In Genesis 37:36 (NASB)

Meanwhile, the Midianites sold him in Egypt to Potiphar, Pharaoh’s officer, the captain of the bodyguard.

In Genesis 39:1 (NASB)

Now Joseph had been taken down to Egypt; and Potiphar, an Egyptian officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the bodyguard, bought him from the Ishmaelites, who had taken him down there.

Who sold Joseph to Potiphar?

  • 2
    @Downvoters , I wish the reason before downvote , I think I gave my convincing Argument but awaiting your argument , If I have a problem in my question just to suggest me idea to improve it we are here for exchange , Thanks May 5, 2020 at 20:40
  • Whats the contradiction here? Can't I sell my item to person A and then A sell to B? This is exactly what the bible recounts, first they sold him to Ishmaelites and they further sold him to Potiphar. There is no contradiction here, just confusion on your part.
    – bach
    May 6, 2020 at 0:22
  • @Bach just improved the question to make the contradiction more evident Jan 14, 2021 at 13:36

4 Answers 4


In Gen 37 we have a classic example of ancient trading of slaves who were traded a common property.

V28 says that the brothers sold Joseph to Midianite/Ishmaelite traders for 20 shekels of silver:- So when the Midianite traders passed by, his brothers pulled Joseph out of the pit and sold him for twenty shekels of silver to the Ishmaelites, who took him to Egypt. [Note that the Ishmaelite traders were from (in this case) Midian and are referred to here by both names.]

V36 says that these travelling traders, having travelled to Egypt, later on-sold Joseph (presumably at a profit!) to an Egyptian:- Meanwhile, the Midianites sold Joseph in Egypt to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh and captain of the guard.

There is no contradiction here, merely a record of the various sales of a common slave.

  • Do u want to convince me that Ishmaelites=Potiphar officer of Pharoah ? May 5, 2020 at 22:38
  • 2
    Not at all. The Ishmaelites were traders and Potiphar was an Egyptian official, quite separate. The Ishmaelites bout a slave from Joseph's brother and then sold him to Potiphar. Simple.
    – Dottard
    May 6, 2020 at 0:08
  • The Ishmaelites were also called (here) Midianites.
    – Dottard
    May 6, 2020 at 0:09
  • Then why it weren't answered by only Ishmaelities or Potiphar pharo ? what is the Goal to answer that with 2 differents answer ? May 6, 2020 at 0:12
  • 3
    I am not sure I understand your comment @zeraouliarafik. Suffice to say here that "Ishmaelites" refers to their biological heritage and "Midianites" refers to where they lived and were based. Both terms refer tot eh same group of traders who bought and then sold Joseph as a slave. Buying and selling slaves (at a profit) was very common
    – Dottard
    May 6, 2020 at 7:32

The Ishmaelites (members of the Midianite merchants [caravan from Gilead]) saved Joseph & sold Joseph to Potiphar.

[1] Once Yosef was in the pit, his brothers had a meal & saw [who] coming? [Bereishit 37:25] * יִשְׁמְעֵאלִ֔ים Yishmaelim = "Ishmaelites".

[2] What does Yehudah immediately suggest to his brothers? [Bereishit 37:27] "Come, let us sell him to [the] Ishmaelites" ( לְכ֞וּ וְנִמְכְּרֶ֣נּוּ לַיִּשְׁמְעֵאלִ֗ים )

[3] Who lifts Yosef out of the pit - to sell Yosef to Yishmaelim? [Bereishit 37:28] * אֲנָשִׁ֨ים מִדְיָנִ֜ים Mideyanim

"Then Midianite men, merchants, passed by, and they pulled and lifted Joseph from the pit, and they sold Joseph to the Ishmaelites for twenty silver [pieces], and they brought Joseph to Egypt." ( וַיַּֽעַבְרוּ֩ אֲנָשִׁ֨ים מִדְיָנִ֜ים סֹֽחֲרִ֗ים וַיִּמְשְׁכוּ֙ וַיַּֽעֲל֤וּ אֶת־יוֹסֵף֙ מִן־הַבּ֔וֹר וַיִּמְכְּר֧וּ אֶת־יוֹסֵ֛ף לַיִּשְׁמְעֵאלִ֖ים בְּעֶשְׂרִ֣ים כָּ֑סֶף וַיָּבִ֥יאוּ אֶת־יוֹסֵ֖ף מִצְרָֽיְמָה )

[4] If Genesis 37:28 states Mideyanim sold Yosef to Ha-Yishmaelim -- Are the Ishmaelites described in Genesis 37:36 as the "Mitsraim" [Egyptians] or are the-Ishmaelites members of the merchants [from Midian] ?

