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JOSEPH (Heb. יְהוֹסֵף, יוֹסֵף), son of *Jacob and Rachel. He was born in Paddan-Aram after his mother had been barren for seven years (Gen. 29:20, 30; 30:22–24, 25; 31:41). Nothing is related of his childhood.

Joseph and His Brothers

At the age of 17 Joseph tended his father's sheep in the land of Canaan. He became completely alienated from his brothers because he used to report their misdeeds to their father, because Jacob showed obvious favoritism toward him even to the extent of presenting him with a ceremonial robe, and because of a series of dreams in which he, Joseph, was the object of his brothers' adoration (37:1–11). On one occasion Jacob sent Joseph to visit his brothers and to report back on their welfare. The road led from Hebron to Shechem and on to Dothan, a route which corresponds to the ancient north-south road west of the Jordan which traversed the central hill country along the entire length of the Palestinian watershed. Each of the cities mentioned was an important site, whose mention would have resonated with the ancient audiences. When the brothers saw Joseph from a distance their hatred and hostility welled up into a desire to murder him. The present story combines different traditions about which brother attempted to save Joseph. According to Genesis 37:22, Reuben suggested it would be better to throw him into a nearby pit. He secretly hoped, thereby, to save Joseph's life and to take him back home. When Joseph approached, the brothers stripped him of his robe and cast him into the pit.

While they were partaking of a meal, and in Reuben's absence, a caravan of traders from Gilead bearing gum, balm, and laudanum passed by on its way to Egypt (cf. Jer. 8:22; 46:11). These items played an important role in the life and economy of ancient Egypt, and such a caravan would have come from Gilead by way of the *Beth-Shean Valley and would indeed have passed through Dothan in order to join the road leading to Egypt. At this point a different tradition surfaces, according to which Judah suggested selling Joseph to the traders who bought him for 20 pieces of silver (Gen. 37:25–6). The conflation of the two traditions is most obvious in Gen. 37:29–30, describing Reuben's discovery that Joseph was gone. At this point the story proceeds to describe how the brothers sought to deceive their father about Joseph's fate. They dipped the robe in the blood of a slaughtered kid and brought it to Jacob for identification. The patriarch recognized it, convinced that his son had been torn to pieces by a savage beast. He mourned for Joseph many days and his grief was inconsolable (Gen. 37:12–35).

Joseph in Potiphar's House

Meanwhile, Joseph was sold in Egypt to Potiphar, a courtier and chief steward of Pharaoh (37:36; 39:1). The sale into slavery in this manner accords with what is known from 18th-century b.c.e. and later slave inventories which well document the commercial traffic in human misery between Canaan and Egypt. Another authentic background note is the name and title of Joseph's master. "Potiphar" (ibid.) is generally regarded as an abbreviated form of "Poti-Phera," the name of Joseph's father-in-law (41:45), which appears in Egyptian sources as Pa-di-pa-reʿ, "He whom Re (the sun-god) had given." The first two syllables are quite common in Egyptian personal names. The title "chief steward," literally "chief cook," corresponds to the title wdpw, "cuisinier," which came to designate those who served as superintendents and judicial functionaries in pharaonic court, although it has parallels in Neo-Assyrian usage as well.

In his new situation, Joseph soon earned the confidence of his master, who promoted him to be his personal attendant and overseer of his estate (39:2–6), a function conforming to that frequently encountered in Egyptian texts as merper, or comptroller. Joseph's favorable turn of fortune did not last long, for after a while Potiphar's wife – unnamed in the text – attempted to seduce him. Notwithstanding her repeated blandishments, he resisted the temptation. In revenge, she slandered him before her husband, who had Joseph thrown into the prison where prisoners of the king were confined (39:7–20).

This episode in Joseph's life has aroused special interest on account of the presence of the same motif in an Egyptian narrative known as the "Tale of Two Brothers," which has been preserved in late sources, but which is undoubtedly more ancient. It tells of an unsuccessful attempt to seduce a bachelor brother-in-law, whose honor is then impugned by the temptress. The story provides local coloration for the biblical account, and if it were a popular piece of Egyptian fiction it could well have influenced the artistic form in which the biblical narrative has been presented; its moral climate is far different in that Joseph stresses the sin against God involved in the proposed act of treachery and adultery (39:9).

The focus of attention in the Genesis narrative is the nobility of Joseph's character and the salvation that came through suffering, placing the incident in the concatenation of events that led eventually to the migration of the Israelites to Egypt, their enslavement and redemption. It was precisely as a result of Joseph's innocent suffering that he was enabled to rise to power.

Joseph in Prison

During his incarceration, Joseph won the trust of the chief jailer who placed him in charge of his fellow prisoners. Among these were the chief *cupbearer, a title with Assyrian parallels, and the chief baker to Pharaoh (39:21–40:4). One night the two experienced disturbing dreams. That of the cupbearer was favorably interpreted by Joseph to mean that in three days' time a royal amnesty would restore him to his former position. The baker's anxiety, however, was not relieved; impalement awaited him.

Joseph then took the opportunity to beg the cupbearer to use his regained influence in order to get him freed from his undeserved imprisonment. The predictions were indeed fulfilled, but the cupbearer soon forgot Joseph (40:5–23). In this connection it must be remembered that the office of chief cupbearer carried with it far more than the name implies.

Pharaoh's Dreams

Some two years later, the fateful role played by dreams in Joseph's life manifested itself again. The inability of Pharaoh's magicians and sages to interpret his dreams reminded the chief cupbearer of his own experience in prison. Joseph was brought to the palace and Pharaoh related his dreams, which the Hebrew slave proceeded to explain as portending seven years of great abundance in Egypt to be followed by a similar period of famine. Joseph then offered some unsolicited advice on how to deal with the situation. He proposed the appointment of a supreme commissioner of supplies to be aided by overseers, and the organization of a reserve bank of food during the years of plenty (41:1–36).

It should be noted that on none of the occasions in which Joseph is involved with dreams does God figure explicitly. Nevertheless, it is naturally assumed that He is the ultimate source of the message being conveyed. Since throughout the ancient Near East, including Israel, dreams were recognized as a means of divine communication (cf. 20:3; 28:12–15; 31:11–13, 24), it is not surprising that they were productive of anxiety, heightened in this instance by their duplication. The science of dream interpretation was especially well developed in Egypt and in the rest of the ancient Near East. Neither Joseph nor his brothers needed the services of an interpreter and Joseph himself was careful to disclaim any innate ability, simply ascribing all to God (40:8; 41:16).

Further local background in the narrative of Pharaoh's dreams is provided by both the imagery and vocabulary employed. It is not an accident that the king saw cows rather than sheep, for the latter played a very minor role in the Egyptian economy while cows were abundant and important. Moreover, the motif of seven cows is attested in the literature. At the same time, the Hebrew terms used for the Nile (ye'or, 41:17) and for the reedgrass (ʾaḥu, 41:18) are borrowed from Egyptian. As for the predicted seven year cycles, this, too, is a very common motif in ancient Near Eastern sources. A special Egyptian twist is given to the famine cycle through a text dealing with the reign of the Third Dynasty king Djoser (c. 28th century b.c.e.), which reports on a severe famine attributed to the failure of the Nile to rise for seven years.

Joseph's Elevation

Joseph's advice to Pharaoh struck a responsive chord. The king was impressed by the man's mature wisdom, at once adopted his suggestions, and appointed him, then aged 30 (41:46), to be in charge of their practical application (41:37–40).

The possibility of the rise of a foreigner to high station in the Egyptian court and administration is well substantiated. A Semite named Yanḥamu was Egyptian commissioner for Canaan and Syria in the time of Akhenaten (14th century b.c.e.), and a certain Ben-Ozen from northern Canaan rose to the position of marshal at the court of Merneptah (13th century b.c.e.). This same king's brother married the daughter of a Syrian sea captain named Ben-Anath, and in the following century one of the judges in the trial of the murderers of Ramses iii bore the Semitic name Mahar-Baal.

