[b-hebrew] Joseph's Age I

JimStinehart at aol.com JimStinehart at aol.com
Thu Dec 13 14:55:23 EST 2007

Kenneth Greifer:
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.
Jim Stinehart
Evanston, Illinois

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