Genesis (Part 227): From the Death of Isaac through the Death of Joseph

Welcome back to my study/review of Genesis. If you missed the previous parts of this study, you can find the previous posts HERE. This post is a recap of the last few chapters, and topics we have discussed therein, in an FAQ form.

FAQ is probably being generous. We’ll say “Occasionally Asked Questions.” This is not a definitive list of questions for this material – not remotely. I reserve the right to add to this list and/or change my answers over time. I hope that this list of questions and answers will cover a lot of the more interesting bits of ground we have traveled in this section:


  1. Does the text describe two different sets of wives, for Esau, and if so what should we make of it?

    Genesis 26:34 When Esau was forty years old, he married Judith daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and also Basemath daughter of Elon the Hittite.

    Genesis 28:Esau then realized how displeasing the Canaanite women were to his father Isaac; so he went to Ishmael and married Mahalath, the sister of Nebaioth and daughter of Ishmael son of Abraham, in addition to the wives he already had.

    Genesis 36:Esau took his wives from the Canaanites: Adah the daughter of Elon the Hittite, Oholibamah the daughter of Anah the daughter of Zibeon the Hivite, and Basemath, Ishmael’s daughter, the sister of Nebaioth. 

    Judith, Basemath, and Mahalath


    Oholibamah, Adah, and Basemath

    From The Pulpit Commentaries:

    The two lists agree in saying

    (1) that Esau had three wives,
    (2) that one of them was the daughter of Elon the Hittite,
    (3) that another of them was Ishmael’s daughter, the sister of Nebajoth, and
    (4) that the name of one of them was Bashemath.

    The discrepancy between the two is greatest in respect of the first wife, who appears with a different name and a different parentage in the two lists; while with reference to the second and the third wives, it is only the difference of name that requires to be accounted for.

    The solutions that appear most entitled to acceptance, though all are more or less conjectural, proceed upon the supposition that Esau had only three wives, or at most four.

    1. On the hypothesis that Esau had not more than three wives, it is only needful to presume that each of them had two names, a not unusual circumstance in Oriental countries (Rosenmüller, Havernick)—one of them, probably that contained in the present list, bestowed on the occasion of marriage; and that Anah, the father of Aholibamah, was the same person with Beeri, or the Well-Man, who received that cognomen from the incident related in verse 24, viz; that he discovered certain hot springs while feeding his father’s asses (Hengstenberg, Keil, Kurtz)—the peculiarity that in one place (Genesis 26:34) he is styled a Hittite, in another (Genesis 36:2) a Hivite, and in a third (Genesis 36:20) a Horite, being explained by the conjecture that the first was the generic term for the race, the second the specific designation of the tribe, and the third the particular name for the inhabitants of the district to which he belonged (Keil, Lange, ‘Speaker’s Commentary).

    2. Another solution gives to Esau four wives, by supposing Judith to have died without issue (Murphy, Jacobus), or, in consequence of being childless, though still living, to have been passed over in silence in the former genealogical register (Quarry), and Aholibamah to have been the fourth partner whom Esau espoused. The Samaritan version reads Mahalath for Bashemath in the second list, which it regards as an error of transcription (WL. Alexander in Kitto’s ‘ Cyclopedia’); while others think that Adah has been written by inadvertence for Bashemath (Inglis)’; but such conjectures are as unnecessary as they are manifestly arbitrary.


    As I pointed out in the original post, it is worth remembering that the intelligent and educated people to whom these documents were contemporary did not perceive these lists as highly problematic. It is useful thus to approach the review thinking of ways that the original audience might have harmonized the differences.
  2. Is Esau the father of the Edomites?

    The histories (such as they are) say that he is.

    Edomites have been archaeologically dated to no earlier than the 7th century BC. Given that Abraham lived between 2,000 and 1,500 BC, this places a LONG stretch of time between Esau and the archaeological record.

    Does that disprove anything? I do not think so. If Esau’s descendants were nomadic, then it stands to reason that they likely existed for long before they began to leave traces of civilization behind.
  3. What is the significance of having two prophetic dreams?

