Joseph (Hebrew Bible)

Joseph (Hebrew Bible)

Joseph or Yosef ( _he. יוֹסֵ, Standard "Yosef" Tiberian "Unicode|Yôsēp̄", _ar. يوسف, "Yusuf" ; "He (The Lord) increases/may add"), is a major figure in the Book of Genesis in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament). He was Jacob's eleventh son and Rachel's first. [ - JOSEPH ] ] He is also mentioned favourably in the Qur'an.

Joseph, son of Jacob, is one of the best-known figures in the Torah, famous for his coat of many colors (although this may be a mistranslation of the Hebrew word for "sleeves") and his God-given ability to interpret dreams. Due to jealousy, his brother Judah sold him into slavery for 20 pieces of silver. Eventually he worked under the Egyptian official Potiphar, but was freed and became the chief adviser (vizier) to the Egyptian Pharaoh, allegedly during either the Hyksos Era or, according to Kenneth Kitchen, the Middle Kingdom of Egypt. The controversial Egyptologist David Rohl, in his book "Pharaohs and Kings", proposes an alternate chronology for the Old Testament. Dr. Rohl believes that Joseph was vizier during the reign of Pharaoh Amenemhat III. [Rohl, David M. "Pharaohs and Kings." (New York, 1995). ISBN 0-609-80130-9] Other writers have placed him even earlier, owing to the famous inscription from Upper Egypt mentioning a seven-year famine during the time of Pharaoh Djoser (Third Dynasty). [Sweeney, Emmet J. "The Genesis of Israel and Egypt." (London, 1997)] Christian scholars point to Apopi, Thutmose III or Amenhotep III, the last of these being the father of the monotheistic "heretic" pharaoh Akhenaten, as a possible Joseph's Pharaoh. [ [ Pharaoh (WebBible Encyclopedia) - ChristianAnswers.Net ] ]

The shrine called Joseph's Tomb in Nablus/Shechem is traditionally considered to be his tomb.

Early life and slavery

The eleventh son of Jacob and the elder of the two sons of Rachel was born at Haran. The meaning given to the name (l.c.) is "shall add": "The Lord shall add to me another son." It seems probable, however, it has God as its first element, and is a contraction, the original form being "Jehoseph", while in Gen. xxx. 23 there is an allusion to the connection of "Joseph".

Upon Joseph centered the love of his father, Jacob, who showered upon "the son of his old age" many tokens of special favor, and arrayed him in a "coat of many colors". This favoritism, however, excited the envy of his older brothers, and Joseph increased their envy by telling them of two dreams which prognosticated his ruling over them (Gen. xxxvii. 2-11).

When a lad of sixteen or seventeen, Joseph was sent by his father to inquire after his brothers, who were pasturing the flocks in Shechem. He found them at Dothan, and when his brothers saw him approaching they planned to kill him. Reuben, however, took his part, and, in order to remove him from the fury of the others, advised them to throw Joseph into a pit (Gen. xxxvii. 13-24). He intended to rescue Joseph and return him to Jacob later.

Different accounts are given of the sale of Joseph, which immediately followed; according to one, the brothers, while eating at some distance from the pit, sighted a caravan of Ishmaelites, to whom they decided to sell Joseph.In the meantime some Midianite merchants passing the pit drew Joseph out and sold him for twenty pieces of silver to the Ishmaelites, who took Joseph to Egypt (Gen. xxxvii. 25-28). The last statement is repeated in Gen. xxxix. 1, while in Gen. xxxvii. 36 it is said that the Midianites (Hebr. "Medanites") sold him to Potiphar in Egypt.


In Potiphar's house Joseph fared well, for, seeing that he prospered in all that he did, his impressed master appointed him superintendent of his household. [ - JOSEPH ] ] But Joseph was "a goodly person and well favored", and his master's wife conceived a passion for him. Her repeated advances being repulsed, she finally attempted compulsion; still failing, she brought a false accusation against him before her husband, and Joseph was thrown into prison.

There, too, God was with Joseph; the keeper of the prison, seeing that he could place confidence in him, committed the other prisoners to his charge (Gen. xxxix.). Soon afterward, two of Pharaoh's officers, the chief butler and the chief baker, having offended the king, were thrown into the prison where Joseph was, and Joseph was appointed to serve them.

One morning both officers told Joseph their dreams of the previous night, which they themselves were unable to interpret. Joseph concluded from their dreams that the chief butler would be reinstated within three days and that the chief baker would be hanged. Joseph requested the chief butler to mention him to Pharaoh and secure his release from prison, but that officer, reinstalled in office, forgot Joseph (Gen. xl.).

Joseph remained two years in prison, at the end of which period Pharaoh had an uneasy dream of seven lean kine devouring seven fat kine on the Nile, and of seven withered ears devouring seven full, ripe ears. Great importance was attached to dreams in Egypt, and Pharaoh was much troubled when his magicians proved unable to interpret them satisfactorily.

Then the chief butler remembered Joseph and spoke of his skill to Pharaoh. Accordingly he was sent for, and he interpreted Pharaoh's dream as foretelling that seven years of abundance would be followed by seven years of famine and advised the king to appoint some able man to store the surplus grain during the period of abundance. Pleased with his interpretation, Pharaoh made him viceroy over Egypt, giving him the Egyptian name of Zaphnath-paaneah and conferring on him other marks of royal favor.

