When fictional Miriam Josefsohn meets Serakh for the first time in 1912, Miriam tells us:
She was thin, like me, but a head shorter, and she exuded a faint odor of farm animals. Goats?”
Goats indeed. Whenever Serakh enters a room, the smell of goats is not far behind, clinging to her body and her clothes—even clothes she has worn for a relatively short time:
A familiar gray dress hung near the men’s trousers. I stepped closer until I was sure, until I smelled goats. I pulled the dress from its hanger and crushed it to my chest.”
So, what’s with the goats? First, goats were one of the first animals that human beings domesticated, probably around 10,000 years ago. It would make sense for a biblical character like Serakh to have been around them. Archaeological evidence shows that Neolithic people kept goats in the region of Jericho about 7000 B.C.E. Goats provided milk and meat. Goat dung provided fuel. Goat bones, sinew, and hair were used for clothing and tools. Parchment, which came centuries later, was made from goat hide, as were bags for transporting wine and water. You get the picture.
Second, male goats do have a distinctive…aroma. Here’s what the British Goat Society has to say:
Female goats kept in good condition will smell of nothing other than clean straw and sweet hay. As their droppings are of a dry nature they are far easier to keep clean than cows and other farm animals. Uncastrated male goats do smell. Male goats kept for stud purposes have a very strong distinctive smell, especially during the mating season, (August to March). During this period males should only be handled wearing special clothes as the odour is very strong and difficult to eliminate from skin and clothing. For this reason the keeping of male goats is only recommended for experienced breeders.”
Today’s domesticated goats likely came from the same ancestor as the wild goats (Capra aegagrus) of Asia. What was Serakh and who were her ancestors? That’s a matter of opinion.