    The story of Joseph presents three different situations where a pair of divine dreams were given:

    1) Joseph has two dreams to indicate his family will bow down to him.
    2) The cupbearer and the baker each have a prophetic dream concerning their respective futures.
    3) Pharaoh has a pair of dreams concerning the future for Egypt.

    Joseph explains the significance of doubling a dream in Genesis 41: 32 And the doubling of Pharaoh’s dream means that the thing is fixed by God, and God will shortly bring it about. 
  4. Is Joseph’s second dream a somewhat failed prophecy?

    Let’s refresh on the details from the second dream. Genesis 37: Then he dreamed another dream and told it to his brothers and said, “Behold, I have dreamed another dream. Behold, the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me.” 

    If his father Jacob is the sun, and his eleven brothers are the stars, who is represented by the moon? Jacob, in verse 10, interprets “the moon” to be Joseph’s mother:

    10 But when he told it to his father and to his brothers, his father rebuked him and said to him, “What is this dream that you have dreamed? Shall I and your mother and your brothers indeed come to bow ourselves to the ground before you?”

    If the moon is indeed Joseph’s mother, then the dream presents some problems. Rachel is deceased at the time of the dream. If the “moon” refers to Leah, this interpretation also suffers from the fact that Leah dies before Jacob reunites with Joseph. What are the other options?

    Bilhah, Rachel,s maid, who had probably acted as Joseph’s mother after Rachel’s death (Jewish interpreters, Grotius, and others)

    The term “mother” is here introduced simply for the sake of giving completeness to the symbol (Kurtz, Murphy)—and thy brethren indeed come to bow down ourselves to thee—Joseph’s brethren ultimately did so in Egypt (Genesis 41:6); Joseph’s father practically did so when he recognized Joseph’s greatness and depended on him for support (Genesis 47:12). It is certain that Leah died before the immigration to Egypt (Genesis 49:31), and it cannot be determined whether Bilhah or Zilpah went to Egypt—to the earth. Jacob seems here, by intensifying Joseph’s language, to resent the claim which it conveyed.
  5. Which of Joseph’s brothers saved him from murder?

    * Reuben saves his life first: Genesis 37:21 But when Reuben heard it, he rescued him out of their hands, saying, “Let us not take his life.” 22 And Reuben said to them, “Shed no blood; throw him into this pit here in the wilderness, but do not lay a hand on him”—that he might rescue him out of their hand to restore him to his father.

    * Judah saves Joseph next: Genesis 37:26 Then Judah said to his brothers, “What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? 27 Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and let not our hand be upon him, for he is our brother, our own flesh.” And his brothers listened to him. 

    Judah’s actions unwittingly thwart Reuben’s rescue plan. However, Reuben’s plan – which included his absence – may have been on the cusp of failure before Judah acted. It is likely that Reuben, as the eldest son, will bear much of the blame for this accident from Jacob.

    The most likely ringleaders then for this plot against Joseph are Simeon and Levi. Notably, Joseph later takes Simeon captive in Egypt after the brothers’ first visit to buy grain.
  6. What was Onan’s sin? 

    Genesis 38:But Onan knew that the offspring would not be his. So whenever he went in to his brother’s wife he would waste the semen on the ground, so as not to give offspring to his brother. 10 And what he did was wicked in the sight of the Lord, and he put him to death also.

    There is a scholarly split on this issue. Some view the wickedness as the wasting of semen. Others view it as the refusal to provide offspring for his brother’s line. And a third would label view the sin broadly and point out that disobedience to Jacob, as well as his above stated actions, are all wicked.

    Part 172 goes into more detail about the historical interpretations of this incident.
  7. Was Judah guilty of incest with Tamer?

    Not in the sense that a modern reader might view the usage of that term. Tamer was Judah’s daughter-in-law. However, the term incest might be applied to sleeping with one’s daughter-in-law *if* she had consummated either of her marriages to Judah’s sons. As a result, there is a scholarly debate about whether Tamer ever actually did consummate either of those marriages. The text implies perhaps that Onan did not. Some commentators argue that Er, the elder brothers, neglected her equally.

