Joseph Story as Beginnings

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When I was in second-year Hebrew, we used Professor Isaac Jerushalmi’s מַעֲשֶׂה דְּיוֹסֵף צַדִּיקָא (link) as in introduction to the story of Joseph’s life. Recently, Karl Kutz and Rebekah Josberger included this section of Genesis in their basic Hebrew reader inside Learning Biblical Hebrew Workbook: A Graded Reader with Exercises (2019). I’ve also been using this story from the Septuagint for a first reader of Septuagint Greek for people that I’m working with on Zoom.

The current volume of the Journal of Biblical Literature from SBL features as article by Richard Steiner about the various issues relating to the kidnap and sale of Joseph into Egypt. I’d always fought with understanding just who pulled Joseph up out of the pit and sold him. The issues is more complicated that I had even thought. If you’ve got access to the journal, I’d definitely recommend reading this article!

Reference:
Steiner, R. (2020). Contradictions, Culture Gaps, and Narrative Gaps in the Joseph Story. Journal of Biblical Literature, 139(3), 439-458. doi:10.15699/jbl.1393.2020.1
 

DrDavidT

Member
Don't have access to the journal article, only was able to see the abstract. But the Biblical account, Gen. 37 23FF is very straight forward and there are no questions as to who removed Joseph from the cistern
 
The latest edition of JBL is not online at Jstor yet, so it would be nice if you could quickly summarize the arguments. I agree with DrDavidT -- to me it seems quite straightforward.
 

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Is the text so straightforward? We are generally told that Joseph’s brothers sold him to the Midianites or to the Ishmaelites. These two groups are not the same people. This is what the text says:

וַיַּֽעַבְרוּ֩ אֲנָשִׁ֨ים מִדְיָנִ֜ים סֹֽחֲרִ֗ים וַֽיִּמְשְׁכוּ֙ וַיַּֽעֲל֤וּ אֶת־יוֹסֵף֙ מִן־הַבּ֔וֹר וַיִּמְכְּר֧וּ אֶת־יוֹסֵ֛ף לַיִּשְׁמְעֵאלִ֖ים בְּעֶשְׂרִ֣ים כָּ֑סֶף וַיָּבִ֥יאוּ אֶת־יוֹסֵ֖ף מִצְרָֽיְמָה׃
Then Midianite men, merchants, passed by. They (the Midianites) drew and brought Joseph up from the pit, and they sold Joseph to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver. They (the Ishmaelites) brought Joseph to Egypt.

But it also says that:

וְהַ֨מְּדָנִ֔ים מָֽכְר֥וּ אֹת֖וֹ אֶל־מִצְרָ֑יִם לְפֽוֹטִיפַר֙ סְרִ֣יס פַּרְעֹ֔ה שַׂ֖ר הַטַּבָּחִֽים׃
The Midianites sold him into Egypt to Potiphar, Pharaoh’s officer, the chief butcher.

Did the Midianites sell him to Potiphar, or did they sell him to the Ishmaelites who then sold him to Potiphar? Or, was it the brothers who sold him?

וַיֹּ֨אמֶר יוֹסֵ֧ף אֶל־אֶחָ֛יו גְּשׁוּ־נָ֥א אֵלַ֖י וַיִּגָּ֑שׁוּ וַיֹּ֗אמֶר אֲנִי֙ יוֹסֵ֣ף אֲחִיכֶ֔ם אֲשֶׁר־מְכַרְתֶּ֥ם אֹתִ֖י מִצְרָֽיְמָה׃
And Joseph said to his brothers, “Approach me.” And he said, “I am Joseph, your brother whom you sold (me) into Egypt.”

Did they sell him? Did they receive money for the purchase? Or, did the money go to the Midianites? Who was the recipient of the money?

I don’t think this is an open-and-shut question.
 

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I assume that we should go with the idea that the brothers did not sell Joseph to anyone. They conspired to do so, and they put him in the pit. But, they did not manage to perform the sale to the Ishmaelites as they had intended to do (Gen. 37:27–28). Rather, while they were away from the pit, some Midianites who were passing by happened upon Joseph and pulled him out, selling him to the Ishmaelites as his brothers had intended to do.

It was the brothers’ deed that caused him to be taken and sold (human trafficking as a regular feature of society at that time and place). They were guilty of his abduction, although they did not sell him themselves.