The biblical account of the elevation and office of Joseph is unusually rich in detail. The multiplicity of titles and functions bestowed on Joseph reflects a well-known feature of the great Egyptian bureaucracy about which much is now known.

On the biblical account, Joseph assuredly penetrated the highest echelons of the Egyptian nobility and government. He reported directly to the king (41:40), a prerogative shared by several officials. He supervised the king's personal estates (45:8), a function that usually carried with it the titles "Great Steward of the Lord of the Two Lands" and "The Great Chief in the Palace." Pharaoh further put him in charge of all the land of Egypt (41:41), an office that corresponds to the title "Chief of the Entire Land." As the token of authority Pharaoh handed Joseph his signet ring (41:42). This recalls the title "Royal Seal Bearer" accorded selected high officials. In placing the gold chain about Joseph's neck (ibid.), the king was simply following another typically Egyptian form of investiture and conferring one of his highest distinctions. When Joseph described himself as "father to Pharaoh" (45:8) he was citing a known Egyptian title "God's [i.e., the king's] Father." Finally, as the one responsible for the storage and distribution of food as well as for the collection of tax payments on produce (41:48–49; 47:24), Joseph undoubtedly performed the functions of the high office known as "Overseer of the Granaries of Upper and Lower Egypt."

In addition to his generous distribution of honors and titles, Pharaoh had Joseph ride in the chariot of his second-in-command, while men cried before him "*Abrech!" (41:43), a word of uncertain meaning. He also gave him an Egyptian name, Zaphenath-Paneah (41:45), which means "the god speaks; he lives." This, indeed, is in conformity with the known practice of Asiatics in Egyptian service acquiring local names. The king also married his new administrator to Asenath, daughter of the high priest of On, or Heliopolis (41:45, 50). The lady's name is also explicable as good Egyptian and means "she belongs to (the goddess) Neith."

Joseph set to work in pursuance of his duties. He traveled the length and breadth of the land, organizing the establishment of store cities into which the good surpluses were garnered during the years of abundance (41:46–49). During this period he became the father of two sons, *Manasseh and *Ephraim, both of whose names signify a desire to forget the past (41:50–52).

The Reconciliation

With the onset of the cycle of famine years, Joseph saw his boyhood dreams fulfilled as his unsuspecting ten older brothers, who had arrived in Egypt to buy food, bowed low before him (42:1–6). He recognized them, but suppressed the fact, spoke harshly to them, interrogated them, accused them of spying, confined them in the guardhouse for three days, then sent them home with food, but not before he had detained Simeon, insisted on their bringing Benjamin, and had their purchase money put into the brothers' sacks of grain (42:7–26).

Under the pressure of severe famine and the importuning of his sons, Jacob agreed to let Benjamin go. Once again the brothers presented themselves before Joseph who invited them for a meal and freed Simeon. They presented Joseph with gifts, offered to repay the cost of the original purchases, and exchanged greetings. When Joseph saw Benjamin he was overcome with emotion and had to rush from the room to weep. All the brothers later dined together (Gen. 43).

Joseph once again instructed the house steward to restore the purchase money in each bag of grain and also to put his personal silver divining goblet into Benjamin's. The men left early next morning and had not gone far from the city when Joseph sent his steward after them to accuse them of the theft of his goblet. The surprised brothers protested their innocence and offered to become slaves if it be found in their possession. The steward, however, insisted that only the culprit would be enslaved, but when a search disclosed the goblet in Benjamin's sack the disconsolate brothers all started back for the city where Joseph was waiting for them. They prostrated themselves before him and resigned themselves to a fate of slavery, but Joseph, too, stressed that Benjamin alone would suffer (44:1–17).

Judah then made an impassioned plea reciting Joseph's insistence on seeing Benjamin, Jacob's reluctance to let him go, and the fatal impact upon their father that a misfortune to Benjamin would have. He offered to take upon himself his brother's punishment (44:18–34). Now Joseph could contain himself no longer. He ordered everyone else out of the room and, sobbing with emotion, revealed to his dumbfounded brothers his true identity, even as he tenderly and generously propounded the notion that his original kidnapping had proved to be an act of Providence to ensure the family's survival in the harsh years of famine. He bade them hurry back to Canaan to bring their father and families to him. He then embraced Benjamin and his other brothers (45:1–15). The news of what had occurred reached Pharaoh who sent orders supporting Joseph's invitation to his family and placed baggage wagons at their disposal, while Joseph sent expensive gifts (45:16–24).

The Migration to Egypt

The brothers returned to Canaan to tell their father the startling news. His initial incredulity soon gave way to acceptance and a strong desire to see his long-lost son (45:25–28). The patriarch set out for Beer-Sheba where he received divine reassurance and then moved toward Goshen as Joseph set out to greet him. The two met in a tearful embrace (46:29–30), after a separation of 22 years (cf. 37:2; 41:46, 53; 45:11).

Joseph arranged an audience with Pharaoh for his brothers and the king granted their request to settle in the Goshen region and even offered to appoint some of them as the superintendents of his cattle (47:1–6). Joseph then introduced his father to Pharaoh (47:7–10). The family settled in the choicest part of Egypt and Joseph sustained them throughout the next five years of famine (47:11–12).

The migration of Joseph's family from Canaan to Egypt in this fashion was not an extraordinary phenomenon in itself. This is verified by a papyrus bearing a report of an official on the eastern frontier to his superior relating how he had granted Edomite shepherd tribes permission to make use of the Nile Delta pasturage "to keep them and their flocks alive." It is clear that the official had the power to make ad hoc decisions of this type without having to refer to higher authority.

What is remarkable about the Israelite experience is that a routine family visit (45:28) has been transformed in the narrative into an event of national significance (46:3–4) transcending by far its immediate import. The Exodus from Egypt and the return to the land of Canaan henceforth became the major biblical motif.

Joseph's Agrarian Measures

The rest of the Joseph story is mainly taken up with various administrative measures wholly unrelated to the fortunes of the Israelites. Joseph secured for the crown the silver and livestock that the people possessed, as payment for rations supplied. Next, he nationalized the farmlands except for those held by the priests. He reduced the population to the status of bondmen and imposed a land tax of one-fifth of the produce of the soil (47:13–26).

As a matter of fact, the state of affairs here described as having been instituted by Joseph actually corresponds to the situation of state slavery that prevailed in Egypt following the expulsion of the Hyksos toward the end of the 16th century b.c.e. It must have come about over a long period of time which covered the life-spans of several pharaohs. The biblical narrative is probably intended to emphasize the great indebtedness of the crown to Joseph and hence the base ingratitude of the later pharaohs, "who did not know Joseph" (Ex. 1:8).

Joseph's Last Days

Jacob lived with his son in Egypt for 17 years. When he felt his end nearing, he extracted a pledge from Joseph to bury him in the ancestral vault in Canaan (Gen. 47:28–31; cf. 49:29–32). Joseph brought his two sons to be blessed by their grandfather and he witnessed their adoption by Jacob as well as the transference of the birthright from the elder, Manasseh, to the younger, Ephraim (48:1–20).

Joseph was present at his father's death (50:1; cf. 46:4). He had him embalmed and fulfilled his father's wishes, returning to Egypt after the burial (50:1–14). At this point, the brothers apparently feared that Joseph would take revenge for their cruel treatment of him in his youth. He, however, dispelled their fears by citing once again his personal theological interpretation of the kidnapping (50:15–21; cf. 45:5–8).

Joseph lived another 54 years after his father's death to see great-grandchildren by both his sons. He died at 110 – considered an ideal age, incidentally, among the Egyptians. In his last words he reiterated his faith in the ultimate fulfillment of the divine promises to the Patriarchs and he made his brothers swear that when the time came they would transfer his remains to the Promised Land. He was embalmed and placed in a coffin in Egypt (50:22–26), a tradition linking Joseph with the mummies for which Egypt was famed.

