The math is simple. Joseph dreams to rule over us. If we kill him, he can’t rule over us. The logic works. Reuben, the oldest—probably knowing that he would be held accountable—tempers their anger with just a beating and tossing him into a pit. Judah, though, was more entrepreneurial, recognizing that if they sold him, they’d all profit.
Of course, to cover up the sale, they faked his death and an attack by wolves. Oh, I should mention that Judah came up with this idea without consulting Reuben. Reuben came back and freaked at finding Joseph gone. Then they went through CSI levels of detail, tearing up the coat and spreading goat’s blood over it to make it look convincing. Did I mention the increasing visceral nature of these stories? Jacob, naturally, is heartbroken over the seeming death of his favorite by wolves.
I actually love this story. I know, it sounds horrible to love a story of a brother (especially the youngest) getting beat up and sold into slavery. But I love it because it is the essence of sibling relationships, especially brothers. What brother hasn’t beaten up another? What brother hasn’t pulled the adoption cared on a younger brother? “You’re adopted. Mom and Dad found you on the corner and felt sorry for you.” Yeah, brothers can be pretty cruel. Which, again, is why I like the story.
This is such a human story, such simple jealousy to showcase. The youngest gets more attention from a parent, and then mouths off so he gets beaten and sold. Telling a brother that he’s adopted is just the modern equivalent. And I would not be surprised if my brothers had entertained the idea of selling me, they just lacked a convenient caravan passing through to sell me to.