Gene. 47:3 And Pharoah said to his brothers, “What is your Occupation?” And they said to Pharoah, “Your servants are shepherds, both we and our fathers.”
The words that are translated as shepherds, רֹעֵה צֹאן, the 3rd and 2nd from the end of the top line, are singular, literally keeper of sheep. The subject, on the other hand, your servants, is plural. This is either an error in the Hebrew, or another of the scribe’s ways of hinting at something that is not found explicitly in the text. The words for shepherds in the form contained in this verse appear only twice in the bible. The other instance is in Gene. 46:32. The words there are רעֵה צֹאן. These words are indeed plural and could have been used here. So if this is an error, it hints strongly that two different scribes were responsible for recording chapters 46 and 47. But the continuity of the two chapters says to me that this is a highly unlikely supposition. Moreover, only four verses separate the two instances. Could the scribe have been so unconscious of what he was writing? I suspect not. So I must assume that the singular form here is not an error and is intended to be meaningful, but the implicit meaning was lost, possibly after the destruction of the first temple. One can suppose that the answer the brothers gave to Pharoah was “Your servants are a shepherd, both we and our fathers.” This doesn’t sit well with me. It’s too awkward. So I suggest that the scribe was indicating by his choice of words that the brothers spoke as one, in solidarity -- for the first time in their lives. Powerful irony on the scribe’s part!
There’s another peculiarity in this verse. The brothers apparently disregarded Joseph’s warning to say they were cattlemen, not shepherds (see Gene. 46:34). Were they still so jealous of Joseph that they totally ignored his admonition? Perhaps now they were more jealous than ever, and had intended to make trouble for their brother by defying him. [Back]