The article brings in lots of information about what is found about human trafficking in other Semitic languages from the time, how Egypt seemed to be the apt place for sale of victims of kidnapping, etc. My point in opening this thread was to share what I was reading and encourage others to read it.

After this, do you still think that it’s clear from the text who did the selling? This question has led loads of critics to draw support for the Documentary Hypothesis for its verses. I’m not alone in thinking that this question is intriguing.
 

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Anyway, I’ve begun reading Genesis from the beginning in the Septuagint. I am pleasantly surprised to find it far more readable than I had feared.
 

Buzzard

Member
The article brings in lots of information about what is found about human trafficking in other Semitic languages from the time, how Egypt seemed to be the apt place for sale of victims of kidnapping, etc. My point in opening this thread was to share what I was reading and encourage others to read it.
Yep;
and even today, and in the end time events
Egypt is symbolic of servitude and slavery to the
"Egyptian Masters"

one of the 1st things Aaron did was strip them of all their Egyptian Earrings

Ex.32:1
And when the people saw that Moses delayed to come down out of the mount,
the people gathered themselves together unto Aaron,
and said unto him,

Up, make us gods, which shall go before us; for as for this Moses,
the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt,
we wot not what is become of him
.

And Aaron said unto them,
Break off the golden earrings, which are in the ears of your wives,
of your sons, and of your daughters, and bring them unto me.



And all the people brake off the golden earrings which were in their ears,
and brought them unto Aaron.
And he received them at their hand,
and fashioned it with a graving tool,
after he had made it a molten calf:

and they said,
These be thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.

And when Aaron saw it,
he built an altar before it;
and Aaron made proclamation,
and said,
To morrow is a feast to the LORD.

And they rose up early on the morrow,
and offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings;
and the people sat down to eat and to drink,
and rose up to play.

When you wear the ""Ear Rings"" of the Gods of Egypt
all you have is;
"""ears to hear """ the Voice of those that speak for
the Egyptian Gods

vs. 25 .. And when Moses saw that the people were naked;
(for Aaron had made them naked unto their shame among their enemies)
Then Moses stood in the gate of the camp,
and said, ............................
 
Reference:
Steiner, R. (2020). Contradictions, Culture Gaps, and Narrative Gaps in the Joseph Story. Journal of Biblical Literature, 139(3), 439-458. doi:10.15699/jbl.1393.2020.1
This question has led loads of critics to draw support for the Documentary Hypothesis for its verses. I’m not alone in thinking that this question is intriguing.

Thanks for the reference... and yes, the various tensions in the Joseph story have long been used as evidence for the Documentary Hypothesis. Joel Baden (a "Neo-Documentarian" according to Steiner) appeals to the sale of Joseph in the first case study of his book The Composition of the Pentateuch: Renewing the Documentary Hypothesis (Yale University Press, 2012) written in defense of the theory in its classical formulation. It is unfortunate that Steiner spent so little time on this part of the story, though he promises a fuller treatment in a future article. As interesting as the information provided on herding practices and human trafficking in antiquity is, I am not convinced it offers a better explanation than diachronic theories of the present form of the text. I do appreciate the opportunity your thread provided to reflect on these issues again since it's been a few years since I've engaged such questions...

Kind regards,
Jonathan
 

Harel13

Member
וְהַ֨מְּדָנִ֔ים מָֽכְר֥וּ אֹת֖וֹ אֶל־מִצְרָ֑יִם לְפֽוֹטִיפַר֙ סְרִ֣יס פַּרְעֹ֔ה שַׂ֖ר הַטַּבָּחִֽים׃The Midianites sold him into Egypt to Potiphar, Pharaoh’s officer, the chief butcher.
Midianites here is a mistranslation. The Hebrew reads מדנים, Medanites, descendants of Medan (brother of Midian, both sons of Abraham and Keturah).

There were four Abrahamic groups who took part in the selling of Joseph: the sons of Jacob, the Ishmaelites, the Midianites and the Medanites.
 

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I've always processed the word there as "Midianites" without even seeing that it was different!

