Joseph (Hebrew Bible)

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Image:Peter von Cornelius 002.jpg
Joseph interprets the dream of the Pharaoh. Painting by Peter von Cornelius.

Joseph or Yosef (Hebrew: יוֹסֵף, Standard Yosef Tiberian Yôsēp ; "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 is one of the best-known figures in the Hebrew Bible, famous for his coat of many colors and his God-given ability to interpret dreams. Due to jealousy, his brothers sold him as a slave. Eventually he worked under the Egyptian official Potiphar but was freed and became the chief adviser (vizier) to the Egyptian Pharaoh, allegedly around either the Hyksos Era or the Middle Kingdom of Egypt period, according to Kenneth Kitchen.

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


[edit] The Genesis story of Joseph

According to Genesis, Joseph was the elder of the two sons of Jacob by Rachel, his favorite wife (Gen. 30:23, 24), who, on the occasion of his birth, said, "The Lord shall add [Heb. yosef] to me another son" (Gen. 30:24). He was born in Padan-aram when Jacob was about ninety years old. He was probably six years old when his father returned from Haran to Canaan and took up his residence in the town of Hebron.

Joseph was a favorite son of his father's, who made him a multi-colored coat. As a result, he was envied by his half-brothers, who saw the special coat as indicating that Joseph would assume family leadership. (Thanks to the musical, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and countless children's books, Joseph is perhaps best known for his "coat of many colors.") His brothers' suspicion grew when Joseph told them of his two dreams (Gen. 37:11) in which all the brothers bowed down to him.

The narrative tells that his brothers plotted against him one day when he was seventeen, and would have killed him had not Reuben interposed. He persuaded them instead to throw Joseph into a pit and secretly planned to rescue him later. However, while Reuben was absent, the others planned to sell him to a company of Ishmaelite merchants.

He was stolen from the pit by passing Midianites who sold him to the merchants for twenty shekels of silver. The brothers then dipped Joseph's colored coat in goat's blood and showed it to their father, saying that Joseph had been torn apart in the field; other versions have Jacob assuming that his son was torn apart by a wild beast, and the brothers saying nothing.

These merchants brought Joseph to Egypt where Medanite slave dealers in turn sold him to Potiphar, an "officer of Pharaoh's, and captain of the guard" (Gen. 37:36). Joseph prospered in Potiphar's household and was eventually made head of the servants.

After Joseph rejected the attempts of Potiphar's wife to seduce him, she accused Joseph of attempted rape, and he was cast into the state prison (Gen. 39:40), where he remained for at least two years. The story tells of two servants of Pharaoh's household who were in jail with Joseph and asked him to interpret their dreams. Joseph correctly predicted the future based on their dreams: one would be reinstated in his post while the other would be executed. Joseph urged the first, a royal cupbearer, to get him out of prison once he was reinstated, but the cupbearer forgot about him and left him in prison for two more years.

At the end of that period, Pharaoh had a strange dream. The chief cupbearer remembered Joseph and recommended his services to Pharaoh; at his suggestion, Joseph was brought from prison to interpret the king's dreams. Joseph predicted seven years of plenty to be followed by seven years of famine and advised the Pharaoh to appoint someone to store up surplus grain. Pharaoh was pleased with Joseph's interpretation and advice, and gave him authority over all the land of Egypt (Gen. 41:46). He gave Joseph the royal name of "Zaphnath-paaneah" (Hebrew: צפנת פענח, Standard Ẓáfənat paʿnéaḥ Tiberian Ṣāp̄ənaṯ paʿănēªḥ), which, according to some opinions, translates as "Discoverer of hidden things" — a reference to Joseph's interpretation of Pharaoh's dreams.

At age 30, Joseph then married Asenath whose name means "holy to Anath", the daughter of the priest of On, and thus became a member of the priestly class.

As Joseph had foreseen, seven years of plenty came, during which he stored up a great abundance of grain in granaries built for the purpose. These years were followed by seven years of famine "over all the face of the earth", when "all countries came into Egypt to Joseph to buy grain" (Gen. 41:56, 57; 47:13,14). Thus, "Joseph gathered up all the money that was in the land of Egypt, and in the land of Canaan, for the grain which they bought." Afterwards all the cattle and all the land, and at last the Egyptians themselves, became the property of Pharaoh.

