[b-hebrew] The "Benjamin Conundrum": Were Benjamin's Sons Born in Egypt?

JimStinehart at aol.com JimStinehart at aol.com
Wed Jan 23 10:42:27 EST 2008


The “Benjamin Conundrum”:  Were Benjamin’s Sons Born in Egypt?
 
In considering the question of whether Jacob led 75 Hebrews or 70 Hebrews 
into Egypt, one of the important issues is whether Benjamin’s descendants listed 
at Genesis 46: 21 were born in Egypt after Jacob led the Hebrews into Egypt, 
or whether Benjamin’s descendants were born before the Hebrews moved to Egypt.  
Here is how this important issue is stated by our own Yigal Levin, in his 
excellent article, “Joseph, Judah and the ‘Benjamin Conundrum’”, Zeitschrift 
für die Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft volume 116 (2004), pp. 223-241, at p. 237:
 
“A…contradiction seems to appear at the end of the story [of Joseph in 
Egypt], where the same Benjamin who was too young to leave his father’s side in Gen 
43, 32 has no less than ten sons by the time the whole family comes to Egypt 
(46, 21).”
 
If we count people’s ages, we see that Benjamin was age 15 regular years when 
Jacob moved all 70 Hebrews into Egypt.  (Joseph was age 25 regular years, and 
Jacob was age 65 regular years.  Genesis 47: 9 tells us that Jacob was the 
awkward age of 130 “years”, being awkward 13, tenfold, in 6-month “years”, 
which is age 65 regular years, when Jacob led the Hebrews into Egypt.  Joseph was 
a “child of Jacob’s old age”, in that Jacob was age 40 regular years when 
Joseph was born.  Benjamin was born 10 regular years later, when Jacob was age 
50 regular years.  Note that Abraham had similarly been age 50 regular years 
when Abraham’s last son, Isaac, was born.  [The sons that Abraham sired by 
concubines are mentioned after Isaac’s birth, but in fact all such sons by 
concubines were sired by Abraham earlier, before Abraham reached the old age in the 
ancient world of age 50 regular years.]  All of the numbers and ages always work 
perfectly in the Patriarchal narratives, without exception.)   
 
At age 15 regular years when the Hebrews moved to Egypt, Benjamin probably 
had not married yet.  It is likely that all of Jacob’s 10 older sons marry at 
about age 20 regular years, since that is the age, apparently the “normal” age, 
at which each of Isaac and Esau marry.  (Genesis 25: 20;  26: 34, referencing 
each such marriage at age 40 “years”, in 6-month “years”, which is age 20 
in regular, 12-month years.)  Joseph marries the daughter of an Egyptian 
priest, in Egypt, under unusual circumstances, when Joseph is age 15 regular years.  
(Genesis 41: 46, referencing such marriage at age 30 “years”, in 6-month “
years”, which is age 15 in regular, 12-month years.  That was 10 regular years 
before the Hebrews come to Egypt:  1 normal harvest year + 7 feast years + the 
first 2 famine years = 10 regular years in total.  Joseph is age 15 + 10 = 25 
regular years when the Hebrews move to Egypt.  All of the numbers and ages 
always work perfectly in the Patriarchal narratives, without exception.)
 
Based on the foregoing, it is unlikely that Benjamin was married yet when the 
Hebrews moved to Egypt.  All of Jacob’s other sons were married at that 
point, but not young Benjamin.  Thus all 10 of Benjamin’s sons are born after Jacob 
moves the Hebrews to Egypt.  (In the Septuagint, Benjamin is credited with 3 
sons and 6 grandsons.  Obviously such 6 grandsons could not have been born 
before Benjamin and the Hebrews moved to Egypt.)
 
So when chapter 46 of Genesis is counting how many Hebrews Jacob is treated 
as leading into Egypt, the example of Benjamin makes it clear that the text is 
counting all of Jacob’s grandsons, including grandsons born after the Hebrews 
moved to Egypt.
 
