Tribe of Joseph - Origin


According to the Torah, the tribe consisted of descendants of Joseph, a son of Jacob and Rachel, from whom it took its name; however some Biblical scholars view this also as postdiction, an eponymous metaphor providing an aetiology of the connectedness of the tribe to others in the Israelite confederation. In the Biblical account, Joseph was the brother to Benjamin, the other son of Rachel and Jacob, and the eponym of the Tribe of Benjamin, which was located on the immediate south of the tribe of Joseph; the birth of Benjamin does not appear in the passage in which the births of the other sons of Jacob occur, but instead appears elsewhere, with Benjamin being born only once Jacob had returned to Canaan. According to several biblical scholars, Benjamin was originally part of the house of Joseph, but the biblical account of this became lost; the account of the birth of the other sons of Jacob is regarded by textual scholars as a complex mixture of Elohist and Yahwist texts, and very corrupt, and it is clear that parts of the corresponding Elohist text, and parts of the corresponding Yahwist text, are missing. The aetiological explanation of Benjamin being born in Canaan is simply that the tribe of Benjamin broke off from the Joseph group once it had settled in Canaan, by joining the Kingdom of Judah rather than that of Israel.

Though the biblical descriptions of the geographic boundary of the House of Joseph are fairly consistent, the descriptions of the boundaries between Manasseh and Ephraim are not, and each is portrayed as having exclaves within the territory of the other. Furthermore, in the Blessing of Jacob, and elsewhere ascribed by textual scholars to a similar or earlier time period, a single tribe of Joseph appears where passages written later place separate tribes of Ephraim and of Manasseh. From this it is regarded by scholars as obvious that Joseph was originally considered a single tribe, and only split into Ephraim and Manasseh later.

A number of biblical scholars suspect that the Joseph tribes (including Benjamin) represent a second migration of Israelites to Israel, later than the main tribes, specifically that it was only the Joseph tribes which went to Egypt and returned, while the main Israelite tribes simply emerged as a subculture from the Canaanites and had remained in Canaan throughout; in the narrative in the Book of Joshua, which concerns the arrival in (and conquest of) Canaan by the Israelites from Egypt, the leader is Joshua, who was a member of the Ephraim tribe. According to this view, the story of Jacob's visit to Laban to obtain a wife began as a metaphor for the second migration, with Jacob's new family, possessions, and livestock, obtained from Laban, being representations of the new wave of migrants; it is notable that, according to textual scholars, in the Jahwist version of the story it is only the Joseph tribes that are among these migrants, since it only recounts Jacob as having met Rachel, and the matriarchs of the other Israelite tribes - Leah, Bilhah, and Zilpah - do not appear.

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