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Genesis 35:16-18 NIV

16 Then they moved on from Bethel. While they were still some distance from Ephrath, Rachel began to give birth and had great difficulty. 17 And as she was having great difficulty in childbirth, the midwife said to her, “Don’t despair, for you have another son.” 18 As she breathed her last—for she was dying—she named her son Ben-Oni.[h] But his father named him Benjamin.[i]

Genesis 37 NIV

28 So when the Midianite merchants came by, his brothers pulled Joseph up out of the cistern and sold him for twenty shekels[b] of silver to the Ishmaelites, who took him to Egypt.

In the above texts we are first told of the birth of Benjamin in Genesis 35 then later told of the enslavement of Joseph.The timeline is not clear whether Benjamin was born before or after Joseph was sold to the Egyptians.

When was Benjamin born?

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  • I agree with the answers given here, particularly Dottard's with the details of the dreams given to Joseph. No one who heard those dreams wondered "why 12?" because Benjamin had already been born. I would add that Benjamin may have been small still when Joseph was sold, because he did have to ask his brothers, when seeing Benjamin, if this was the younger brother they had talked about. It seems that he did not recognize Benjamin at that point.
    – Polyhat
    Jul 1, 2021 at 3:31

3 Answers 3

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Let us review the material from the previous question as per the appendix below.

We are not told exactly when Benjamin was born but there is a window of a few years to choose. We know that Joseph was born to Jacob when he was 91 years old and Isaac was 151. Benjamin was after this some time.

Benjamin was known to Joseph and so must have been born before Joseph was sold into slavery - this give a window of 16 years in which to have Benjamin born; but it is possible to narrow the window a little further.

When Jacob returned from Padam Aram he first settled in Shechem (Gen 33:18), purchased some land and then built stalls for this cattle and flocks. Thus, he probably stayed in Shechem for a few years. Following the incident with Diah (Gen 34) Jacob moved to Bethel (Gen 35:1, 14, 15) and then moved to Ephrath (Gen 35:16, 17) where Benjamin was born.

The above process probably took at least five years(???). Thus, Joseph was possibly at least 5 or 6 years old when Benjamin was born. Thus, Jacob was at least 96 or 97 and Isaac was at least 156 or 157 years old.

On this basis, Benjamin was born about 10 years before Joseph was sold (??) into slavery and about 22 years before Isaac died.

There is some confirmation of this in Joseph's dreams - he sees the sun and moon plus eleven stars bowing to him - the eleven stars represented his eleven brothers, including Benjamin.

APPENDIX - The Chronology of Isaac:

  • Isaac born to Abraham at the age of 100, Gen 21:5
  • Isaac marries Rebekah at age 40, Gen 25:20
  • Isaac becomes the father of Jacob at age 60, Gen 25:26
  • Jacob (at age 71) deceives Isaac when he is 131, Gen 47:9, 45:6, 41:47
  • Jacob returns from Padam Aram after 20 years at age 91, as Joseph is born, Isaac 151. Gen 30:25.
  • Joseph is sold into slavery at age 17 (Gen 37:2), Jacob is 108, Isaac is 168.
  • Isaac dies at age 180, Gen 35:28.

Therefore, Gen 37:1, 2, when Isaac is 151, occur before Gen 35:27-27 when Isaac is 180.

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  • ,why then is Joseph referred to as the son of his old age if Benjamin was already there(Genesis 37:3) Jun 30, 2021 at 11:15
  • @collenndhlovu - Joseph and Benjamin were the last two sons born to Joseph after he was 90 years old, and both by his most beloved wife, Rachel. Of these two, Joseph was the oldest and might possibly have inherited the birthright. However, it is certain that Benjamin was known to Joseph.
    – Dottard
    Jun 30, 2021 at 11:37
  • ,It is also said Jacob had made a beautiful robe for Joseph and no mention of Benjamin receiving one as well. Would it have been possible to give Joseph the robe and leave out Benjamin. Jun 30, 2021 at 12:28
  • "Would it have been possible to give Joseph the robe and leave out Benjamin?" Yes... This is absolutely possible. Not fair (Did Jacob do anything that was "fair") but possible. Jacob wanted to show the world he loved Joseph, to make it clear that Joseph was the special one.
    – James K
    Jun 30, 2021 at 19:04
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    @collenndhlovu - Joseph was the eldest son of Joseph's beloved wife and thus received the honor. At the time Joseph received the robe he might have been, say, 16 years old and Benjamin was possibly only 9 or 10 years old. Thus, Benjamin was still a child in the eyes of the culture at the time.
    – Dottard
    Jun 30, 2021 at 20:57
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Benjamin was born (Gen 35) before Joseph was sold (Gen. 37).

