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I was wondering if having someone on your knees is to be understood as having them sitting on your lap. It seems weird to me that Ephraim and Manasseh would sit on Jacob's lap when they were around 17 years old.

I take that they were around this age because 1) they were born before the famine (Gn 41:50), 2) Jacob lived in Egypt seventeen years (Gn 47:28) and 3) Jacob was ill and near his death (Gn 48:1,33) when get to Gn 48:12:

Then Joseph removed them from Israel’s knees and bowed down with his face to the ground.

Maybe it is a custom I'm not familiar with, like the "putting the hand under someone's thigh" thing?

On the other hand, it really seems that they were children because Joseph "removed them" from Israel's knees, like a father carries their children from here to there. So maybe Jacob is not as near death as I supposed after all?

I don't know, both interpretations have their difficulties.

3 Answers 3

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The confusion arose in the Greek translation. The original verse should not be translated with "on his knees", but rather "besides/between his knees":

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Young's Literal Translation for example does this correctly:

And Joseph bringeth them out from between his knees, and boweth himself on his face to the earth

LXX Greek version has two main variations on this verse:

καὶ ἐξήγαγεν Ἰωσὴφ αὐτοὺς ἀπὸ τῶν γονάτων αὐτοῦ, καὶ προσεκύνησαν αὐτῷ ἐπὶ πρόσωπον ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς.

and

καὶ ἐξήγαγεν Ἰωσὴφ αὐτοὺς εκ τῶν γονάτων αὐτοῦ, καὶ προσεκύνησαν αὐτῷ ἐπὶ πρόσωπον ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς.

γονάτων αὐτοῦ means his (own) knees. One version of the LXX uses ἀπὸ which means "(away) from", while the other uses εκ, which means "out of". The most likely English word choice would depend on which text variant you would use for a translation.

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  • So this would mean the two ~17 years old young men were "between" Joseph's (or Jacob's) knees, and Joseph bringeth them out?
    – Davi Doro
    May 8, 2020 at 18:48
  • Probably something much simpler, something like the guest sitting on (probably one of the few) chairs and the youngsters sitting on the ground before him listening to their father.
    – Codosaur
    May 8, 2020 at 18:50
  • I guess I can see that, although for me the phrasing still makes it seems like Joseph's sons were small enough to be "removed" (NIV/ESV). I appreciate your answer, but I'm not ready to accept it just yet.
    – Davi Doro
    May 8, 2020 at 19:23
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Codosaur gave an excellent answer already. Here I'll add Barn's commentary:

He [Jacob] now observes and proceeds to bless the two sons of Joseph.

There are three generations involved.

"Who are these?" The sight and the observant faculties of the patriarch were now failing. "Bring them now unto me, and I will bless them."

This is the purpose of the meeting. The old Jacob will bless the two grandsons as if they were his own sons.

Jacob is seated on the couch, and the young men approach him.

As noted by the OP, these were young men, not little children.

He kisses and folds his arms around them. The comforts of his old age come up before his mind. He had not expected to see Joseph again in the flesh, and now God had showed him his seed. After these expressions of parental fondness, Joseph drew them back from between his knees,

The young men were not sitting on their grandfather's lap. Joseph didn't remove the young men either. Joseph brought them out to position them properly for the blessing.

that he might present them in the way that was distinctive of their age. He then bowed with his face to the earth, in reverential acknowledgment of the act of worship about to be performed.

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Perhaps there was a Hebrew idiom in Gen 48:12 that had been lost even to the Septuagint translators (whose Greek reads much the same as the KJV’s English), or perhaps they simply left the idiom untranslated, which is possible.

Still, the original language, as far as scholars can determine, is unclear, because the preposition translated “between” (עִם or im, “with”) and the pronominal suffix for “his” (whose?) in בִּרְכָּ֑יו (birkaw, “his knees”) are both ambiguous, as far as we know. Whose knees were the young men standing next to—Joseph’s, or the bedridden Jacob’s? The latter seems to fit the context best, and indeed nothing else makes sense.

So perhaps we may sum up the scene like this: Jacob was reclined in bed, Joseph was positioned near Jacob’s head, and the young men were standing beside Jacob’s (not Joseph's) knees. Then Joseph directed his sons to come forward to within reach of their grandfather’s blessing hands; he had just said he would bless them in Gen 48:9.

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