After Joseph and his brothers were reunited, Joseph presents only five of his brothers to Pharaoh.

Genesis 47:1-2

New International Version (NIV)

47:1: Joseph went and told Pharaoh, “My father and brothers, with their flocks and herds and everything they own, have come from the land of Canaan and are now in Goshen.”

2: He chose five of his brothers and presented them before Pharaoh.

Why only five? Why not all?

  • 1
    I've voted to close because this is less a question about Christianity and more a question about the interpretation of the Bible. If there's a specific Christian angle (messianic?) you'd like to bring out, that would be helpful. Apr 11, 2013 at 23:03
  • 2
    This might be better asked on Hermeneutics.
    – user3961
    Apr 11, 2013 at 23:53
  • 3
    Might sound a bit trite but I always imagined that this was because the other ones were looking after the flocks and herds. Oct 10, 2014 at 23:05
  • It's possible that Joseph really did have only five brothers in the original version of the story. This explains why his father gave him five times the offering of any of his brothers, and also why two of his brothers had to be taken out of qualification for firstborn-son status later in the story. Tzemah Yoreh has very interesting writings on this
    – Alkanshel
    Jun 11, 2019 at 0:57

2 Answers 2


Biblical Commentary by Clarke gives us some reasons of why Joseph might have chosen only 5. Two of them are:

  • Joseph took five of the meanest-looking of his brothers fearing that Pharaoh would detain them for his service, whereby their religion and morals might be corrupted.
  • Joseph took five of the best made and finest-looking of his brethren and presented them before Pharaoh, wishing to impress his mind with a favorable opinion of the family which he had just now brought into Egypt, and to do himself honor.

My personal opinion is that as Joseph he wanted his brothers to stay in a fertile land in Egypt. He asked them to state to the Pharaoh that their job is to tend livestock. Livestocks are naturally kept in a fertile land during a famine. But the problem is as Joseph himself states, in Gen 46:34, that shepherds are detestable to the Egyptians. So he took only half of his fathers sons so that not to make the Pharaoh detest them.

Or Joseph might have been afraid that if he brought forth all of his 11 brothers at once, the Pharaoh might find them intimidating and Joseph might lose his favor.

In the next verses we also see that Jacob visits him separately. Probably that could be a royal custom to meet a Pharaoh in small groups.

In his commentary Clarke also continues to say that in Judges 18:2, the word extremity (מקצה miktseh - the word which also appears in Joseph's selection of his brothers) may be understood as implying dignity, valor, excellence, and per-eminence. It is probable they might have followed what Joseph did here because the mission was important.

Here is the full text of Clarke's Commentary on the Bible for Genesis 47:3.

  • Wow! Great answer. Welcome to C.SE! Apr 8, 2013 at 17:06
  • Ah, well thought out answer! Accepted. Apr 8, 2013 at 18:04

I'd say he chose them on the basis of affinity and his own personal relationship with them.

We could then exclude the handmaiden's sons (Bilhah's and Zilpah's)

  • Gad
  • Asher
  • Dan
  • Naphtali

And also Simeon and Levi, given they were violent and unreliable (re: Schechem, Rape of Dinah Story) and that (allegedly) Simeon incited his brothers to kill Joseph (Joseph had him imprisoned in Egypt)

This leaves:

  • Benjamin (his full brother and presumably his favorite)
  • Judah (the leader of the family after Jacob)
  • Issachar
  • Zebulun
  • Reuben (Reuben had also displeased Jacob so it could have been Levi instead of Reuben, Re: rape of Bilhah)

my two cents

  • 2
    Welcome to Christianity.SE! Please see our help center for some basic guidelines on how to use the site. Do you have any sources to back up your claims?
    – Zenon
    Oct 21, 2017 at 4:28

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .