Gen 37:1 Jacob continues to live in Canaan, at Hebron (see 1 on Map 42 and the feature on Hebron in the previous section).
Map 42 Relocation to Egypt
Gen 37:2-11 Jacob gives his favourite son Joseph an expensive multi-coloured coat. This makes his brothers very jealous. Joseph dreams about his brothers’ sheaves of wheat bowing down to his sheaf, and when he tells his brothers, it fuels their jealousy. When he tells them about eleven stars bowing down before him, the eleven brothers are furious.
Gen 37:12-13 Joseph’s brothers take the family’s flocks to graze in the less arid hill country near Shechem (see 2 on Map 42, Genesis 12:16, Genesis 35:4 and the feature on Shechem in the previous section).
Gen 37:14-16 Joseph, now aged seventeen, arrives at Shechem but the brothers have left.
Gen 37:17 He finds them grazing the flocks on the fertile pastures near Dothan - on the plain between the hills of Samaria and the Mount Carmel range (see 3 on Map 42).
Dothan was a thriving Canaanite city in Joseph’s day. Today, the site of the city is marked by Tel Dothan, an impressive settlement mound on the plain west of the Palestinian town of Jenin.
Tel Dothan, where Joseph was sold as a slave (Daniel Ventura)
Gen 37:18-24 The brothers plot their revenge and throw Joseph into a dry well.
Gen 37:25-27 They see a group of Ishmaelite traders travelling from Gilead to Egypt (see 4 on Map 42). Their camels are loaded with spices and resins (‘Balm of Gilead’). Reuben - the eldest - had persuaded the brothers not to kill Joseph; so they sell him to the Ishmaelites as a slave.
Gen 37:28 Joseph is ultimately sold on to some Midianite merchants and taken to Egypt (along The Way of the Sea) (see 5 on Map 42).
Gen 37:29-35 The brothers dip Joseph’s coat in blood, then trick Jacob into believing that Joseph has been killed by a wild animal.
Gen 37:36 On reaching Egypt in c.1683BC, Joseph is sold by the Midianite traders to Potiphar, captain of the Pharaoh’s palace guard.
The Twelve Sons of Jacob
What sort of men were the twelve sons of Jacob who became the forefathers of the Twelve tribes of Israel? We are accustomed to thinking of Joseph’s brothers as a lovable bunch of rascals who indulged in the Old Testament version of ‘laddish’ behaviour. In reality, they were a gang of thugs who indulged in theft, kidnap, grievous bodily harm and attempted murder.
As soon as they spotted their seventeen-year-old brother who had been sent to visit them by their elderly father, they plotted to kill him. The plan was to break his neck by throwing him into a deep well, and then to deceive their father into thinking he had been killed by a wild animal.
Only Reuben was opposed to the murder. He planned to rescue Joseph and return him to his father. But while Reuben was away, Judah suggested that the brothers could make more money by selling Joseph as a slave to passing traders. So after stealing his expensive multi-coloured coat and keeping him barely alive at the bottom of a dry well, Joseph was sold to a caravan of merchants going down to Egypt. The brothers then nearly destroyed their own father by telling him a bare-faced lie about his favourite son being torn to pieces by a ferocious animal.
The story then went from bad to worse. In a lesser known sequel, Joseph’s elder brother Judah disgraced himself further by having intercourse with his own widowed daughter-in-law, whom he mistook for a shrine prostitute (see Genesis 38:1-30). He then threatened to have her burnt alive for prostitution until she revealed that he was the father of the child she had conceived!