Shortly afterwards, Joseph was married by Pharaoh to Asenath, the daughter of Potipherah, priest of On, through whom he soon had two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim (Gen. xli. 1-52).

Viceroy of Egypt

During the seven years of abundance, Joseph amassed for the king a great supply of grain, which he sold to both Egyptians and foreigners (Gen. xli. 48-49, 54-57). [ - JOSEPH ] ] The famine, having extended to all the neighboring countries, caused Joseph's brothers, with the exception of Benjamin, to go to Egypt in search of wheat. Joseph recognized his brothers, who prostrated themselves before him and therein fulfilled, in part, his dreams. He received them roughly and accused them of being spies, thereby compelling them to give him information about their family.

Desiring to see Benjamin, Joseph demanded that they substantiate their statements by sending one of their number for Benjamin while the others remained behind. He accordingly imprisoned them for three days, and then sent them away with wheat, retaining Simeon as a hostage (Gen.xlii. 1-25).

The famine in Canaan continuing, Jacob was again obliged to send his sons to Egypt for corn. As Joseph had commanded them not to appear before him again without Benjamin, Jacob was compelled to let Benjamin go with them. He sent also a present to Joseph in order to win his favor, together with the money which had been, by Joseph's orders, put into their sacks.

Revelation to brothers

The second time Joseph received them very kindly and prepared a feast for them, but paid special attention to Benjamin (Gen. xliii.). [ - JOSEPH ] ] Desiring to know what his brothers would do if under some pretext he retained Benjamin, Joseph gave orders to fill their sacks with corn, put their money into their sacks, and put his silver goblet in Benjamin's. On the following morning the brothers departed, but before they had gone far a messenger overtook them, accusing them of stealing the goblet. The messenger searched their sacks and found the goblet in Benjamin's sack; this compelled them to return.

Joseph reproached them for what they had done, and Judah, speaking on behalf of his brothers, expressed their willingness to remain as slaves to Joseph. The latter, however, declined their offer, declaring that he would retain Benjamin only (Gen. xliv. 1-17).

Overcome by Judah's eloquent appeal (Gen. xliv. 18-34) and convinced of his brothers' repentance, Joseph disclosed himself to them. He inquired after his father, but as they were too much amazed and startled to answer him, he assured them that in treating him as they did they had been carrying out the will of God. He then urged them to return home quickly, loaded them with presents for his father, and supplied them with vehicles for the transportation of the whole family (Gen. xlv.).

Joseph met his father in the land of Goshen. [ Joseph meets Jacob] He recommended his brothers to represent themselves as shepherds so that they might remain in Goshen unmolested. Then he presented five of his brothers to Pharaoh, who granted them a domain in Goshen; and, after having introduced Jacob to Pharaoh, Joseph domiciled the whole family, at Pharaoh's command, "in the land of Ramesses", where he supplied them with all they needed (Gen. xlvi. 29-xlvii. 12).

As a ruler, Joseph changed the system of land-tenure in Egypt. The famine being severe, the people first expended all their money in the purchase of corn, then they sold their cattle, and finally gave up their land. Thus all the cultivated land in Egypt, except that of the priests, became the property of the crown, and the people farmed it for the king, giving him one-fifth of the produce (Gen. xlvii. 14-26).

Hearing of his father's sickness, Joseph went to him with his two sons, whom Jacob blessed, conferring upon Joseph at the same time one portion more than the portions of his brothers (Gen. xlviii.). Joseph carried Jacob's remains to the land of Canaan, where he gave them stately burial. His brothers, fearing that he had only been waiting until after their father's death to avenge himself upon them, sent to implore his forgiveness. Joseph allayed their fears and promised that he would continue to provide for their wants.

He lived to the age of one hundred and ten, and saw his great-grandchildren grow up. Before his death, he made the children of Israel take an oath that when they left the land of Egypt they would take his bones with them. His body was embalmed and placed temporarily in a coffin. At the Exodus his bones accompanied Moses, and were finally buried in Shechem (Gen. 1.; Ex. xiii. 19; Josh. xxiv. 32).

Rabbinical literature

Joseph occupies a very important place in Rabbinical literature, and no patriarch was the subject of so many Midrashic narratives. [ - JOSEPH ] ] Rachel, his mother was visited by the Lord on Rosh ha-Shanah (Talmud, Tractate Rosh Hashana. 10b).

Joseph is represented as a perfectly righteous man ("tzadik gamur") and as the counterpart of his father; not only did Joseph resemble his father in appearance and in having been born circumcised, but the main incidents of their lives were parallel. Both were born after their mothers had been barren for a long time; and both were hated by their brothers; both were met by angels at various times (Gen. R. lxxxiv. 6; Num. R. xiv. 16).

Joseph is extolled by the Rabbis for being well versed in the Torah, for being a prophet, and for supporting his brothers (Tan., Wayesheb, 20). According to R. Phinehas, the Holy Spirit dwelt in Joseph from his childhood until his death (Pirke R. El. xxxviii.).