"And The-[Midianites] sold him to-[Egypt], to-[Potiphar], Pharaoh's chamberlain, chief of the slaughterers. ( וְהַ֨מְּדָנִ֔ים מָֽכְר֥וּ אֹת֖וֹ אֶל־מִצְרָ֑יִם לְפֽוֹטִיפַר֙ סְרִ֣יס פַּרְעֹ֔ה שַׂ֖ר הַטַּבָּחִֽים )

When we fast forward to Bereishit 39:1, we read : "Now Joseph had been brought down to Egypt, and Potiphar, Pharaoh's chamberlain, chief of the slaughterers, an [Egyptian man], purchased him from The-Ishmaelites who had brought him down there." ( וְיוֹסֵ֖ף הוּרַ֣ד מִצְרָ֑יְמָה וַיִּקְנֵ֡הוּ פּֽוֹטִיפַר֩ סְרִ֨יס פַּרְעֹ֜ה שַׂ֤ר הַטַּבָּחִים֙ אִ֣ישׁ מִצְרִ֔י מִיַּד֙ הַיִּשְׁמְעֵאלִ֔ים אֲשֶׁ֥ר הֽוֹרִדֻ֖הוּ שָֽׁמָּה )

[5] We are told Ha-Yishmaelim הַיִּשְׁמְעֵאלִ֔ים sold Yosef to an אִ֣ישׁ מִצְרִ֔י [Egyptian Man] named Potifar פּֽוֹטִיפַר in Genesis 39:1.


Was Joseph sold to Potiphar by Midianites or Ishmaelites?

In Genesis 37:36 (NASB)

Meanwhile, the Midianites sold him in Egypt to Potiphar, Pharaoh’s officer, the captain of the bodyguard.

In Genesis 39:1 (NASB)

Now Joseph had been taken down to Egypt; and Potiphar, an Egyptian officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the bodyguard, bought him from the Ishmaelites, who had taken him down there.

Ishmael was a descendant of Abraham by his Egyptian wife Hagar. Ismael married an Egyptian woman, ( Gen.21:21) thus the Ismaelites were a race predominantly Egyptian. Ismael was blessed by God and had 12 sons. (Genesis 17:20 and 25:13-16) They were nomadic,tent-dwelling Bedouin.

Genesis 16:15-16 (NASB)

15 So Hagar bore a son to Abram; and Abram named his son, to whom Hagar gave birth, Ishmael. 16 Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore Ishmael to [a]him.

Midian was also a descendant of Abraham by his wife Keturah

Genesis 25:1-4 (NASB)

25 Now Abraham took another wife, [a]whose name was Keturah. 2 She bore to him Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak, and Shuah. 3 Jokshan fathered Sheba and Dedan. And the sons of Dedan were Asshurim, Letushim, and Leummim. 4 The sons of Midian were Ephah, Epher, Hanoch, Abida, and Eldaah. All of these were the sons of Keturah.

Apparently, both the Ismaelites and Midianites settled in territories near each other, later taken over by the Gideons. Since the Ishmaelites and the Midianites were half brothers, and in the course of time, the intermarriage could have given rise to an interchangeable usage of the terms “Ishmaelites” and “Midianites,” as is noted in the description of the caravan that sold Joseph into Egyptian slavery. (Genesis 37:36 and 39:1)


Here is what the narrative says took place:

27Come, and let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and let not our hand be upon him; for he is our brother and our flesh. And his brethren were content.
28Then there passed by Midianites merchantmen; and they drew and lifted up Joseph out of the pit, and sold Joseph to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver: and they brought Joseph into Egypt.
29And Reuben returned unto the pit; and, behold, Joseph was not in the pit; and he rent his clothes. 30And he returned unto his brethren, and said, The child is not; and I, whither shall I go?

Genesis 37:27-30 (KJV)

  • v.27 - The brothers plot against Joseph to sell him to the Ishmaelites.
  • v.28 - While the brothers plot against Joseph, but unbeknown to them, Midianite traders pass by and lift Joseph out of the pit and THEY sell him to the Ishmaelites.
  • v.29 - From where he was camped with his brothers, Reuben went back to the pit where they had thrown Joseph and he was aghast that Joseph was not there.
  • v.30 - Reuben returned to where his brothers were camped and revealed to them that Joseph was gone, and anticipating his father's reaction to what he and his brothers had done, he exclaimed, "Where will I go?"

The remainder of the narrative reveals the brothers' plot to deceive their father so that Reuben, being the eldest, would not be blamed for Joseph's disappearance. The brothers would have only discovered the truth of what transpired while they were sitting and plotting to sell their brother when Joseph later related to them the circumstances of what had taken place.

There is no contradiction regarding the names of those who had a hand in the selling of Joseph because the details of the narrative here must have been supplied by Joseph himself. Clearly, he would have had no confusion about those who had initially sold him (Midianites), and then those who later on-sold him (Ishmaelites) to Potiphar.

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