The Nature of the Narrative

Of all the Genesis narratives, those about Joseph are the longest and most detailed. They are not a collection of isolated and fragmentary incidents, but a continuous biography, novelistic in complexion, the artistic creation of a consummate storyteller even though it may have utilized variant traditions (cf. the interchange of Ishmaelites and Midianites in Gen. 37:25, 27, 28, 36). The account contains an unprecedented wealth of background material, especially relating to the mores of a non-Israelite people. From this point of view it provides greater opportunity for archaeological illumination than do the earlier Genesis stories. The Joseph stories preserve traditions of the Northern kingdom, which viewed Joseph as its eponymous ancestor.

Most striking and, in fact, unique, is the secularistic complexion of the narrative. Although there are no miraculous elements; no divine revelations experienced by Joseph, no associations with altars or cultic sites, the discourse is permeated with the consciousness of God at work, and if there is no direct intervention by Him in human affairs, no doubt is left that the unfolding of events is the directed act of Providence (Gen. 45:4–8; 50: 19–20).

Joseph in the Rest of the Bible

Outside of Genesis, the personality of Joseph receives scant attention. The Pentateuch indirectly refers to his services to the Egyptians (Ex. 1:8) and records only the fulfillment by Moses of Joseph's last wish (Gen. 50:25; Ex. 13:19). The Book of Joshua (24:32) completes this story by reporting the burial of his mortal remains in Shechem (cf. Gen. 33:19). A brief reference to the sale of Joseph into slavery is to be found in Psalm 105:17 which, in context, appears to be dependent on Genesis 45:5–8; 50:20. Another Psalms passage (81:6) may also relate to Joseph's experience in Egypt, but the exact meaning of the text is unclear and the name may be a generic term for all Israel, as in Psalms 80:2. In such cases a Northern Israelite origin for the composition may be supposed.

All other references to "Joseph" are either to the twin tribes Ephraim and Manasseh (Gen. 49:22, 26; Deut. 27:12; 33:13; Ezek. 47:13; 48:32; et al.), or to the Northern Israelite Kingdom in general (Ezek. 37:16, 19; Amos 5:15; 6:6; Ps. 78:67), otherwise referred to as the "House of Joseph" (Amos 5:6; Obad. 18; Zech. 10:6; cf. Judg. 1:22, 23, 35; ii Sam. 19:21; i Kings 11:28).

The Name

The name Joseph is explained in Genesis 30:24 as meaning "May the Lord add another son for me." As a verbal form it is probably abbreviated from a fuller name containing a divine element (cf. Josiphiah, Ezra 8:10). The name once appears in the expanded form Jehoseph (Ps. 81:6), which is frequent in post-biblical inscriptions.

[Nahum M. Sarna]

In the Aggadah

The extraordinary career of Joseph as related in Genesis provided a vast amount of material for the aggadists who utilized the biblical story to emphasize various social, religious, and political ideas. Joseph's steadfastness in the face of temptation, his filial love for his father, his loyalty to his family, and his conduct in high office became favorite object lessons in rabbinic homiletics. To some extent Joseph's adventures in Egypt were symbolic of Israel's fate among the nations and of the frequent change of fortune characterizing Jewish history. Joseph's life was accordingly compared to that of Jacob (Israel) whom he resembled in many respects (Gen. R. 84:6, et al.). Joseph's brothers were secondary to him, for his merits and learning exceeded theirs (84:5). Unlike his brothers who refused even to greet him, he would go out of his way to salute them even after he had risen to power, and he generally behaved with due modesty despite his high position. This was cited as an example to officeholders inclined to assume an attitude of arrogance (Tanḥ. B., Gen. 180; Ex. R. 1:7).

Despite Joseph's merits, both he and his doting father are taken to task for various faults which the rabbis were anxious to discourage among their disciples. Jacob is criticized for favoring Joseph over his other sons – an educationally unsound attitude (Shab. 10b) – and for his original failure to recognize the significance of Joseph's dreams (Gen. R. 84:11). Joseph's troubles were attributed to such acts as "painting his eyes, curling his hair, and walking with a mincing step" (84:7; cf. 87:3). He had also wrongly charged his brothers with serious offenses for which he was appropriately punished (87:3, et al.). Significantly, similar faults among the "disciples of the wise," including excessive pride in personal appearance, mutual slander, and lack of respect for each other are castigated in rabbinic literature (rh 26b; Yev. 62b; tj, Pe'ah 1:1, 15d–16a). Joseph was highly praised for honoring his father and obeying him even at the risk of his life (Mekh., 2, Proem; Gen. R. 84:13). When his brothers saw him at Dothan, they intended to kill him by setting dogs at him (84:14) – a punishment deserved by slanderers (Pes. 118a), but also a midrashic device to exonerate the tribal ancestors from legal culpability, since indirect murder of this type was not punishable by law (Sanh. 9:1). Joseph's righteousness is frequently stressed by the rabbis. As a result of it he emerged unharmed from the pit into which he had been cast, although it was full of snakes and scorpions (Shab. 22a; Gen. R. 84:16). The Ishmaelites who carried him to Egypt had with them sacks filled with spices instead of their usual merchandise which had an offensive odor (Tosef., Ber. 4:4; Gen. R. 84:17, et al.).

Potiphar's wife, who tried to seduce Joseph, is depicted in the aggadah as the prototype of the immoral pagan woman. The story of the wiles she used to win Joseph's heart was imaginatively expanded to serve as a perfect text for sermons on sexual morality. Her depravity is emphasized with a view to warning Jewish youths against the temptations of the flesh. Not only did she use the most indecent language (cf. Gen. 39:7) – in sharp contrast to Ruth in a comparable situation (cf. Ruth 3:9) – but she plotted to murder her husband so as to be free to marry Joseph (Gen. R. 87:4–5; Ruth R. 6:1). All her seductive efforts and threats were of no avail. She even became sick and wasted away on account of her unfulfilled love; but her pleading and weeping proved equally unsuccessful (Yoma 35b; arn1 16, 63; Gen. R. 87:5–6). Nevertheless some rabbis believed that Joseph had in fact been on the point of yielding to temptation, and only the timely appearance of his father's and/or mother's image had cooled his passion and prevented him from sinning (Sot. 36b; tj, Hor. 2:5, 46d; Gen. R. 87:7; 98; 20).

The rabbis also criticized Joseph's request to the butler to intercede with Pharaoh on his behalf (Gen. 40:14). He should not have put his trust in man, and for this reason had to stay in prison another two years (Gen. R. 89:2; Tanh. B. Gen. 189). The butler, represented as the archetype of the ungrateful and vicious pagan, not only "forgot" Joseph, but also did his best to discredit him in his report to Pharaoh (Gen. R. 89:7). The angel Gabriel, however, taught Joseph the traditional 70 languages, so that he could qualify to be ruler of Egypt (Sot. 36b). His elevation to power was the reward for his virtuous life (Gen. R. 90:3, et al.). Joseph's marriage to Asenath, daughter of Poti-Phera, priest of On (Gen. 41:45), is legitimized by late Midrashim which represent Asenath as Dinah's daughter (and hence Joseph's niece) later adopted by Potiphar, who is identified with Poti-Phera (pdre 38; Targ. Jon., Gen. 41:45 and 46:20). The possibility of Asenath's conversion from paganism is implicitly rejected. Earlier Midrashim, however, which depict Asenath as the natural daughter of Potiphar and his wife and represent Joseph as refusing to sell grain to Egyptians who would not be circumcised (Gen. R. 85:2; 90:6; 91:5), reflect the view of those who favored active proselytizing.

In contrast to the biblical account that Joseph had forgotten his "father's house" (Gen. 41:51), the rabbis maintained that he was in mourning, wearing sackcloth and fasting, and refrained from drinking wine during all the years he was separated from his family (Gen. R. 85:1; 92:5; 93:7; 98:20; Shab. 139a). The Midrash also softens the harsh treatment accorded by Joseph to his brothers, and points out that he had behaved like a brother to them when they were in his power, while they had not treated him like a brother when he was in their power (Gen. R. 91:7; et al.). Simeon, who had cast Joseph into the pit (84:16; 91:6), was only ostensibly chained by Joseph; but as soon as the other brothers had left, "he gave him to eat and drink, and bathed and anointed him" (91:8). According to one view, however, Joseph died before his brothers because he had assumed superior airs toward them (Ber. 55a; Sot. 13b.). The confrontation between Joseph and his brothers is depicted in the Midrash as a clash between warriors endowed with superhuman strength. Judah especially, representing no doubt the Jewish people, is shown to be a man of fantastic physical powers which he threatens to use not only against Joseph, but against Pharaoh and the Egyptians (Gen. R. 91:6; 92:8; 93:6–8). The anti-Egyptian trend of the midrashic narrative reflects the violent hostility between Jews and Egyptians during the first and second centuries c.e.