Jacob's other children came into the world only for Joseph's sake; the Red Sea and the Jordan were passed dry-shod by the children of Israel through the virtue of Joseph (Gen. R. lxxxiv. 4; Le?a? ?ob to Gen. xxxvii. 2). When Joseph and his mother bowed to Esau (Gen. xxxiii. 7), Joseph shielded his mother with his figure (Targ. pseudo-Jonathan, ad loc.), protecting her from the lascivious eyes of Esau, for which he was rewarded through the exemption of his descendants from the spell of the evil eye (Gen. R. lxxviii. 13; comp. Ber. 20a; So?ah 36b). When Joseph reported to his father the evil doings of his brothers (Gen. xxxvii. 2), his design was merely that his father might correct them (Le?a? ?ob, ad loc.).

The nature of the "evil report" is variously given by the Rabbis. According to Pirke R. El. xxxviii., Joseph spoke only against the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, that they ate meat which they had not slaughtered in accordance with the Law (comp. Targum pseudo-Jonathan, ad loc.). According to R. Judah, Joseph reported that the sons of Leah slighted the sons of the concubines by calling them slaves.

R. Simeon's opinion was that Joseph spoke against them all, accusing them of "looking at the daughters of the land" (Gen. R. lxxxiv. 7). The reason for Jacob's special love toward Joseph was, according to R. Judah, that Joseph resembled Jacob in appearance; but according to R. Nehemiah it was that he transmitted to Joseph all the "halakot" he had studied in the school of Shem and Eber (ib. lxxxiv. 8).

Filial respect

Joseph is represented as an exemplar of filial respect, for when his father requested him to go and see how his brothers fared, he went promptly and with gladness of heart, although he knew that they hated him (Mek., Beshalla?, Wayehi, 1; Gen. R. lxxxiv. 12, 15). [ - JOSEPH ] ] When he went to his brothers, he was accompanied to Dothan by three angels (ib. lxxxiv. 13; comp. Targ. pseudo-Jonathan to Gen. xxxvii. 15, and "Sefer ha-Yashar", section "Wayesheb"). When the brothers saw Joseph approaching from a distance, they decided to set the dogs upon him (l.c.). After being beaten by his brethren, Joseph was thrown by Simeon into a pit, among serpents and scorpions; but Joseph prayed to God and the reptiles retired to their holes (ib. lxxxiv. 15; Targ. pseudo-Jonathan, ad loc.). Afterward, Simeon ordered stones thrown into the pit (Tan., Wayesheb, 13; Yal?., Gen. 142).

The brothers encamped at a distance from the pit that they might not hear Joseph's cries, and while they were eating, a company of Midianites passed by the pit, heard Joseph calling for help, and drew him up. A struggle then ensued between the brothers and the Midianites. The former declared that Joseph was their rebellious slave; the latter regarded their statements with suspicion; but the difference was settled by the sale of Joseph to the Midianites ("Sefer ha-Yashar", l.c.). The brothers then divided among themselves the purchase-money: twenty pieces of silver (Gen. xxxvii. 28), each taking two pieces, with which they bought shoes (Pirke R. El. xxxviii.).

As Joseph had been thrown naked into the pit, the Midianites would have compelled him to accompany them so, but God, not willing that so righteous a man should travel in an unseemly manner, sent Gabriel to transform into a long garment the amulet Joseph wore on his neck. The brothers, however, on seeing the garment, demanded it of the Midianites, saying that they had sold them a naked slave, but, after some altercation, consented to take four pairs of shoes in exchange. Joseph wore the same garment when he was Potiphar's slave, when he was in prison, and when he became the Viceroy of Egypt (Jellinek, "B. H." v. 157, vi. 120).


When the Midianites noticed the nobility of Joseph's countenance, they understood he was not a slave and regretted having bought him. [ - JOSEPH ] ] They would have taken him back to his father had not the distance been too great; but when they met, soon after, a company of Ishmaelites they sold Joseph to them. Passing his mother's grave, Joseph prostrated himself upon it, weeping bitterly and imploring her assistance; from her grave she answered that she was afflicted by his troubles, but that he must hope and await the intervention of God. The Ishmaelites violently dragged Joseph away, beat him cruelly, and continued their journey. They finally met four merchants, descendants of Medan, to whom they sold Joseph; and the Medanites in turn sold Joseph to Potiphar for four hundred pieces of silver ("Sefer ha-Yashar", l.c.; comp. Gen. R. lxxxiv. 20.)

In reward for his righteousness, the Ishmaelites, who generally dealt in ill-smelling articles, were on that occasion influenced by Providence to carry fragrant spices in order that Joseph's journey to Egypt might be more agreeable (Gen. R. lxxxiv. 16). When Jacob's sons reached home, affirming that Joseph had been devoured by a wild beast (comp. Gen. xxxvii. 33), Jacob ordered them to arm themselves and capture the beast. They accordingly went forth and returned with a wolf; but when Jacob began to reproach the beast for its cruelty, the wolf answered, in human language, that it had not committed the crime of devouring Joseph, and that it was itself searching for its lost cub; Jacob therefore let the wolf go.

