In Genesis 48:5-6 Jacob transfers the firstborn right from Reuben to Joseph (see 1 chronicles 5:1), and adopts his sons Ephraim and Menasseh as his own, and gives them prioritized standing in inheritance (NIV):

Now then, your two sons born to you in Egypt before I came to you here will be reckoned as mine; Ephraim and Manasseh will be mine, just as Reuben and Simeon are mine. Any children born to you after them will be yours; in the territory they inherit they will be reckoned under the names of their brothers

It would seem like Jacob is giving Joseph a double portion in the land of Canaan due to the firstborn rights that has been transferred to him, and gives each of his two sons a portion in the land (that is the reason why the OT [see for example beginning of Numbers] always counts them as two distinct tribes though they were both children of Joseph). That Joseph is getting a double portion is clearly expressed a few verses later (verse 22 KJV),

Moreover I have given to thee one portion above thy brethren, which I took out of the hand of the Amorite with my sword and with my bow.

But when we take a look in the book of Joshua 17:14 it doesn't seem like the children of Joseph were initially given a double portion in the land, but one allotment was given to the Joseph and divided between the tribes of Menasseh and Ephraim (NIV),

The people of Joseph said to Joshua, “Why have you given us only one allotment and one portion for an inheritance? We are a numerous people, and the Lord has blessed us abundantly.

Only after they complained about their population did Joshua give them a bigger allotment (and even this was not related to Jacob's promise, it was more like an afterthought!). Assuming that these words were indeed said by Jacob and were known to the Israelites, what happened to Jacob's request that they be given a double portion in the land, and why was it disregarded by Joshua?

There is also a problem with the text itself. It is unclear what Jacob meant when he assigned Joseph a double portion in the land by adopting his sons. We know from Numbers 26:54 that the portions of land are to be allotted according to the size of its population, accordingly the tribe of Joseph would've gotten the same amount of land even if Menasseh and Ephraim weren't adopted by Jacob. So what exactly was Jacob trying to accomplish?

So what should we make of the ambiguous verses in Genesis 48. My questions can be summarized as follows:

  1. What was Jacob trying to accomplish by adopting Ephraim and Manasseh?
  2. How did Joshua respond to this request (it seems like he initially violated it)

Note: This question is based on the assumption that Jacob made a promise to Joseph about his inheritance in the future, and that his words are not meant to be a prophecy! While anyone is invited to question the assumption (though the first question would still need to addressed), disregarding it is not helpful in any way.

I am aware of the Jewish commentators (Rashi and others) who argue that Jacob didn't give Joseph a double portion in the land, but only requested that they be counted as separate tribes. But this position is a very difficult to defend and wholly unsatisfactory as the verses are quite clear that they are to inherit more land than the others!

  • Reading other answers and your responses and I'm wondering what your real wisdom here is? Are you asking if Joshua knew about the double portion promise, or are you asking if Jacobs promise was really a prophecy that would come true and result in double portion? The weak link seems to be your reading of Joshua, are you maybe begging the question? Would resolving that reading resolve the issue?
    – Joshua
    Commented Feb 11, 2018 at 14:00
  • @Joshua i'm asking both: 1. what is the proper reading of 48:5-6 and as i point out there is a difficulty here namely: since portions of land are alotted accroding to their population what was Jacob trying to do here when he adopted them. 2. Joshua when dividing the land among the tribes doesn't seems to care about this promise. This question of course is related to the first one--is there another way of understanding these verses (which would answer why Joshua disregarded the promise)? As you can see Rashi with his own interpretation gets out of this problem, but i'm not satisfied with it.
    – bach
    Commented Feb 11, 2018 at 15:36
  • (continued) I'm not sure what you mean by "weak link" in Joshua, but if you can shed light on gen 48:5-6 and what Jacob was trying to do (which is really the crux of my question), that would be satisfactory.
    – bach
    Commented Feb 11, 2018 at 15:37
  • Weak link is probably not best term, but it seems that's where much of the question pivots upon, but it's also where the least amount of critical work is being done.
    – Joshua
    Commented Feb 11, 2018 at 16:07
  • Oops sent that too soon. Maybe this should have been 2 questions, one about if Jacob was proclaiming in a lawful sense, or prophesying. Another about it Joshua was aware or how he meant this. I think Joshua 17:17 shows that we can't read Joshua too simply. Maybe he was just trying to motivate Manasseh, etc. I think the simplest solution is we aren't reading Joshua right
    – Joshua
    Commented Feb 11, 2018 at 16:10

4 Answers 4


I am unsure as to why you feel that they did not receive their increased allotment. In the verse you referenced (Joshua 17), it makes it clear that they will receive additional land.