During this period of famine, Joseph's brothers, except for Benjamin, also came down to Egypt to buy grain. On reaching Egypt, Joseph's brothers, not recognizing him, "bowed themselves before him with their faces to the ground" (Gen. 42:6), thus fulfilling in part his earlier dream. However, in order to fulfill the dream completely, Joseph needed Benjamin to come to Egypt as well, so he disguised his identity from his brothers and devised a plot: he accused them of being spies and imprisoned them for three days. He then sent them away with grain, retaining Simeon as a hostage (Gen. 42:1-25), while ordering them not to return without Benjamin.

Upon their return to Egypt with Benjamin, Joseph received them kindly and threw a feast for them. Joseph then tested them further, by accusing Benjamin of theft. But Judah pleaded for Benjamin, offering himself as a slave instead. Convinced of his brothers' repentance and overcome with emotion, Joseph finally revealed himself to them. He forgave them and sent for his father Jacob and all their families and possessions to come to Egypt. Joseph settled Jacob's families with Pharaoh's blessing in Goshen (Gen. 47:29).

When Joseph died, he is reported to have lived to the age of 110.(Genesis. 50:22) Kitchen notes that this figure cannot be a coincidence because it "happens to be the ideal life span in Egyptian aspirations, by contrast with the Hebrew figures of 70 to 80 years (Ps. 90:10).<ref> Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, p.351</ref> Shortly before his death, he made the Israelites take an oath that they would resettle his bones in Canaan. The oath was fulfilled during the Exodus where his remains were eventually buried in Shechem (Ex. 8:19; Josh. 24:32).

[edit] Joseph in rabbinical literature

Joseph occupies a very important place in Rabbinical literature, and no patriarch was the subject of so many Midrashic traditional narratives. As Rachel was visited by the Lord on Rosh ha-Shanah (Talmud, Tractate Rosh Hashana. 10b), Joseph was born in due course on the 1st of Tammuz, 2199 (Book of Jubilees, xxviii. 32).

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. Targ. 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).

[edit] Sent to brothers

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). 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).

[edit] Joseph in captivity

When the Midianites noticed the nobility of Joseph's countenance, they understood he was not a slave and regretted having bought him. 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.

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.

[edit] Joseph's temptation

Image:Philipp Veit 002.jpg
Joseph and the Wife of Potiphar, by Philipp Veit

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). 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. Test. Patr., Joseph, 2). He was one of the three men who successfully resisted temptation; for this he was rewarded by having the letter ? (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 (Gen. R. 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 (Gen. R. 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 (comp. Test. Patr., Joseph, 3). 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. 5 and Test. Patr., Joseph, 4-5, 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?" (Gen. R. l.c.).

[edit] Joseph in prison

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 (comp. Sotah 36b). 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. Gen. R. lxxxvii. 10). 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.

[edit] Joseph as ruler

Joseph's duties took him every day to his master's house, and this gave Zelikah opportunities to renew her entreaties and threats. 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 (Gen. R. 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 (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. (l.c.), he was in prison ten years; according to the Book of Jubilees (xlvi. 7), he spent ten years in the house and three years in prison. The last opinion seems to be supported by Gen. R. lxxxix. 2 and Tan., Mi??e?, 2, where 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 ? 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.

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 ha-Yashar, 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). 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).

[edit] Joseph and his brethren

Image:Peter von Cornelius 004.jpg
Joseph reveals himself to his brothers, by Peter von Cornelius

Joseph always kept in mind his father and brothers, and during the twenty-two years he was away from home he drank no wine (Shab. 139a; Gen. R. xciv. 25; Test. Patr., Joseph, 3). It is said also that Joseph wore sackcloth and fasted a great deal (Gen. R. lxxxv. 2; Test. Patr. l.c.). 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 ha-Yashar, 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 fragments (Gen. R. xciii. 7).

[edit] Why he died before his brothers

According to the Sefer ha-Yashar (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).