Benjamin's birth:

Then they journeyed from Bethel. When they were still some distance from Ephrath, Rachel went into labor, and she had hard labor. 17 And when her labor was at its hardest, the midwife said to her, “Do not fear, for you have another son.” 18 And as her soul was departing (for she was dying), she called his name Ben-oni; but his father called him Benjamin. So Rachel died, and she was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem), 20 and Jacob set up a pillar over her tomb. It is the pillar of Rachel’s tomb, which is there to this day. 21 Israel journeyed on and pitched his tent beyond the tower of Eder. (Gen. 35:16–19, ESV)

Joseph sold:

Then Midianite traders passed by. And they drew Joseph up and lifted him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty shekels of silver. They took Joseph to Egypt. (Gen. 37:28, ESV)

Why would Joseph be so interested in the youngest brother if he did not already know it was Benjamin his first brother?

By this you shall be tested: by the life of Pharaoh, you shall not go from this place unless your youngest brother comes here. (Gen. 42:15, ESV)

Joseph's time a Potiphar's was probably no more than a few years. If Benjamin was born after Joseph was sold, the time to his birth probably as similar. That makes seven good years until the famine and two years in prison. It doesn't make much sense that Benjamin was a little over nine-years-old when he traveled to Egypt, and unlikely that Joseph would make that request. Thus ch. 35 after ch. 37 is unlikely.

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  • ,if you had seen my other question which was closed, there is an understanding that the events which took place in Genesis 35 took place after the events in Genesis 37 Jun 30, 2021 at 9:46
  • Good answer - and Correct, IMHO. +1.
    – Dottard
    Jun 30, 2021 at 10:34
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This is a surprisingly complicated question. Let us look at both sides.

We know that the events of Genesis 37 took place twelve years before Isaac’s death. Since Joseph is described as “the son of his [Isaac’s] old age” (37:3), one might well think that, at that time, he was the youngest son, i.e., Benjamin was not yet born. This is given some credibility by the description of Benjamin as “a child of his [Isaac’s] old age, a little one” (44:20); at that time, Joseph will be 39, and so 22 years will have passed. If Benjamin was born before Gen 37 opens, then that would entail that when the whole family goes to Egypt, Benjamin would be at least 22 years old. It seems strange to refer to a grown man of 22 years as “a child...a little one”.

Perhaps attention to the Hebrew words would permit this, though. “Child” translates יֶלֶד or yeled, glossed “child, son, boy, youth”; while typically this means “child,” a significant amount of time it means “youth” or “young man” and thus can refer to a young grown man. And where the KJV has “a little one,” the Hebrew is simply קָטָן or qatan, glossed “small, young, unimportant”. Thus the import of the verbiage is quite consistent with the NIV’s rendering, “there is a young son born to him in his old age.”

Now, is there any evidence that he was born before the events of Gen 37? Actually, there is. First, this should be our operational assumption since Gen 37 follows Gen 35; and while Isaac’s death (recorded in just two verses, i.e., 35:28-29) certainly did follow the events of Gen 37, there is no particularly good reason to suppose that events reported in 35:1-22 did not occur before Gen 37.

Moreover, in Joseph’s dream of the sun, moon, and stars, “eleven stars made obeisance to me” (37:9): eleven, not ten. That suggests Benjamin had been born. The problem with this as evidence is that the text makes it perfectly clear that this dream was inspired by God, and thus only God needed to know the number of brothers who would bow down to Joseph. But it is, certainly, some evidence.

The same dream also provides evidence on the other side. Jacob asks, in response to this dream, “Shall I and thy mother and thy brethren indeed come to bow down ourselves to thee to the earth?” (37:10) The Hebrew for “thy mother” (וְאִמְּךָ֣ or way’immaka, “and your mother”) is in a singular form, i.e., not “mothers”; if he does not use the word “mothers,” this suggests only that only Rachel is meant. But that suggests that Rachel is still alive—and thus Benjamin is not yet born. Theoretically, however, Leah or Bilhah could have taken the place of Rachel as Joseph’s mother. Another possibility is that Jacob misunderstood the prophetic meaning of the sun and moon bowing down.

Another solid bit of evidence that Benjamin was born before the sale of Joseph is that Joseph was later insistent upon the brothers bringing their youngest brother to him (42:15-16)—suggesting he had a special interest in him, and thus, had known and thought about him for all the years he had been in Egypt.

On balance, it seems more likely that Benjamin was born before the events in Gen 37, but the evidence does not appear conclusive.

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