Joshua 17:14-18 King James Version (KJV)

14 And the children of Joseph spake unto Joshua, saying, Why hast thou given me but one lot and one portion to inherit, seeing I am a great people, forasmuch as the Lord hath blessed me hitherto? 15 And Joshua answered them, If thou be a great people, then get thee up to the wood country, and cut down for thyself there in the land of the Perizzites and of the giants, if mount Ephraim be too narrow for thee. 16 And the children of Joseph said, The hill is not enough for us: and all the Canaanites that dwell in the land of the valley have chariots of iron, both they who are of Bethshean and her towns, and they who are of the valley of Jezreel. 17 And Joshua spake unto the house of Joseph, even to Ephraim and to Manasseh, saying, Thou art a great people, and hast great power: thou shalt not have one lot only: 18 But the mountain shall be thine; for it is a wood, and thou shalt cut it down: and the outgoings of it shall be thine: for thou shalt drive out the Canaanites, though they have iron chariots, and though they be strong

Additionally It is clear that Ephraim by the numbers is much larger than Manasseh.

Deuteronomy 33:16-17 King James Version (KJV)

16 And for the precious things of the earth and fullness thereof, and for the good will of him that dwelt in the bush: let the blessing come upon the head of Joseph, and upon the top of the head of him that was separated from his brethren. 17 His glory is like the firstling of his bullock, and his horns are like the horns of unicorns: with them he shall push the people together to the ends of the earth: and they are the ten thousands of Ephraim, and they are the thousands of Manasseh.

Additionally, if you read about the allotment in the land, you will see that Manasseh and Ephraim together have well over 2 times the amount of land of any other tribe, sometimes 3-4 times more.

Land Allotment

Hope this clears it up for you.

  • Walid you missed the point. I am aware that in the end they got a double portion due to their big numbers, my problem is why weren't they initially given a double portion since Jacob clearly adopted them as sons and asked that they be given a double portion. The fact that they were given a big inheritance is irrelevant to the question, since there were other factors involved in this decision!
    – bach
    Commented Feb 7, 2018 at 15:38
  • Again, the fact they got a double portion because of their numbers is their blessing. Being fruitful and becoming many nations was the double portion/blessing. Note about Jacob and Esau's blessings were different, and if that blessing was given to one, it could not be given to another. Their inheritance is a result of their numbers which is a result of their blessing which is a result of Jacob receiving the blessing of the firstborn, as Jacob had taken in place of Esau.
    – user23164
    Commented Feb 7, 2018 at 23:43
  • So are you saying that Joshua wasn't aware of Jacob's blessing/request that they be given a double portion?
    – bach
    Commented Feb 8, 2018 at 0:00
  • In a way, yes, I am saying that all the blessings of Jacob/Israel were not all blessings. They were prophecies. Telling Judah he will fall prey as a young lion (which Christians as myself view as the first coming of Christ) is not much of a blessing. Of course the latter was a blessing that he will be an intimidating Old lion (referring to the 2nd coming). It was not the place of any in Israel to cause these things to happen, but rather just that they would. Joshua may or may not have known, but his knowledge did not change the fact the prophecy was to happen. It was from God via Jacob.
    – user23164
    Commented Feb 8, 2018 at 5:17
  • 2
    @Bach my oh my. Joshua had to cast lots to determine the portions of the tribes. Prophecy is not to be fulfilled by the exertion of man's will alone but by God's sovereignty finding expression in man's will. He wrote down the allotments for the tribes at God's command. He kept it in a book. But the tribes got their portions by lot. The casting of Purim allowed divine providence to manifest without human interference so it was never about Joshua disregarding Jacob's prophecy or anything like that!!!
    – user20490
    Commented Feb 12, 2018 at 15:45

Jacob's blessing on Joseph (and sons) was not an intended prophecy but a pre-recognition of the law for the two-fold compensation regarding theft. When Joseph was captured by his brothers and eventually sold into slavery in Egypt, he had his heritage (and presumably his life) stolen from him. Joseph's sons were merely the namesakes of that two-fold restitution.

  • This is an interesting idea. Can you bring any references for this idea? Where is the law of two-fold restitution? Please quote that law. Is there anything in the text that indicates that either Jacob or the brothers recognized Joseph's right to restitution?
    – user17080
    Commented Feb 10, 2018 at 16:25
  • @AbuMunirIbnIbrahim regardless of the fact that he doesn't bring any evidence to support this idea, this doesn't answer the question in any way!
    – bach
    Commented Feb 11, 2018 at 0:44
  • @Bach I didn't say that this answers the question. I said it is an interesting idea. I commented this post from the Late Answers review queue in the hope of encouraging this chap to add some beef before being down-voted (which has consequences for new users), but I see now that it's too late to avoid that.
    – user17080
    Commented Feb 11, 2018 at 6:40
  • The two-fold restitution concept relates primarily to theft (Ex 22:2-4; 7-10), but it can also apply sometimes to rates in cases where the harm done is not fully recognized until after the fact. Walter Commented Feb 12, 2018 at 15:09
  • Lev 6:1-7 is the double tithe restitution. Under this Joseph paid a double-tithe for stealing or imprisoning his 10 brothers.
    – Bob Jones
    Commented Jul 23, 2020 at 17:46

Regarding to your first question: 1) What was Jacob trying to do by adopting Ephraim and Manasseh?

It was certainly nothing to do to Jacob. The divine spirit was working in his mind, allowing Jacob to see what was coming in the future. As the Levites was not granted any land, Jacob adopted Ephraim and Manasseh to substitute Levi and Joseph, maintaining the number of 12. This might be the main reason, twelve.

