[b-hebrew] Robert Alter on Joseph

JimStinehart at aol.com JimStinehart at aol.com
Thu Jul 23 20:46:49 EDT 2009

It would be fine for you to E-mail Prof. Alter, but you don’t have the 
facts quite straight yet.
1.  Years ago, Prof. Alter provisionally agreed with my idea that the 
events narrated in chapter 37 of Genesis occur prior to the events narrated in 
chapters 34 and 35 of Genesis.  (He explicitly reprimanded me, however, for 
using the term “flashback”.  He was adamant that what I was suggesting was  
n-o-t  a true “flashback”.  Spoken like a true professor.)  
I don’t know if Prof. Alter would remember that exchange of E-mails, which 
occurred years ago, but he might.  (As you probably know, Yigal Levin’s 
published article claims that the “mistakes” in chapter 37 show multiple 
authors and insufficient editing.  In fact, once one realizes that the events 
narrated in chapter 37 occur before the events narrated in chapters 34 and 35 of 
Genesis, all of those “mistakes” totally disappear.)
2.  Where you’ve got the facts slightly wrong is Prof. Alter’s reaction to 
my suggestion that all people’s ages in the Patriarchal narratives are set 
forth in terms of 6-month “years”.  I believe that was the idea of mine 
that Prof. Alter characterized as being “ingenious”.  However, Prof. Alter was 
expressly noncommittal as to whether my “ingenious” theory of the 
Patriarchs’ ages was correct or not.  Prof. Alter did  n-o-t  agree that Joseph was 
age 8½ regular years in chapter 37 of Genesis.
I do not know if Prof. Alter would remember that old exchange of E-mails 
that we had, many years ago.  Unfortunately, in retrospect, I then started 
talking to him about the historical background to the “four kings against the 
five”, and Prof. Alter immediately lost all interest.  Prof. Alter is very 
interested in the nuances of the language of Biblical Hebrew, but he has 
little or no interest in arguing whether the Patriarchal narratives are closely 
based on the well-documented secular history of the Late Bronze Age.  That 
abruptly ended our E-mail exchange, and I never tried to resume it again.
So by all means, send Prof. Alter an E-mail.  Since my ideas are so unique, 
he may well remember them.  Or not.  But I would love to hear any comments 
he might have on these ideas.  (I think he probably will remember my idea 
that chapter 37 of Genesis is in effect chapter 33½, but then again, who 
knows?)  But do not say that I contend that Prof. Alter agreed with me that 
Joseph is age 8½ regular years in chapter 37 of Genesis, because he did not agree 
to that.  He didn’t laugh at that idea, or even expressly disagree with it. 
 But he did  n-o-t  agree to it.
Jim Stinehart
Evanston, Illinois

**************Dell Deals: Treat yourself to a sweet deal on popular 

More information about the b-hebrew mailing list