Wednesday, December 07, 2005

O ye children of Benjamin, gather yourselves (Gen 45-46)

Ugh, sorry for not updating, my adoring fans (all three or four of you) but I've been down with a nasty stomach flu. Still, it probably beats spending several years in an Egyptian prison, I guess.

So Joseph is overcome with emotion, and he orders all of the Egyptians out of the room, beginning to weep so loudly that apparently a lot of people outside hear him. All alone with his brothers, he no doubt switches to speak to them in their own language, astonishing them with the proclamation "I am Joseph." Apparently, they say nothing, being completely dumbstruck. He repeats himself, and assures them that he is not going to take revenge on them, but that he believes it was all a part of God's plan to save the family from the famine. He invites them to come and live in the land of Goshen, and Pharaoh gives them some wagons to bring back all their belongings. Joseph gives them a lot of stuff to bring back with them, and tells them to be quick about it, and not stop to argue or get worried about their fate.

They go back to Jacob, and give him the news that not only is Joseph alive, but that he has a high position in the government of Egypt. This apparently causes Jacob to have something like a heart attack, but he revives, and agrees to come back to Egypt to see Joseph "...before I die," no doubt facing the fact that his life can't be too much longer (he's 130 years old, after all).

At the beginning of chapter 46, Jacob stops in Beersheba to give sacrifices to God, as his father and grandfather had done. There, God speaks to him in a similar manner that he had spoken to Abraham in chapter 22; in both cases, there is a difficult journey to be taken ahead that will have a happy ending. Yes, God calls Jacob "Jacob" rather than "Israel", and you can decide to take that as a serious problem and contradiction to earlier verses, but as I have said, I don't have a real problem with this personally. A new issue here, however is the promise God makes in verse 4 that he "will also surely bring [Jacob] up again." The SAB points out, quite obviously correctly, that Jacob dies in Egypt. Well, there are two possible explanations, and I personally would lean toward the latter myself. Firstly, it may simply be the fact that Jacob's body would eventually come to be buried back in Canaan. In the bodily sense, Jacob indeed came back up from Egypt. The other likely possibility is that when God claims immediately previous to this claim that He "will there make of [Jacob] a great nation", it should be clear that He's talking about the distant future, and when He says He will bring him up again, He's referring to his descendants. After all, it's a recurring literary method throughout the Bible to refer to a nation by the name of its king or patriarch. (A third option occurs to me as I finish this paragraph: it may be a spiritual concept that is being conveyed here, but it's hard to say. The fact that God promises to go into Egypt is very interesting, as most deities of that ancient period were considered to only have power within a limited geographical boundary.)

Most of the rest of chapter 46 is essentially a "roll call" of the family. The SAB points out some things that need some clarification. In verse 11, three sons of Levi are listed, but in Ezra 8:18, another son, Mahli, is mentioned. So who is Mahli? A peek at Numbers 3:20 verifies the answer to be the most likely one in such matters: Mahli is Levi's grandson, and any descendant of Levi could be called a "son of Levi" by Biblical conventions.

In verse 21, we have a long list of the sons of Benjamin, a list that does not agree with other lists given elsewhere. There are a lot of things that could be said about this, one of which, like the previous point, is that grandsons are sometimes called sons. That doesn't clear up the whole list by far, though. There's a lot of stuff to get into in 1 Chronicles, which is a rather daunting book to slog through. (I salute Steve Wells' perseverance in checking all this stuff out!) In any case, in addition to Ard and Naaman being grandsons, we can see that Shupham and Hupham (which can easily be transliterated from Hebrew into Shuppim and Huppim) are children of Ir, who himself is a son of Bela; this implies that these "sons" of Benjamin are actually great-grandsons! (It's slightly possible that the "Huppim" in the Genesis passage is the same, but that might be a bit of a stretch; Benjamin doesn't seem anywhere near old enough for great-grandchildren.) The KJV concordance notes that Jediael is "maybe the same as 'Ashbel'," but gives no explanation of this. Perhaps it's because Ashbel is only missing from 1Chr. 7, and that would be convenient, I don't know. Interestingly, "Aharah" means "a following brother", and may not be meant to be a name at all. Clearly, the whole matter of genealogies can be rather confusing, and various genealogies in the Bible can be edited in different ways for different purposes. For instance, the Numbers 26 passage probably refers particularly to families within the tribe of Benjamin that had a large number of fighting men within them. I really can't begin to make a whole lot of sense out of 1Chronicles, I admit. (As to Benjamin's supposed age, I addressed that in the last paragraph of yesterday's post.)

Summing up in verse 27, the author claims there were 70 people in Joseph's family (not counting women, I think?), but Stephen, in the book of Acts, claims there were 75. Not at all obvious this one, but there is an explanation for it. Stephen, as many in the days the New Testament was written did, quoted from the Septuagint, in which five more descendants of Joseph are named for some reason. Since Joseph didn't come with his family out of Canaan into Egypt, I suppose that technically, neither number is correct. (Also, without knowing the numbers of wives and/or get the picture.) Robert Alter points out that 70 is probably just a nice round number.

Jacob and Joseph are finally reunited, and Joseph tells his family to tell the Egyptians that they are cattlemen, "for every shepherd is an abomination unto the Egyptians." This is an odd thing to tell them, as it's not quite clear what the purpose is, nor does there seem to be any extrabiblical collaboration for this statement. Perhaps due to the fact that the Egyptians are either agricultural or urban, they have a hard time accepting nomadic shepherds? In any case, it may help them to acquire the land of Goshen in some way.

No comments: