Gallery C

Passing Genes By Sight
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Jacob’s Peculiar Striped Cows

By James Donahue

There is a strange nonsensical account in the Book of Genesis about how Jacob, the grandson of Abraham, gained wealth and influence by tricking his Uncle Laban out of the best livestock in his flocks.

Somehow Jacob arranged to separate the livestock so he owned the “ringstraked” and “spotted” cows and sheep and Laban got the solid dark colored animals. Then, from Genesis 30:37-39:
“Jacob took fresh-cut branches from poplar, almond and plane trees and made white stripes on them by peeling the bark and exposing the white inner wood of the branches. Then he placed the peeled branches in all the watering troughs, so that they would be directly in front of the flocks when they came to drink. When the flocks were in heat and came to drink they mated in front of the branches. And they bore young that were streaked or speckled or spotted.”

The story goes on to say that Jacob carefully selected only the best animals for this odd treatment, thus leaving the weakest for Laban.

Anyone with any knowledge about animal breeding, cattle or genetics should spot a couple of serious problems in this story.
Firstly we don’t know of the existence of striped cows or sheep, or even spotted sheep for that matter. If they exist, they have to be freaks of nature.
Secondly, Jacob’s method of creating streaked and spotted offspring by placing strips of colored wood in front of the animals as they were breeding was not only silly, it had nothing to do with genetics. Striped animals cannot be created by simply having the parent cows look at stripes while copulating.

But the story is in the Bible so it must be true. Isn’t it? A faithful Bible thumper would probably respond by saying that with God, all things are possible. Thus Jacob performed some kind of magical operation at the old water hole.

But if his plan worked, and the genetic line of striped cows and sheep existed then, why hasn't it been passed down to contemporary livestock?
Just asking.