Joseph Narrative (3): Who sold Joseph?


For the previous stories, see here (1) and here (2)
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As we have seen, Joseph narrative is quite troublesome, and it’s only getting worse thereon.

28 When some Midianite traders passed by, they drew Joseph up, lifting him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver. And they took Joseph to Egypt.
29  When Reuben returned to the pit and saw that Joseph was not in the pit, he tore his clothes. 
30 He returned to his brothers, and said, “The boy is gone; and I, where can I turn?” 
31 Then they took Joseph’s robe, slaughtered a goat, and dipped the robe in the blood. 
32 They had the long robe with sleeves taken to their father, and they said, “This we have found; see now whether it is your son’s robe or not.” 
33 He recognized it, and said, “It is my son’s robe! A wild animal has devoured him; Joseph is without doubt torn to pieces.” 
34 Then Jacob tore his garments, and put sackcloth on his loins, and mourned for his son many days. 
35 All his sons and all his daughters sought to comfort him; but he refused to be comforted, and said, “No, I shall go down to Sheol to my son, mourning.” Thus his father bewailed him. 36 Meanwhile the Midianites had sold him in Egypt to Potiphar, one of Pharaoh’s officials, the captain of the guard.

The text above indicates that, after Judah’s proposal to sell Joseph to Ishmaelites, strangely Midianite traders suddenly appear and draw Joseph out of the pit. What were the brothers doing at that time? The storyline is mysterious. They were eating their meal in a place far from the pit. Midianites draw Joseph out of the pit and sell him to Ishmaelites. 

According to v. 29, as Reuben first planned, he returns to the pit and tries to save him. But it is already after Midianites sold Joseph. From the brothers’ perspective, Joseph’s whereabouts are in the dark. They don’t even know whether their brother is dead or alive. Both Reuben’s and Judah’s plans came to nothing. The only plan that can be carried out is to dip Joseph’s robe in a goat’s blood and show it to their father to deceive him. They just have to cover up the case.

The narrative problems keep on coming. According to v. 28, it was the Midianites who sold Joseph to Ishmaelites. But in v. 36, Joseph is still in the hands of Midianites. They bring Joseph to Egypt and sell Joseph to Potiphar. Again, according to v. 28, it must have been Ishmaelites who brought Joseph to Egypt. This line of the story is, in fact, supported by Gen 39:1, in which we are told that Potiphar buys Joseph from Ishmaelites. 

In conclusion, we must now know that Joseph narrative is not at all straightforward. As we have seen, there are many points of contradictions and inconsistencies. Much ink has been spilled on this matter, and one of the most important scholarly contributions is probably the so-called Documentary Hypothesis, a part of source criticism. It represented biblical scholarship of the twentieth century in the Hebrew Bible and still is considered to be a significant part of the pentateuchal studies, perhaps one of the most significant parts. What I wish to do here is to let people know what scholars have found in the Bible so that they can think about the Bible, deconstruct and reconstruct their belief system as Christians, Jews, or just non-religious persons if that is necessary.

As I expressed, these three posts are completely based on my memory about Dr. Baden’s recent work, the Composition of the Pentateuch. 

1 thought on “Joseph Narrative (3): Who sold Joseph?”

  1. Pingback: Joseph Narrative (2): Why Judah proposes to save Joseph again? – unofficial bible

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