[edit] Joseph's Special Blessing

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 unfailing and his arms were tireless by the power of the Strong One of Jacob, by the name of the Shepherd of Israel, by the God of your father--so may he help you! By God Almighty--so may he bless you with the blessings of heaven above, and the blessings of the deep that lies below! The blessings of breast and womb and the blessings of your father are stronger than the blessings of the eternal mountains and the bounty of the everlasting hills. May they rest on the head of Joseph, on the brow of him who was prince among his brother.' (Genesis 49:22-26)

[edit] Critical view

According to the Documentary Theory of the Pentateuch, the narratives concerning Joseph (Gen. 37 and 39) are composed of two principal strata: a Jahwist stratum and an Elohist one, with a few details here and there from the compiler of the Priestly Code (for details see J. E. Carpenter and G. Harford-Battersby, Hexateuch, pp. 58-79). According to the Yahwistic narrative, Joseph is rescued by Judah when his brethren plot against him, and is afterward sold to Ishmaelites, who in turn sell him to an Egyptian of high position whose name is not given. The wife of this Egyptian brings an accusation against Joseph, and he is cast into prison; but the jailer makes him overseer of the other prisoners.

The Yahwistic account of his escape from prison has been omitted; and in the sequel nothing is said about Simeon's becoming a hostage. The brethren open their sacks at a halting-place and find their money; Judah offers to become surety to his father for Benjamin's return; the Israelites settle in the land of Goshen; and Jacob's life closes with his poetic blessing. In the Elohistic portions Joseph is rescued from his other brethren by Reuben and thrown into a pit, from which he is taken and sold to the Midianites; they in turn sell him to Potiphar, captain of the guard, who makes him ruler over the prisoners confined in his house. Afterward, when his brethren are accused of being spies, they volunteer the information about the younger brother. Simeon is left in Egypt as a hostage; the others open their sacks at the end of their homeward journey; Reuben offers to become security for Benjamin's return; and there is no mention of Goshen.

In other respects the narratives seem to have been closely parallel. The Priestly Code adds a few statistics and gives a list of the people who went down to Egypt. Modern critics have made various estimates of the historical worth of these narratives of Joseph. As the reputed ancestor of the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh, he is regarded by some as altogether legendary or even mythical. Thus Winckler held the story of Joseph to be a sun-myth ("Gesch. Israels," part ii., pp. 73-77; see, however, his "Abraham der Babylonier, Joseph der Egypter," 1903); while the fact that "Jacob-el" and "Joseph-el" appear in a list of Tutmoses III as the names of places in the Land of Israel (W. Max Müller, Asien und Europa, pp. 163ff), lends to the legendary view some probability.

Still, even if these narratives should prove to be legendary, not every legend is a sun-myth. On the other hand, archeological evidence has been urged in favor of the historical character of Joseph. Two of the Amarna tablets (Schrader, "K. B." v., Nos. 44, 45) show that a Semite held a position in Egypt quite analogous to that attributed to Joseph. The Egyptian Tale of Two Brothers shows that such situations as that in which Joseph found himself with the wife of his master were not unknown in Egypt (comp. Archibald Sayce, Verdict of the Monuments, pp. 209-211). The Egyptians attached great significance to dreams, as they are said to have done in the Biblical narrative (comp. Brugsch, History of Egypt, pp. 200, 314, 406); famines of long duration were also not infrequent, being produced by the failure of the Nile overflow. One such drought (1064-1071), is attested by the Arabic historian al-Makrizi (comp. Stanley, "Jewish Church," i. 79).

