There was recently a question asked:

Why didn't Joseph try to contact his father from Egypt?

We don't really have any guidelines about questions of this type.

  • This question is clearly not about doctrine (so it passes that test).
  • Also, I don't think it's about history surrounding the Bible, since the topic is clearly directly in the Bible.
  • Also, it's not about the culture and times that the Bible was written (since it's about the people that are in the Bible explicitly).
  • Also, it's not about understanding the intentions of the author, since it's a question of motivation of the subject.

This seems to be a new type of question:

Questions about the thoughts/intentions of the people in the Bible.

Is this question on topic?

  • 1
    I'm raising the question here because Meta is the place to discuss these types of questions, not in comments. Furthermore, this is something that could have an impact on our understanding of this site.
    – Richard
    Commented Dec 16, 2011 at 16:55
  • @BruceAlderman, JackDouglas, Richard, etc. I added my own thoughts on a direction for approaching this question to try to make it less speculative and more rooted in textual analysis. Please let me know if this hurts or helps. Thanks!
    – Amichai
    Commented Dec 16, 2011 at 19:01
  • @Amichai: With the edit and the link the comments, I now agree that this is answerable. Given the history of commentary on this question and other relevant facts, we have plenty of background to point the way to an answer. I doubt that I could answer it, so I'll leave it to others. Commented Dec 16, 2011 at 20:37

4 Answers 4


This seems to be directly related to understanding why they are saying something.

Given that, it seems pretty clear to me that this is an attempt to understand the text of the Bible. Understanding where someone is coming from, why they are acting or not acting a certain way is asking about motivations and thoughts of the people in the Bible.

We can only gain understanding of this from the Bible and we can only use these ideas to understand the Bible. (Granted that may lead to doctrine, but that really is separate from this.)

I believe that as long as the question stops short of asking about the application of the understanding, that questioning what was in the mind of the subjects in the Bible is on topic. As an extension to that, questioning the actions of a person in the Bible would seem to be on topic as well (since questioning their actions is directly related to questioning what was in their mind).


[I agree with Richard's answer. This is approaching the question in a slightly different manner.]

I think it actually is a subset of the "understanding the intentions of the author" category. My thinking is a bit like the art historian or the film student who asks why the author's subjects do certain things in order to understand what the author is attempting to communicate.

A trivial example: I recently watched a review of Ridley Scott's Blade Runner that addressed the question of why possible replicants are asked about treatment of animals. The answer was twofold:

  1. In that society, all animals are endangered, so humans are expected to place a high value on them. That's the character's motivation.

  2. The script is making a nod to Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, the Phillip K. Dick source of the story, which goes into much greater detail on the relation between animals and androids. That's the author's, director's and/or screenwriter's motivation.

One caveat: if the author's motivation is to relay true history, they may not know the character's motivation and so it might be inaccessible.

(In the question in question, however, I think we can know or at least make intelligent guesses.)


I agree the question is on-topic

On the other hand I think it surely fails the 'constructive' test and should be closed:

This question is not a good fit to our Q&A format. We expect answers to generally involve facts, references, or specific expertise; this question will likely solicit opinion, debate, arguments, polling, or extended discussion.

  • 1
    I disagree as I have an answer that I think will work. The facts I would use are thematic rather than concrete answers, so it tends to be a bit more subjective than many questions. But I think a solid case may be made for what the author intends by keeping Joseph isolated from his family even if we can't know precisely what Joseph's internal meditations were. Commented Dec 16, 2011 at 18:30
  • (I'm also aware that I have a better-than-average ability to make good answers to these sorts of questions. So closing it for the sake of people who might be lead astray by the tone of the question could be a good idea. I'm not the best judge here.) Commented Dec 16, 2011 at 18:32
  • I look forward to it :-) Commented Dec 16, 2011 at 22:31
  • 1
    Also, as Jon Ericson pointed out, "We can't know for sure" could be a valid answer. This is one of those questions that could be non-constructive, based on the answers. If it gets in a lot of speculation and opinions, it would be not constructive for sure.
    – Richard
    Commented Dec 17, 2011 at 11:47

The question is clearly off-topic, since it has nothing to do with hermeneutics or exegesis. The FAQ states:

If your question is about:

interpretation of Bible passages (without regard to doctrine)
hermeneutical approaches
translation of the Tanakh from Hebrew and Aramaic
      or the New Testament from Greek
the historical context of the Bible (which directly aids exegesis)
source criticism of Biblical texts

The referenced question has nothing to ask about the text, only about what someone was thinking back then.

  • I would say that the content of the question is about the text, but tone of the original version was off. Did the recent edit help or do you feel there still is a problem? Commented Dec 16, 2011 at 19:31
  • 1
    I think that the content is asking a question that can't possibly be answered by the text, since it never comes close to addressing this issue. I'm not saying that it's not a good question to ask, it just has no way of being answered from the text, so it's not made for this site. It's not exegetical or hermeneutical. Commented Dec 16, 2011 at 19:34
  • 2
    @LanceRoberts, I have some ideas in mind about how to answer this question and I do believe that the question can be answered from the text. That you don't think the question can be answered from the text doesn't prove that the question isn't appropriate for this site.
    – Amichai
    Commented Dec 16, 2011 at 19:46
  • 4
    Two responses: 1) we can't know if a question can't be answered until we ask it and 2) "we can't know" is a valid answer. I get where you are coming from, but I don't want to set a precedent that motivations of Biblical characters is off-topic. Commented Dec 16, 2011 at 19:58
  • @Jon, The motivations are fine as long as they are referenced in the text. There is no reference here to go back to the hebrew and disect, or compare to other passages. Commented Dec 17, 2011 at 0:53
  • 1
    @Amichai, If your question doesn't arise from the text then it isn't appropriate for this site. Commented Dec 17, 2011 at 0:54
  • @Lance the question arises from the text - where else has it come from? The issue surely is whether it can be reasonably answered or encourages speculation. Commented Dec 17, 2011 at 10:15
  • @Jack, you can say "the question arises from the text" about any question you want, since every question in life can arise from the biblical text, since it's the manual for life. All doctrinal questions also arise from the text. Commented Dec 17, 2011 at 19:33
  • @Lance that is not what I am saying - I am saying that this question clearly comes from the text. Many other questions clearly don't. See here for the difference at least as far as bh.se is concerned. Commented Dec 17, 2011 at 19:44

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