Jacob was the father of Joseph and his siblings. Jacob was married to Leah and Rachel, meaning Joseph and his brothers had the same father but different mothers. Apart from Leah and Rachel (who were sisters), Jacob also had some children from the maidservants of his two wives (Zilpa and Bilhah) a practice that wasn’t frowned upon in ancient times. So how many brothers did Joseph have?
Joseph had 11 brothers; one full brother from his mother Rachel, six half-brothers through Leah, his mother’s sister, and four more from Jacob’s two concubines, Bilhah and Zilphah.
The following is a table of the children of Jacob by his two wives and their two maidservants.
The table below is a full list of all of Joseph’s siblings with their respective mothers. The numbers in the parentheses denote the order in which they were born. From the table, it is clear that Joseph had 12 siblings (one sister and 11 brothers).
Joseph’s Brothers and Their Names.
Joseph and his eleven brothers were given names that held meanings about the status and circumstances of their respective births. In order of birth, Joseph’s brothers were as follows:
- Reuben – he was the firstborn child of this family and the firstborn son of Leah, Jacob’s first wife. His name meant ‘behold, a son’ from his mother’s words that God had blessed her with a son to take away her humiliation and her husband would henceforth love her.
- Simeon – he was the second son, borne of Leah. His name meant ‘God hears.’ He was thus named because God had heard Leah’s prayers and given her yet another son.
- Levi – he was the third son of Leah. His name meant ‘Joined.’ Leah named him so because she believed that her husband would finally be attached/joined to her.
- Judah – he was the fourth son born to Leah. His name meant ‘let God be praised’. It would appear that Leah had switched gears from trying to use his sons to get his husband’s attention and was now focusing on praising God for his goodness.
- Dan – he was the fifth son of the family born to Bilhah, Rachel’s handmaid. It was customary for barren wives to give their maid to their husbands to give birth to children. The first instance of this in scripture was when Sarah gave her maid to Abraham when she conceived and gave birth to Ishmael. The name Dan was given by Rachel and it means God has judged and vindicated me.
- Naphtali – the sixth son borne to Bilhah, was named by Rachel ‘my wrestling’ to mean that she had struggled with her sister Leah and prevailed.
- Gad – he was the seventh son of the family through Zilphah, Leah’s handmaid. After realizing that her sister was getting sons through her maid, he gave her maid to the husband as well and she got a son whom she named Gad which means good fortune.
- Asher – Zilpah got a second son whom Leah named Asher. The name Aher means happy and denoted the happiness the mother had to get more sons than her sister. happiness because women would call her blessed.
- Isaachar – he was the ninth son of the family and the fifth borne of Leah after a long time. The name Isaachat means ‘man of reward.’
- Zebulun – he was the tenth son through Leah. She named him ‘dwelling’ giving thanks to God by blessing her with a good marriage and implying that her husband would dwell with her now that she had borne him six sons.
- Joseph – he was the eleventh son of the family but the first fruit of Rachel’s womb. After years of barrenness, Rachel gave birth to a son she named ‘May God add’ praying that God adds her another son.
- Benjamin – the lastborn-born son of the family. He was first named Ben-Oni by Rachel as she was dying after giving birth. His name meant ‘son of my trouble’ but Jacob renamed him Benjamin, which means ‘son of my right hand.’
The Relationship Between Joseph and His Brothers
Joseph was Jacob’s favorite son having been born by Jacob’s favorite wife and also, he had been born when Jacob was quite old. He openly displayed his favoritism to Joseph, something that caused tension between Joseph and his brothers. Jacob even gifted him a fancy coat of many colors.
“Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his children because he was the son of his old age: and he made him a coat of many colors.” Genesis 37:3
This open favoritism caused a rift in the family. This rift was worsened when Joseph started getting dreams and sharing the dreams with his family.
Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him all the more. Genesis 37:5
The hatred escalated when Joseph’s brothers conspired to get rid of him. They even discussed killing him but they eventually settled for a less grievous solution – to sell him to the Ishmaelites who eventually took him to Egypt. This is how Joseph found himself in captivity in a foreign land.
In summary, Joseph, Jacob’s son, had 11 brothers who were born to different mothers. Their names reflected the circumstances of their births. The names of the brothers (in order of birth) are Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Issachar, Zebulun, Joseph, and Benjamin. The family dynamics soured due to Jacob’s open favoritism towards Joseph. Tensions peaked when Joseph shared dreams that seemed to elevate him and that aggravated his brothers. As a consequence, the brothers conspired to sell him off in Egypt. This may be one of the reasons why Joseph is not listed as one of the tribes of Israel – however, two of the tribes are named after his sons.