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Midrash and the elaboration of Biblical meaning.

THE NARRATIVE IN THE BOOK OF KINGS THAT DESCRIBES Solomon's judgment in the case of the living baby claimed by two prostitutes is a midrashic comment on the division of the monarchy in ancient Israel--it can also be seen as a parable. Furthermore, the language used in this narrative echoes the account of Joseph threatening to divide his family by separating Benjamin from the rest of his brothers. (1) I thus argue that the midrashic exegesis in the Book of Kings also represents a midrashic elaboration of the Joseph narrative. Part of the connection between these two narratives depends upon verbal resonances. Such exegesis enriches and connects the part of the Biblical text, making it into a powerful cultural reservoir of symbols and meanings. Rabbinic comments like [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.], "there is no before and after," and [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.], "turn it and turn it because all is in it," reflect a similar understanding. The connections between the Joseph narrative and the Solomonic judgment were recognized by the Rabbis when they made the latter section the Haftorah for the former reading from the weekly parasha of the Torah, [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.].

In the narrative in which Joseph plants a goblet in his bag in order to make Benjamin appear to be a thief, Joseph's brothers declare to Joseph's steward: "How could we steal from the house of your master silver or gold? Let any of your servants in whose possession it [the goblet] is found die, and we will become slaves to my lord" (Genesis 44: 8-9). They do not say "Let the guilty one die" but "Let any of your servants in whose hand it [the goblet] is found die." Their oath condemns them to slavery and Benjamin to death because the goblet is found in his possession. Even though we know Benjamin is not guilty of stealing it, his brothers' oath has condemned them to slavery and Benjamin to death. However, Joseph listens to Judah's plea for mercy (Genesis 45: 18-34) and then, revealing his identity to his brothers, shows himself to be compassionate, not punishing any of them for the crime they committed when they sold him into slavery. The Torah says: "And Joseph hurried because [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.], nikh'm'ru ra'ha'maw, his compassion burned, for his brother and he sought to weep and came into the room and wept there" (Genesis 43: 30).

The words [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.], nikh'm'ru ra'ha'maw, his compassion burned, link the narrative of Joseph's reunion with Benjamin, with the narrative describing the way that King Solomon settles a dispute between two mothers who both claim a single living child after the son of one of the two mothers died. (2) Solomon suggests that she divide her son and share its corpse with the son of the mother whose son has died. The Book of Kings describes her horror at this suggestion: "And the woman, whose son was the live one, said to the king because [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.], nikh'm'ru ra'ha'me'hah, her compassion burned, and said: Please, my lord, give her the living child and do not kill him. And the other said: He shall be neither mine nor yours: divide him" (1 Kings 3: 26).

The words [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.], nikh'm'ru ra'ha'me'hah, her compassion burned, link the compassion of the true mother to the living baby with that of Joseph towards Benjamin. Joseph's compassion for Benjamin indicates that he feels the same horror about the division of his family as the mother of the live child feels about Solomon's suggestion that she divide her child.

Both narratives echo the horror in the account in the Book of Kings regarding the division of the kingdom of Israel. Jeroboam, an Ephraimite descendant of Joseph, tears the kingdom into two parts like a garment, assuming the leadership of ten of the twelve tribes while Judah rules over only one tribe in the south (1 Kings 11: 29-39).

The prophet Ahijah the Shilonite says to Jeroboam that God has told him: "Here, I will tear the kingdom from Solomon and give it to the ten tribes. But one tribe shall remain for him for the sake of My servant David and Jerusalem, the city that I have chosen from all the tribes of Israel.... But I will take the kingdom from his son and give it to the ten tribes. And I will give his son one tribe, in order that there remain a dominion for My servant David all the days before Me in Jerusalem, the city that I have chosen for Myself, to place My name there" (1 Kings 11: 31-32, 35-36).

The only tribe that Judah rules after the division of the kingdom is Benjamin: "And Rehoboam came to Jerusalem and assembled all the house of David and the tribe of Benjamin, 180,000 choice warriors, to fight with the house of Israel, and to return the kingdom to Rehoboam the son of Solomon" (1 Kings 12: 21).

