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C O U R S E 
Jesus in Scripture and Tradition
Gary Anderson, University of Notre Dame
C O U R S E   L E C T U R E 
The Biblical Motif of First Born Son
Notes taken on July 6, 2015 by Edward Tanguay
image of Joseph as shepherd
he's shepherding the flocks with the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah (Leah and Rachel's slaves)
this a strange detail because we know that Joseph is a favorite of his fathers
the ranking of children in terms of prestige followed birth order
and the most prestigious wives would be Leah and Rachel
if Joseph were really important, he would be shepherding the sons of Leah and Rachel
and especially with Leah's sons, these were Jacob's first four sons
yet Joseph is tending the flocks with the least significant sons of Jacob
the portrayal of Joseph as a shepherd speaks to his exaltation, i.e. Biblical symbol of a leader
but his shepherding the flocks with the least significant children of the family, points to his humiliation
this detail foreshadows the difficulties that Joseph is going to encounter for most of this story
also how is he going to come to terms with the fact that his brothers are jealous of him
we find a similar tension with David in his family
I Samuel 17
Isreal is at war with the Philistines
a war and a battle in which David will slay the giant Goliath
prior to that moment, David has snuck away from his father and run to the front lines of the battle to see what was happening
when his brothers saw that David had snuck away from his flocks to observe Israel's army in battle, were not pleased with this
his older brother reprimanded him: with whom have you left your sheep?
we might assume that something similar to this happened to Joseph in order that he was assigned to tend sheep with the sons of least significance
Joseph is not only favored by his father, but he uses this to his advantage and to the disadvantage of his brothers
Genesis 37:2 "Joseph was a lad with the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father's wives, and Joseph brought an ill report of them to their father."
to speak badly of other people was a despised characteristic
Joseph is seen as an arrogant young man who uses his position of prestige
Jacob is not innocent regarding the tensions which are welling up inside this family
he contributes to the problems that are going to beset this family
e.g. he vests Joseph with a special coat
often translated as a "coat of many colors"
singles him out from his brothers
the coat made the brothers know every day that Joseph was this special loved child within this family, loved more than them
this contributed to the brothers' hatred of Joseph
why would Jacob adopt a tactic like this?
it is ill-advised for the health of the family
if we look back at Jacob's own childhood, he had to deal with circumstances that were equally not so easy
he was the preferred son in God's eyes
he was not the preferred son in his father's eyes
as a result, to secure the blessing of his father, he had to use trickery
enraged his brother
resulted in pain for Jacob
brother wanted to kill him
Jacob ran into exile where he served as a slave to his father-in-law Laban
so Jacob wants to correct the mistake his father made
wanted to make it clear from the start who the favored son was, so Joseph would not have to achieve this status by trickery
Esau is the progenitor of the Edomites and the elder twin brother of Jacob, the patriarch of the Israelites
Esau and Jacob were the sons of Isaac and Rebekah, and the grandsons of Abraham and Sarah
Esau returned to his twin brother Jacob, famished from the fields
Jacob offers Esau a bowl of lentil stew in exchange for Esau's birthright, i.e. the right to be recognized as firstborn son with authority over the family, and Esau agrees
but Jacob's plan backfires and his preferential treatment of Joseph nearly results in the death of Joseph himself
beloved sons are often depicted as rulers and shepherds
true of Joseph, David, and it will be true of Jesus as well
the choice of the beloved son often comes as a surprise
ancient custom and Biblical law would suggest that the father would prefer the first-born son
therefor Esau and Reuben should have been the favored sons
but in both cases the firstborn son was passed over in father of a latter born son
a pattern that continues with the ordering of Jacob's wives
Rachel, the second born, is more beloved than Leah, the first born
Jacob will famously bless Ephraim, the second born, over Manasseh, the first born
Jacob, Joseph's father, adopted Joseph's two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim, to share in Jacob's inheritance equally with Jacob's own sons
we'll see this pattern in a slightly different form in the New Testament
John the Baptist will concede divine favor to Jesus even though he will say he came first
one function of this motive of preferring the latter son is to say God is in charge and not human beings