Joseph's order to have Jacob embalmed – an Egyptian custom not practiced among Jews – was criticized by R. Judah ha-Nasi, but other rabbis maintained that it had been done in accordance with Jacob's own instructions (Gen. R. 100:3). A similar difference of views arose regarding Joseph's embalmment, carried out, according to one opinion, by the (Egyptian) physicians, and according to another, by his brothers (100:11). The issue in the case was apparently whether non-Jews could be permitted to handle the body of an Israelite. According to the aggadah, Joseph's body was placed in a metal coffin which the Egyptians dropped into the Nile so that its waters should be blessed. Others maintain that he was buried in a royal sepulcher as befitted his station in life. At the time of the Exodus from Egypt, Moses miraculously raised the coffin from the Nile or royal mausoleum and took it with him. During the 40 years' wandering in the wilderness, the coffin was carried next to the *Ark of the Covenant because "This one [Joseph] fulfilled all that was written in the other" (Sot. 13a–b; Tosef., Sot. 4:7; Mekh. 2, Proem., et al.).

[Moses Aberbach]

In Islam

Yūsuf was one of *Muhammad's most beloved characters; he consecrated a whole sura (the 12th) to him ("the Sura of Joseph"), which contains "the most beautiful tale," in 111 continuous verses. The tale begins with Jacob's warning to his son not to tell his dream of the sun, the moon, and the stars to his brothers because it might arouse their jealousy. Indeed, Joseph became the object of his brothers' hatred and they availed themselves of the first opportunity to throw him into the pit. Muhammad continues in light of the Bible and the aggadah and he embellishes his words when he tells of Joseph's enticement by the wife of his master (see Qiṭfir = *Potiphar), whom Muhammad knows only by the name of al-ʿAzīz ("the Mighty"; verses 30, 51). Joseph was saved from her designs because Allah was with him. His shirt, which was torn from behind, was definite proof that the woman had not protected herself from the intentions of Joseph, but that she had attacked and attempted to seize hold of him when he had fled from her presence. The Egyptian women mocked the stupid woman, and when the latter invited them to a feast, she presented each of them with a knife, together with the refreshments. She then ordered Joseph to appear before the guests, and when they looked upon him, they were so enraptured by his beauty that they cut their fingers with the knives. The tale then returns to its biblical course. Before Joseph was appointed head of the king's granaries, the woman came to Pharaoh and confessed that Joseph was one of the al-ṣādiqīn, "the righteous" (verse 51), and that she had sought to entice him (similarly, the chief butler refers to him (Joseph) as al-ṣiddīq, "the righteous one"; verse 46). According to Speyer, this was due to the influence of a Syrian legend, so that Joseph would not desire vengeance against her and her husband, who had imprisoned him. Before the brothers went to Egypt for the second time, their father advised them not to enter together, through one gate (verse 67). The latter detail is taken from the Jewish aggadah (Gen. R. 91:2).

In post-koranic literature the tale of Joseph and Zulayka (the name of Qiṭfir's wife) was considerably enlarged upon. It is developed into an independent subject which undergoes a romantic adaptation in prose and poetry in the Arabic and Persian languages. It is evident that many tales which stem from Jewish and Christian legends have been incorporated in this episode.

[Haïm Z'ew Hirschberg]

In the Arts

Few biblical figures have inspired more extensive and more universal literary treatment than Joseph. He appears in most of the medieval mystery cycles, in L'Estoire Joseph (an Old French poem), and in the early 13th-century Iacob and Iosep, where the biblical account is conveyed in lively English paraphrase. At about the same period, Shaiyad Hamza wrote a Turkish poem on the theme of Joseph and Potiphar's wife (Zulayka). The theme was popular in the Islamic world, where writers based their work on the 12th sura of the Koran. Though differing in detail, the Islamic legend follows the Hebrew Bible in broad outline. The Persian poet Jāmī (Maulānā Nūreddin Abd'el-Rahmān Jāmī) wrote his most famous romance, Yūsufo Zuleikhā, toward the end of the 15th century. In several variations a poem about "Yuçuf " (written in the 13th or 14th century) was current in Muslim Spain and gave rise to later Christian adaptations (El poema de José). The Jews of medieval Spain also created a tradition of their own which, in *Ladino literature, was entitled the Poema de Yosef or Coplas de Yosef. A definitive form of the latter, by Abraham de Toledo, was Coplas de Yosef ha-Ẓaddik (1732). The story of Joseph gained fresh popularity during the Renaissance and the Reformation. By 1560 there were 12 English plays on the subject and dozens more in French, Spanish, Italian, Dutch, and German. Protestant writers especially favored a moralistic treatment of Joseph's temptation, imprisonment, and final rise to glory and power, which gave them the opportunity of composing long speeches on virtue and the reward of the righteous and the punishment of evildoers. The many other colorful episodes in Joseph's career were, however, generally ignored. Some works of the 16th century were Sixtus Birck's German drama Joseph (1539); Iosephus… Fabula sacra … (Antwerp, 1544), a neo-Latin verse play by the Flemish Catholic Georgius Macropedius (Joris van Langhveldt); Miguel de Carvajal's Spanish Tragedia Josephina (Seville, 1545); and Żywot Józefa z pokoleniażydowskiego (1545), a play by the Polish Calvinist Mikołaj Rej. One of the oldest Russian poems is the Istoriya o prekrasnom Yosife, which was probably the basis for later works about Joseph in the Slavonic languages. The rhymed allegorical Joseph by the Alsatian writer Thiebolt Gart (1540), based on a Latin school play by Cornelius Crocus (1536) and first staged in Schlettstadt, was the outstanding German drama of the 16th century. The Italian sacre rappresentazioni of the era included Simone Martelli's Joseph figliuolo di Jacob (Florence, 1565).

Interest in the subject during the 17th century was more or less confined to writers in England, Holland, and Germany. The late English cycle of mystery plays known as the Stonyhurst Pageants (c. 1625) includes a Pageant of Joseph. Two other treatments of the period were Sir Francis Hubert's poem, Egypt's Favorite: The Historie of Joseph (London, 1631), and Sir Thomas Salisbury's versified History of Joseph (London, 1636). Among the Dutch Catholic Joost van den Vondel's biblical verse plays were Josef (1635), Joseph in Dothan (1640), and Joseph in Egypten (1640); while Hugo de Groot (Grotius), the eminent jurist and statesman, wrote Sophomopaneas (Eng. tr. 1652), a verse tragedy partly reflecting his own career as a diplomat in the service of Sweden. Two outstanding works by German writers were the Histori vom keuschen Joseph (1667) by Hans Jakob Christoffel von Grimmelshausen, later reworked as Des vortrefflich keuschen Josephs in Egypten… Lebensbeschreibung (16712); and Assenat (1670), a baroque novel by Philipp von Zesen. The subject continued to attract literary attention during the 18th century, particularly in England, where the works which it inspired included Hannah More's Joseph Made Known to his Brethren (in Sacred Dramas, 1782). In Switzerland, Johann Jacob Bodmer published several dramatic treatments, notably the epic Joseph und Zulika (1753) and two tragedies, Der erkannte Joseph and Der keusche Joseph (both 1754). Three other works of the period were Josephreconnu par ses frères (Paris, 1786), a sacred drama by Félicité Ducrest de Saint-Aubin, countess of Genlis; the Spanish play El mas feliz cautiverio, y los sueños de Josef (Madrid, 1792); and Gedullat Yosef, or Milḥamah be-Shalom… be-Inyan Mekhirat Yosef (Shklov, 1797), an early Hebrew drama by Abraham b. Aryeh Loeb Ḥayyim ha-Kohen of Mogilev.