Jacob did not wholly believe that Joseph was dead, because he could not forget him, while the dead are soon forgotten. He therefore hewed out twelve stones and placed them in a row, after writing on them the names of his twelve sons with their corresponding months and zodiacal signs. Then he commanded them to bow to the stone of Reuben, but no stone moved; then he commanded them to bow to Simeon's stone, with the same result; but when he came to the stone of Joseph, all the other stones bowed to it. Even then Jacob was not sure that Joseph was alive, and repeated the same experiment with sheaves, getting the same result, without, however, reaching a conviction. He was finally convinced by a vision which he had of the future priestly organization, interpreting the names of Eliashib, chief of a division of the sons of Aaron (I Chron. xxiv. 12), and Elkanah, a noted Levite (I Sam. i. 1), as signifying respectively "God will bring him back" and "he was bought by Potiphar" (Judges 21. 9).


The prosperity of Joseph in Potiphar's house is described by the rabbis as follows: "The wishes of Potiphar were executed in an instant; when he desired that the cup which Joseph handed him should be warm, it was warm; and if he desired that it should be cold, it was cold" (Tan., Wayesheb, 16; Gen. R. lxxxvi. 6). [ - JOSEPH ] ] At first Potiphar was of the opinion that Joseph was a magician, and he wondered, saying, "Is there a lack of magicians in Egypt?" but afterward he saw that the "Shekinah" dwelt in Joseph (Gen. R. l.c. ; Le?a? ?ob to Gen. xxxix. 3).

Joseph's character was antithetical to the characters of all the other slaves; the latter were rapacious, while Joseph never enjoyed anything that was not his (Zeb. 118b);the other slaves were given over to lust, while Joseph was chaste; the others ate the priestly portions because they were slaves of the priests (see Lev. xxii. 11), while Joseph, through his righteousness, caused the descendants of his master, who were his own descendants as well, to eat those portions; this identifies Joseph with Putiel, Eleazar's father-in-law (Gen. R. lxxxvi. 3; comp. Mek., l.c. ; "Sotah" 43a).

Like all other righteous men, Joseph was tried by God (Gen. R. lxxxvii. 3; comp.).He was one of the three men who successfully resisted temptation; for this he was rewarded by having the letter ה (one of the letters composing the Tetragrammaton) added to his name (Lev. R. xxiii. 10; comp. Ps. lxxxi. 6). The day on which Joseph "went into the house to do his work" (Gen. xxxix. 11-12) was the Sabbath day, and the work consisted in repeating the Torah, which he had learned from his father ("Midrash Abkir", quoted in Yal?., Gen. 146). Some rabbis, however, charged Joseph with vanity, saying that, even before being sold, he took too much pains with his personal appearance (Genesis Rabba lxxxiv. 7), and that he continued to do so as ruler over Potiphar's house, forgetting his father, who was mourning over his disappearance. God punished him, therefore, by setting against him Potiphar's wife (Genesis Rabba lxxxvii. 3).

Certain rabbis declared even that Joseph was ready to yield to his mistress, but that his father's image suddenly appeared to him and called him to his duty ("Sotah" 36b; Gen. R. lxxxvii. 9; comp. Pirke R. El. xxxix.). The story of Joseph and Zelikah (Zulaikha), the wife of Potiphar, is narrated in the "Sefer ha-Yashar" (l.c., following Arabic sources, as the very name "Zelikah" shows)). as follows: Zelikah at first attempted to seduce Joseph by arraying him in fine garments, putting before him the most delicious viands, and speaking to him in amorous terms. These means failing, she used threats, but without effect, for Joseph remained inflexible. The vehemence of her unrequited passion soon impaired her health. On one occasion, when some noble ladies of Egypt had come to see her, she told her maid to give them oranges and sent Joseph in to wait upon them; the women, unable to turn their eyes from Joseph, cut their fingers while peeling the oranges, and when Zelikah asked them the cause, they answered that they could not help looking at Joseph. She then said: "What would you do if, like myself, you had him every day before your eyes?".

According to Gen. R. lxxxvii., Zelikah told Joseph that she was ready to kill her husband so that he might marry her legally. But Joseph exclaimed: "After inducing me to commit adultery, thou desirest me to become a murderer!" Zelikah promised that, if he would yield to her, she would embrace his religion and induce all the Egyptians to do the same. Joseph answered that the God of the Hebrews does not desire unchaste worshipers. She next brought Joseph into her chamber in the inner part of the house and placed him on her bed, over which was the image of her Egyptian god. Then she covered her face with a veil, and Joseph said: "Thou art afraid of an idol; shall I not fear YHWH, who sees all things?" (Genesis Rabba l.c.).

False accusation

It happened that, at the Nile festival, all the people of the house except Joseph and Zelikah had gone to see the ceremonies; Zelikah feigned illness as her reason for not attending the festival. With one hand she grasped a sword and with the other caught Joseph's garment, and when he attempted to release himself a rent was made in the garment. Afterward, when Joseph was brought before the priests for judgment, and while they were deliberating, Zelikah's child of eleven months suddenly began to speak, accusing its mother and declaring Joseph's innocence.

The priests then ordered the garment to be brought in order that they might see on which side it had been rent; seeing that it was rent in the back, they declared Joseph innocent. Joseph was nevertheless thrown into prison by Potiphar, who was anxious thus to save his wife a public exposure ("Sefer ha-Yashar", l.c. ; comp. According to "Midrash Abkir" (Yal?., Gen. 146), Zelikah requested her female friends to testify that Joseph had assailed them also. Potiphar was going to kill him, but his wife prevailed on him to imprison him and then sell him, so as to recover the money he had paid for Joseph. According to the same Midrash, it was Asenath who told Potiphar of her mother's false accusation.


