In Genesis 37:21-22, Reuben talked his brothers out of killing Joseph:

But when Reuben heard it, he rescued him out of their hands, saying, “Let us not take his life.” And Reuben said to them, “Shed no blood; throw him into this pit here in the wilderness, but do not lay a hand on him”—that he might rescue him out of their hand to restore him to his father.

However, while he was absent, the brothers sell Joseph into slavery. In verses 29-30, Reuben returns to find Joseph gone:

When Reuben returned to the pit and saw that Joseph was not in the pit, he tore his clothes and returned to his brothers and said, “The boy is gone, and I, where shall I go?”

Strictly speaking, the text doesn't say exactly what the brothers told him (beyond Reuben's apparent participation in the cover-up).

In Genesis 42:22, Reuben appears to believe that Joseph was dead:

And Reuben answered them, “Did I not tell you not to sin against the boy? But you did not listen. So now there comes a reckoning for his blood.

Did he believe all along that the brothers killed him themselves, or merely that he had died as a result of their actions? If he was implying that the brothers had killed him, why didn't the brothers tell him otherwise? Or does the fact that the brothers don't correct him suggest that they thought that he had probably died as a result of their actions too?

3 Answers 3


We are not told but there are some subtleties in the story that hint at Reuben knowing what was going on.

First, they sold Joseph for 20 shekels of silver (Gen 37:28) - two each for the 10 brothers as a mutual pact - this must have included Rueben. Thus he participated in the cover-up by faking an animal attack.

Second, I think your comment about Joseph probably dying is a reasonable guess because slaves in Egypt had a difficult life in many (not all) circumstances. That is, Joseph either had good life or a bad life. If he had a good life he might have been expected to escape and return home (not entirely possible but plausible) while if a bad life (the most probably) he probably died of overwork and abuse as many did.

Thus, Reuben's comments 22 years after their enslavement of Joseph in Gen 42:22 - it is an entirely reasonable assumption that Joseph had died and thus the 10 brothers were directly responsible for his death.


The brothers may not have told him because he had already shown before that he was not really into this evil scheme.Gen 37:22 indicates that Reuben wanted to save Joseph and return him to his father. His emotional reaction may have also shown them he couldn't be trusted to keep the dark secret.

  • Welcome to BHSX. Thanks for your contribution. Please take the tour (link below) to better understand how this site works. I am not sure this answer actually addresses the question. Please add some references and a more extensive argument.
    – Dottard
    Commented Oct 11, 2020 at 20:58

Genesis 37:29-31 There was no body showing evidence of the murder in the cistern, so I think Reuben was told he was sold as an answer to his question. Similarly, he didn't think Joseph had escaped to run back to Dad, or else they would not have decided to kill an animal to get the blood coverup. If there was a body, then the blood of Joseph would have been used. Reuben tears his clothes as a religious person would do in distress. He is showing remorse but not repentance, so decides to cover up the evil act with more sinful actions.

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    – agarza
    Commented Jun 1, 2021 at 21:27

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