The theme retained its popularity throughout the 19th century, when it was exploited by a number of Jewish writers. In Hebrew, Suesskind Raschkow (d. 1836) wrote the drama Yosef ve-Asenat (Breslau, 1817); N.S. Kalckar in Denmark was the author of Gedullat Yosef (1834); and the Palestine kabbalist Joseph Shabbetai Farhi (c. 1802–1882) produced his romance Tokpo shel Yosef (1846). Later, the Czech half-Jew Julius *Zeyer published Asenat (1895), a short novel about Joseph in Egypt. In Aden, Baghdad, and Tunis, there were from the late 19th century onward, many Judeo-Arabic versions of the biblical story under such titles as Ma'aseh Yosef ha-Ẓaddik. Non-Jewish authors who dealt with the subject included the Serbian Milovan Vidaković (Istorija o prekrasnom Josifje, 1805); the prolific French dramatist Alexandre Duval, whose Joseph (Paris, 1807) was set to music by the composer Méhul; and the U.S. poet John Eyre (The Story of Joseph and his Brethren, 1854). The theme retained its vogue in England, with works headed by Charles Jeremiah Well's epic Joseph and his Brethren (1824), which aroused much interest in its day. One British curiosity was the Gaelic work, Each draidh Joseiph, Mhic Jacoib (1831). There were also two distinct, but similarly titled, Italian works in verse, Giuseppe, figlio di Giacobbe (Lucca, 1817; Naples, 1820); and Lyubimets (1872), a Russian short novel by D.L. Mordovtsev.

Some of the most significant treatments of the subject have been produced by 20th-century authors. In the U.S., Louis Napoleon Parker wrote a pageant play, Joseph and his Brethren (1913), which was staged successfully in both America and England, Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree playing the title role in the British production. There were many works of note in the Old World. Jāzeps un via brāłi (1919), a play by the Latvian writer J. Rainis (Jānis Pliekšans, 1865–1929), was staged in London as The Sons of Jacob in 1924. French biblical dramas included Camille Renard's Joseph vendu par ses frères; figure du Messie (1920) and Benoît L'Hermite's four-act tragedy Joseph, victime et sauveur (1932). The characteristic eroticism of the Flemish writer Hubert Léon Lampo is revealed in his novel De belofte aan Rachel (1952). One of the greatest literary treatments of all time is that contained in Thomas *Mann's novel cycle Joseph und seine Brueder (1933–42; Joseph and His Brothers, 1934–44) begun in the year of Hitler's rise to power in Germany. This tetralogy, a subtle blend of biblical history, legend, and psychological characterization, consists of Die Geschichten Jaakobs (1933; Joseph and his Brothers, 1934), Der junge Joseph (1934; Young Joseph, 1935), Joseph in Aegypten (1936; Joseph in Egypt, 1938), and Joseph, der Ernaehrer (1942; Joseph the Provider, 1944). The subject has also formed the basis of several important works by Jewish writers of the 20th century. The three earliest were Josef, das Kind (1906), a verse play by Emil (Bernhard) *Cohn; Die Josephslegende (1914) by Hugo von *Hofmannsthal; and Josef und seine Brueder (1917) by Micha Josef *Berdyczewski. One of the first biblical works of the Yiddish novelist Sholem *Asch was his play Yosef-Shpil (1924), and two Yiddish novels of the 1930s were Der Prints fun Mitsrayim (1931) by Saul Saphire and Kenaan un Mitsrayim (193?) by Hirsch Melamed. There have also been a large number of plays and stories on the theme written for Jewish children by authors in Britain and the U.S.

in art

Joseph does not appear before the fifth century. He does not figure in the art of the Christian catacombs, since he was not mentioned in the prayers of the Commendatio Animae from which its subjects were mainly drawn. However, in the Middle Ages, Joseph was popularly regarded as the type of Jesus, and the tradition remained in vogue among Christians. Joseph was seldom presented on his own but was sometimes found among the sculptures of patriarchs and prophets surrounding the doors of medieval cathedrals. There are many cycles representing the story of Joseph. They are found in manuscripts, including the fifth/sixth-century Vienna Genesis (Vienna State Library), and Cotton Bible (British Museum), the 13th-century St. Louis Psalter, and the 14th-century Queen Mary Psalter, and also in Hebrew manuscripts such as the Sarajevo Haggadah. There are cycles in ivory, such as that on the sixth-century ivory chair of Bishop Maximian (Ravenna), and in mosaic, including eighth-century mosaics in Rome and 12th-century mosaics from the cupolas of the narthex of St. Mark's Cathedral, Venice, and from the Baptistery in Florence. Among early cycles of wall paintings are eighth-century frescoes from Santa Maria Antica, Rome, 12th-century Romanesque frescoes from Saint-Savin, France, and a very detailed 14th-century cycle from Sopočani in Serbia.

During the Renaissance, the story of Joseph figured in the celebrated bronze doors made for the Baptistery in Florence by Lorenzo Ghiberti and in the frescoes in the Campo Santo, Pisa, by Benozzo Gozzoli. The theme also occurs in the frescoes of the Raphael loggie in the Vatican. Other 16th-century cycles include the Storia di Giuseppe Ebreo by Jacopo da Pontormo, medallions by the Master of the Joseph Cycle (Berlin Museum), the Chaise-Dieu tapestry (1518), and carvings on the choir stalls at Amiens. Joseph also inspired a series of murals by Philipp Veit, Freidrich Overbeck, Wilhelm Schadow, and Peter Cornelius – members of the early 19th-century German Nazarene brotherhood – for the Casa Bartholdy in Rome. They are now in the Berlin Museum. Veit contributed frescoes of Joseph and Potiphar's wife and of the fat and lean years in Egypt.

There are a number of paintings by great masters of individual episodes from the life of Joseph. In the Six Gallery in Amsterdam, there is a grisaille painting by *Rembrandt of Joseph relating his dreams to his family (Gen. 37:1–10). A painting by Murillo (Wallace Collection, London) shows Joseph sold to the Midianites by his brothers (Gen. 37:28). There are two paintings by Rembrandt of Jacob receiving the bloodstained coat of Joseph (Gen. 37:31–36), one in the Hermitage, Leningrad, and another in the collection of the Earl of Derby. In addition, there is a pen drawing by Rembrandt. The subject is also treated by Velasquez in a painting in the Escorial and by the English pre-Raphaelite painter, Ford Madox Brown, in The Coat of Many Colors (1866; Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool). The attempted seduction of Joseph and his subsequent denunciation by Potiphar's wife (Gen. 39) is a picturesque episode much illustrated by artists of the 16th and 17th centuries. There is a painting in the Prado by Tintoretto and several by the later Italian artists, including one by Carlo Cignani (Dresden), showing a young woman who throws herself at Joseph, while the latter reels back in virtuous horror. In northern Europe, Lucas van Leyden made an engraving on the subject, and Rembrandt painted it twice (Berlin Museum and National Gallery, Washington). Here, Potiphar's wife is shown sitting on her bed in the act of denouncing Joseph to her husband. There is a sensitive painting by Barent Fabritius, a pupil of Rembrandt (Mauritshuis, Hague), of Jacob permitting Benjamin to leave with his brethren (Gen. 43:11–15), and another by Jacopo da Pontormo of Joseph and his Brothers in Egypt (National Gallery, London). In a work by the French artist Paul-Gustave Doré, Joseph is seen dramatically revealing his identity to his awestruck brethren. Jacob blessing his sons (Gen. 48:1–21) is the subject of a wood engraving by Holbein and of paintings by Guercino and Rembrandt. The painting by Rembrandt (Cassel Museum, Germany) shows Joseph standing over the dying Jacob, while the latter places his hands on the heads of Joseph's children.