Joseph's duties took him every day to his master's house, and this gave Zelikah opportunities to renew her entreaties and threats. [ - JOSEPH ] ] As Joseph continued to look downward, she put an iron spear under his chin to force him to look at her, but still Joseph averted his gaze (Genesis Rabba lxxxvii. 11; comp. "Sefer ha-Yashar", l.c.). There is a disagreement among rabbinical writers as to the length of time Joseph spent in Potiphar's house and in prison. According to "Seder 'Olam", [A. Neubauer, "M. J. C." ii. 28) and Gen. R. (lxxxvi. 7, after the correction of "Mattenot Kehunnah"] Joseph spent one year in Potiphar's house and twelve years in prison; according to "Pirke R. El" he was in prison ten years. It is said that Joseph remained two years longer in prison as a punishment for having trusted in the promises of man (comp. Gen. xl. 14-15).

When the chief butler told Pharaoh of Joseph's skill in interpreting dreams (Gen. xli. 12-13), he endeavored at the same time to discredit Joseph, but an angel baffled the chief butler's design (Gen. R. lxxxviii. 6, lxxxix. 9). According to "Sotah" 36b, Gabriel taught Joseph the seventy languages which a ruler of Egypt was obliged to know, and it was then that he added the letter ה to Joseph's name (comp. Num. R. xiv. 16). Joseph was released from prison on Rosh ha-Shanah (R. H. 10b). When Joseph interpreted Pharaoh's dreams, the king asked him for a sign by which he might know that his interpretation was true. Joseph then told him that the queen, who was about to be delivered of a child, would give birth to a son, but that at the same time another son, two years of age, would die; and it so happened.

Pharaoh gave Joseph a new name, Zaphenathpaneah. As the king's appointed viceroy, Joseph built himself a magnificent palace, placing in it a great number of slaves. He equipped also a considerable army, with which he marched to help the Ishmaelites against the Tarshishites, winning a great victory ("Sefer haYashar (midrash)", section "Mi??e?"). Joseph showed great discernment in preserving the grain which he gathered, by storing in each district only the amount which had grown there (Gen. R. xc. 5). He also undertook the constructions of the canal, named the Waterway of Joseph or Bahr Yussef, connecting Fayyum with the Nile. Later, when the famine grew more intense and the Egyptians went to Joseph for grain, he compelled them to undergo circumcision, refusing food to uncircumcised people (ib. xc. 6, xci. 5). He stored up in Egypt all the gold and silver of the world, and it was carried away by the Israelites when they left Egypt. According to another opinion, Joseph placed the gold and silver in three hidden treasuries, of which one was discovered by Korah, one by Antoninus, son of Severus, and one is being kept for the righteous in the future world (Pes. 119a; comp. "Sefer ha-Yashar", section "Wayiggash").


Long after being sold into slavery and imprisoned, Joseph always kept in mind his father and brothers, and during the almost-two decades he was away from home, he drank no wine (Shab. 139a; Gen. R. xciv. 25). [ - JOSEPH ] ] It is said also that Joseph wore sackcloth and fasted a great deal (Gen. R. lxxxv. 2). He is represented as very modest, so that though viceroy of Egypt he was not vain of his power (Ex. R. i. 7). Knowing that his brothers would come to buy grain, Joseph gave orders that nobody should be permitted to enter until he had given in writing his own and his father's names.

His brothers, fearing the evil eye, entered the city at ten different gates, and in the evening the gatekeepers brought their names to Joseph. Three days passed, and the brothers had not appeared before Joseph; so Joseph sent seventy-strong men to search for them. The brothers were found in the street of the harlots, whither they had gone with the object of looking for Joseph. When they were brought into Joseph's house, Joseph, feigning divination through his goblet, enumerated all their deeds, how they had destroyed Shechem, how they had sold their brother; and the fact of being found in the street of the harlots proved, he said, that they were spies.

A struggle ensued between Joseph's men and his brothers, who were on the point of destroying Egypt, but they were subdued by Manasseh, who imprisoned Simeon (Gen. R. xci. 6; comp. "Sefer haYashar (midrash)", l.c.). Later, when, under the pretext of his having stolen the goblet, Benjamin was detained by Joseph (Gen. xliv.), another violent struggle ensued between Joseph and his brothers, who would have carried Benjamin off by force. Seeing that his brothers, especially Judah, were again becoming furious, Joseph, with his foot, struck a marble pillar on which he was sitting, shattering it into pieces.


According to the "Sefer haYashar (midrash)" (section "Wayiggash"), where the whole struggle is narrated at great length, Manasseh was the hero of that exploit (see Targ. Yer. to Gen. xliv. 19). Joseph allowed himself to be recognized by his brothers for fear they might destroy Egypt (Gen. R. l.c.). Certain rabbis underrated Joseph's merit by declaring that he died before his brothers because he had made them feel his authority (Ber. 55a; comp. Tan., Wayiggash, 3). According to other opinions, Joseph died before them because he embalmed his father's body instead of relying on God to keep the body from decay; or because he heard Judah say "thy servant my father" several times without correcting him (Pirke R. El. xxxix.; Gen. R. c. 4).