The way that Judah supports Benjamin in the Genesis narrative, pleading for his life when Joseph wishes to enslave him (Genesis 44: 19-30), foreshadows the way that Benjamin joins Judah in the divided kingdom. The way that the mother of the living child feels compassion towards her living child, refusing to allow it to be divided, echoes Joseph's compassion for Benjamin in two ways. Joseph anticipates the division of Israel in which the tribe of Joseph will once again be divided from that of Benjamin, Joseph assuming the leadership of the northern kingdom whose first ruler is Jeroboam the Ephraimite, while Benjamin joins Judah in the southern kingdom of Judea. In both cases, the compassion that the hero feels towards a living being is also by contrast a metaphor for his outrage regarding the division of the people of Israel.

A pattern of verbal resonances links the Joseph episode to the narrative of the division of the kingdom of Israel in the time of Jeroboam:

(a) The Torah says: "[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.], wa'yiq'r'u, and they tore their garments, [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.], wa'ya'a'mos ish, and every man burdened his ass and they returned to the city" (Genesis 44: 13).

The way that Benjamin's brothers tear their clothes foreshadows the way that Ahijah the Shilonite tears the garment that he Rehoboam, the son of Solomon, is wearing into twelve: "And Ahijah seized [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.], ba'sal'mah ha'ha'da'shah, the new garment, that he was wearing [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.], wa'yiq'ra'e'hah, and tore it, into twelve [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.], q'ra'im, torn pieces" (1 Kings 11: 30).

(b) Following this action Ahijah tells Rehoboam that he is taking away his kingdom and giving him the leadership often tribes, with one tribe, Benjamin, remaining with Judah (1 Kings 11:31-32). In the next part of the narrative Joseph assumes the leadership of all his brothers, but Judah asserts his leadership, foreshadowing Rehoboam.

The word [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], wa'ya'a'mos, and he loaded, describing the way that Joseph's brothers load their asses returning to Joseph to face the charge of theft, foreshadows the way that Rehoboam says to the people who complain about the heavy taxes that his father Solomon had imposed on them: "And now, my father [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.], he'e'mis, burdened, you with a heavy yoke and I will add to your yoke; my father chastised you with rods and I will chastise you with scorpions" (1 Kings 12:11).

Each of the brothers feels as burdened by the yoke that they face as the Israelites, whom Rehoboam antagonized, would feel.

(c) There is one further verbal resonance that links the narratives. Rehoboam's advisers tell him now to tell the people: "[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.], qo'ta'ni, my little finger, is thicker than my father's loins" (1 Kings 12: 10).

The word [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.], qo'ta'ni is obscure. Although it is usually translated "my little finger" it may be a euphemism for the male member. It resonates with [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.], ha'qa'ton, the youngest one, the word that describes Benjamin 10 times (Genesis 42:13, 15, 20, 32, 34; 43: 29; 44:12, 23, 26 [2]). In both narratives the speaker attaches himself to the association with his father. Judah pleads for Benjamin, described as [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.], ha'qa'tan, the youngest: "And you said to your servants: If your brother [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.], ha'qa'tan, the youngest, does not come down you should not continue to see my face. And it was, when we went up to your servant, my father, and we told him the words of my lord. And our father said: Go back and procure some food for us. And we said: We cannot go down; only if our brother [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.], ha'qa'tan, the youngest, is with us may we go down, because we may not see the face of the man if our brother [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.], ha'qa'tan, the youngest, is not with us" (Genesis 44: 23-27).

In both narratives the word [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.], qa'tan, the youngest, describes a member that is extremely dear to the hero. In the case of the Genesis narrative the word describes the dearest member of Joseph's family, Benjamin, whom Judah had described as being "bound" to Jacob with his life (Genesis 44: 30), using the very verb [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.], qa'shar, bind, that the Deuteronomist uses when he mandates that the Israelites [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.], qa'shar, bind, God's sign on their hands (Deuteronomy 6: 8). (3)

In the case of Rehoboam the text contrasts his little finger with his very member, the organ of reproduction which represents his power, implying that in his little finger he has more power than the symbol of his father, Solomon's virility. The linkage implies that the relationship of Benjamin to his father is similar to that of Rehoboam's little finger

to the member of his father Solomon.