    The debate also centers around intent. Judah lacks intent in his actions, inasmuch as he does not know Tamer’s identity. She might be guilty of this particular sin because she is aware of his identity.

    Looking back at Onan, one view of his actions toward Tamer is that by not allowing her to conceive, and through the child take part in his brother Er’s inheritance, he treated her like a prostitute. Judah’s actions treat her – though he does not know it – much more directly like a prostitute. He bears some of the blame for this inasmuch as his failure to give her his third son has allowed these incident to happen.
  8. Which Pharaoh did Joseph serve?

    There are several candidates:

    1. Osirtasen I; the founder of the twelfth dynasty, a prosperous and successful sore-reign, whose name appears on a granite obelisk at Heliopolis.
    2. Assa, or Assis, the fifth king of the fifteenth dynasty of Shepherd kings (Stuart Poole in Smith’s ‘Bible Dict.,’ art. Egypt).
    3. Apophis, a Shepherd king of the fifteenth dynasty, whom all the Greek authorities agree in mentioning as the patron of Joseph.
    4. Thothmes III; a monarch of the eighteenth dynasty.
    5. Rameses III; the king of Memphis, a ruler belonging to the twentieth dynasty. It may assist the student to arrive at a decision with respect to these contending aspirants for the throne of Pharaoh in the time of Joseph to know that Canon Cook, after an elaborate and careful as well as scholarly review of the entire question, regards it as at least “a very probable conjecture” that the Pharaoh of Joseph was Amenemha III; “who is represented on the lately-discovered table of Abydos as the last great king of all Egypt in the ancient empire (the last of the twelfth dynasty), and as such receiving divine honors from his descendant Rameses”—dreamed. “For the third time are dreams employed as the agencies of Joseph’s history: they first foreshadow his illustrious future; they then manifest that the Spirit of God had not abandoned him even in the abject condition of a slave and a prisoner; and lastly they are made the immediate forerunners of his greatness” (Kalisch.). And, behold, he stood by the riveri.e. upon the banks of the Nile, the term יֵאֹר (an Egyptian word signifying great river or canal, in the Memphitic dialect yaro, in the Sahidic yero) being used almost exclusively in Scripture for the Nile. This was the common name for the Nile among the Egyptians, the sacred being Hapi.

    There is a recent article HERE making a recent argument for a historical Joseph.
  9. Is Joseph a “Type” for Jesus Christ?

    Christians certainly think so. Please see the article HERE for a list of parallels between the two persons.
  10. What is some of the modern prophetic speculation regarding Joseph’s two sons?

    There is a lot to this question. First, one should read about the Messiah ben Joseph prophecies. Christian scholar David C. Mitchell relates this figure, in his book Messiah ben Joseph, to Jesus Christ.

    Britannica refers to another version of Ephraim eschatology:

    Popular apocalyptic literature, however, continued, and in this tradition the warrior-messiah gained prominence. The belief spread that a messiah from the house of Joseph (or Ephraim) would precede the triumphant messiah from the house of David but would himself fall in the battle against Gog and Magog, two legendary powers who served Satan (Ezekiel 38:2; Revelation 20:8). Developed toward the end of the 2nd century, after the failure of Bar Kokhba’s revolt, this conception is connected with a more basic notion of apocalyptic messianism—the belief that the messianic advent is preceded by suffering and catastrophe. In some versions of apocalyptic messianism, the messianic age merges with the Endtime and Last Judgment, and the “new heaven and new earth” are ushered in amid destruction and catastrophe.

    There is a still-popular British take on Joseph’s sons called “British Israelism.” While many theologians disavow British Israelism in a general sense, many of them still refer to it when trying to make sense of how Britain or the United State might equate into Biblical Ends Times prophecy.