[edit] Joseph's time-line

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.'<ref> K.A. Kitchen, op. cit., pp.349-350</ref> It has been correctly noted that there were no chariots depicted in use during the Middle Kingdom.<ref>Ahmed Osman, Stranger in the Valley of the Kings/The Hebrew Pharaohs of Egypt, Bear, 1987, 2003</ref> However, this is not conclusive evidence that chariots were not employed in the late 13th Dynasty of Egypt's Middle Kingdom—a time 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 Kenneth Kitchen who maintains that 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.)"<ref>Kitchen, op. cit., p.349</ref> Kitchen supports his argument in a footnote to his book which states: "Horse remains of late Thirteenth Dynasty (just pre-Hyksos) were found at the fortress of Buhen; cf note by R.O. Faulkner, JEA 45 (1959):1-2"<ref> Kitchen, op. cit., p.577</ref> Consequently, a position for Joseph in the late Middle Kingdom or Hyksos (c.1650-1540 BC) period of Egypt is realistic. Chariots may also have been employed as early as the start of the Hyksos 15th Dynasty (c.1650 BC) when the Hyksos stormed Lower Egypt and captured Memphis thereby ending the Egyptian Middle Kingdom around 1650 BC. This could potentially give Joseph a state position during the Hyksos Dynasty; it would also 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. Though chariots only officially became a separate entity in the military from the reign of Tuthmosis IV, onwards, this does not establish a New Kingdom position for Joseph because chariots are known to have been certainly used for battle by the reign of Thutmose I, who is the first known New Kingdom Pharaoh depicted riding an Egyptian chariot on a scarab.[1] Moreover, 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. In his book, On the Reliability of the Old Testament, Kitchen writes:

"AT WHAT PRICE? (Paragraph Header) Against this overall background, the story of a young Joseph sold off [into slavery] into Egypt fits in easily, especially in the early second millenium, 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)[RFA] 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.)[RFB] Then in the first millenium, male slaves in Assyria fetched 50 to 60 shekels[RFC]"<ref>Kitchen, op.cit., pp.344-345</ref>

[RFA]: '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 shekels, see A. Falkenstein, Die Neusumerische Gerichtsurkunden I (Munich: Beck, 1956), 88 n.5 end.'<ref>Kitchen, op. cit., pp.576</ref>

[RFB]: 'For Nuzi, see B.L. Eichler, Indenture at Nuzi (New Haven: Yale University Oress, 1973) 16 and n.35, and texts listed on 17-18. On Ugarit, cf. Mendelsohn, Slavery, 118 and 155 n.181'<ref>Kitchen, op. cit., pp.576</ref>

[RFC]: 'For Assyria, see list in C.H.W. Johns, Assyrian Deeds and Documents III (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1924) 542-546'<ref>Kitchen, op. cit., p.576</ref>

[edit] In Arabic literature

The story of Joseph or Yusuf as it is told in Arabic literature has the same general outlines as the Biblical narrative; but in the Arabic account there is a wealth of accessory detail and incident. Some of these amplifications have been borrowed by Jewish writers (as in the Sefer ha-Yashar; see Grünbaum, "Zu 'Yussuf und Suleicha,'" in "Z. D. M. G." xliii. 1 et seq.). 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).

[edit] Joseph and Zulaikha

Main article: Yusuf and Zulaikha

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. 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 dumb 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. These stories are found in the Sefer ha-Yashar also; but their origin is certainly Arabic (see Grünbaum, l.c.).

[edit] Differences of tradition

There are certain minor points in which the Islamic story differs from the Biblical. 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 the Bible, 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.

[edit] House of Joseph

Main article: Tribe of Joseph

[edit] Other versions

The story of Joseph (Arabic يوسف Yūsuf) is also told in chapter 12 of the Qur'an. This is the Muslim version. Another source is Sefer ha-Yashar

The "Story of the Two Brothers," an Egyptian romance written for the son of a 12th century BC Pharaoh, contains an episode somewhat similar to the Biblical account of Joseph's treatment by Potiphar's wife. Scholars disagree as to whether the two stories shared a common source.

[edit] Joseph in 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.

Sons of Jacob by wife in order of birth (D = Daughter)
Leah Reuben (1) Simeon (2) Levi (3) Judah (4) Issachar (9) Zebulun (10) Dinah (D)
Rachel Joseph (11) Benjamin (12)
Bilhah (Rachel's servant) Dan (5) Naphtali (6)
Zilpah (Leah's servant) Gad (7) Asher (8)


[edit] References

<references />

de:Josef (Ägypten) es:José (soñador) eo:Jozef (filo de Jakob) fr:Joseph (Ancien Testament) he:יוסף ku:Ûsif nl:Jozef (aartsvader) pl:Józef (Biblia) pt:José (filho de Jacob) ru:Иосиф (в Библии) fi:Joosef, Jaakobin poika sv:Josef, Jakobs son zh:約瑟 (舊約聖經)

Joseph (Hebrew Bible)

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