in music

Joseph and his brothers make an early appearance in music in a 12th-century liturgical drama from Laon, France. The theme is found among the earliest oratorio subjects at the beginning of the 17th century. The greatest number of settings are those of Pietro Metastasio's Giuseppe riconosciuto (Vienna, 1733, for M. Porsile), its composers including J.A. Hasse (1741), L. Boccherini (1756), and K. Fr. Fasch (1774). Other librettos of the period were J.B. Neri's Giuseppe che interpreta i sogni, set by A. Caldara (1726), who had already set a libretto by A. Zeno in his opera Giuseppe (Vienna, 1722); and Handel's oratorio Joseph and his Brethren, to a text by James Miller (first performed at Covent Garden Theatre, London, 1744). The 19th century opens with Méhul's opera Joseph (1807; text by Duval), for male voices only, which has remained a classic; the century ends with two parodies: Victor Roger's Joséphinevendue par ses soeurs (Paris, Bouffes Parisiennes, 1886) and Edmond Diel's operetta Madame Putiphar (Paris, 1897). Richard Strauss's ballet Die Josephslegende (1914) had a libretto by Hugo von Hofmannsthal and H. Kessler. Another ballet, Werner Josten's Joseph and his Brethren (première in New York, 1936), was also arranged as a symphonic suite (1939). The Israel composer Erich Walter *Sternberg wrote a suite for string orchestra entitled The Story of Joseph (1942). Two settings are based on Thomas Mann's novel cycle: David *Diamond's Young Joseph for three-part women's chorus and string orchestra (1944, publ. 1947), and Hilding Rosenberg's cycle of four opera-oratorios, Josef och hans bröder (composed between 1945 and 1948).

[Bathja Bayer]


W.F. Albright, in: jbl, 37 (1918), 111–43; Albright, Stone, 241–8; H.G. May, in: ajsll, 47 (1931), 83–93; T.O. Lambdin, in: jaos, 73 (1953), 145–55; G. von Rad, in: vt Supplement, 1 (1953), 120–7; Pritchard, Texts, 23–25, 31–32, 212, 229, 259, 414, 486, 495; J.M.A. Janssen, in: Jaarbericht… Ex Oriente Lux, 14 (1955), 63–72; P. Montet, L'Egypt et la Bible (1959); J. Vergot, Joseph en Égypte (1959); W.A. Ward, in: jss, 5 (1960), 144–50; N.M. Sarna, Understanding Genesis (1966), 211–31. in the aggadah: Ginzberg, Legends, 2 (19466), 3–184; 5 (19476), 324–77; B. Heller, in: mgwj, 70 (1926), 273–6. in islam: H.A.R. Gibb and J.H. Kramers, Shorter Encyclopaedia of Islam (1953), s.v.Yūsuf b. Yaʿkub, incl. bibl.; J. Horovitz, Die Josepherzählung (1921); H. Speyer, Die Biblischen Erzählungen… (1961), 187–224. add. bibliography: R. Firestone, "Yūsuf," in: eis2, 11 (2002), 352–54 (incl. bibl.). in the arts: J.D. Yohannan, Joseph and Potiphar's Wife in World Literature (1970); L. Humphreys, in: idbsup, 491–93; D. Redford, A Study of the Biblical Story of Joseph (1970); idem, Egypt, Canaan, and Israel in Ancient Times (1992), 422–29; G. Coats, in: abd, 3, 976–81; S.D. Sperling, Original Torah (1998), 91–102; S. Bar, A Letter That Has Not Been Read: Dreams in the Hebrew Bible (2001).


views updated May 18 2018


The story of Joseph and his brothers, recounted in the Book of Genesis, involves a great misdeed committed within a family and the forgiveness that eventually followed. Joseph, one of twelve sons of Jacob, was hated by his brothers due to the preferential treatment he received from his aging father. The brothers sold Joseph into slavery, but he eventually rose to wealth and high appointment in Egypt. In a perfect position to exact revenge on his brothers, Joseph instead chose to forgive them. Joseph's two sons would grow up to lead two of the twelve tribes of Israel.

Early Life

The account of Joseph's life, which takes place in Egypt, is recounted in the Book of Genesis. However dates of his life can only be approximated, as the Book does not mention any particular Pharaoh (ruler of Egypt). In addition, the Egyptian customs and manners which were depicted do not definitively identify any specific period in Egyptian history, although there are strong indications that it took place during the Hyksos era.

Joseph was born in Haran. He was the son of Jacob and Rachel. His name is either a contraction off Jehoseph or an abbreviation of Joseph-El. He was the eleventh son of Jacob and the first born of his mother, who was not able to have any children for a long period of time.

Joseph's brothers were born to Jacob from three other women: Leah, Bilhah, and Zilpah. Leah was the first of Jacob's wives (in this period and place, it was not unusual for men to have more than one wife). Bilhah was Rachel's servant, and Zilpah was Leah's servant.

Leah gave birth to Reuben, the first-born son, and then Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun. Rachel wanted to have children so badly that she offered up her female servant Bilhah to Jacob, to be his wife, but for the sole purpose of bearing him children. Bilhah gave birth to Dan and Napthali. Zilpah gave birth to Gad and Asher. When Rachel was finally able to have children, she gave birth to Joseph. Later, she gave birth to Benjamin.

Jacob is estimated to have been ninety-one years old when Joseph was born. As a young boy, Joseph spent a great deal of time with his father, because his father was so old. As such, a strong love developed between Jacob and Joseph.

The Favorite Son

By the time he was seventeen years old, Joseph worked as a shepherd on his father's land in Canaan. His brothers did the same work, and all of them, including Joseph, worked equally hard. However, the other brothers did not like Joseph, as they could see that he was their father's favored son. The brother's jealousy festered when Jacob presented Joseph with a many-colored cloak. In addition, Joseph often reported to his father about some of the misdeeds his brothers committed.

Fueling his brothers' hatred, Joseph liked to relate his dreams, especially the ones that revealed he would become an important person one day. In one dream, even the sun, moon, and eleven stars bowed down to Joseph. But the dream even annoyed Jacob, who admonished his son for revealing such a self-important vision. His brothers questioned him sarcastically, asking Joseph if he really believed he would one day rule over them or that one day they would bow before him.

Sold into Slavery

One time, Joseph's brothers went to a place called Shechem to do business for their father. Later, Jacob instructed Joseph to go check on his brothers. When Joseph did not find them in Shechem, he learned they went to Dothan. Joseph followed them, and when they spotted him, they conspired to kill him and toss his body into a pit. However, Reuben, the oldest brother, suggested they only throw Joseph in the pit and leave him there, where he would eventually die. That way, they wouldn't be responsible for his murder. The brothers agreed, but Reuben had only made the suggestion so that he could later return to the still-living Joseph and rescue him from the pit.

When Joseph approached his brothers, they overpowered him, took his coat, and then threw him into the pit. Afterward, they stopped to eat. While dining, they saw a caravan of Ishmaelite traders from Gilead. The sight gave Judah and idea: It would be better to sell Joseph into slavery, so that they could profit from their deed.

After selling Joseph for twenty pieces of silver, the brothers took the coat they had taken from him and smeared it with the blood of a slaughtered goat. The idea was to show it Jacob, to convince their father that the missing son had been killed.

When the brothers presented the manufactured evidence to their father, Jacob recognized the coat and surmised that an animal had killed his son. His grief was enormous, and he mourned for a long time.

Became a Favored Slave

In the meantime, Joseph was taken to Egypt, where he was bought by Potiphar, who was an officer and head of the kitchen of Pharaoh. As it turned out, Potiphar took a liking to Joseph, and he made him his personal attendant and placed him in charge of his household.

But Joseph ran into some trouble with Potiphar's wife. As Joseph was young, well-built, and handsome, she often tried to seduce him. However, Joseph consistently spurned her, telling her that he loyal to both Potiphar and to God.

Imprisoned on False Slander

One day, when Joseph was working inside the house, Potiphar's wife grabbed his coat. Frightened, Joseph ran from the house. Later, Potiphar's wife showed her husband the coat and claimed that Joseph had tried to seduce her. The outraged Potiphar sent Joseph to prison.

