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The New Oxford Annotated Bible New Revised Standard Study Bible that provides essential scholarship and guidance for Bible readers.

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Commentary on Genesis

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37.1–11 : Joseph's dreams of power.

These narratives open the remarkably cohesive story of Joseph and his brothers in chs 37–50 . Source critics have attempted to trace strands of the hypothesized Yahwistic and Elohistic source documents (see Introduction) through the Joseph story; thus sections focusing on Reuben and Midianites (e.g., 37.22–24,28–36 ) were assigned to E, while sections focusing on Judah and the Ishmaelites (e.g., 37.25–28 ) were assigned to J. Others suggested that an early Joseph story focused on Reuben was revised by an author who focused on Judah and referred to Jacob as “Israel.” Despite the presence of some additions and modifications (e.g., 37.2a; 41.46 ), however, the essential unity of the Joseph story is clear.

2a :

Despite the different translation here in the NRSV, this label is identical with those in 5.1; 6.9; 10.1; 11.27; 25.12,18; 36.1,9 that refer to the “descendants” of a given figure. This label identifies the following as concerning the “descendants of Jacob,” that is Joseph and his brothers.

2b–4 :

According to the Priestly narrative (vv. 1–2 ), Joseph tattled on his brothers. The non‐Priestly narrative (vv. 3–4 ) explains his brothers’ antagonism toward him as resulting from jealousy about Jacob's love. Joseph is favored as the eldest of the children of Jacob and his favorite wife, Rachel ( 30.22–24 ). The long robe with sleeves (v. 3; see note b ) is a royal garment (2 Sam 13.18–19 ) anticipating Joseph's future status.

5–8 :

This first dream report predicts Joseph's domination of his brothers ( 43.26; 50.18; cf. 42.6 ). The story may intend to predict the future rule of Jeroboam, a member of the Joseph tribe of Ephraim, over the other tribes of northern Israel (1 Kings 11.26; 12.1–14.20 ).

9–11 :

Jacob sees this dream as predicting that he and Joseph's mother, Rachel, will join the brothers in submitting to Joseph. This episode was probably part of an independent Joseph story that originally did not follow an account of Rachel's death (see 35.16–20 ).

37.12–36 : Joseph is sold into slavery.

17 :

Dothan is a few miles north of Shechem and lay along a trade route from Syria to Egypt.

20 :

The pits were cisterns for storing rain water and sometimes used to imprison people (Jer 38.6 ).

22–27 :

The advice of Reuben and Judah reflects the ancient idea that blood cannot be “concealed” (v. 26 ), but cries out for requital (see 4.10–11n. ).

25–36 :

Most agree that some combination or modification of traditions has occurred here. Though the brothers decide here to sell Joseph (v. 27 ) and Joseph later says that they did so ( 45.4–5 ), this narrative describes the Midianites as drawing him out and selling him to the Ishmaelites (v. 28 ). Later, both the Midianites ( 37.36 ) and the Ishmaelites ( 39.1; cf. 37.25 ) are identified as the ones who sold Joseph to Potiphar.

26–27 :

On the role of Judah, see 44.18–34n.

31–34 :

Now Jacob is tricked by an article of clothing (contrast 27.15; see 29.23–25n. ).

35 :

Sheol, the underworld to which a person went at death. Since this afterlife was at best a shadowy existence (see Ps 6.5; Eccl 9.10 ), Jacob's going to his son there was not a comforting expectation.

36 :

Multiple traditions testify to some kind of connection between Joseph and an Egyptian Poti‐phar/“Potiphera.” Potiphar is a form of “Potiphera,” the name of the Egyptian priest who is Joseph's father‐in‐law in 41.45 and 46.20 .

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