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Genesis 37:29-33 NASB

29 Now Reuben returned to the pit, and behold, Joseph was not in the pit; so he tore his garments. 30 He returned to his brothers and said, “The boy is not there; as for me, where am I to go?” 31 So they took Joseph’s tunic, and slaughtered a male goat and dipped the tunic in the blood; 32 and they sent the varicolored tunic and brought it to their father and said, “We found this; please [v]examine it to see whether it is your son’s tunic or not.” 33 Then he [w]examined it and said, “It is my son’s tunic. A wild beast has devoured him; Joseph has surely been torn to pieces!”

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The simple answer here is the obvious one - the brothers had sold Joseph to slave traders where he would be possibly abused & later die in unknown places. Such a treacherous act was abhorrent for Jews, especially when done to one's own brother!

In order to hide the horrible truth of their actions and their appalling culpability, they decided on an cover-up: They lied about Joseph's fate by telling Jacob that he had been killed by a wild animal. They then created false evidence in support of their lie by ripping Joseph's royal tunic and staining it with blood.

Jacob believed the brothers' false story as recorded in Gen 37:33. Jacob was miserable but did not hold the brothers responsible for Joseph's death. Despite this, the brothers were very miserable because of their repressed guilt as the latter part of the story makes clear in Gen 45.

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  • Dottard : Notice Reuben's concern for the boy (Gen 37:30 NASB) “The boy is not there; as for me, where am I to go?” Why did they want their father to believe that Joseph was dead? There is a cultural reason for their treacherous act. – Ozzie Ozzie May 7 at 17:33
  • … and the reason is - keep going and offer your own answer. – Dottard May 7 at 21:33
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As answered above, they do this simply to convince their father Jacob that his son Joseph was killed by a wild animal. However, this act and speech creates a double literary parallelism which brings richness to the text and suggests that Jacob and Judah "reap what they sow":

(1) Jacob's sons deceive Jacob through the use of a goat (שְׂעִיר עִזִּים) like Jacob deceived his father through the use of goats (עִזִּים), cf. Genesis 27:9, 16.

(2) Judah's daughter-in-law tells him "please examine and see (הַכֶּר־נָא), whose signet ring and cords and staff are these?" just as the brothers, presumably represented by Judah (cf. v. 26), said to Jacob "please examine it to see (הַכֶּר־נָא) whether it is your son’s tunic or not.”

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  • Ryan Stephen:: Notice Reuben's concern for the boy (Gen 37:30 NASB) “The boy is not there; as for me, where am I to go?” Why did they want their father to believe that Joseph was dead? There is a cultural reason for their treacherous act.. – Ozzie Ozzie May 7 at 17:31
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    @OzzieNicolas They presumably do this because they do not want to tell their father that they sold his favorite son to the Ishmaelites. – Ryan Stephen May 7 at 21:25
  • Ryan Stephen: I know the answer, There is a good reason why they wanted his father to believe that Joseph was dead. The could have said that a band of robbers took him, thus giving their Father some hope that Joseph was alive, but they did not. – Ozzie Ozzie May 8 at 16:31
  • @OzzieNicolas Telling their father that Joseph was killed would satisfy their originally intention, except for Reuben and Judah. Also, if they tell their father that Jospeh was taken by robbers, surely Jacob would go on a search for him. The brothers do not want to see him again now, except for perhaps Reuben. Telling their father that he was killed (and selling him to foreigners) solves their Joseph problem. Further, telling their father that he was taken by robbers would not form a double literary parallelism. This story connects to the stories surrounding it. – Ryan Stephen May 8 at 17:03

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