Regarding to the 2nd question: 2) How did Joshua respond to this request (it seems like he initially violated it)?

Did Joshua violated the commitment from Jacob? I don't think so.

Let's review Joshua 14:1-4

1 Now these are the areas the Israelites received as an inheritance in the land of Canaan, which Eleazar the priest, Joshua son of Nun and the heads of the tribal clans of Israel allotted to them.

2 Their inheritances were assigned by lot to the nine and a half tribes, as the Lord had commanded through Moses.

3 Moses had granted the two and a half tribes their inheritance east of the Jordan but had not granted the Levites an inheritance among the rest,

4 for Joseph’s descendants had become two tribes—Manasseh and Ephraim. The Levites received no share of the land but only towns to live in, with pasturelands for their flocks and herds.

So two and half tribes already inherited the land to the east of Jordan. nine and half tribes to the west, was a total of 12. Definitely Ephraim and Manasseh together get a double. Half the Manasseh already took their allotment in east of Jordan, in the following chapter 16, there was another allotment given to Ephraim and another half of Manasseh. The territory of Ephraim was clearly defined in vv5-8. Therefore the Joseph tribes did get their fair share.

Regarding to Genesis 48:22, Jacob gave Joseph tribes "one more ridge of land that took from the Amorites with my sword and my bow". It should refer to Shechem (Genesis 33:18-19) which was eventually allotted to Ephraim (Joshua 21:20-21).


There are 3 possible ways to understand these verses and the later settlement of the land. But first we need to examine one more difficulty in the text. Genesis 48:22 states:

וַאֲנִ֞י נָתַ֧תִּֽי לְךָ֛ שְׁכֶ֥ם אַחַ֖ד עַל־אַחֶ֑יךָ אֲשֶׁ֤ר לָקַ֙חְתִּי֙ מִיַּ֣ד הָֽאֱמֹרִ֔י בְּחַרְבִּ֖י וּבְקַשְׁתִּֽי׃

And I am giving you shechem one on your brothers, that I took from the hands of the Amorites with my sword and my bow.

We will deal with the meaning of the word שְׁכֶ֥ם below. But a simple reading of the verse indicates that whatever Jacob was giving Joseph was something that Jacob had taken--in the past-- from Amorites by force. If this verse is a reference to the double portion Joseph would receive in the land in the future, why is it implied that Jacob had already conquered this land?

  1. Rashi, and other commentators, explain that the word שְׁכֶ֥ם in Genesis 48:22 does not mean "a portion" but refers to the city of Shechem which had been conquered by Jacob's sons many years prior in response to the rape and kidnapping of Dinah. It was this city that was given to Joseph as an extra gift by Jacob and not included in the later division of the land in the times of Moses and Joshua. This gift was "one on your brothers" meaning one gift that Joseph received over what his brothers received. This is consistent with Rashi's position that the promise of Ephraim and Menasseh getting their own tribes did not include an increase in land. According to Rashi, Jacob's "sword and bow" are references to his sons Simon and Levi. Others maintain a tradition that eventually Jacob was attacked by the surrounding Amorite tribes and had to defend Shechem in battle.

  2. Nachmanides, and others, understand the verse to be statement about the future. Joseph would end up getting a double portion as a result of the wars to come. Jacob's sword and bow would be his merit aiding his descendents in those wars. Despite the present and past tense of the verse, these commentators understand Jacob to be giving a blessing for the future, not giving away something he already had. Gersonides (Ralbag) explains that part of this blessing was that Ephraim and Mannaseh would be fruitful and multiply so that Joseph's descendents would end up with a double portion of land. Because in this reading we are dealing with a promise for the future your questiin is answered. Part of the promise is the increased population that would lead to the double-sized portion in the future division of the land.

  3. Rabbi Naftali Berlin (the Netziv), in his commentary Hamek Davar, explains that the double portion that Jacob was promising was the land that would be conquered from the Amorite Kings on the Eastern side of the Jordan. The bulk of this land was given as an extra portion to Mannaseh (Mannaseh also received a portion in Israel proper). This land, absent this blessing from Jacob, would not have been included in the inheritance of the Tribes. So not only did Joseph get an extra portion, but every tribe's land increased in size. According to Rabbi Berlin's understanding Jacob's blessing helped Mannaseh conquer additional trbal land from the Amorites, that would otherwise have not been included in the division of the land. Mannaseh, and by extension Joseph, therefore received an actual double portion.

Personally, I think that hermeneutically Rashi's interpretation works best.

  • I"m not sure how you have addressed my difficulty. Please edit your answer, and indicate how my question is answered. Another point, i don't see how Rashi's interpretation can be defended since the verse states "Shechem one on your brothers". If Jacob is only talking about the city there is no need to add the word אחד-one. It is obvious that were dealing with "one portion over his brothers"!
    – bach
    Commented Feb 9, 2018 at 1:27
  • @Bach I have edited the answer both to explain Rashi's interpretation and to express how each approach answers your question. Commented Feb 9, 2018 at 15:51

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