[b-hebrew] Joseph, Judah and the 'Benjamin Conundrum'

JimStinehart at aol.com JimStinehart at aol.com
Thu Jan 24 09:58:10 EST 2008

Joseph, Judah and the ‘Benjamin Conundrum’
In his excellent article, “Joseph, Judah and the ‘Benjamin Conundrum’”, 
Zeitschrift für die Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft, volume 116 (2004), pp. 
223-241, Yigal Levin nicely points out several alleged “contradictions” that 
scholars have proposed concerning Joseph and Benjamin in the Patriarchal narratives. 
 But as we shall see, in fact there are no such contradictions.
In this post, we will focus on the key question of whether Benjamin and 
Rachel are alive in chapter 37 of Genesis.  The conventional view, as Yigal Levin 
astutely points out in his article, is that (i) Rachel has already died, and 
(ii) Benjamin has been borne and is living, in chapter 37 of Genesis, when 
Joseph is almost murdered by his older half-brothers and is sold to slavetraders, 
with Joseph then ending up in Egypt.  But that conventional view of chapter 37 
of Genesis is erroneous, as we shall now see in examining the four specific “
contradictions” that Yigal Levin’s article sets forth.
1.  At p. 237 of his article, Yigal Levin writes:  “The story of Benjamin’s 
birth and the death of Rachel, while Jacob and family were still en-route from 
Bethel towards Bethlehem-Ephrathah, is told in Gen 35, 16-20.  …On the other 
hand,…Jacob’s reaction to the second dream (verse 10)…seems to pre-suppose 
that Joseph’s mother was still alive.”
As discussed on a previous thread, the answer to that supposed “contradiction”
 is that chapter 37 of Genesis is deliberately told out of chronological 
order.  In order to see the normal chronology, simply slot chapter 37 in as “
chapter 33½” (that is, immediately preceding chapter 34 of Genesis, and immediately 
following chapter 33 of Genesis).  Now everything makes perfect sense, 
without a single word of the text needing to be changed.
When Joseph reports his second dream to his father Jacob in “chapter 33½ “, 
Rachel indeed is still alive, as Yigal Levin rightly notes in his fine 
article.  That’s because Rachel does not die until chapter 35 of Genesis, several 
months after Joseph’s second dream.
Moreover, although not noted in Yigal Levin’s article, the bloody 
Decapitation of the Shechem Offensive in chapter 34 of Genesis has not occurred yet in “
chapter 33½”.  So in “chapter 33½” no one is afraid yet of possible 
recriminations from the neighbors of the slaughtered men of Shechem.  That is why (i) 
Jacob’s older sons are peacefully tending the family flock of sheep and goats 
near Shechem in “chapter 33½”, and is why (ii) Jacob can, as a routine matter, 
send young Joseph (alone except for presumably several servants) up to Shechem 
to check up on his older half-brothers.  Genesis 37: 12-17  
We see that “chapter 33½” makes complete sense if it is slotted in 
immediately before chapter 34 of Genesis, while making no sense at all on several 
fronts if it is viewed as occurring after the events in chapters 34 and 35 of 
Genesis have already occurred.  
In an E-mail to me, Prof. Robert Alter of the University of California at 
Berkeley, who is perhaps the best known modern scholar regarding the Patriarchal 
narratives, tentatively agreed with my analysis of this point.  That is to 
say, Prof. Alter tentatively agreed that chapter 37 of Genesis is told out of 
normal chronological order, and could be slotted in as “chapter 33½”, in order 
to restore normal chronological order.
2.  Yigal Levin notes at p. 237 of his article that “Joseph’s second dream 
(37,9) seems to pre-suppose his having eleven brothers.”  The actual facts are 
that Rachel is obviously showing her pregnancy at the time of Joseph’s second 
dream.  Joseph and everyone else have correctly guessed that Rachel will bear 
a second son, rather than a daughter.  So Joseph’s dream is accurately seeing 
Joseph as having 11 brothers:  his 10 older half-brothers, and his one and 
only full-brother, Benjamin, with Benjamin at this point being en ventre sa mere. 
 Joseph’s dream correctly sees the unborn infant as being Rachel’s last son, 
so in effect Joseph’s dream is foreshadowing that Rachel will likely die in 
childbirth in giving birth to her second son.
3.  Yigal Levin also points out that “On the other hand, verse 3 [of chapter 
37 of Genesis] states that Joseph was Israel’s youngest, born in his old age”
.  Yes, that’s manifestly true.  Chapter 37 of Genesis opens a little over 12 
months before Benjamin’s birth, before Rachel was pregnant with Benjamin.  At 
that point, early in chapter 37 of Genesis/“chapter 33½”, Joseph was Jacob’s 
youngest child, and Rachel was not pregnant yet with Benjamin.  
As to Jacob’s age, Jacob was un-doubled age 40 regular years at Joseph’s 
birth.  So in the ancient world, Joseph had been born in Jacob’s “old age”.
(Jacob had been age 37½ regular years at Judah’s birth, just as Abraham is 
un-doubled age 37½ regular years at the beginning of the Patriarchal narratives 
when Abraham leaves Harran.  Each of Abraham and Jacob is age 50 regular years 
when their last son is born, Isaac and Benjamin.  Each of Abraham and Jacob 
is awkward age 130 “years”, in 6-month “years”, which is awkward 13, tenfold, 
being un-doubled age 65 regular years, at the most awkward moment in the 
great Patriarch’s life:  the binding incident for Abraham, and leading all the He
brews out of the Promised Land of Canaan into Egypt for Jacob.  Note that all 
ages of both of the two great Patriarchs are perfectly in sync.  There is not a 
single mistake in the entirety of the Patriarchal narratives, much less any “
contradictions”, as to timing or age matters.)
4.  Finally, in footnote 78 of his article, Yigal Levin makes the following 
interesting observation:  “Some of the medieval commentators, in an attempt to 
harmonize these contradictions, explained that the memory of Rachel’s death 
was the reason that Jacob did not lavish his love on Benjamin….”  How wrong can 
medieval commentators get?  In chapter 37 of Genesis, which is “chapter 33½”
, Benjamin is not born yet.  So naturally Jacob is lavishing all his love and 
attention on the one and only son to date by Jacob’s favorite wife, Rachel.  
As soon as Joseph disappears and is presumed dead, then beginning a month or so 
later at Benjamin’s birth, Jacob lavishes his love and attention on Benjamin, 
who for the next 15 regular years (until the Hebrews move to Egypt) will be 
the only son of beloved Rachel whom Jacob knows to be alive.
Yigal Levin’s article is excellent in pointing out four apparent “
contradictions” that scholars have traditionally seen in the text of the Patriarchal 
narratives regarding the relationship between Benjamin and Joseph.  But isn’t it 
also right to point out that in fact, there are no such “contradictions” in 
the text at all?  Just slot chapter 37 of Genesis in as “chapter 33½”, and you 
will quickly see that every one of those four supposed “contradictions” 
instantly disappears, like a will-o’-the-wisp.
“Contradictions” in the Patriarchal narratives, as to timing and age 
matters?  Not!
Jim Stinehart
Evanston, Illinois

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