The chronology of Genesis 29-45 is interesting for a number of reasons. Not just interesting for its own sake, it serves to open up certain dimensions of the narrative that would not be otherwise apparent. It gives us information that a surface reading of the narrative does not. For example, study of the chronology can teach us that Judah and Joseph were most probably born within a year of each other. Given the fact that Reuben (35:22), Simeon and Levi (34) all disqualify themselves through committing serious crimes, the birthright would naturally fall to Judah (presuming that the sons of Rachel’s handmaid don’t have a claim to the birthright in the same way as the sons of his wives). This gives greater significance to the way that the stories of Judah and Joseph are placed alongside each other in Genesis, particularly in chapters 38-39.
Study of the chronology can also make clear that the events of Genesis 38 took place after the descent into Egypt (which took place when Joseph, and hence Judah also, was under 40 years of age). This suggests that Israel maintained a presence in Canaan even after relocating to Egypt, much as they continued to keep their sheep in Shechem after Jacob relocated to Hebron.
The following is a question of chronology is one that I would appreciate any helpful comments on. It has to do with the problem of working out the age at which Joseph was taken into Egypt.
1. Joseph was born at the end of the first seven years of Jacob’s marriage to Leah and Rachel (Genesis 30:25).
2. As the births of Gad, Asher, Issachar and Zebulun intervene, Dinah was probably born at least 6 years after Joseph (29:35; 30:9-21).
3. Dinah has obviously reached about the age of 15 when the events of chapter 34 take place, by which stage Joseph would be 21.
4. Chapter 34 seems to be set during the period while Jacob is still settled in Shechem.
5. After his time in Shechem, Jacob moves to Bethel and then to Hebron (Genesis 35).
6. The selling of Joseph into slavery seems to be set during Jacob’s time in Hebron (37:14). This is the reason why I find it hard to follow Jordan’s chronology here.
6a. However, the beginning of chapter 37 speaks of Joseph as ‘the son of [Jacob’s] old age’, which suggests that that part of the chapter at least is referring to a time before the birth of Benjamin, It also seems to take place before the death of Rachel (37:10).
7. Joseph is 30 when he stands before Pharaoh (41:46) and thus around 28 when he interprets the dreams of the butler and the baker (41:1).
8. In 44:20 (when Joseph is 39 years of age, 30 + 7 years of plenty + 2 years of famine), Benjamin is spoken of as ‘a child of [Jacob’s] old age, a little one’.
My guess is that there is a chronological jump between 37:11 and 37:12. Joseph is sold into Egypt sometime between the age of about 21 and 25, both extremes being quite unlikely. When Joseph is sold Benjamin is no more than 1 or 2 years of age, which would make him around 14-19 years of age when Joseph sees him in Egypt. Any help on this question would be greatly appreciated.