    Adherents believe that the Twelve Tribes of Israel are the twelve sons of the patriarch Jacob (who was later named Israel). Jacob elevated the descendants of Ephraim and Manasseh (the two sons of Joseph) to the status of full tribes in their own right, replacing the tribe of Joseph. A division occurred among the twelve tribes in the days of Jeroboam and Rehoboam, with the three tribes of JudahBenjamin, and, in part, Levi, forming the Kingdom of Judah, and the remaining ten tribes forming the Kingdom of Israel (Samaria).[24] Thus, they argue, “the great bulk of Israelites are not the Jews”.[25]: 71  [26][27] W. E. Filmer, writing in 1964, suggested that the fact that some Jews continue to search for the ten lost tribes implies that their representatives are not found among modern-day, multi-ethnicJews.[28] A number of British Israelites quote Josephus in order to support their claim that the lost tribes of Israel are not Jews: “the entire body of the people of Israel remained in that country; wherefore there are but two tribes in Asia and Europe subject to the Romans, while the ten tribes are beyond the Euphrates till now, and are an immense multitude.”
  11. What is the purpose of Joseph testing his brothers?

    He seems eager to learn whether they are contrite over his own treatment and whether their hearts have changed in the intervening years.

    By sending them back with their money, he learns whether they are honest or greedy. By asking them to fetch Benjamin and return, he learns how they will treat Simeon in captivity and whether they will try to pass off someone else as Benjamin.
  12. How does the test demonstrate Reuban’s fall and Judah’s rise?

    * Reuben attempts to orchestrate Joseph’s original rescue and fails. Judah suceeds in keeping Joseph alive.

    * Reuben attempts to carry the blame, with Jacob, should he be unable to take Benjamin to Egypt and return with him. Jacob does not take him up on this offer. When Judah makes nearly the same offer, Jacob relents.

    * When Joseph plans to keep Benjamin captive, Judah’s words about their aging father move Joseph to relent.
  13. Did Judah recognize Joseph?

    There is no scholarly consensus on this issue but it might come as a surprise to some that there are some scholars who believe Judah recognized his brother Joseph. From Prof. B Barry Levy:

    According to Gen. 44:18, Judah walked over to Joseph and began to speak. It is reasonable to assume that the series of apparent coincidences in the previous chapters made him suspicious of his perception of the events. In particular, he could not believe Benjamin had stolen Joseph’s silver cup, and he ruminated on the situation throughout his trip back to Joseph.

    By the time of their return, Judah had assumed leadership of the group, but the circumstances of their being taken into custody and returned to Joseph did not permit him to caucus with the brothers about his suspicions. And so, having made up his mind that only one fact would explain all his doubts, he approached Joseph, took a good look at him once again, (perhaps muttered something like “Oh my God” under his breath), and began to speak.

    Judah had decided the only possibility was that the man standing before him was Joseph. 

  14. Did Joseph practice divination?

    Genesis 44:Is it not from this that my lord drinks, and by this that he practices divination? You have done evil in doing this.’” […] 15 Joseph said to them, “What deed is this that you have done? Do you not know that a man like me can indeed practice divination?” 

    It seems likely, from the text, that Joseph practiced divination.
  15. Were the Israelites slaves or sojourners in Egypt?

    It might surprise some people to learn that there is a scholarly belief, by some, that the Israelites were never slaves in Egypt. The belief is that they were sojourners. Prof. Rabbi David Frankel writes, Israelites in Egypt: Slaves or Sojourners? for and I encourage you to read it.


    The book of Exodus twice reminds Israel not to mistreat sojourners (גֵרִים)[1] in their land because they themselves were once sojourners in Egypt.

    In contrast, the later Deuteronomic Collection portrays the Israelites as slaves in Egypt.
  16. Was Jacob sinful in leaving the Promised Land for Egypt?

    46 So Israel took his journey with all that he had and came to Beersheba, and offered sacrifices to the God of his father Isaac. And God spoke to Israel in visions of the night and said, “Jacob, Jacob.” And he said, “Here I am.” Then he said, “I am God, the God of your father. Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for there I will make you into a great nation. I myself will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also bring you up again, and Joseph’s hand shall close your eyes.”

