[b-hebrew] The Name "Joseph": Auspicious 7th Son?

JimStinehart at aol.com JimStinehart at aol.com
Fri Jan 4 13:58:25 EST 2008


Ted Brownstein:
 
You wrote:  “In the context of the Patriarchal Age, what evidence do we have 
for believing that the 7th son had special status?”
 
1.  In the ancient world, the number 7 was universally regarded as being 
auspicious.  That’s because there are 7 heavenly bodies whose movements, as 
observed by the naked eye, are different from the stars:  sun, moon, Mercury, Venus, 
Mars, Saturn and Jupiter.
 
2.  The first number in the Patriarchal narratives occurs in the very first 
verse of the Patriarchal narratives, at Genesis 11: 26, and it is the number 
70.  The number 70 is in part a play on the auspicious number 7, being 7, 
tenfold.  Later, Jacob leads exactly 70 Hebrews into Egypt (Genesis 46: 27), and 
then the Egyptians mourn Jacob’s death in Egypt for 70 days (Genesis 50: 3).
 
3.  The Patriarchal narratives oddly feature, very prominently, the numerical 
combination “7 + 7”.  Jacob works 7 years for Laban in order to marry one of 
Laban’s daughters, and then has to agree to work another 7 years for Laban in 
order to marry both daughters.  So Jacob works “7 + 7” years for Laban to 
marry Laban’s two daughters.  Note also that the wedding celebration for Jacob’
s marriage to Leah lasts 7 days, a “bridal week”.  Genesis 29: 27  Joseph in 
Egypt interprets Pharaoh’s dreams of 7 sickly cows devouring 7 healthy cows, 
and 7 sickly ears of corn devouring 7 healthy ears of corn.  Joseph accurately 
predicts “7 + 7”, that is, there will be 7 feast years, to then be followed 
by 7 famine years.  This “7 + 7” phenomenon is particularly redolent of Egypt’
s only monotheistic pharaoh, Akhenaten.  Most of the Amarna Letters to 
Akhenaten from Caananite princelings, such as the local ruler of Jerusalem in the 
mid-14th century BCE, start out with the Canaanite princeling figuratively 
prostrating himself “7 + 7” times before pharaoh Akhenaten.  And Akhenaten chose a 
double cartouche, each half of which has 7 Egyptian hieroglyphs.  So “7 + 7” 
was a numerical combination close to Akhenaten’s heart, and that same 
numerical combination is predominately featured in the Patriarchal narratives.
 
4.  Though it is buried deeply in chapter 37 of Genesis, it is likely that 
Leah died trying to bear Jacob a 7th son, that is, the son who would have been 
Leah’s 7th blood son.  That is why Jacob and his family have to go down to 
Hebron briefly in chapter 37 of Genesis, to bury Leah at Hebron.  (“Hebron” is 
referenced at Genesis 37: 14, with no explicit explanation as to why the family 
has been down at Hebron.)
 
5.  Although the Book of Ruth may not reflect the Patriarchal Age directly, 
it nevertheless seems to have some resonance with the Patriarchal narratives.  
The Book of Ruth explicitly refers, albeit indirectly, to the phenomenon of a 
man wanting to have 7 sons:
 
“And he shall be unto thee a restorer of life, and a nourisher of thine old 
age;  for thy daughter-in-law, who loveth thee, who is better to thee than 
seven sons, hath borne him.'”  Ruth 4: 15
 
6.  Bearing sons is the most important thing for a woman to do in the 
Patriarchal narratives.  Sarah is revered for insisting on trying to bear a son for 
Abraham even in her old age.  Rebekah properly prays to YHWH to allow her to 
bear Isaac a son after being barren for 20 stated “years”.  Leah is Jacob’s 
main wife #1, and proudly bears Jacob 7 children, including 6 sons.  As noted 
above, it is likely that Leah dies trying to bear Jacob a 7th son.  Rachel 
insists on trying to bear Jacob a second son, even at a time when Rachel, like Leah, 
has become too old to bear a child safely.  Rachel dies in childbirth, giving 
birth to Benjamin.  Tamar is said to be “righteous”, and is not burned 
alive, in chapter 38 of Genesis when she fools her father-in-law Judah into 
impregnating her by impersonating a prostitute, in order to provide a son on behalf 
of deceased, sonless Er, who was Judah’s firstborn son and Tamar’s husband.  
Lot’s two youngest daughters are praised, not castigated, when they provide 
their sonless father heirs at the 11th hour, by insisting on having 
father-daughter unions with Lot.  By stark contrast, the only woman in the entirety of the 
Patriarchal narratives who is punished is Lot’s wife, who failed to bear her 
man a son.  The point is that the Patriarchal narratives greatly honor a woman 
bearing at least one son, and hopefully many sons, perhaps as many as 7 sons, 
to her man.
 
7.  Wet nurses are honored more in the Patriarchal narratives than in any 
other part of the Bible, and more than most all secular literature.  Rebekah’s 
wet nurse is mentioned as accompanying Rebekah from Harran to Canaan (Genesis 
24: 59), and then we later are even told the actual name of such wet nurse:  
Debra (Genesis 35: 8).  The exciting moment when Leah is substituted for Rachel 
on Jacob’s first wedding night is very oddly and pointedly interrupted by 
telling us that Laban had provided Leah with a female servant, Zilpah, who 
presumably is intended to be a wet nurse.  Genesis 29: 24  Likewise, Rachel’s own 
marriage to Jacob is similarly interrupted by telling us that Laban had provided 
Rachel with a female servant, Bilhah, who presumably is intended to be a wet 
nurse.  Genesis 29: 29  The only way that Leah could bear 7 children in 7 years 
(with no twins) was by using a wet nurse.  Somewhat shockingly, these two wet 
nurses then manage to themselves bear 4 sons who become 4 of the 12 tribes of 
Israel.  Finally, when the small Hebrew tribe moves to Egypt, suddenly there 
is a population explosion among the Hebrews.  The logical implication (though 
missed by all university scholars, needless to say) is that all the Hebrews 
have adopted the royal Egyptian custom of using wet nurses, just as the author of 
the Patriarchal narratives has not so subtly been recommending to the Hebrews 
all along throughout the Patriarchal narratives.  By extensive use of wet 
nurses, it was hoped that many Hebrew women could routinely bear 7 sons, even 
though absent the use of wet nurses, that would have been virtually impossible.
 
So in conclusion, there are manifold indications that a 7th son would have 
been viewed as being auspicious by the author of the Patriarchal narratives.  
There never has been a “general interest” text more focused on childbearing 
issues than the Patriarchal narratives, with the emphasis always being on bearing 
multiple sons.  Leah bears Jacob 7 children, and heroically dies trying to 
bear Jacob a 7th son.  Leah is honored therefor by having a son of hers, Judah, 
not Jacob’s favorite son, Joseph (whose birth mother was Rachel), be named the 
leader of the next generation of the new monotheists.  Rachel brilliantly 
tries to position her firstborn son as being considered the auspicious 7th son of 
Leah-Rachel, by calling him “Joseph”, meaning “gathered, added”, that is, “
added” as the auspicious 7th son borne by Leah-Rachel.  Rachel also explicitly 
refers to Joseph as being just “another son”.  But that clever stratagem did 
not work.
 
If we can understand the name “Joseph”, we can understand the Patriarchal 
narratives.
 
Jim Stinehart
Evanston, Illinois




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