Death of Jacob : narrative conventions in Genesis 47.28-50.26
Lee, Kerry Dwayne
Regarding the structural logic behind Jacob’s death-bed story (Gen 47.28-50.26), biblical scholars historically have seen its enigmatic features as evidence of diachronic development. Those who treat it as an intentionally composed whole typically either simply assume that intention or else argue for it using only basic logical structures (chiasm, parallel). The story’s composition is better explained, however, through the lens of conventional structures, especially that of a Hebrew death-bed type-scene. In the first chapter I overview approaches to the passage in biblical scholarship and evaluate recent synchronic approaches. Structuralist readings of other biblical texts are considered and mostly dismissed as a precedent, though Propp’s method is similar. I then state my reasons for beginning with 47.28, rather than 47.27. In chapter two, I investigate the first of the four Episodes that make up Jacob’s death-bed story: 47.28-31. Specific issues addressed include: evidence of competing chronologies, phrasal similarities with the chosen-line genealogies of Genesis 5 and 11, and the characterization of Joseph as a Worthy Successor, one of four tale-roles taken by characters in death-bed stories. Chapter three deals with 48.1-22, giving special attention to the similarity of verses 3-12 to covenant-initiation forms, the issue of adoption, the conventional characterization of Joseph and his sons as Worthy Successors, and the grammar of verses 13-20. In chapter four I focus on the climactic aspects of the language of verse 28 and the characterization of all twelve sons as Worthy Co-Successors. Chapter five treats the Preparation and Testament sections (49.29-33) of the fourth and final Episode. Certain words and phrases are best understood in a legal register. In chapter six I turn to the extended conclusion of the fourth Episode, or the Epilogue, which encompasses the three short stories in 50.1-26. All three deal with conventional concerns typically addressed in death-bed stories. Furthermore, 50.22-26 is a conventional death-bed story in its own right. This investigation of conventional structures in Jacob’s death-bed story opens up new and more objective ways of understanding long-recognized problems in the passage as intentional elements, regardless of the process of the text’s composition and transmission.