Feasting in Joseph’s house—Genesis 43:26-34

When they are taken to the vizier’s house, Joseph’s brothers expect to be enslaved (43:18). Instead, shockingly, the involuntary guests now find their visit the occasion for a feast. Joseph’s order to slaughter an animal for the meal (43:16) suggests a feast, undoubtedly with more meat than the guests could eat. The meal, possible because of Joseph’s foresighted storage of grain for people and animals, contrasts with the famine back home (43:1-2). What would be most shocking to the guests, however, is the transition from being detained as suspected spies during a previous visit (42:16-17)—with Simeon remaining in custody until their return (42:24)—and their present welcome. The key difference here is that Benjamin is now with them (43:16).

This time all eleven of his brothers are together to bow down to Joseph (43:26, 28), as in Joseph’s dreams (37:7, 9). (Perhaps his father can be understood as doing so in 47:31, but his mother, deceased long before this point, obviously cannot, unless indirectly through her son Benjamin [43:29]; probably we are meant to understand that the spirit of the dream in 37:9 is fulfilled, rather than expecting the fulfillment of all its literal details.)

Joseph asks about their welfare and especially that of their aged father (43:27). To inquire about another’s welfare was polite and natural (e.g., Exod 18:7; Judg 18:15; 2 Sam 11:7; Jer 15:5), so much so that in some texts translators often treat it as a mere greeting (many translations of 1 Sam 25:5; 30:21). Joseph, however, has special concern about his father, who is aged; happily, he remains alive (Gen 43:28).

As Joseph sees his brother Benjamin, however, he rushes out because he was moved (43:29-30). A term used here for his compassion (MyImSjår) appears in this form only once elsewhere in Genesis—quite recently, in 43:14, where Jacob prays that God Almighty (El Shaddai) will grant them compassion in the Egyptian official’s sight, to send them and Benjamin away safely. Clearly God here is answering Jacob’s prayer, though no one present at the time realizes this. Joseph’s love for Benjamin underlines by way of contrast his brothers’ past hard heart toward him, though as the narrative progresses it becomes increasingly clear that his brothers have become much more brotherly.

Their seating by birth rank astonishes the brothers (43:33); the term for astonishment here is usually an unhappy astonishment (it appears negatively in Job 26:11; Ps 48:5; Isa 13:8; 29:9; Jer 4:9; Hab 1:5). How does Joseph know so much about them? This special knowledge will gain credence, however, for his later claim to divine knowledge (44:15; cf. 44:5), reinforcing their recognition that God is the one who has exposed their sin (44:16).

Joseph’s generosity, especially toward Benjamin (43:34), will likewise highlight their apparent ingratitude in supposedly stealing from him (44:4). For now, however, experiencing Joseph’s generosity, his brothers lower their guard to the extent of even becoming drunk (the normal sense of the final verb in 43:34, which is the same verb used of Noah’s drunkenness in 9:21). Joseph does not yet observe enough details to know whether they have changed.

Ancient biographies, history, and the Gospels

This new book (Biographies and Jesus, edited by Edward T. Wright and myself) provides essays analyzing ancient biographies’ use of sources, etc., showing that biographers saw their genre as requiring dependence on prior information. Biographies written within a few generations normally preserved considerable information about their subjects, a matter with relevance for the Gospels. It is somewhat technical (so it is not for everybody), but it provides serious research and documentation for subsequent work on which I and others will be able to build.



“This collection deserves a wide circulation.”—Richard Burridge

“… a great book that will go a long way toward setting the record straight.”—Craig A. Evans

“Keener’s collection is to be praised.”—James H. Charlesworth

“The implications of these findings demand careful consideration by scholars of the Gospels and the Historical Jesus alike.”—Helen K. Bond

“Keener, Wright, Walton et al. have moved the needle forward in advancing our knowledge of the Jesus of the Gospels”—David P. Moessner