LABAN (Heb. לָבָן; "white"), son of *Bethuel son of Nahor and the brother of Rebekah, wife of *Isaac; the father of Leah and Rachel, the wives of *Jacob. Laban was a breeder of sheep and goats. He is first mentioned as having taken a leading role in the negotiations between Abraham's servant and the family of Bethuel in connection with the marriage of Rebekah to Isaac (Gen. 24). Possibly, Laban's prominence in this story reflects a fratriarchal society (cf. 24:60; 25:20). Later, when Jacob fled from his brother Esau to Mesopotamia, he found refuge with Laban in the city of Haran (27:43; 29:4–5), where he was cordially received (29:13–14). A month later Laban offered Jacob employment for wages. Jacob agreed to tend his uncle's flocks for seven years as a bride-price for Laban's daughter Rachel. At the end of the seven years, however, Laban cheated Jacob, substituting his oldest daughter Leah for Rachel, as Jacob discovered the following morning. Thus he compelled Jacob to work, though not to wait, for another seven years for Rachel (29:18–20). After that time Laban prevailed upon him to work in exchange for all the kids and lambs of a certain description dropped by mature females in the flock (30:25–34). As a result of folkloristic prenatal influences, well applied by Jacob (30:37ff.), most of the prime lambs that were dropped fitted just that description (see *Biology), and Jacob became wealthier than his employer. Apparently, Laban also deceived his son-in-law in the matter of wages (31:7), thus straining relations between the two to such an extent that Jacob and his family fled Haran, pursued by Laban and his kinsmen, who overtook him in Gilead in Transjordan (31:23). The two sides were eventually reconciled and a peace pact was made between them (31:44–54). Both in the negotiations over Rebekah's marriage and his relationship with Jacob, Laban emerges as a greedy and crafty man (cf. 24:30; 31:7).
Laban's native land is sometimes referred to as Paddan Aram (25:20; 28:2, 5, 6; 33:18; cf. 48:7) or "the country of Aram" (Hos. 12:13). In the description of Jacob's flight from him and his pursuit of and eventual reconciliation with the former, the epithet "the Aramean" is added to his name (Gen. 31:20) and he is represented as speaking Aramaic (31:47). The covenant between Laban and Jacob serves as an etiology for an ancient agreement between Aram and Israel, establishing the cairn of Gal-ed (31:47; pun on Gilad) as the boundary mark between the two lands (31:52). Indeed, the tales of relations between Laban and Jacob serve as allegories of relations between Israelites and Arameans in the earlier first millennium b.c.e.
In the Aggadah
Laban is identified with Beor, the father of Balaam (Num. 22:5); with Cushan-Rishathaim, the king of Aram-Naharaim (Judg. 3:8; Sanh. 105a); and with Kemuel, the father of Aram (Gen. 22:21; Gen. R. 57:4). The name Laban is interpreted as meaning that he shone with wickedness (לָבָן; lit. "exceedingly white"; Gen. R. 60:7) and the epithet Arammi (אֲרַמִּי) is taken as the anagram of rammai (רַמַּאי, "cheater"; Gen. R. 70:19). When he saw the jewels on Rebekah, Laban hastened to Eliezer in order to slay him and take possession of his goods. However, when Laban noticed Eliezer's physical strength (Mid. Hag. to Gen. 24:30) and his resemblance to Abraham, he thought that he was Abraham and invited him to enter his house (Gen. R. 60:7). Laban's answering Eliezer's request before his father is indicative of his impudence (Mid. Lek. Tov to Gen. 24:50). His promptness in greeting *Jacob was due to his desire for wealth, since he reasoned that Abraham's grandson would bring with him even greater riches than had Eliezer. Seeing Jacob without camels, he thought that he had money and gems concealed in his garments or mouth, and for this reason he embraced and kissed him. Disappointed at not finding any valuables, Laban consulted his terafim and was advised to employ Jacob and give him his daughters in marriage (Yal. Reub. to Gen. 29:15).
His countrymen agreed that Laban should substitute *Leah for *Rachel so that Jacob would continue to work for him, because their land had been blessed with an abundance of water since Jacob's arrival. After receiving securities from them that they would not reveal his scheme, Laban deceived them and used their pledges for the purchase of wine, oil, and meat for the wedding feast. The citizens attempted to inform Jacob of the chicanery by singing, "Hi Leah, hi Leah" (lit. "it is Leah"), but Jacob did not understand their hints (Gen. R. 70:19). After being informed of Jacob's flight, Laban assembled all the local warriors to pursue him. His intention was to kill him, but the archangel Michael appeared and forbade him to harm Jacob or he himself would be killed (pdre 36). His kissing and blessing his daughters and grandchildren after making the covenant with Jacob did not come from the heart. Laban sent a message to Esau, informing him of Jacob's imminent return and urging him to avenge himself on Jacob (Yashar, Va-Yeẓe, 105–6). During his pursuit of Jacob, robbers broke into Laban's home and stole all his possessions (Gen. R. 74:16).
S. Smith, in: Revue d'assyriologie et d'archéologie orientale, 23 (1926), 127; E.A. Speiser, in: aasor, 10 (1928–29), 31–33; C.H. Gordon, in: jpos, 15 (1935), 30; idem, in: rb, 44 (1935), 35–36; idem, in: basor, 66 (1937), 25–27; Daube-Yarron, in: jss, 1 (1956), 60–62; U. Cassuto, A Commentary on the Book of Genesis (1961); D.N. Freedman, in: iej, 13 (1963), 125–6; E.A. Speiser, Genesis (1964); N.M. Sarna, Understanding Genesis (1967), index. For further bibliography see *Jacob. in the aggadah: Ginzberg, Legends, index. add. bibliography: J. Finkelstein, in: jaos, 68 (1968), 30–36.