In what sense, then, is Benjamin “too young to leave his father’s side”, 
when Jacob sends his other sons to Egypt to buy food for the starving Hebrews in 
Canaan?  Benjamin, at age 15 regular years, was still the “baby” of the 
family, being the youngest son by 10 full regular years, and being the only 
remaining bachelor.  In part, the author of the Patriarchal narratives is showing 
Jacob’s improper favoritism of Jacob’s son by Jacob’s favorite main wife, 
Rachel, who was not Jacob’s main wife #1 (because Jacob had married Leah 7 days 
before marrying Rachel), as continuing for many years (though eventually Jacob 
would realize his error).  Yet even more importantly, the author of the 
Patriarchal narratives is showing how unbelievably selfish Benjamin is.  When Jacob’s 
sons have to go to Egypt to buy food to prevent the Hebrews in Canaan from 
starving to death, Benjamin does not volunteer to go.  Nor does Benjamin say thank 
you when his older half-brothers bring back the desperately needed food from 
Egypt.  Then when the older sons say that they cannot go back to Egypt a 
second time to buy more food for the starving Hebrews in Canaan unless they take 
Benjamin, 15-regular-year-old Benjamin, an adult in the ancient world, still 
does not volunteer to go to Egypt.  Only when Judah gives his bond to Jacob is it 
decided by Jacob that Benjamin will go to Egypt the second time.  This 
pattern continues, for when the brothers get down to Egypt, a disguised Joseph 
lavishes gifts on Benjamin (Joseph’s only full-brother).  Benjamin selfishly takes 
all these lavish gifts, and does not even offer to share them at any point 
with his older half-brothers, who had gallantly gone to Egypt to save the Hebrews 
in Canaan from starvation.  At no point does Benjamin ever thank anyone -- 
Joseph or Jacob or anyone else -- for all the great favors that are bestowed on 
Benjamin.  Benjamin just takes and takes and takes, nothing else.
 
Near the end of his life, Jacob finally wakes up to the incredible 
selfishness of Benjamin, and rightly curses his formerly favorite son Benjamin:
 
“Benjamin is a wolf that raveneth;  in the morning he devoureth the prey, and 
at even he divideth the spoil.'”  Genesis 49: 27
 
When a shepherd calls his youngest son a “ravenous wolf”, that’s quite a 
curse.  And eminently deserved, in the case of ultra-selfish Benjamin.
 
In chapter 46 of Genesis, Jacob is treated as bringing all 55 of his 
grandsons into Egypt, including the many grandsons who are born after Jacob moves the 
70 Hebrews to Egypt.  The author of the Patriarchal narratives is taking that 
golden opportunity to list all 55 of Jacob’s grandsons.  Jacob’s two ages in 
Egypt that are set forth in the text are age 15 and age 55, in un-doubled, 
regular years.  15 + 55 = 70, with 70 being the “Egyptian” number, per Genesis 
50: 3.  Likewise, Jacob leads 15 + 55 = 70 Hebrews into Egypt.  The older group 
of 15 consists of Jacob, Jacob’s 12 blood sons, and Jacob’s 2 adopted sons.  
1 + 12 + 2 = 15.  The younger group is all 55 of Jacob’s grandsons, including 
Jacob’s grandsons by Benjamin who were born after the Hebrews moved to Egypt. 
 All of the numbers and ages always work perfectly in the Patriarchal 
narratives, without exception.
 
There is no “contradiction” here.  Chapter 46 of Genesis lists all 55 of 
Jacob’s grandsons, and credits Jacob with effectively having brought all 55 of 
Jacob’s grandsons into Egypt, even though many such grandsons, including Jacob’
s grandsons by Benjamin, were born after Jacob moved the Hebrews to Egypt.  In 
addition, some of such grandsons were born to parents (Joseph and his wife) 
who were in Egypt already when they married.
 
“A…contradiction seems to appear…, where the same Benjamin who was too young 
to leave his father’s side in Gen 43, 32 has no less than ten sons by the 
time the whole family comes to Egypt….”  No, all 10 of those sons were sired by 
Benjamin after Benjamin and the Hebrews moved to Egypt.  Moreover, Benjamin 
was not really “too young to leave his father’s side” either, since Benjamin, 
though unmarried, was a young adult in the ancient world at age 15 regular 
years.  Rather, the text is telling us how unbelievably selfish Benjamin always 
was.  There is no “contradiction” of any type here at all.  Or anywhere else in 
the original text of the Patriarchal narratives, for that matter.
 
Jim Stinehart
Evanston, Illinois




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