Joseph's solicitude on behalf of his brothers is pointed out by Pesi?. R. 3 (ed. Friedmann, p. 10b) as follows: Although he honored his father greatly, he always avoided meeting him, so that he would not have known that his father was sick had not a messenger been sent to him (Gen. xlviii. 1); Joseph apprehended, perhaps, that his father would ask him how he came to be sold by his brothers, and would curse them. When Jacob prepared himself to bless Joseph's two sons, the Holy Spirit had left him, but it returned to him through Joseph's prayer (Pesi?. l.c. p. 12a). Joseph is said to have himself superintended his father's burial, although he had so many slaves; he was rewarded in that Moses himself carried his bones ("Sotah" 9b; comp. Ex. xiii. 19) after making his brothers and sons swear that their descendants would carry him out of Egypt, and in that his coffin was carried in the wilderness side by side with the Ark of the Covenant (Mek., l.c.).

According to most rabbinical authorities, Joseph's coffin was sunk in the Nile (Targ. Pseudo-Jonathan to Gen. 1. 26; Mek., Beshalla?, Wayyehi, 1; Ex. R. xx. 17); but according to R. Nathan, Joseph was buried in the royal palace. In the time of the Exodus, Serah, daughter of Asher, showed Moses where the coffin was sunk. Moses threw a pebble into the water there and cried out: "Joseph! Joseph! the time has come for the Israelites to be rescued from their oppressors; come up and do not cause us any further delay!" The coffin thereupon floated up (Mek., l.c. ; Ex. R. l.c.). It may be added that the "piyyut" beginning "Arze ha-Lebanon" and recited on Yom Kippur is based on the legend that Joseph was bartered for shoes (comp. Amos ii. 6).


Jacob, before he died, blessed all his sons and included blessings for Joseph's sons. He first blessed Joseph's sons, Ephraim and Manasseh. Though Manasseh was the older brother, Jacob blessed Ephraim with a greater ambition than his older brother. He then gave his blessing upon all his sons. Though he blessed them in order by their age, the blessing he gave Joseph was greater than the others:

'Joseph is a fruitful tree by a spring,whose branches climb over the wall.The archers savagely attacked him,shooting and assailing him fiercely,but Joseph's bow remained unfailingand his arms were tirelessby the power of the Strong One ofJacob,by the name of the Shepherd of Israel,by the God of your father--so may hehelp you!By God Almighty--so may he bless youwith the blessings of heaven above,and the blessings of the deep that liesbelow!The blessings of breast and womband the blessings of your father arestrongerthan the blessings of the eternal mountainsand the bounty of the everlasting hills.May they rest on the head of Joseph,on the brow of him who was princeamong his brother.' (Genesis 49:22-26)


Kenneth Kitchen notes that the title of 'hery-per' or domestic servant which Joseph enjoyed in Potiphar's household was very popular "for the Old and Middle Kingdoms [of Egypt but] not usually later" in his 2003 book 'On the Reliability of the Old Testament.' [K. A. Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament, William Erdsman & Co, 2003. pp.349-350] While no chariots were depicted in use during the Middle Kingdom [Ahmed Osman, "Stranger in the Valley of the Kings/The Hebrew Pharaohs of Egypt", Bear, 1987, 2003] this is not conclusive evidence that chariots were not employed by the late 13th Dynasty administration of Egypt's Middle Kingdom when a series of minor kings ruled Egypt. The Bible's comment that Joseph was in charge of the second chariot after the king and that he employed them for his everyday use—which presumably would make it very complicated to identify Joseph's time-period with the Middle Kingdom era (c.1991-1650 BC) is not inconsistent with the known archaeological facts. According to Kitchen, while "The chariot came in [use] not later than the Hyksos [era] ; there is evidence for the horse [already] in the Thirteenth Dynasty (which is an indirect evidence for chariots, as they were initially not ridden but simply used to draw the latter".)" [Kitchen, op. cit., p.349] This can be deduced from "Horse remains of late Thirteenth Dynasty (just pre-Hyksos) [which] were found at the fortress of Buhen." [R.O. Faulkner, JEA 45 (1959), pp.1-2] Consequently, a position for Joseph in either the late Middle Kingdom or the Hyksos (c.1650-1540 BC) period of Egypt is plausible.

