Both the book of Genesis and the book of Joshua end with the reference of Joseph’s bones. What does this fact signify? In his book, Joseph’s Bones, Jerome M. Segal insists that the first six books of the Hebrew Bible opens with a promise about Joseph’s bones and ends with the fulfillment of that promise.
Joseph’s bones are mentioned three times in the Hebrew Bible.
So Joseph made the Israelites swear, saying, “When God comes to you, you shall carry up my bones from here.” And Joseph died, being one hundred ten years old; he was embalmed and placed in a coffin in Egypt (Gen 50:25-26).
And Moses took with him the bones of Joseph who had required a solemn oath of the Israelites, saying, “God will surely take notice of you, and then you must carry my bones with you from here” (Exo 13:19)
The bones of Joseph, which the Israelites had brought up from Egypt, were buried at Shechem, in the portion of ground that Jacob had bought from the children of Hamor, the father of Shechem, for one hundred pieces of money; it became an inheritance of the descendants of Joseph (Joshua 24:32).
According to those passages, Joseph died four hundred years before the Exodus, and was embalmed and placed in a coffin (Gen 50:26). In the Exodus, the Israelites took Joseph’s bones with them through the forty years in the wilderness. Eventually, the passage of Joshua tells us that Joseph’s bones were buried in the Promised Land.
It is interesting to note that the references of Joseph’s bones are related to the theme of “fulfillment of the promise,” demonstrating the compilation of Hexateuch. According to G. von Rad, the historical credos found in Josh 24:2-13 and Deut 6:20-24 and 26:5-9 are the confessions of faith, comprising Genesis through Joshua. The structure of the Hexateuch shows a problem not only in the position of the Sinai traditions within the framework of the whole, but also in the relationship between the patriarchal theme and the Exodus theme. So George Coats asked the prominent quesiton: “What kind of relationship did the patriarchal traditions, with their focus on strife/promise have with the exodus tradition, with its focus on redemption from oppression?” (Coats, 981). He states that the references of Joseph’s bones answer the question. The three references of Joseph’s bones link the patriarchal traditions with the exodus tradition.
Coats, George W. “Joseph, Son of Jacob.” ABD III (1992): 977-82.
Segal, Jerome M. Joseph’s Bones: Understanding the Struggle between God and Mankind in the Bible. New York: Riverhead Books, 2007.
Filed under: Pentateuch |