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Genesis 35:24 states that the only two sons of Rachel were Joseph and Benjamin:

The sons of Rachel were Joseph and Benjamin.

Genesis 35:16-19 makes it clear that Rachel died in Childbirth.

They traveled on from Bethel, and when Ephrath was still some distance away, Rachel went into labor—and her labor was hard. When her labor was at its hardest, the midwife said to her, “Don’t be afraid, for you are having another son.” With her dying breath, she named him Ben Oni. But his father called him Benjamin instead. 19 So Rachel died and was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem).

Later, in Genesis 37:9-10, the author states

Then he had another dream, and told it to his brothers. “Look,” he said. “I had another dream. The sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me.” When he told his father and his brothers, his father rebuked him, saying, “What is this dream that you had? Will I, your mother, and your brothers really come and bow down to you?”

It sounds like the sun and moon are Jacob and his wife and the 11 stars are his 11 brothers. But if Rachel died in childbirth before the brothers meet Joseph in Egypt, how could Rachel be construed to be bowing to Joseph? How and when was this prophetic dream fulfilled by/through Joseph's mother?

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The Idea in Brief

The passage is to be understood in its plain and normal sense.

That is, the handmaiden of Rachel was Bilhah, who had borne sons to Jacob on behalf of Rachel. She was thus the surrogate mother of children to Jacob on behalf of Rachel. (Rachel later had her own biological children, Joseph and Benjamin.) When Rachel died at the birth of Benjamin, Bilhah had become the surrogate mother to Joseph and Benjamin. In this regard, Bilhah was Joseph's "mother" to whom Jacob was alluding in Gen 37:10.

Discussion

According to Sepharia.org, the medieval Rabbi Abraham ibn Ezra noted that Bilhah was the surrogate mother of Joseph after the death of Rachel.

enter image description here

Your mother and I: Concerning Bilhah his mother's handmaiden, who lived (as) his own (mother)

Another significant medieval commentator was Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki (Rashi), who noted the following (as translated by the citation at Chabad.org).

Will we come: Isn’t your mother (Rachel) already dead? But he (Jacob) did not know that the matters referred to Bilhah, who had raised him (Joseph) as [if she were] his mother (Gen. Rabbah 84:11). Our Rabbis, however, derived from here that there is no dream without meaningless components (Ber. 55a/b). Jacob, however, intended to make his sons forget the whole matter, so that they would not envy him (Joseph). Therefore, he said,“Will we come, etc.” Just as it is impossible for your mother, so is the rest meaningless.

Rashi references the Jewish midrash of Genesis Rabbah 84:11. The last sentence of this midrash section reads as follows:

enter image description here

Was not Jacob our father aware, that these things were concerning Bilhah the handmaiden of Rachel, who raised him (Joseph) as his mother?

Conclusion

In summary, Jewish scholars understood that Bilhah was Joseph's [surrogate] mother, to whom Jacob was referring in Gen 37:10. In this regard, the plain and normal reading of the text is acceptable.

  • I hadn't even thought of this solution. Nice. However... Joseph was around 14 when Benjamin was born, if I recall. So she would hardly have "raised him". – Joshua Feb 4 '16 at 13:39
  • @JoshuaBigbee - Do you have a source to reflect Joseph's age when Benjamin was born? Thanks. – Joseph Feb 4 '16 at 15:00
  • You know, there's actually quite a debate over that. Didn't realize. I was just going off Joseph being 17 when he is sold. There may be a solution to this question in which Rachel is still living and Benjamin not even born yet. I think most people take Joseph asking about a brother as proof he knew him, but Joseph does not say anything about a younger brother until his ten brothers mention they are twelve brothers, one gone, one at home. After that Joseph immediately demands to see him. I think I may change my position on this :p – Joshua Feb 4 '16 at 15:31
  • Its a bit of connect the dots and math working backwards from the ages we are given in Egypt, but Joseph would have been 6 when they left Laban. And 17 when he has his dreams and is soon after sold as a slave. I think the key is the chronology of Gen 35:22. Twelve sons and Reuben violates Bilhah. I believe that happened before Joseph is sold, and the Dinah incident. For both Reuben and his brothers are trying to get back in good graces with their father. However Benjamin had to be so young he was not involved. Joseph was at least 7. But I'd guess 11-16 making Ben 1-5 when Joseph has dreams – Joshua Feb 4 '16 at 18:52
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Some people believe there is a relationship between the Joseph's dream and Revelation 12:1:

A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head*.

If Revelation 12:1 is a reference for the birth of the last tribe of benjamin that will rule with Christ who came through Joseph, then is a possible that the woman in Revelation is a reference of Rachel and the prophecy was fulfilled much later.

  • Welcome to Stack Exchange, we are glad you are here. Be sure to check out the site tour and read how this site is a little different than other sites. In particular, pay attention to what constitutes a good answer and make sure your answer meets those guidelines. Please note that "showing your work" is required. I'd love to upvote this answer as it seems like a sound start, but you didn't cite those scholars who commented on this link! Feel free to edit you answer to provide that. – James Shewey Feb 1 '16 at 20:55
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Bilhah being a surrogate mother makes sense because in Genesis 37:2 it says Joseph is watching sheep with the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah. Rachael had to be dead already because Benjamin existed i.e. 11 stars bowed down to Joseph.

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