Chariots were likely employed as early as the start of the 15th Dynasty (c.1650 BC) when the Hyksos stormed Lower Egypt from Canaan and captured Memphis thereby ending the Egyptian Middle Kingdom around 1650 BC. The Hyksos are believed to have transformed Egyptian military technology by introducing the chariot and curved sword [Toby Wilkinson, The Thames and Hudson Dictionary of Ancient Egypt, Thames & Hudson, 2005. p.110] This would give Joseph a state position during the Hyksos Dynasty and explain the Bible's comment that the Hebrews sojourned in Egypt for about 400 years until the reign of Ramesses II (1279-1213 BC) who is commonly viewed as the Pharaoh of the Exodus. Even though chariots only officially became a separate entity in the Egyptian army from the reign of Tuthmosis IV onwards, a New Kingdom position for Joseph is not established here because chariots are known to have been used in battle in the reign of Ahmose I--the founder of Egypt's 18th Dynasty--rather than the reign of Thutmose I, who is the first known New Kingdom Pharaoh depicted riding an Egyptian chariot in a scarab. [] Indeed, archaeological excavations of the remains of the Abydos mortuary temple of king Ahmose I in the 1990s have uncovered thousands of fragmentary reliefs depicting this pharaoh's battles against the Hyksos as well as the earliest known depiction of chariots in Egyptian warfare. [Wilkinson, op. cit., p.15] [] This discovery affirms the general view that it was the Hyksos who first brought the chariot into Egypt and permits Joseph to have enjoyed a high position in office during the 15th Hyksos Dynasty as opposed to the later native Egyptian 18th Dynasty. Ahmose merely used the Hyksos chariot against them. It should be stressed that the concept of an Egyptian chariot division is a modern convention: during the Hyksos and Middle Kingdom eras, few Pharaohs were concerned with the formalities of naming a new chariot division. The price of 20 Shekels which was paid for Joseph's slavery in Mesopotamia also affirms a relative date for Joseph in the "18th or 17th Century BC." [Kitchen, op. cit., p.344] In his book, On the Reliability of the Old Testament, Kitchen writes: : "AT WHAT PRICE? (Paragraph Header)...the story of a young Joseph sold off [into slavery] into Egypt fits in easily, especially in the early second millennium, in the overall period of the late Twelfth/Thirteenth and Hyksos Dynasties. After a good haggle, his brothers got 20 shekels for their young brother (Gen. 37:28). This we know to be approximately the right price in about the eighteenth century. This is the average price (expressed as one-third of a mina) in the laws of Hammurabi (§§116,214,252) and in real-life transactions at Mari (exactly) and in other Old Babylonian documents (within a 15- to 30-shekel range, averaging 22 shekels). [ 'The Hammurabi information is in ANET, 170, 175, 176; CoS II, 343,348,350. For Mari, see G. Boyer, ARM(T) VIII (1958), 23, No.10:1-4. On the other Babylonian tablets, see (eg.) M. van de Mieroop, AfO 34 (1987), 10, 11. For a list of other Old Babylonian slave prices within fifteenth/thirty Derhams, see A. Falkenstein, Die Neusumerische Gerichtsurkunden I (Munich: Beck, 1956), 88 n.5 end.'] Before this period slaves were cheaper, and after it, they steadily got dearer, as inflation did its work...After the eighteenth/seventeenth centuries, prices duly rose. In fifteenth-century Nuzi and fourteenth/thirtenth-century Ugarit, the average crept up to 30 shekels and more. (cf. replacement price of 30 shekels in Exod. 21:32.) [For Nuzi, see B.L. Eichler, Indenture at Nuzi (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1973) 16 and n.35, and texts listed on 17-18. On Ugarit, cf. I. Mendelsohn, Slavery in the Ancient Near East, (Greenwood Press, 1978) 118 and 155 n.181'] Then in the first millennium, male slaves in Assyria fetched 50 to 60 shekels. [For Assyria, see list in C.H.W. Johns, Assyrian Deeds and Documents III (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1924) 542-546'] " [Kitchen, op.cit., pp.344-345 & p.576]

Christian view

There are a number of striking similarities between the stories of Joseph and that of Jesus in the New Testament, including 12 brothers/disciples, betrayal for a bag of money by a close associate named Judah/Judas, a time of darkness or rebirth into a new and glorious life (crucifixion/well), and the forgiveness of sins by each. Also, when Joseph's forgiveness of his brethren relates to the remission of sins accomplished by Jesus on the cross. For this reason, Christian typology views the biblical account of Joseph's life as a foreshadowing of Jesus' death and resurrection.

Joseph is regarded as a saint by several Christian churches. He is commemorated as one of the Holy Forefathers in the Calendar of Saints of the Armenian Apostolic Church on July 30.Fact|date=September 2007 In the Eastern Orthodox Church and those Eastern Catholic Churches which follow the Byzantine Rite, he is known as "Joseph the all-comely", a reference not only to his physical appearance, but more importantly to the beauty of his spiritual life. They commemorate him on the Sunday of the Holy Forefathers (two Sundays before Christmas) and on Holy and Great Monday (Monday of Holy Week). In icons, he is sometimes depicted wearing the nemes headdress of an Egyptian vizier. The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod commemorates him as a patriarch on March 31.

Islamic view

The story of Joseph or Yusuf as it is told in Qur'an has the same general outlines as the Biblical narrative; but in the Arabic account there is a wealth of accessory detail and incident. One significant departure in the Qur'anic account of the Joseph story is the use of an unspecified King in place of the Biblical Pharaoh. This alteration places Joseph squarely within the Hyksos period.This is consistent with the title of king as the term 'Pharaoh' was not used until the Eighteenth dynasty. Joseph is regarded by Muslims as a prophet (Qur'an, suras vi. 84, xl. 36). He is also a type of manly beauty; so that one often finds the expression "a second Joseph", meaning one extraordinarily beautiful. He is likewise called the "Moon of Canaan." A great many public works in Egypt have been attributed to him. Some believe that he built the city of Memphis, and that he was instrumental in building the obelisks and pyramids. He also instructed the Egyptians in science. In the Qur'an a whole chapter (sura xii.) is devoted to Joseph; and the commentators add many details to this "best of stories" (sura xii. 3).