Biblia Hebraica Quinta (BHQ) has this in the apparatus:

36 וְהַ֨מְּדָנִ֔ים Tᴶ | והמדינים Smr G V S Tᴼᴺ ‖ pref וְהַמִּדְיָנִים Smr G V S ✣​

This means that the Samaritan Pentateuch, the Old Greek ("Septuagint"), the Vulgate, the Syriac, and Targum Onkelos all read it as והמדינים (as if the ktiv is simply missing a yod and it is referring to the Midianites). The editors of BHQ say that וְהַמִּדְיָנִים is the preferred reading based on these texts. The symbol ✣ indicates that there is more discussion of the textual commentary, which we find reads thus:

36 וְהַ֨מְּדָנִ֔ים — The vacillation among the traders’ names, Medanites, Midianites (v. 28), and Ishmaelites (vv. 25, 27; 39:1), created difficulties already for ancient Jewish exegesis, which found no better way to explain it than to postulate that Joseph was sold more than once (Gen. Rab. 84:22). Rashi follows their claim (for v. 28), while Qimḥi identifies the Midianites with the Ishmaelites, as both are descendants of Abraham, the Midianites from Keturah (25:2), and the Ishmaelites from Hagar (16:15). He further invokes Judg 8:24, which clearly supports his identification (see also Ibn Ezra at v. 28). As for the form מדנים, most modern commentators agree that the correct form is מדינים, as it is given in v. 28 (Skinner, Genesis, 449; Westermann, Genesis, 3:34).​

Note the last line in the textual commentary of the BHQ: As for the form מדנים, most modern commentators agree that the correct form is מדינים, as it is given in v. 28.

I think I would have to agree with these comments rather than introduce a whole new group of people into the story.
 

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Targum Jonathan to Genesis 37:36:
וּמִדְיָנָאֵי זַבִּינוּ יָתֵיהּ לְמִצְרַיִם לְפוֹטִיפַר רַבָּא דְפַרְעה רַב סַפּוֹקְלַטוֹרְיָא׃

Targum Onkelos to Genesis 37:36:
וּמִדְיָנָאֵי זַבִּינוּ יָתֵיהּ לְמִצְרָיִם לְפוֹטִיפַר רַבָּא דְפַרְעֹה רַב קָטוֹלַיָּא׃

Both of them read Midianites.

Septuagint to Genesis 37:36:
οἱ δὲ Μαδιηναῖοι ἀπέδοντο τὸν Ιωσηφ εἰς Αἴγυπτον τῷ Πετεφρη τῷ σπάδοντι Φαραω, ἀρχιμαγείρῳ.

It seems that most understood המדנים as a defective spelling of המדינים.
 

Cynthia

Member
trying to follow the discussion here.

I had always assumed perhaps in error, that the Ishmaelites and the Midianites were one and the same, that Ishmael had settled in Midian.

And that the brothers of Joseph sold him in Reuben's absence based on Judah's suggestion. Reuben returned to rescue him and found him gone.
 

Harel13

Member
I had always assumed perhaps in error, that the Ishmaelites and the Midianites were one and the same, that Ishmael had settled in Midian.
They weren't one and the same. The Tanach tells us the Ishmaelites were the descendants of Ishmael, son of Abraham and the Midianites the descendants of Midian, a different son of Abraham. Ishmael himself eventually settled in the Paran Desert but his descendants founded countries in the area of Kedar, which is east of Israel (what is now Jordan). Midian was south of that. However, it's possible that during that time they were more mixed; not quite yet distinct groups. The Tanach does tell us that the Ishmaelites came from the city of Gilad, which was also situated in the eastern bank of the Jordan River. From the context, it seems Gilad at the time had a large marketplace.
And that the brothers of Joseph sold him in Reuben's absence based on Judah's suggestion. Reuben returned to rescue him and found him gone.
Yes, that's true.
 

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trying to follow the discussion here.

I had always assumed perhaps in error, that the Ishmaelites and the Midianites were one and the same, that Ishmael had settled in Midian.

And that the brothers of Joseph sold him in Reuben's absence based on Judah's suggestion. Reuben returned to rescue him and found him gone.
It looks to me to say that the Midianites and the Ishmaelites were two different groups. Further, it seems to me to say that the Midianites found Joseph in the pit and pulled him. They then sold him to the Ishmaelites who were passing by on their way to Egypt. Then, the Ishmaelites sold him to Potiphar in Egypt.

The brothers, who had gone off to eat and saw the Ishmaelites and said לְכ֞וּ וְנִמְכְּרֶ֣נּוּ לַיִּשְׁמְעֵאלִ֗ים "Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites," but they didn't get it done it. By the time they got back to the pit, the Midianites had already lifted him out and sold him.
 
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