Methodology for the Mirror-Reading of The Elohist Source - Joseph Cycle

The Joseph Cycle is primarily concerned about integrating the tribes of Ephraim, Manasseh and Benjamin into the Kingdom of Israel and maintaining peace among the tribes of the Kingdom.  Additionally, the Elohist was also concerned about solidifying the rule of Ephraim and Manasseh over the rest of the tribes of Israel.  If you’d like a less technical overview, please check out my podcast episode on the Joseph Cycle. If you’re not familiar with the Elohist Source and it’s cycles, be sure to check out that podcast episode as well.


Color Code:
Black: These statements are mirrors or echoes
Blue: These statements are an inferred cause/effect of a mirror/echo or connects two mirrors/echoes
Green: These statement have no corresponding mirrors or echoes but have supporting (e.g. alternates, denials) statements that imply them.
Orange: Words within a statement that could be variations of the opposing narrative

Italics are causal connectors (e.g. “because”)
[Brackets] are replacements for pronouns or changing tense for better flow.

For more information about mirrors, echoes, supporting categories and my methodology, please visit this post.

Aspect #1 Opposing Narrative

1. Ephraim and Manasseh should not rule over the tribes of Israel
2. because [Ephraim and Manasseh] were not [Joseph’s] sons
3. because they were Zaphenath-paneah’s sons
4. because [Joseph] was no more
5. because the pit [Joseph was in] was not empty; there was water in it.
6. because [Ephraim and Manasseh’s father] was not a Hebrew.
7. because Ephraim and Manasseh were not Jacob’s children
8. because Jacob did not see Ephraim and Manasseh’s father before he died
9. because [Ephraim and Manasseh’s father] did not fear Elohim
10. because Ephraim and Manasseh were from Egypt and the other tribes were not
11. because items in Canaan prove Jacob and his family never moved to Egypt
12. because Jacob was buried in Canaan

Aspect #1 Elohist Response With Commentary

1. There are several examples given as to why Joseph should rule over his brothers.  For one, Jacob loved Joseph more than his brothers.  The robe that was given to Joseph is evidence of this favor but the robe itself also has regal implications. Joseph’s dream foreshadows that his brothers would submit to him and once they reunite in Egypt. Joseph is repeatedly described as wise and his elevation by Pharaoh gives his descendants a royal lineage to draw a king from. Joseph’s ability to provide food for his brothers could also signify the ability to provide for the tribes during the time of the reader.

The Elohist wants to be clear to the original reader that the tribe of Joseph should rule over the other tribes. However, power structure to rule over the other tribes does not seem to be monolithic and consists of both Ephraim and Manasseh.  How this is done, is not explained but we do know that the kingship later came from Ephraim, and the Capital city was located, at least for a short time, in Shechem, Manasseh.  There may be some concern with food provision for the original reader as well. This could have been because famine was a concern during that time and the Elohist wanted to assure the other tribes that the Joseph power structure could deliver during such a crisis.

2. Jacob asks, “Whose sons are these?” and Joseph responds by saying they are his.

3. If point #2 claims that Ephraim and Manasseh were not Joseph’s sons, then it raises the question, whose sons are they? The opposing narrative answers this by saying they were Zaphenath-paneah’s sons. The Elohist resolves this issue by combining the two separate identities of Joseph and Zaphenath-paneah into one person. Pharaoh gave Joseph the Egyptian name Zaphenath-paneah.

If the opposing narrative was saying that Zaphenath-paneah was of Egyptian ancestry, and that he wasn’t really Joseph at all, then the other tribes would be less willing to submit to the power structure of Ephraim and Manasseh.

More speculatively, the opposing narrative may have viewed Zaphenath-paneah as a criminal since he was in prison.  The Elohist resolves this by showing Joseph was unjustly charged with a crime.

4. If Joseph died, then how could Ephraim and Manasseh be his sons? The Elohist avoids an early death of Joseph by saying that it only seemed like Joseph had died because his brothers lied about it.  After they are reunited, Joseph’s brothers and his father all declare that Joseph is still alive.

If Joseph had died an early death, then Ephraim and Manasseh were not his sons and the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh may not even be related to the rest of the tribes of Israel, thereby giving them less credibility to rule over them.

