Genesis 37:25, 27, 28, 36, Ishmaelites….Midianites. To whom did Joseph’s brothers sell him: to the Ishmaelites or the Midianites? Some disparagers of the Bible view this passage as proof that Scripture contradicts itself and cannot be trusted divinely inspired. So what’s really going on here?
Likely the traders this story were in a caravan comprised of different tribes or ethnics groups (e.g. Ishmaelites and Midianites), as Adam Clarke suggests in his commentary, and were traveling together for safety. That two nationalities would unite in their journey to Egypt is not far-fetched, since the land of Midian and Edom (the country of Ishmael) were contiguous—the former was located south of the latter. The Midianites would have had to travel northward toward Edom to get around the Gulf of Aqaba in order to traverse the Sinai Peninsula en route to Egypt. Therefore, it’s not inconceivable that these two groups of traders could have converged and joined together in their trek to Egypt.
Keil and Delitzsch in their commentaries point out these people-groups were referred to in ancient cultures as Arabs due to the geographical proximity of their two countries and were easily confounded by outsiders not only due to their close association socially and culturally, but due to their resemblance, and due to the fact that they shared a common ancestry from Abraham.
The seeming discrepancies in this story in no way proves that this narrative derives from the convergence of two separate oral traditions that were later written down as some modern biblical scholars suggest (e.g. The Language and Imagery in the Old Testament, pp. 38–39, by J.C.L. Gibson).
Once again, the truth of the Bible triumphs over its critics. HalleluYah!