Question: How could Joseph’s mother bow down to him when she had already died before he had his dream about the sun, moon and stars?
Answer: The mother referred to by Israel (Genesis 37:10) was Leah, not Rachel.
This question touches upon two issues; ancient Hebrew family structure, and just what all of those dead people are up to currently. I will address the family structure issue here. The issue of where dead people are and what they are up to is a lengthy one to cover fully and I am already working on an answer to a question about that (which will be published on this blog as a separate post).
In Scripture, many of the people effectively have two or three “mothers” (and multiple “fathers” on a couple occasions) because of the rules of inheritance and the structure of the families. Occasions when different people are listed as the mother for the same child are often listed by those seeking to prove the inaccurate nature of scripture, but the only thing that they succeed in establishing is their own foolishness and lack of education.
The head of the household is the “Father”, and his first wife is the “Mother”.
To illustrate this, we will take a look at an individual in scripture, Dan, who has four “mothers” and two “fathers”:
Bilhah gave birth to Dan (Genesis 30:5), making her Dan’s (birth-) mother. (Mother 1; birth mother)
However, Bilhah was given to Jacob (Father 1; birth father)
by Rachel, to bear children on her behalf (as a surrogate mother) for her husband (Genesis 30:3), so Rachel is accurate in claiming “mother” status when she names this child to whom Bilhah gave birth (Genesis 30: 6). (Mother 2; adoptive mother)
Laban appropriately claims Jacob’s children for his own (Laban was the one who raised and provided for them in Jacob’s absence, making him the “father”), (Father 2; adoptive father)
which makes Laban’s wife, who is unnamed in Scripture, also Dan’s mother (Genesis 31:26-28). (Mother 3; adoptive mother)
And Leah was Jacob’s first wife, so when Jacob finally assumes responsibility for his family on the return to his homeland, Leah becomes the “mother” of all of the children. (Mother 4; step-mother & adoptive mother)
Jacob separates his children by the mother of their births when meeting his brother Esau, and such was wholly inappropriate as they were all his children and none deserved to be given a higher position than any other.
While this can initially be difficult to wrap your mind around, we have much the same system today. Children today have birth-mothers, step-mothers, adoptive mothers and mothers-in-law. All of whom can be correctly referred to as their “mother” without the additional information being tacked on.
We see a simpler version of this going on in the Life of the Messiah, for whom the Lord himself is the birth-father (Luke 1: 35), while Joseph, through marriage to his mother, is also his “father” (adoptive father, John 6:42).
So, whenever you see a dual listing for someone’s mother or father within Scripture, pause and see if there is enough information given for you to determine what the dual “mothers” or “fathers” would be called today. When you do, you will probably see all of the parentage related “contradictions” that detractors are so fond of pointing out fade away into the category of “non-issue” where they belong.