The writer no longer holds the following position (having been disabused of it by Luther). The post remains in place due to pack-rat compulsions.
Last week’s discussion of Joseph’s second dream only bears merit if Genesis chapters 35 and 37 don’t fall in chronological order. Their anachronlogy has long been my unexamined supposition, but since it has been challenged, I am obliged to investigate and explain the point.
Anachronology in chapters 35–37
- Gen 35: Rachel gives birth to Benjamin. The sons of Jacob are listed. Jacob and Esau bury Isaac at Mamre.
- Gen 36: The descendency of Esau is listed.
- Gen 37: Joseph’s brothers sell him to Ishmeelites.
Chronology between 35 and 37 is clearly discontinuous because chapter 36 lists multiple generations that follow Esau, generations that existed after the characters in chapter 37 were all dead.
There is plenty of logical room, then, to allow that chapter 37 takes up a new thread in the narrative, one which begins before the events of Gen 35. From that footing, lets see what evidence there is:
Location, location, location
The most significant argument for the anachronology of chapters 35 and 37 is where Jacob’s flocks are located at the time that Joseph was sold by his brothers:
And Israel said unto Joseph, Do not thy brethren feed the flock in Schechem? come, and I will send thee unto them…
The name Shechem rings a bell because Jacob and his family lived there until Gen 35:1, when God instructed them to move to Bethel. Why did they have to move? Presumeably because they weren’t safe in Shechem after Simeon and Levi killed the prominent people of the area for defiling their sister, Dinah.
Jacob certainly thought they weren’t safe:
And Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, Ye have troubled me to make me stink among the inhabitants of the land… they shall gather themselves together against me, and slay me…
Two verses later, God instructs Jacob to move to Bethel. Why would Joseph’s brothers be grazing their flocks in Shechem (Dothan, to be specific) in chapter 37, unless the events of chapter 35 (and 34) had not happened yet?
There are a few little clues to suggest that Gen 37 occurred before Gen 35. They don’t weigh much on their own, but adding them together provides further support for the precedence of chapter 37.
- Jacob mentions Rachel in chapter 37. “Shall I and thy mother and thy brethren indeed come to bow down ourselves to thee to the earth?” (Gen 37:10)
- Gen 37:3 says Joseph was “the son of [Jacob’s] old age,” an exclusive title.
- In chapter 37’s multiple references to Joseph’s brethren and their treachery, never is any exclusion made of Benjamin, though Reuben and Judah are each mentioned by name for their unique performances. If Benjamin were alive, his absence (or abstinence) was surely more divergent from the pack than Reuben or Judah’s behaviour; it should have earned him mention.
- Jacob witholds Benjamin from going down into Egypt, as though Benjamin were too vulnerable. But if he were alive when Joseph was sold into Egypt, he must have been at least 20 years old by then.