We can now understand why Joseph demands to see Benjamin. When he says: "If your brother [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.], ha'qa'tan, the youngest, does not come down you should not continue to see my face" (Genesis 44: 23), he intends to demonstrate to his father that he is more powerful not only than his [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.], qa'tan, youngest one, but than his father himself. Rehoboam had said that his [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.], qa'tan, little finger, was more powerful than his father Solomon's loins. By forcing Benjamin to come down to Egypt Joseph has proved that he is more powerful than the loins of his father, Jacob!

The language that concludes the narrative of the baby that Solomon threatens to divide is critical to an understanding of its relationship to the Joseph narrative. The Torah says: "And King Solomon was king over all Israel" (1 Kings. 3: 28).

Solomon's decision to give the living child to the mother of the living baby (1 Kings 3: 27) reflects the fact that he was "king over all of Israel," as unwilling to allow his kingdom to be divided as the mother of the living child.

Thus the narrative of Solomon and the two prostitutes in the Book of Kings should be regarded as a biblical midrash whose language is based on intrabiblical exegesis. The way that Joseph demands that his father send his [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.], qa'tan, youngest one, Benjamin to him is an attempt by Joseph to assert his primacy not only over his brothers but over Israel itself: his father was named Israel after he prevailed over the angel (Genesis 32: 29). This echoes the way that Rehoboam tries to assert his primacy over Israel by declaring that his [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.], qa'tan, little finger, is more powerful than his father Solomon's loins. On the other hand, by showing compassion to his brothers and to Benjamin, when they had expected that they would be enslaved and Benjamin killed, Joseph acts like the very king of Israel whom Rehoboam treats with disrespect when claiming that his [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.], qa'tan, little finger, is more powerful than his loins.

Joseph's compassion for Benjamin foreshadows the compassion the author of the Book of Kings ascribes to the mother of a baby whom King Solomon ostensibly threatens with hemisection but spares, despite the fact that the false mother wishes him to divide the baby. The Joseph narrative thus foreshadows the division of the monarchy into two parts. The way that Solomon refuses to divide the monarchy contrasts with the way that Joseph refuses to divide his family when Judah brings Benjamin to Egypt. Joseph would have been entitled to separate both Benjamin and Judah from their family, Benjamin because the goblet was found in his possession and Judah because he offered to replace Benjamin. However, he refuses to do so, foreshadowing the way that Solomon refuses to divide the living baby. (4)

Solomon is the last king of the undivided kingdom. He is succeeded by Rehoboam, a descendant of Judah who rules over only one tribe after the monarchy's division (1 Kings 11: 36). This tribe is Benjamin, the tribe in whose territory the Temple is situated (Deuteronomy 33: 12). The events described in Genesis can thus be understood as a midrash that foreshadows the division of the monarchy and echoes the attempt of Solomon to prevent this division when he refuses to divide a living baby, which stands for this united kingdom.


(1.) Gershon Hepner, "Verbal Resonances in the Bible and Intertextuality," Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 96 (2001): 3-27. Gershon Hepner, "Jacob's Servitude Reflects Contradictions between Biblical Laws," Zeitschrift fur die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 2002 (in press); "Jacob's Oath Reflects the Law about Oaths in Leviticus 5:4-6 and Causes Rachel's Death," Zeitschrift fur Altorientalische und Biblische Rechtsgeschichte, 2002 (in press); "Jacob's Servitude Reflects Differences in the Covenant and Holiness Codes and Deuteronomy," Zeitschrift fur die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft, 2003 (in press).

