen years of labor, Jacob now put his trust in God to avenge the wrong. A second bargain was made with Laban by which Jacob would receive those sheep and goats in Laban’s flock which were not of solid color (
It is not clear whether Jacob believed his trick of having the sheep conceive where he had peeled the rods would work or not (
Nevertheless, Laban’s flock did decrease and Jacob’s increased, apparently not by any dishonesty on Jacob’s part. Laban’s sons, heretofore not mentioned, murmured and Laban himself no longer trusted Jacob (
Jacob took his possessions and fled while Laban was away from home (
Laban, on learning of Jacob’s flight, angrily pursued. After seven days he overtook Jacob at Gilead in the hill country SE of Galilee.
In this last encounter between the two branches of Terah’s family, the severe side of Laban is shown. He accused Jacob of cheating him by taking his daughters away without a farewell (
Laban was unable to find the gods and Jacob soundly scolded him in return. He accused Laban of cheating him for twenty years though Jacob had faithfully served him (
Laban never conceded a point in this argument, but yielded to Jacob anyway (
After that, Laban departed and never appears again in the history of God’s people.
A study of the Nuzi tablets gives much insight into the Biblical record concerning Laban and Jacob. Clarification is seen in the reason for Rachel’s theft of her father’s teraphim, for by the teraphim she could claim inheritance in Laban’s house.
2. A city in the area of encampment of Israel, across the Jordan in the Arabah (
F. Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews and a History of the Jews, 49, 61; A. Edersheim, Bible History, I (1890), 108, 109, 125, 129, 131; J. Finegan, Light From the Ancient Past (1946) 55; H. Rowley, The Rediscovery of the(1946), 48; D. Baly, The Geography of the Bible (1957), 228; Wright and Fuller, The Book of the Acts of God (1957), 63, 81, 86; D. Thomas, Documents From Old Testament Times (1958), 62, 122; J. Bright, A (1960), 78-82, 91ff.; C. Pfeiffer, Patriarchal Age (1961), 26, 46, 72, 79, 83, 85; G. Von Rad, Genesis (1961), 282ff.; J. Gray, Archaeology in the Old Testament (1962) 98; J. Thompson, The Bible and Archaeology (1962), 30ff.
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
la’-ban: The person named Laban, labhan; (Laban, possibly connected with the root meaning "to be white," from which in Hebrew the adjective meaning "white" has just this form) is first introduced to the reader of Genesis in the story of the wooing of Rebekah (Genesis 24). He belonged to that branch of the family of Terah that was derived from Abraham’s brother Nahor and his niece Milcah. The genealogy of this branch is traced in
The story of that later period in Laban’s life is so interwoven with the career of Jacob that little need here be added to what is said of Laban in JACOB, III, 2 (which see). By the time of Jacob’s arrival he is already a very old man, for over 90 years had elapsed since Rebekah’s departure. Yet even at the end of Jacob’s 20 years’ residence with him he is represented as still energetic and active (
The character of Laban is interesting to observe. On the one hand it shows a family likeness to the portraits of all his relations in the patriarchal group, preeminently, however, to his sister Rebekah, his daughter Rachel, and his nephew Jacob. The nearer related to Laban such figures are, the more conspicuously, as is fitting, do they exhibit Laban’s mingled cunning, resourcefulness, greed and self-complacency. And, on the other hand, Laban’s character is sui generis; the picture we get of him is too personal and complex to be denominated merely a "type." It is impossible to resolve this man Laban into a mythological personage--he is altogether human--or into a tribal representative (e.g. of "Syria" over against "Israel" equal Jacob) with any degree of satisfaction to the world of scholarship. Whether a character of reliable family tradition, or of popular story-telling, Laban is "a character"; and his intimate connection with the chief personage in Israel’s national recollections makes it highly probable that he is no more and no less historical than Jacob himself (compare JACOB, VI).
J. Oscar Boyd