[b-hebrew] Bek-o-raw and monarchy

Yigal Levin leviny1 at mail.biu.ac.il
Fri Oct 22 09:40:07 EDT 2004

Dear Sergio,
----- Original Message ----- 

> Bekoraw, according to The Contemporary English Version among others, can
> rendered as "The rights as the first-born son".

"Bekorah" is the status of the first-born. As in many ancient societies,
there were rights that went  with that status.

> Gen 25:31 also shows that those rights not necessarily went to the
> firstborn. The fact that the tribe of Joseph is reported in the AT as
> a "double portion" (it was treated as two separate tribes with their own
> plot in the Promised Land) seems to me to support the idea that the
> could be transferred from the literal firstborn son to any other.

Well, that depends on how you read the text and what theory on its history
you accept. On one level, the biblical authors wished to convey that the
"selection" of Israel was not just a chance of history (which is what being
born first is) but a divine decision. Esau, like Ishmael before him, was not
worthy, and so God brought about the selection of the worth son.

As far as the sons of Israel, it's a question of what exactly does the text
represent. Since the text, as we now have it, is Judahite, obviously Judah
would have to be the favored son, which is how he comes out of the whole
Joseph story. On the other hand, the Judahite author would have had to deal
with the historical facts that: a. through most of history (at least down to
the eighth century), it was really the "Joseph" tribes who were more
powerful; b. there were actually two tribes that claimed to be descended
from Joseph; c. there was also a tradition that Rueben, which was later an
unimportant tribe of semi-nomads off in the transjordanian desert, was the
real firstborn. A major theme of the Joseph story is to show how the
"Bekorah" was transferred from Reuben to Joseph to Judah. My feeling is,
that the version told at the Bethel shrine ended with Joseph.
BTW, the verse you quoted about Joseph getting a double portion does not
actually say that. In Gen. 48:22 Jacob says to Joseph, "I have given you one
Shekhem over your brothers, which I have taken from the Amorite with my
sword and with my bow." The word "Shekhem" is usually translated "portion",
but that's not what it means. Shekhem (Shechem) is of course the main city
of the Joseph tribes' territory, which Jacob's sons had conquered and
murdered all its inhabitants. Historically, it was right on the border
between Ephraim and Manasseh.

> And here comes my question:
> Some time ago I read that in the kingdom of Israel and Judah, the heir to
> the throne not necessarily was the first born, but the king could appoint
> any of his sons. If this is so (I'm not sure if there is agreement about
> this or it is just a theory) is this linked to the issue of the rights as
> the first-born son?

As in most ancient kingdoms, the rule was that the first-born succeeded his
father. However, it the first born was unfit, or if the father felt that
another was better suited, well, kings usually do what they wish, and then
write the laws. Look at how much space Samuel-Kings devotes to explaining
what happened to Solomon's 4 older brothers, justifying Solomon's own rule.


> Sergio
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