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, for it is unclear what Jacob meant when he assigned Joseph a double portion in the land through the adoption of his sons. Since we know from Numbers 26:54 that the portions of land are to be allotted according to the size of its population, 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 do here?
So what should we make of the ambiguous verses in Genesis 48. My questions can be summarized as follows:
- What was Jacob trying to do by adopting Ephraim and Manasseh?
- 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 quite pointless as the answer will be useless.
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!