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30 April 2007 @ 09:11 pm

When Joseph arrived at Shechem, a man found him wandering around in the fields and asked him, “What are you looking for?”

He replied, “I’m looking for my brothers.  Can you tell me where they are grazing their flocks?”

“They have moved on from here,” The man answered.  “I heard them say, ‘Let’s go to Dothan.’”

So Joseph went after his brothers and found them near Dothan.”

GENESIS 37:14-17


- Either this is an awful, superfluous piece of writing; yet another example of adding in information that has no relevance to the narrative whatsoever, or it’s a really bad attempt at adding some dramatic tension to the story.  This is mentioned, but means nothing, adds nothing– not in the context of the story.  He meets a man – who was he?  Where’d he come from?  How did he know who Joseph’s brothers were?  If he was from Shechem then how did he escape the previous slaughter brought by Joseph and his brothers?  Why did he not kill Joseph on the spot in revenge or run screaming in terror?   Why add this at all?


“But they saw him in the distance, and before he reached them, they plotted to kill him.

“Here comes that dreamer!”  they said to each other.  “Come now, let’s kill him and throw him into one of these cisterns and say that a ferocious animal devoured him.  Then we’ll see what comes of his dreams.”

GENESIS 37:18-20


- So Joseph’s brothers want him dead, and his father sent him to them.  That polygamous marriage thing really isn’t working out too well for God’s chosen.


“When Reuben heard this, he tried to rescue him from their hands.  “Let’s not take his life,” he said.  “Don’t shed any blood.  Throw him into this cistern here in the desert, but don’t lay a hand on him.”  Reuben said this to rescue him from them and take him back to their father.”

GENESIS 37:21-22


- Reuben is the oldest of the brothers, born to Leah.  It seems that he’s the only one amongst them with any shred of decency.  I wonder why, as the oldest, he didn’t just tell his siblings to shut up and get back to work, although as there are nine others to go against it perhaps isn’t surprising that he doesn’t feel he can speak out directly against them.


“So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe – the richly ornamented robe he was wearing – and they took him and threw him into the cistern.  Now the cistern was empty; there was no water in it.

As they sat down to eat their meal, they looked up and saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead.  Their camels were loaded with spices, balm and myrrh, and they were on their way to Egypt.

Judah said to his brothers, “What will we gain if we kill our brother and cover up his blood?  Come let’s sell him to the Ishmaelites and not lay our hands on him; after all, he is our brother, our own flesh and blood.”  His brothers agreed.”

GENESIS 37:23-27


- There was no water in it – that makes me feel so much better about it.

They throw him into a cistern, with every intention of leaving him there to rot, and then sit down for a meal as though nothing had happened, presumably with Joseph’s pathetic cries for help sounding out in the background.  It’s like a scene from some lame 70’s farcical comedy.

Then Judah comes up with the bright idea of selling Joseph – and everyone’s a winner!  Joseph gets to live, and the brothers get to keep their hands clean of his blood, while earning a few shekels on the side.  It seems that while killing their brother would be considered reprehensible, selling him into slavery isn’t.  They got twenty shekels – that’s two shekels each. (I am assuming here that Benjamin isn’t with them – but there’s nothing to say that he isn’t.)


“When Reuben returned to the cistern and saw that Joseph was not there, he tore his clothes.  He went back to his brothers and said, “The boy isn’t there!  Where can I turn now?”

Then they got Joseph’s robe, slaughtered a goat and dipped the robe in the blood.  They took the ornamented robe back to their father and said, “We found this.  Examine it to see whether it is your son’s robe.”

GENESIS 37:29-32


- So Reuben wasn’t there when they decided to sell Joseph?  But it seems he was there when they slaughtered the goat and pretended that Joseph had been killed.  This is a very confusingly written passage.

The last line seems to me like some cheap conjuror’s banter – can you confirm to the audience that this is indeed your card?


“He recognised it and said, “It is my son’s robe!  Some ferocious animal has devoured him.  Joseph has surely been torn to pieces.”

Then Jacob tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and mourned for his son many days.  All his sons and daughters came to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted.  “No,” he said, “in mourning will I go down to the grave of my son.”  So his father wept for him.

Meanwhile, the Midianites sold Joseph in Egypt to Potiphar, one of the Pharaoh’s officials, the captain of the guard.”

GENESIS 37:33-36


- Joseph’s brothers callously allow Israel to believe his favourite son to be dead.  They even come to him and try to comfort him, all the while knowing that they’d sold him into slavery, and if they hadn’t done that, they would have killed him.  At least Israel shows some true human emotion here, being inconsolable about the death of his son.  Maybe he truly wasn’t aware of the brother’s feelings towards Joseph.

The style of the text has changed greatly for this accounting of Joseph – not so superfluously repetitive, and has an attempt at dramatic tension and pacing.  However the net effect is like watching the worst kind of daytime soap opera, dubbed from another language, where the main family is a bunch of incestuous ‘gangsta’ types.

(Anonymous) on January 9th, 2008 07:23 pm (UTC)
What do you think, please, of Obadiah Shoher's interpretation of the story? (here: samsonblinded.org/blog/genesis-37.htm ) He takes the text literally to prove that the brothers played a practical joke on Yosef rather than intended to murder him or sell him into slavery. His argument seems fairly strong to me, but I'd like to hear other opinions.