The Curse Before Birth

But the children struggled together within her; and she said, “If it is so, why am I in this condition?” So she went to inquire of the Lord.  Genesis 25:22  NASB

Why am I? – What happens to us before we are born?  We usually believe that gestation is the perfect world of complete need satisfaction.  Helpless, that’s true, but surrounded by a barrier that keeps out the bad things of life.  We suppose this state to be something like Paradise.  Plenty of rest.  Plenty to eat.  Unconcerned with trauma and trials that we will face in the outside world.

This is, unfortunately, false.  Even if well-nourished physically, even if protected from harm, what the mother experiences emotionally passes to the fetus.  And if the mother experiences trauma, the child is born with traumatic preconditioning.  The problem is that the child doesn’t know this.

“An essential feature of these early experiences is that they are not retrievable in our memory banks.  During gestation, infancy, and early childhood, our brain is not equipped to put our experiences into story form so that they can be made into memories.  Without the memories, our unmet longings can play out unconsciously as urges, cravings, and yearnings that we seek to satisfy . . .”[1]

“Because the trauma existed so early, it often remains hidden beyond our awareness.  We know there’s a problem, but we can’t quite put our finger on the ‘what happened’ part of it.  Instead, we surmise that we’re the problem, that something inside us is ‘off.’”[2]

The pre-birth struggle of Esau and Ya’akov is not just fetal prophecy.  It is the emotional background of the rest of the lives of these brothers.  Genesis might not use the word “epigenetics” but it certainly employs the concept.  What happens before birth sets the stage for everything else.  Wolynn writes, “When entangled, you unconsciously carry the feelings, symptoms, behaviors, or hardships of an earlier member of your family system as if these were your own.”[3]  Ya’akob’s life is the perfect Torah example.  He carries feelings of inadequacy, self-doubt, compensation, distrust, and manipulation in the face of threats.  All of these are found in his father and his mother.  More importantly, they are also found in his grandparents.

When Rebekah “inquires of the LORD,” she actually goes to an oracle (what else did you expect in Mesopotamian culture?).  Her Hebrew expression is captured by Alter’s translation, with a note that this is more like an unfinished sentence.  In other words, the NASB explains rather than translates, apparently believing that readers are incapable of understanding something like “Why me?”

“And the children clashed together within her, and she said, ‘Then why me?’ and she went to inquire of the LORD.”  Robert Alter’s note is important:

“The crucial point of this story of the birth of twins is not the fact of birth itself but the future fate of struggle between the siblings, which is the burden of the oracular poem.”[4]

In other words, what matters is the epigenetic outcome.  In fact, the entire story from Abraham to Joseph is an epigenetic history, as sibling or siblings repeating the trauma of the fathers and grandfathers, mothers and grandmothers.  Perhaps (and I’m just hinting here) the story is more important than the theology.

“When we have rejected, judged, blamed, or distanced ourselves from either parent, the reverberations are felt in us as well.  We might not be consciously aware of it, but pushing a parent away is akin to pushing away a part of ourselves.”[5]

Perhaps you need to reread this chronicle with an eye toward Wolynn’s statement.

Topical Index:  epigenetics, trauma, birth, oracle, gestation, twins, Genesis 25:22

[1] Mark Wolynn, It Didn’t Start with You, p. 166.

[2] Ibid., p. 44.

[3] Ibid., p. 46.

[4] Robert Alter, The Hebrew Bible: Volume 1 The Five Books of Moses, p. 86, fn. 21-23.

[5] Mark Wolynn, It Didn’t Start with You, p. 155.

Notify of
1 Comment
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Richard Bridgan

“Perhaps (and I’m just hinting here) the story is more important than the theology.”

Perhaps the story is the theology… much more sublime than human language can encompass… yet spoken, nonetheless… articulated as the word of God in a particular and peculiar testimony that bears witness to a relationship of covenant with those He chooses for relationship as His enactment of redemption.