    You sometimes see subsequent debate that Jacob wrongly left Canaan for the extended stay in Egypt. However, the first few verses in Chapter 46 appear to give explicit permission to go.
  17. Is there significance to the fact that Jacob’s household in Egypt numbered seventy people?

    There appears to be some significance to the number. We see it come up again later in the Hebrew and then Christian scriptures. However, other than seeing the number repeated, its meaning and importance is not spelled out in the text.

    * Jacob’s household has 70 people in it.
    * Moses appoints 70 elders (Exodus 24:9 – 11)
    * Israel spent a total number of 70 years in captivity in Babylon (Jeremiah 29:10)
    * Seventy elders (not counting the High Priest) composed Israel’s great tribunal (Exodus 24:1, Numbers 11:16) which was eventually called the Sanhedrin.
    * Jesus sent out 70 disciples in Luke 10.

    An article at, HERE, attempts to answer why the number seventy is special.
  18. Why wasn’t Joseph or his brothers buried in the same cave that Jacob was buried in?

    Joseph did not make his request that specific. Genesis 50:25 Then Joseph made the sons of Israel swear, saying, “God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones from here.” 

    Joshua 24:32 As for the bones of Joseph, which the people of Israel brought up from Egypt, they buried them at Shechem, in the piece of land that Jacob bought from the sons of Hamor the father of Shechem for a hundred pieces of money. It became an inheritance of the descendants of Joseph.

    There are various theories as to why Joseph was not buried immediately in his homeland after dying:

    One explanation for why Joseph’s remains were not taken to the Land of Israel immediately upon his death is that Joseph had been sold into slavery and, even though he was the second most powerful man in Egypt, he remained a slave. As a slave, his body (including his bones) belonged to Pharaoh. His bones remained with his owner until he, along with all the Jews, was redeemed from slavery. 

    An alternate theory suggests that Joseph had the political power to require a burial in Israel with the same honors afforded Jacob. Yet his demand to be buried in Israel was an expression of faith in the eventual redemption from Egypt, and therefore was not to be carried out until the redemption occurred. 

    As for the rest of Jacob’s sons, and their burials, little is known.
  19. Do we know where Joseph is buried?

    From wiki:

    Joseph’s Tomb (Hebrew: קבר יוסף, Qever Yosef; Arabic: قبر يوسف, Qabr Yūsuf) is a funerary monument located in Balata village at the eastern entrance to the valley that separates Mounts Gerizim and Ebal, 300 metres northwest of Jacob’s Well, on the outskirts of the West Bank city of Nablus.[1] It has been venerated throughout the ages by Samaritans, for whom it is the second holiest site; by Jews; by Christians; and by Muslims, some of whom view it as the location of a local sheikh, Yusef al-Dwaik[2][3][4][5][6][7] or Dawiqat, who died in the 18th century.

    The site is near Tell Balata, the site of Shakmu in the Late Bronze Age and later biblical Shechem.[5][8] One biblical tradition identifies the general area of Shechem as the resting-place of the biblical patriarch Joseph and his two sons Ephraim and Manasseh. Multiple locations over the years have been viewed as the legendary burial place of Joseph.[9] Post-biblical records regarding the location of Joseph’s Tomb somewhere around this area date from the beginning of the 4th century CE. The present structure, a small rectangular room with a cenotaph, is the result of an 1868 rebuilding action, and does not contain any architectural elements older than that.[10][11] While some scholars, such as Kenneth Kitchen and James K. Hoffmeier affirm the essential historicity of the biblical account of Joseph, others, such as Donald B. Redford, argue that the story itself has “no basis in fact”.[12]

    There is no archaeological evidence establishing the tomb as Joseph’s,[13] and modern scholarship has yet to determine whether or not the present cenotaph is to be identified with the ancient biblical gravesite.[14] The lack of Jewish or Christian sources prior to the 5th century that mention the tomb indicates that prior to the 4th century it was a Samaritan site. Samaritan sources tell of struggles between Samaritans and Christians who wished to remove Joseph’s bones.

And with that, I will conclude this section. I reserve the right to amend answers, change answers, delete questions/answers, or add new questions/answers at a later date if they occur to me.

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