#77. Benjamin had 10 sons OR 5? (Gen 46:21 vs Num 26:38-41)


The genealogy in Genesis 46:8-27, which we concerned ourselves with in contradiction #76, interrupts the narrative, as many close readers have noticed. In fact, if we took this material out, which has been unanimously identified as part of the Priestly source (Gen 46:6-27), what’s left is a narrative that precedes as a coherent and whole unity. Here is Genesis 46:5 + 46:28

5And the children of Israel carried Jacob their father and their infants and their wives in the wagons that Pharaoh had sent to carry him. 28And he [note the direct reference back to Jacob!] sent Judah ahead of him to Joseph to direct him in advance to Goshen.

There is no gap in J’s storyline when we remove the P material (Gen 46:6-27). This is most likely how the Yahwist text stood before it was later redacted together with the Priestly text. As is the case of P’s other genealogies (see #8-9), here too the list was inserted into an already preexisting narrative. Indeed we can readily see why the Priestly writer or redactor placed his genealogy here. It not only closes the Canaan portion of the story, but more importantly the mention in the Yahwist narrative of infants and wives here provided a good opportunity to expand on this. And this is exactly what the Priestly redactor did. But this is not what I had in mind to discuss today.

The discussion is about the discrepancy between Benjamin’s genealogy here in Genesis 46 and the one listed in Numbers 26, which is also from P. Besides minor differences in the spelling of names, the genealogy in Numbers 26 is identical to that of Genesis 46 other than it being more expansive, including the sons of the sons of Jacob. The only place where there is a discrepancy is in the list of Benjamin’s sons.

Genesis 46:21 lists 10 of them: Bela, Becher, Ashbel, Gera, Naaman, Ehi, Rosh, Muppim, Huppim, and Arad.

Numbers 26:38-41 lists only 5 sons to Benjamin: Bela, Ashbel, Ahiram, Shephupham, and Hupham.

Scholars have speculated that Numbers 26 is quite possibly Genesis 46:8-27’s original context, and that a shortened form of it was then spliced into Genesis 46, which inevitably disrupted the narrative of Genesis 46 as outlined above. This still doesn’t explain the discrepancy in the genealogy of Benjamin’s sons however. Two different sources may have been used.

2 thoughts on “#77. Benjamin had 10 sons OR 5? (Gen 46:21 vs Num 26:38-41)

  1. This isn’t a “contradiction” in a pure sense of the word. An incomplete record isn’t a contradictory one, so Benjamin could have had 10 sons who (for whatever reason) the author of Numbers simply didn’t record. The word “son” in Hebrew is also used to mean “grandson.” Perhaps some of the people that we see in English as direct sons (in either of the texts) are in fact farther down the line. Numbers also says explicitly that it is listing people by clans. Perhaps some of Benjamin’s sons didn’t have enough children to warrant being named a clan of their own and were incorporated into other clans. It’s also possible that one person had alternate names – Robert becomes Bob and Richard becomes Dick, but that doesn’t make a contradiction. To have a real contradiction, you need to have two pieces of information that are recorded as absolute fact and which are mutually exclusive of each other. You don’t have that here.

    As for your criticisms regarding P vs. J, where’s the proof? You can argue that a completely different author inserted the text at a completely different time, and you can invent a time-frame for the insertion, but who’s to say that Moses didn’t cobble together the different pieces under divine inspiration? Why does it absolutely have to be two totally different people at a far-removed time? Honestly, we could start taking any pieces of literature apart and assigning it to different authors if we were so inclined, and I must kindly suggest that the real issue here is exactly that – an inclination to find error where there is none.

  2. According to 1st Chronicles 7:6 Benjamin had three sons: The sons of Benjamin: Bela, Becher, and Jediael, three.

    Then in the the very next chapter he has five sons:
    1st Chronicles 8:1 Benjamin became the father of Bela his firstborn, Ashbel the second, Aharah the third,
    1st Chronicles 8:2 Nohah the fourth, and Rapha the fifth.

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