The linkage of texts by an alluding text when it alludes to another is commonly described as "inner-biblical exegesis". Fishbane uses this term in his comprehensive analysis of biblical interpretation in ancient Israel (Michael Fishbane, Biblical Interpretation in Ancient Israel [New York: Clarendon Press, 1985], Preface), borrowing the term from Sarna in his classical paper on Psalm 89 (Nahum Sarna, "Psalm 89: A Study in Inner-Biblical Exegesis," in Biblical and Other Studies, edited by Alexander Altmann [Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1963], pp. 29-46). Exegesis means an attempt to analyze, explain or give meaning or uncover meaning in a text ("Exegesis," Karl Beckson and Arthur Ganz, Literary Terms: A Dictionary, 3rd ed. [New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1989], p. 89). Gudas links the term to "explication," together with "analysis," "explanation," interpretation" and "explication" (Fabian Gudas, The New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics, edited by A. Preminger and V. Brogan [Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1993], pp. 395-396). An exegetical comment refers to another text but not to anything in the imagined world of the exegetical text itself, clarifying or transforming an earlier text, being formally dependent on it and oriented towards it. By contrast, an alluding text has a formal independence. It may aid in interpreting the evoked text but this is not necessarily the case. In the case of biblical texts, alluding texts are frequently exegetical when the evoked text is another law, as the Deuteronomic transforms the Covenant Code as described by Bernard Levinson (Bernard M. Levinson, Deuteronomy and the Hermeneutics of Legal Innovation [New York: Oxford University Press, 1997]) or Ezra and Nehemiah transform Deuteronomic laws to prohibit intermarriage with people who are not Canaanite, as Fishbane has demonstrated (Fishbane, Biblical Interpretation in Ancient Israel, pp. 114-129; also Jacob Milgrom, "Leviticus 1-16," Anchor Bible [New York: Doubleday, New York, 1991], pp. 359-360).

(2.) It is interesting that the Haftarah for the week in which this narrative is part of the lectionary includes the story of Solomon's decision (1 Kings 3: 15-4: 1). The passage from Kings begins with the words:
 And Solomon awoke and it was a dream. (1 Kings 3: 15)
 This echoes similar language regarding the way that Pharaoh
 awakes from his dream:
 And Pharaoh awake and, here, it was a dream. (Genesis 41: 7)

The choice of the Haftarah may be based on the fact that it is linked with the weekly lectionary by verbal resonances that link it to two different narratives in the lectionary.

(3.) The verb [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.], qa'shar, bind, is semantically equivalent to [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.], a'qad, bind, describing the way that Abraham binds Isaac in the near-sacrifice of Isaac (Genesis 22: 9). The way that Benjamin's life is "bound" to that of Jacob implies that he is susceptible to a near-death experience echoing that of Isaac in the near-sacrifice!

(4.) Solomon may have been the replacement for the doomed son whom David loses because he has sinned with Bathsheba (2 Samuel 12: 18), as P. Kyle Carter suggests (P. Kyle Carter, "11 Samuel," Anchor Bible, Garden City, New York, Doubleday, 1984, 303), noting that the name [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.], Solomon, means "his replacement," from the root [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.], make whole, replace. The author of Kings says:
 And David consoled his wife Bathsheba and he went to her and lay
 with her. And she bore a son and she named him Solomon; and YHWH
 loved him. And he sent a message through the prophet Nathan, and
 he was named [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.], Jedidiah,
 because of YHWH (2: Sam. 12: 24-25).

The word [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.], the beloved, not only resonates with [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.], beloved, but recalls Iedoud, an only begotten son whom El arrayed in royal apparel, prepared an altar and sacrificed (Frank Moore Cross, "Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament," edited by Johannes Botterweck and Helmer Ringgren: Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977 (1. 10.26); Jon D. Levenson, "The Death and Resurrection of the Beloved Son: The Transformation of Child Sacrifice in Judaism and Christianity," Yale University Press, 1993, 28). It also echoes the fact that Solomon's name was also related to this word. As the son of a mother who loses her first son and possibly replaces him in the same way that Elisha replaces the life of the son of the Shunamite, Solomon's decision to divide the living child (1 Kings 3: 16-28) might have been based on the fact that he himself was the living embodiment of a person who had been killed and reborn!

GERSHON HEPNER is a physician who is writing a commentary on the Torah when not writing poetry. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife and has four wise children. His poem, "Son, "appeared in the Winter 2001 issue.
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Author:Hepner, Gershon
Publication:Judaism: A Quarterly Journal of Jewish Life and Thought
Geographic Code:7ISRA
Date:Sep 22, 2002
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