5. How Joseph died is not explicitly stated, but the emphasis that there was no water in the well that his brothers threw him in, may be an indication that he drowned in a well.

6. Joseph refers to himself while in prison, as a Hebrew.  The cup bearer also refers to Joseph as a Hebrew.

Again, if Ephraim and Manasseh’s father was Egyptian and not Hebrew, then the other Israelites tribes would be less likely to accept leadership from them.

7. Jacob blesses Ephraim and Manasseh, promoting their status. Even if Joseph was their father, the other tribes still have higher status since they are elder. The Elohist resolved this by having Jacob adopt his grandchildren, thus making them his sons.

8. It’s made clear that Jacob was still alive and was reunited with Joseph before he died.

This could have to do with receiving the blessing of the firstborn, although emphasis is placed on the blessing given to Ephraim and Manasseh.

9. When advising his brothers, Joseph states that he fears Elohim. Additionally, he gives credit to Elohim for being able to interpret dreams.

If Joseph had not worshiped Elohim, then he was likely not a true Israelite, since Elohim was the Israelite God. Thus, the Elohist makes it clear that Joseph did worship Elohim.

10. The whole moving of Joseph’s family to Egypt narrative may be an attempt to apply Egyptian ties to all of the tribes. If Jacob and his family did not move to Egypt, then only Ephraim and Manasseh migrated out of Egypt, which would further break cohesion with the other tribes of Israel and give the power structure less credibility to rule over them.

11. The opposing narrative asks, if Jacob and his family moved to Egypt, why do we find their items in Canaan? The Elohist gives an alternative explanation for the items in Canaan:  They were not needed because they would be given the best of all the land in Egypt.

12. The opposing narrative asks, if Jacob moved to Egypt, why is he buried in Canaan? The Elohist provides an alternative explanation for why Jacob was buried in Canaan by saying that Joseph had sworn to bury him in Canaan after he died in Egypt.

It’s also interesting that the Egyptians mourn the death of Jacob at the threshing floor of Atad, which is not in Canaan, but on the other side of the Jordan.  The opposing narrative may have been saying Atad was the burial location of Jacob and the Elohist is giving an alternative for the significance of the site.  This may be because of the opposing narrative claimed that Israel and Jacob were two separate people, one from Canaan and the other from Atad.  That Aspect is explored more in the Jacob Cycle.

Aspect #2 Opposing Narrative

1. Ephraim and Manasseh should not rule the tribe of Benjamin
2. because Joseph's mother was not Benjamin's mother
3. because Benjamin is not subject to Joseph
4. because Benjamin had a divination cup and Joseph did not
5. because Joseph did not practice divination

Aspect #2 Elohist Response With Commentary

1. The tribe of Benjamin seems to have separate issues with the tribe of Joseph, and the Elohist works to bring and/or keep Benjamin within the Israelite Kingdom. They seem to need more coaxing than the other tribes, so the Elohist writes what he can to sweeten the pot. Joseph shows emotional affection and shows favor towards Benjamin by giving him a larger portion of food. This could have signaled the relationship that the Elohist wanted the Benjamin descendants and Joseph’s descendants to have with each other.  We see this concern in the Jacob Cycle as well and in 1 and 2 Samuel, which seems to be on the opposite side, trying to sway Benjamin to stay in the Southern Kingdom.

2. By stating that Benjamin is of the same Mother as Joseph, the Elohist would elevate Benjamin over Joseph’s other brothers.

If Benjamin is not the son of Joseph’s mother then they may not be related at all and would have little motivation to be part of the tribe of Israel.  

3. The Elohist is sure to include Benjamin as being Joseph’s slaves along with the rest of his brothers.
4. The Elohist explains that Benjamin did come into possession of a divination cup but provides an alternative explanation by telling how it was originally Joseph’s cup, who had placed it in Benjamin’s bag. This may have been an elegant solution to a potentially sticky problem:  If there was contention with the tribe of Benjamin over a divination cup, the Elohist has to show how Joseph was the owner of the cup without accusing Benjamin of stealing it.  The answer the Elohist provides is that Joseph made it look like Benjamin stole it as part of a test.     

