Reuben and Judah each make one last appearance in the Joseph story, err… stories.
As in the previous case (#71), where Reuben denounces his brothers’ plan to kill Joseph in the Elohist version, so too Reuben acts as surety for Benjamin’s safe return. “And Reuben said to his father: ‘Kill my two sons if I don’t bring him [Benjamin] back to you’” (42:37).
The Yahwist version of the story, however, keeping with its exaltation of the southern kingdom of Judah, has its eponymous ancestor, Judah, play the role of surety, as it was also Judah who denounced the brother’s plans to kill Joseph (#71). Here Judah exclaims: “I’ll be security for him [Benjamin]. You’ll seek him from my hand. If I don’t bring him back to you and set him before you then I’ll have sinned against you for all time’” (43:9).
If the brothers are representative of their respected tribes, then both versions of the story seem to explain the safeguarding of the tribe of Benjamin. For it was known that after the destruction of Israel by the Assyrians in 722 BC, tradition had it that only two tribes remained: Judah and Benjamin. Could the Yahwist’s choice for Judah as Benjamin’s surety reflect this late 8th century BC reality—namely that the southern kingdom of Judah saved the tribe of Benjamin, which lied on the border between Judah and Israel, from annihilation?