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The Selling of Joseph

Author's Bias: Interpretation: conservative
Inclination: dispensational
Seminary: none

The selling of Joseph occurs in Genesis 37:25-28, 36 and is cited by destructive critics as a doublet that supports the Documentary Hypothesis, because there is a contradiction that would only come from separate sources: one account lists Ishmaelites as the traders that purchase Joseph and the other account lists Midianites.

Genesis 37:25-28, 36

25) Then they sat down to eat a meal. And as they raised their eyes and looked, behold, a caravan of Ishmaelites was coming from Gilead, with their camels bearing aromatic gum and balm and myrrh, on their way to bring them down to Egypt. 26) Judah said to his brothers, "What profit is it for us to kill our brother and cover up his blood? 27) "Come and let us sell him to the Ishmaelites and not lay our hands on him, for he is our brother, our own flesh." And his brothers listened to him. 28) Then some Midianite traders passed by, so they pulled him up and lifted Joseph out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty shekels of silver. Thus they brought Joseph into Egypt.

36) Meanwhile, the Midianites sold him in Egypt to Potiphar, Pharaoh's officer, the captain of the bodyguard.


The supposed doublet does not exist because:

1. The traders, Ishmaelites and Midianites, are not two distinctly different types of people. In Judges 8:22-28, Midianites were used interchangeably with Ishmaelites.

2. This repetition is consistent with Ancient Near Eastern literary style.

Judges 8:22-28

22) Then the men of Israel said to Gideon, "Rule over us, both you and your son, also your son's son, for you have delivered us from the hand of Midian." 23) But Gideon said to them, "I will not rule over you, nor shall my son rule over you; the LORD shall rule over you." 24) Yet Gideon said to them, "I would request of you, that each of you give me an earring from his spoil." (For they had gold earrings, because they were Ishmaelites.) 25) They said, "We will surely give them." So they spread out a garment, and every one of them threw an earring there from his spoil. 26) The weight of the gold earrings that he requested was 1,700 shekels of gold, besides the crescent ornaments and the pendants and the purple robes which were on the kings of Midian, and besides the neck bands that were on their camels' necks. 27) Gideon made it into an ephod, and placed it in his city, Ophrah, and all Israel played the harlot with it there, so that it became a snare to Gideon and his household. 28) So Midian was subdued before the sons of Israel, and they did not lift up their heads anymore. And the land was undisturbed for forty years in the days of Gideon.


Ishmael and Midian, the patriarchs of the Ismaelites and Midianites, were stepbrothers and sons of Abraham.

Ishmael was the first born of Hagar, Sarah’s Egyptian servant (Gen 16:1-16). Because of God’s covenant with Abraham, Ishmael was blessed with many descendants even though he was not the heir. Ishmael had 12 sons and was the father of nomadic tribes who resided in the desert of northern Arabia (Gen 25:12-18). The Bible does not mention any Ishmael king, only princes, and it seems that there wasn’t any national boundary to their area. Any from the Arabian desert could claim to be a descendant of Ishmael.

Midian was the son of Keturah, a concubine who married Abraham (became his wife) after Sarah’s death (Gen 25:2-4). Midian’s descendants did have kings (Num 31:8) and resided near Moab. Ishmaelites who settled among the Midianites were considered Midianites.

Two different inspired biblical authors, Moses and Samuel (tradition holds that Samuel is the author of the book of Judges), considered Ishmaelites and Midianites as the same group of people.



Return to: Parallel or Duplicate Accounts (Doublets)

See the common Doublets:

1. The Creation Narrative (Genesis 1-2)

2. Literary analysis of the Flood (Genesis 6-8)

3. The Selling of Joseph (Genesis 37:25-28, 36)

4. Abraham's Half-Truth: passing Sarah off as his sister (Genesis 12: 10-20; 20:1-18; 26:6-11)


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Series: Did Moses author the Pentateuch?
Historical Evidence of Post-Mosaic Authorship

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Variations in Diction and Style


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