[b-hebrew] Joseph's Age I
JimStinehart at aol.com
JimStinehart at aol.com
Thu Dec 13 14:55:23 EST 2007
You wrote: “If Joseph was eight and a half years old in your opinion, how
far did Jacob send him to find his brothers? Was it from Hebron to Shechem or
from where to there, and how far? It sounds like a long trip for a little boy
to go alone, but not for a 17 year old.”
Your question is far more complicated than you think it is. My answer will
inevitably get us into areas that you were not thinking about. I will call
this post “Joseph’s Age I”. The second half of my analysis will then be “Joseph
’s Age II”.
(a) Joseph was age 8½ regular years at the beginning of chapter 37 of
Genesis. By the time Joseph meets up with his older half-brothers in Dothan, north
of Shechem, at the end of chapter 37 of Genesis, Joseph is age 9½ regular
years (almost age 10 regular years).
(b) In an E-mail to me, Professor Robert Alter has tentatively agreed with
my controversial analysis that chapter 37 of Genesis is deliberately told out
of its normal chronological order. In order to put this section of the
Patriarchal narratives into normal chronological order, chapter 37 of Genesis (and
the first half of the first sentence only of chapter 38 of Genesis) would need
to be re-numbered as being chapter 33½ of Genesis. That is to say, the Joseph
incident described at the end of chapter 37 occurs a few months b-e-f-o-r-e,
not several years after, the bloody Shechem incident that is described earlier
in chapter 34 of Genesis. That is why, at Genesis 37: 10, Jacob thinks that
Joseph’s dream is envisioning Joseph’s mother Rachel bowing down to Joseph.
Rachel is still alive in chapter 37, you see, even though the circumstances of
Rachel’s later death have already been described in chapter 35 of Genesis at
Genesis 35: 16-20. The reason why Jacob does not think that Joseph’s dream
envisions Leah bowing down to Joseph is because Leah has just now died. As we
will see in a moment, that is why the family is temporarily at Hebron, to bury
Leah. Finally, and perhaps you will see the importance of this immediately,
Jacob did not consider it dangerous to send Joseph (along with some of Jacob’s
servants) up to Shechem, because at that point, prior to the bloody Shechem
incident, Jacob’s family had been getting along famously with the people of
Shechem. (I think that last point was an important factor in Prof. Alter agreeing
with my analysis.)
I realize that this is a lot to throw at you all at once, but it is actually
very relevant to your question of how it is that Jacob could send Joseph up to
Shechem. Not to belabor the point, but please note that the underlying
premise of your question is faulty. If the bloody Shechem incident had already
happened, then it would not have been safe for Jacob to send his favorite son,
even if he were age 17 regular years, up to Shechem, escorted by only a handful
of servants. Nor would it be safe, for that matter, for Jacob’s older sons to
be tending the family flock near Shechem (though temporarily having ranged a
little north of Shechem to Dothan). After the bloody Shechem incident, Jacob’
s family thereafter always avoids the Shechem area, sensibly enough.
(c) With the foregoing as background (and I warned you that your question is
far more complicated than you think), we can determine that the family had
been splitting its time for three years now (after having left Harran) between
Succoth, just east of the Jordan River, and Shechem, just west of the Jordan
River. Shechem can be viewed as being on the northern edge of southern Canaan.
Hebron, by contrast, is near the southern end of Canaan proper (with anything
much farther south than Hebron being the Negev Desert).
Please note that the family was not living at Hebron at the time.
(d) Reading between the lines in chapter 37 of Genesis, we can determine th
at Leah dies in childbirth (near Shechem), trying unsuccessfully to bear a 7th
son, three regular years after the family left Harran. (Rachel is still alive
at this point, and is pregnant with Benjamin. The bloody Shechem incident
has not occurred yet.) Jacob determines that he should bury Leah at Hebron,
where Matriarchs Sarah and Rebecca are buried. But the huge flock will,
naturally, be left near Shechem. Jacob must have asked the men of Shechem to look
after the flock for a few days, while Jacob and all of his sons were down south
in Hebron for a few days for Leah’s funeral. At this point, Jacob was on good
terms with the men of Shechem.
(e) Probably the very day after Leah’s funeral at Hebron, Jacob then sends
all of his sons except Joseph back up to Shechem, to resume tending the flock
as normal. Leah’s older sons, Reuben, Simeon, Levi and Judah, see this as
being very unfair. It is their mother who has died, and they want to stay in
Hebron longer to grieve for their beloved mother. But No, they must immediately
go back up to Shechem to resume tending the flock. And their father’s favorite
son, Joseph, whose mother has not died (with Rachel still being alive at this
point, and pregnant with Benjamin), gets to stay at Hebron longer with Jacob.
Simeon and Levi in particular are enraged at this apparent manifest
injustice, since it their beloved mother who has died, not Joseph’s mother.
(f) Jacob, who is saddened about Leah’s sudden death, and who is also
worried that Rachel, who is no longer young herself, may likewise have a difficult
childbirth situation coming up soon, and who has not yet determined which of
his 12 sons should be named the leader of the next generation of monotheists,
does not realize how perturbed his older sons are at the awkward favoritism he
is showing to Joseph, symbolized by the “coat of many colors” that Jacob had
earlier given only to Joseph.
This is the necessary background for the question you have asked. We’ll
continue this fascinating story in my next post.
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