[b-hebrew] Names of Rachel's Second-Born Son

jimstinehart at aol.com jimstinehart at aol.com
Mon Sep 26 07:48:07 EDT 2011

Isaac Fried, Ishinan Ishibashi, David Kolinsky:

Ben-Jamin is not the name that the mother, Rachel, gives her second-born son.  No, that’s the name that Jacob/“Israel” bestows on such newborn son, out-doing even Rachel in giving this son the grandest of all possible grand names:  Ben-Jamin/BN-YMYN -- “Son of my Right Hand”.

We must recall in this connection that “Jacob’s right hand” has a very specific meaning in the Patriarchal narratives, to which this name must relate.  The second half of the Patriarchal narratives is largely concerned with the question of on which son’s head will Jacob, literally or figuratively, place his right hand, denoting that such son will have the coveted role of ruling over all his full- and half-brothers.  That sequence occurs literally at Genesis 48: 14,17, 18, where it is Jacob’s “right hand” that determines, very importantly, which one “son” of Joseph’s two sons will get the finer inheritance:  Ephraim will be grander than Manasseh.  Joseph for his part is initially horrified that Jacob places Jacob’s “right hand” on Ephraim, Joseph’s younger son, because Joseph thought that Joseph’s firstborn son Manasseh should get the finer inheritance [and so Joseph had placed Manasseh near Jacob’s right hand]:  “And Joseph said unto his father, Not so, my father: for this [is] the firstborn; put thy right hand upon his head.”  Genesis 48: 18.  What counts in the second half of the Patriarchal narratives is on which one “son” Jacob will place his “right hand”, because that one son will be the leader. 

The very best name in the whole world that Jacob could give to a newborn son is Ben-Jamin, because such name means that Jacob is planning that in due course, Jacob will place his “right hand” on such “son”, making such son Ben-Jamin/“Son of my Right Hand”, pursuant to which such son would become the leader of the next generation of Hebrews.

Note that if Joseph has already disappeared [with chapter 37 of Genesis being a flashback to the time period shortly before the bloody Shechem incident], then it makes perfect sense for Jacob to call Rachel’s second-born son “Son of my Right Hand”/Ben-Jamin.  Benjamin for years plays the role formerly played by Joseph:  Jacob’s favorite son who is Jacob’s heir-apparent.  [We know that because Jacob will not allow his favorite son Benjamin to go on the fairly dangerous journey to Egypt with his older half-brothers to buy grain for the starving Hebrews in Canaan.]

If Joseph is already gone, and presumed dead, by the time Rachel’s second son is born, then it would make all the sense in the world for Jacob/“Israel” to call Rachel’s second-born son [as vanished Joseph’s successor, as it were] “Son of my Right Hand”/Ben-Jamin.  The analysis is very straightforward, if and only if chapter 37 of Genesis has been placed out of normal chronological order, as a flashback.  Surely you must have wondered how Rachel can be alive at Genesis 37: 10, but dead at Genesis 35: 19.  And surely you must have wondered how it was safe for Jacob to have Joseph walk up to Shechem alone at Genesis 37: 14, whereas chapter 34 of Genesis features the bloody Shechem incident, and Genesis 35: 5 tells us that Jacob’s family escapes from Shechem with their lives only thanks to timely divine intervention:  “And they journeyed: and the terror of God was upon the cities that [were] round about them, and they did not pursue after the sons of Jacob.” 

The answer to all these questions is that Jacob calls Rachel’s second-born son “Son of my Right Hand” because, Joseph having recently disappeared with Jacob thinking that Joseph had died, Jacob’s plan at that point was that Rachel’s newborn younger son would now be Jacob’s favorite, favored son.  Jacob’s plan at that point was that in due course, Jacob would put his “right hand” on Rachel’s second-born “son” and name him to be the leader of the next generation of the Hebrews.  [The two reasons why that does not end up happening are first that Joseph turned out not be dead, but secondly and more importantly, that Jacob belatedly realizes that he must follow the Patriarchal succession rules of his father and grandfather, which require the next leader of the Hebrews to be a younger son who is not his father’s favorite son but whose birth mother was his father’s original main wife #1.  Rachel’s two sons fail that last requirement, as Rachel did not marry Jacob until 7 days after Leah had first married Jacob.]

If we look at the name Ben-Jamin/BN-YMYN/“Son of my Right Hand”, we see that it could only have been bestowed on Rachel’s second-born son by Jacob if Joseph had already disappeared.  All of the problems noted above disappear entirely once we realize that chapter 37 of Genesis is told out of normal chronological order as a flashback, going back to the time period shortly before the bloody Shechem incident.  Then, and only then, both of the names given to Rachel’s second son -- BN-)WNY and BN-YMYN -- make perfect sense. 

Jim Stinehart
Evanston, Illinois

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