While in prison, the apparently likeable Joseph gained the friendship of the chief jailor, who placed Joseph in charge of all of the other prisoners. Two of the other prisoners included the Pharoah's butler and baker. One night, both of these men had strange, disturbing dreams, so they went to Joseph, who seemed to possess the ability to interpret dreams. Joseph told the butler that his dream meant that he would soon be released from prison and return to his previous position. Only three days later, the interpretation came true. As the butler was leaving, Joseph asked him to put in a good word for him to the Pharoah. The butler agreed, but later forgot about Joseph.

Attained High Position in Egypt

However, two years later, the Pharoah experienced troubling dreams that his magicians could not interpret. The butler remembered Joseph and told Pharaoh about him. Pharaoh sent for Joseph.

By now, Joseph was thirty years old. He listened to the Pharoah's dream and told the ruler that the dream predicted seven years of feast that would be followed by seven years of famine. In addition to the interpretation, he offered advice. He suggested that the Pharoah place a wise man in charge of all of the land who would organize the gathering and storage of food in preparation for the upcoming years of famine. The Pharoah was so impressed with Joseph's advice that he elevated the former prisoner to his second-in-command. Essentially, Joseph became that "wise man" who would plan for the famine. He was in placed in charge of gathering and storing grain for the upcoming famine, and his duties took him to cities all throughout Egypt. For his new position, Joseph received a ring, a gold necklace and fine clothes. Also, the Pharaoh gave him the Egyptian name Zaphenath-paneah and gave him a wife, Asenath, who was the daughter of the priest Potiphera. During these years, Asenath and Joseph had two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim.

Joseph Encountered Brothers in Egypt

When the famine struck, it was widespread, and Egypt was the only country that had food. Joseph rationed grain to Egyptians and to outsiders who came seeking help.

Canaan was one of many places affected by the famine, so Jacob sent his ten sons to Egypt to buy food. After Joseph's disappearance, Rachel and Jacob had one more son, Benjamin, but he remained behind, as Joseph was concerned about his safety.

When the brothers reached Egypt, they bowed down to Joseph, unaware of who he was. Joseph recognized his brothers but pretended he did not. Joseph interrogated them and accused them of being spies. To try and prove their innocence, the brothers revealed they had a younger brother back home, and that they were concerned for his safety. Joseph imprisoned the brothers for three days then demanded that they go home and bring back their youngest brother, to prove they were telling the truth. The brothers consulted among themselves and said that they knew they were finally being punished for what they had done to their brother Joseph. Joseph overheard them and wept, but he continued his deception. He gave the brothers provisions for their journey and grain for their homeland, but he kept Simeon in jail, to ensure his brothers' return. He also returned to them the money they had paid, but he did it without their knowledge, slipping the money into one of the brother's bags.

Back home, the brothers told Jacob what happened in Egypt and asked that Benjamin be allowed to accompany them. Jacob refused. He had already lost Joseph, and now it looked as if he lost Simeon as well. He did not want to lose another son. Reuben promised that Jacob could kill his own sons if he did not return safely with Benjamin. Still, Jacob refused.

Famine Forced Brothers Back to Egypt

Eventually, the rations ran out, and the brothers had no choice but to return to Egypt for more supplies. Jacob sent the brothers back to Egypt with Benjamin, along with a gift for Joseph and twice the amount of money needed to repay Joseph for the money he returned to them during the first trip.

When the brothers reached Egypt, Joseph took them to the entrance of his house and instructed his servant to prepare a meal. The brothers were frightened. They feared that Joseph believed they had stolen the money that they had found in their bag at the end of the first trip. But Joseph only told them that God must have put it there because he received their payment.

The brothers then went inside and waited to eat. When Joseph returned, they gave him the gifts and bowed to him. He asked about their father. Bowing again, they said he was well. Soon, Joseph became overwhelmed with emotion, and he left the room. Then he came back and they all dined. He then instructed his servant to fill the brothers' bags with food, return each one's money a second time, and put his own silver goblet in Benjamin's bag.

Joseph's True Identity Revealed

When the brothers left Egypt, Joseph's servant chased after them and accused them of stealing Joseph's goblet. He said that whoever had the goblet in his possession would be kept as a slave, while the others would go free. He found the goblet in Benjamin's bag. The brothers returned to Egypt and threw themselves at Joseph's feet, begging on Benjamin's behalf. But Joseph insisted that only Benjamin would become a slave. Judah pleaded passionately with Joseph, revealing Jacob's reluctance to send Benjamin and of his own responsibility in the matter. He told of the sorrow that Benjamin's loss would bring to Jacob. Finally, Joseph could not continue with the deception. He revealed his true identity. Then, Joseph again asked about his father. The brothers were too stunned to reply. Joseph explained that he was not angry with them.

He sent them home with instructions to tell Jacob what really had become of his beloved son Joseph. In addition, he wanted them to bring Jacob and his household to the nearby town of Goshen, where Joseph could care for all of them during the remainder of the famine. All of the brothers then wept and kissed.

When the brothers revealed the news to their father, Jacob initially did not believe them. But after he saw the wagons and provisions Joseph had provided, he knew it was all true.

Then Jacob, at age 130, set out for Goshen with the 70 members of his household. The brothers were placed in charge of the Pharoah's livestock. They now lived in Ramses, the richest part of Egypt, and Joseph provided them with food.

Eventually as the famine continued, and the Egyptian economy became endangered, Joseph established a just arrangement with the people, where they were supplied with seed and would return one-fifth of their crops to the Pharoah. All farmland became nationalized, and the people became serfs.

Jacob Died in Egypt

After Jacob had lived in Egypt for 17 more years, he asked Joseph to bury him not in Egypt but in the burial place of his fathers, in the cave of Machpelah. For Jacob knew that he was sick and dying. Before he passed away, he gave an extra portion of his inheritance to Joseph, a custom usually reserved for the first born. Jacob then blessed Joseph's sons and all of his own sons, saving the longest blessing for Joseph.

After Jacob passed away, the Egyptians mourned for seventy days, and Joseph returned to Canaan to bury his father.

Upon Jacob's death, the brothers feared that Joseph would finally take his revenge on them. They tried to convince Joseph that, before he died, Jacob had told them to tell Joseph that he wanted him to forgive them. They even offered to be his slaves. But the ruse and the offer were both unnecessary. Joseph told them that God had always intended that he go to Egypt, to save many people. Therefore, he intended to take care of his brothers, their children, and his father's household.

Lived for more than a Century

Joseph reportedly lived to be one-hundred-and-ten years old. He resided in Egypt with his brothers and their families until he died. He had many grandchildren and great-grandchildren from his sons, Manasseh and Ephraim.

Before Joseph died, he told his brothers that God would raise them up from Egypt—meaning the Jewish people—and take them to the "promised land." When Joseph died, his body was embalmed according the Egyptian custom and placed in a coffin in Egypt. According to accounts, when the Jews finally left Egypt, about one hundred years later, Moses carried out Joseph's bones. Eventually, Joseph was buried in Shechem, on a piece of land that Jacob had once owned.

Joseph's two sons became the ancestors of two large and important tribes in Israel. The northern Israelite kingdom is often times called the "House of Joseph."

Today, among scholars, the story of Joseph is considered historical fact and not allegorical historical fiction. The recorded story reveals numerous verifiable details about Egypt, particularly the Hyksos period, when the Pharaohs tended to be Semitic foreigners. That would explain how a Semite such as Joseph would attain such a high position in Egypt.

In addition, historical records reveal a significant economic change taking place during the Hyksos period. This change can easily be accounted for by details from the story of Joseph. Further, Egyptian monuments illustrate many details of the story of Joseph.


"Joseph," Catholic Encyclopedia, (January 9, 2005).

"Joseph," Christian Resource Center, (January 8, 2004).

"Joseph," Jewish Virtual Library, (January 9, 2005).

"Joseph: Son of Jacob (Part 1), Christian Churches of God, (January 9, 2005).

"Joseph: Son of Jacob (Part 2), Christian Churches of God, (January 9, 2005).


views updated Jun 11 2018


JOSEPH , or, in Hebrew, Yosef, was the firstborn son of Jacob's favorite wife, Rachel. The account of Joseph's life, which the Qurʾān (12:3) calls "the most beautiful of stories," is described in a uniquely detailed and sustained biblical narrative.