The Islamic story and the Arabic one are not the same, as the Arabic version contains supplementary detail which is not found in the Islamic tradition.

The story of Yusuf and Zulaikha is a favorite love-song in the East, and the Persian poet Firdowsi has written on the subject an epic which begins with Jacob's suit for Rachel. [ - JOSEPH ] ] The narrative, however, among the Muslims is more than a simple love-tale. Their theologians use it to symbolize the spiritual love between God and the soul (D'Herbelot, "Bibliothèque Orientale", iii. 371). Zulaikha or Ra'il is the wife of Kitfir or Itfir (the Biblical Potiphar), through whose accusations, although they are proved to be false, Yusuf is thrown into prison. After his phenomenal rise to power, as he is passing through the street one day his attention is attracted by a beggar woman whose bearing shows traces of former greatness. Upon stopping to speak to her he discovers Zulaikha, who has been left in misery at the death of her husband. Yusuf causes her to be taken to the house of a relative of the king, and soon obtains permission to marry her, she having lost none of her former beauty nor any of her first love for him.

Other features in the Arabic history of Yusuf which are lacking in the Old Testament narrative, are the stories of Jacob and the wolf and of Joseph at his mother's tomb (contained in a manuscript at Madrid). After Joseph's brothers had returned to their father with the coat dipped in blood, Jacob was so prostrated that for several days he was as one dead. Then he began to wonder that the garment had no rents or marks of claws and teeth, and suspicions of the truth arose in his mind. To allay his doubts the brothers scoured the country and caught in a net a wolf, which they brought alive to their father. Jacob, after reproaching the wolf for its cruelty, asked it to relate how it came to commit so wicked a deed; whereupon Allah opened the mouth of the beast and it talked, disclaiming any connection with the death of Yusuf. It even expressed sympathy for the grieving father, saying that it had itself lost its own dear child. The patriarch was much affected by this tale, and entertained the wolf hospitably before sending it on its way with his blessing.

The story of Yusuf at his mother's tomb shows the boy's piety and forgiving nature. As the caravan bearing him to Egypt passed near his mother's grave Yusuf slipped away unnoticed and fell upon the tomb in an agony of tears and prayer. For this he was severely abused, whereupon a storm suddenly arose, making further progress impossible. Only when Yusuf had forgiven the offender did the storm disappear. This "Poema de José" was written in Spanish with Arabic characters by a Morisco, who had forgotten the language of his forefathers, but still remembered their traditions.

Differences of tradition

There are certain points in which the Islamic story differs from the Biblical. [ Differences of Tradition] ] In the Qur'an the brothers ask Jacob to let Joseph go with them. The pit into which Joseph is thrown is a well with water in it, and Joseph was taken as a slave by passing-by travellers (Qur'an 12:19).

In one account, Joseph's face possessed such a peculiar brilliancy that his brothers noticed the different light in the sky as soon as he appeared above the edge of the well, and they came back to claim him as their slave. This same peculiarity was noticeable when they went to Egypt: although it was evening when they entered the city, his face diffused such a light that the astonished inhabitants came out to see the cause of it.

In the Bible, Joseph discloses himself to his brethren before they return to their father the second time after buying corn. The same in the Islamic story but they are compelled to return to Jacob without Benjamin, and the former weeps himself blind. He remains so until the sons have returned from Egypt, bringing with them Joseph's garment healed the patriarch's eyes as soon as he put it to his face (Qur'an 12:96).

In one Talmudic story, Joseph was buried in the Nile, as there was some dispute as to which province should be honored by having his tomb within its boundaries. Moses, led there by an ancient holy woman named Serach, was able by a miracle to raise the sarcophagus and to take it with him at the time of the Exodus. There is no mention of that in the Bible or the Qur'an.

House of Joseph


It has been suggested that Yuya, a court official of Egyptian Pharaoh Amenhotep III, was Joseph. Yuya is believed to have been of foreign origin. He was married to a woman named Tjuyu, and was the father of Amenhotep III's queen Tiye. If Amenhotep's successor Akhenaten is the father of Tutankhamen, that would make the boy king Yuya's great-grandson.

The problem is that Yuya's mummy has been found in his tomb in the Valley of the Kings, whereas Joseph is traditionally supposed to be buried in Joseph's Tomb in Nablus/Shechem. Nevertheless, Ahmed Osman, in his series of books connecting Egypt and Christianity, states firmly that he believes Yuya is Joseph.

Literature and culture

Thomas Mann retells the Genesis stories surrounding Joseph in his four novel omnibus, "Joseph and His Brothers", identifying Joseph with the figure of Osarseph known from Josephus, and the pharaoh with Akhenaten.

Joseph figures prominently in Anita Diamant's novel "The Red Tent," which retells the story of Dinah, his sister.

The musical "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" is about Joseph's story.

The 1995 miniseries "" is a dramatic retelling of the Biblical story of Joseph. It stars Paul Mercurio in the title role, and received an Emmy for Outstanding Miniseries.

In the video game "", there is an item called "Joseph's Cloak" which allows the player to change the colors of Alucard's cape.

In 2000, DreamWorks produced an animated film based on the story of Joseph called "".

ee also

*Torah portions on Joseph: Vayeshev, Miketz, Vayigash, and Vayechi.



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