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The Speeches of Reuben and Judah in Genesis 37: 21-22, 26-27: A Literary-Critical Study

Dohyung Kim 1

1서울기독대학교

Accredited

ABSTRACT

This paper reviews the pleas of mitigation by Reuben and Judah in Genesis 37:21-22, 26-27. Many historical-critical commentators of Genesis believe that a discrepancy exists between these two speeches, which have resulted in the theory of multiple sources, J(Judah and Israel) and E(Reuben and Jacob). They consider these speeches as duplicates or doublets, that is, ‘rival versions of the same story.’ However, I support a literary approach, which promotes ‘a literary unity’ in the narrative. A close reading of the text as a subtle communicative device of the author accounts for this variation better than the results of the conflation of sources. The text represents the technique of repetition in the chapter to compare and contrast the two characters. The main difference between the two characters is the explicit mention of Reuben’s motives and the hidden implication of Judah’s. Reuben has good intentions which are ultimately not realized. On the contrary, Judah’s intentions are enigmatic, but his actions ensure the continuation of the story, just as in the end it will prove, against the reader’s expectations, that it is his lineage, not Joseph’s, that will carry Israel’s story forward to the monarchy and beyond. The focus of chapter 37 is centered on Judah rather than Reuben, based on the results of their speeches towards the brothers in order to save Joseph. Judah’s speech is more systematic and persuasive so that the brothers accept his suggestion of selling Joseph to foreign traders. This serves as a stepping-stone for strengthening his leadership for the future. Finally, Judah’s ambiguous motivation against Joseph forms a significant prelude to the larger narrative of Jacob and his sons’(Gen. 37-50).

Citation status

* References for papers published after 2022 are currently being built.