Whichever tribe could lay claim to the cup would have a boost in status.  More speculatively, the tribes of Joseph and Benjamin may have been using the cup to endorse either their priestly lines or their places of worship.  Bethel itself is listed as being in Ephraim and Benjamin at one time according to the Biblical text, and the city may have been a point of contention between the two tribes. Joseph also married the daughter of a priest, which would have given him higher social status and may have been further endorsed a priestly class from his lineage.

If there was hostility towards the tribe of Benjamin from the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh for the theft, then Joseph’s relationship with Benjamin models the relationship the Elohist wanted the tribes to have. This tactic is used again in Aspect #5 to model Ephraim and Manasseh’s relationship with the rest of the tribes.

5.  The Elohist makes it clear that Joseph practiced divination and thus would have use for the cup.    

Aspect #3 Opposing Narrative

1. Ephraim was not over Manasseh
2. because Jacob did not know he placed Ephraim over Manasseh
3. because Jacob could not see well

Aspect #3 Elohist Response With Commentary

1.  It needed to be explained why, even though he was younger, Ephraim had higher status than Manasseh. The Elohist provides this explanation by telling the story of how Jacob crossed his hands when blessing them.

If Ephraim had not been elevated over Manasseh by Jacob, then Ephraim would have lower status and the kingly line from Ephraim would have less credibility.

2.  To counter any arguments that might claim that Jacob didn’t realize he was blessing the wrong grandson, the Elohist tells how Joseph points the mistake out to his father, but Jacob states the he’s knows what he’s doing.

3. To counter any arguments that might claim that Jacob couldn’t see very well and had mistakenly blessed Ephraim because he couldn’t see who it was, the Elohist tells how Joseph brought Ephraim and Manasseh close, so that that Jacob could identify them.

Aspect #4 Opposing Narrative

1. Jacob and his sons were not from Canaan
2. because [Joseph's brothers] are not the sons of a certain man
3. Because Jacob did not worship the Elohim of Canaan

Aspect #4 Elohist Response With Commentary

1. The Elohist refers three times to Canaan as the place of origin for Joseph’s brothers and/or Jacob.

This Aspect is dealt with in greater detail regarding Jacob in the Jacob Cycle.  If Jacob and any of his sons were not from Canaan, then there would have been less connection with those tribes of Israel who were rooted in Canaan.

2. The Elohist makes the point that all of Joseph’s brothers are descendant from the same person, Jacob..

Again, the Elohist wants cohesion among the tribes of Israel and does this by making all of the brothers (and thereby tribes) from the same family. This particular point of all the brothers being from the same father is also explored in the Jacob Cycle with the Jacob/Israel Aspect.

3. The Elohist deals with which Elohim Jacob worshipped in the Jacob Cycle, and this may have still been a concern in the Joseph Cycle.  If Jacob had worshipped an Elohim outside of Canaan, then it would put his Canaanite roots in doubt.

Aspect #5 Opposing Narrative

1. Ephraim and Manasseh should not forgive the other tribes
2. because the heads of the tribes of Israel conspired against them

Aspect #5 Elohist Response With Commentary

1. By telling how Joseph forgave his brothers for the wrong that they did to him, the Elohist sets an example for the descendants of Joseph to forgive the descendants of Joseph’s brothers.

2. The incident of Joseph’s brothers pasturing the flock at Shechem may be a metaphor for the elders of those tribes governing at the capital city. Speculatively, this may hint at a time when those tribes conspired in someway against the tribes of Joseph, perhaps against the kingly line from Ephraim.  Rueben is shown in a favorable light when Joseph is thrown into the pit. Perhaps this signifies that Rueben did not take part in a conspiracy, or perhaps the Elohist wants to show the 1st born tribe favor to avoid dishonoring them, and so that they will influence the rest of the tribes to stay in the Israelite Kingdom.

The thrust of much of what the Elohist is trying to do with his narrative is bring cohesiveness among the tribes of Israel.  Any “bad blood” between the tribes could have potentially sparked a conflict between the them and weakened the Kingdom of Israel.  The Elohist stresses forgiveness here to try to avoid such conflicts.

Biblical References

The spreadsheet embedded below is a list of verses used to compose the argumentation above.  You can also view the spreadsheet here.  For further information about how these statements were categorized, please visit this post.