“Israel’s” Only Son? The complexity of Benjaminite identity between Judah and Joseph

Abstract

Several studies in recent years have sought to articulate the significance of the tribe of Benjamin for historical and literary studies of the Hebrew Bible. This paper suggests that the received text of Genesis 35–50 both reflects and illumines the complexities of Israelite identity in the pre-exilic, Babylonian, and Persian periods. The fact that Benjamin is the only son born to “Israel” (other sons are born to “Jacob”) points to Israel’s origins in the land that came to be called “Benjaminite.” Between Josephites to the north and Judahites to the south, Benjaminites preserved a unique identity within the polities of Israel, Judah, Babylonian Yehud, and Persian Yehud. In Genesis 35 and 42–45 in particular, the silent character Benjamin finds himself in the middle of a tug-of-war between his brothers, particularly his full-brother Joseph and his half-brother Judah. The conciliatory message of the narrative of Genesis 35–50 for later communities comes into sharper focus when we see the compromise between tribal identities embedded in the text.

https://doi.org/10.17159/2312-3621/2019/v32n3a10

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