As Rachel's son, Joseph was treasured by his father. Resentful of Joseph's resulting conceit, his brothers sold him to a group of passing traders, who took him to Egypt, where he was purchased by one of pharaoh's officers. When Joseph, who is described as "attractive and good-looking" (Gn. 39:65), rejected the advances of the officer's wife, she accused him of attempted rape and had him imprisoned. In jail he demonstrated his ability to interpret dreams. He was therefore brought to pharaoh, whose dreams could not be otherwise understood. Joseph recognized them as warning that a period of abundance would be followed by famine. Elevated to high office to prepare Egypt for the coming threat, Joseph was given both an Egyptian name (Zaphenath-paneah) and wife (Aseneth).

As a result of Joseph's efforts, Egypt was ready for the difficult times that followed and even served as a resource for surrounding peoples. Joseph's brothers came from Canaan to purchase grain; he recognized and tested them before revealing himself and bringing the entire family to settle in the eastern Nile Delta. Joseph died at the age of 110; the Israelites took his bones to Canaan when they left Egypt during the Exodus.

Joseph's special status is attested by the ascription to him of two biblical tribes, named after his sons Ephraim and Manasseh. Ephraim came to dominate the northern kingdom of Israel, which is therefore also called the House of Joseph. Joseph's childhood dreams were thus fulfilled during the lifetimes of his descendants as much as during his own lifetime.

The story of Joseph is remarkable for its numerous human touches, which lead to the apparent absence of divine intervention so common elsewhere in Genesis. In fact, however, God is present, if not always visible, acting through human behavior (Gn. 45:5, 50:20). The narrative incorporates many elements found in other biblical tales, most strikingly in the stories of Daniel and Esther, which also describe an Israelite's rise in a foreign court. In postbiblical traditions, Joseph's fate is often connected to his personality: some present his experiences as a punishment for earlier wrongdoing; elsewhere they are seen as a trial intended to test his righteousness. Particular attention is devoted to his relationship with the wife of pharaoh's officer, elaborating on her efforts to attract Joseph or raising questions about his own role in the incident.

The historicity of the Joseph story has been defended on the basis of its incorporation of Egyptian vocabulary, customs, and narrative motifs. Historians since the first-century Josephus Flavius (Against Apion 1.103) have linked Joseph with the Hyksos, a West Semitic people who dominated Egypt toward the end of the middle Bronze Age. Their expulsion in the sixteenth century might then account for the Bible's statement that "there arose a new king over Egypt who did not know Joseph" (Ex. 1:8). However, none of these factors is sufficient historical proof. The author's knowledge of Egyptian culture hardly proves the story's historicity. The land of Canaan was long under Egyptian control, and there are several cases of apparently Semitic figures holding high positions in the Egyptian bureaucracy. As a result, such knowledge could have been acquired in any of several different periods.

See Also

Jacob; Rachel and Leah.


An overview of modern scholarship relating to the entire patriarchal period is in Nahum M. Sarna's Understanding Genesis (New York, 1970). This must, however, be read in conjunction with the historical information in Roland de Vaux's The Early History of Israel, translated by David Smith (Philadelphia, 1978). A detailed examination of the Joseph story, including both its literary characteristics and its Egyptian coloration, is in Donald B. Redford's A Study of the Biblical Story of Joseph (Genesis 3750) (Leiden, Netherlands, 1970). The ways in which the story has been elaborated and their relationships to other traditions are explored in Shalom Goldman, The Wiles of Women/The Wiles of Men (Albany, N.Y., 1995); James L. Kugel, In Potiphar's House (San Francisco, 1990); and Maren Niehoff, The Figure of Joseph in Post-Biblical Jewish Literature (Leiden, Netherlands, 1992). Louis Ginzberg's The Legends of the Jews, 7 vols., translated by Henrietta Szold (Philadelphia, 19091938), contains an exhaustive collection of rabbinic lore relating to biblical stories.

Frederick E. Greenspahn (1987 and 2005)


views updated May 21 2018


JOSEPH , pioneer family in Canadian business and Jewish life. The Canadian-Jewish branch of the Joseph family (some converted to Catholicism and others intermarried with Protestants) was founded by henry joseph (1775–1832), a nephew of Aaron Hart, regarded as the first permanent Jewish settler in Canada. In 1790, 15-year-old Henry arrived from England and settled in Berthier, Quebec, where he entered the fur trade. He later moved to Quebec City and established a chain of successful trading posts in the interior of the country (for a time, John Jacob Astor was one of his employees). He also became known as the "father of Canada's merchant marine" because of a shipping network he set up to move goods to and from his posts. He was one of three Jews among the founders of the Bank of Montreal in 1817, Canada's first bank. Henry Joseph and his son Samuel died in the cholera epidemic of 1832.

After Henry's death, his firm passed to his son abraham (1815–1886) of Quebec City. Besides the family business, Abraham served as president of the Quebec and Dominion Boards of Trade, a director of the Banque Nationale, president of the Stadacona Bank (when it failed during the panic of 1873, he used personal funds to repay investors and depositors), and a member of the Quebec city council (he failed in a bid for the mayoralty). He was a Grand Master of the Grand Masonic Lodge of Quebec and vice consul of Belgium in Quebec City. A memorial horse trough was erected there in his memory. Abraham's son, montefiore joseph (1851–1943), took over the family firm, as, in turn, did his sons and grandson after him.

Two others of Henry Joseph's sons, jacob henry (1814–1907) and JESSE (1817–1904) also made their mark in the Montreal business world. Jacob Henry Joseph, who married a niece of Rebecca *Gratz, the Philadelphia pioneer of Jewish Sunday school education, was a railway promoter and director with his brother, Jesse, organizing Canada's first railway, the Saint Lawrence and Champlain. He founded Canada's first telegraph line and was a partner in the Newfoundland Telegraph Company, president of the Montreal Elevator Company, vice president of the Montreal Board of Trade, a bank director, a real estate mogul, and a supporter of charitable and cultural institutions in Montreal.

Jesse Joseph, a life-long bachelor, studied law but eventually followed the family tradition into business. He served as president of both the Montreal Gas Company (he sold his interest in the Montreal Electric Company because he did not believe electricity had a future) and the City Passenger Railway, which formed the nucleus of Montreal's mass transit, and operated the Theatre Royale, the city's premier theater. A promoter of trade between Canada and Belgium, he was named Belgian consul in Montreal, and was one of the largest real-estate owners in the city. He was a member of the executive of the spca and known for giving lavish parties in the Sherbrooke Street mansion, which, after his death, became the McCord Museum of McGill University.

Like others of Canada's pre-1900 Jewish elite, the Josephs were proudly British and staunchly patriotic. Abraham Joseph belonged to the St. George's society, and his daughter-in-law, Annette Pinto Joseph, was a member of the Imperial Order Daughters of the Empire. Henry, the family patriarch, fought in the War of 1812, and his son, Abraham, fought with the Royal Volunteers during the Rebellion of 1837. The family firm boasted of having provisioned the troops in every war from 1837 to World War ii and never profiteered. Family members took full part in the social life of the English-speaking community in Quebec and seemed to suffer no discrimination because of their faith.

Although Henry's brother, Judah, became a Roman Catholic (one of his descendants, Joseph Olivier Joseph, was among the organizers of the French-Canadian, nationalist Saint Jean Baptiste Society in the 1870s), and some of Henry's grandchildren intermarried, the Josephs were remarkably faithful to their Jewish roots, despite the difficulties of practicing Judaism far from any sizeable community. Henry Joseph was a traditional Jew who instructed his children in Jewish living and taught himself ritual slaughtering so that the family would have a supply of kosher meat. His daughter, Esther (1823–1898), married Abraham *de Sola, the most significant Jewish minister of 19th century Canada; his son, Jesse, was a trustee of the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue in Montreal; and another son, gershom (1820–1893), a lawyer and the first Jewish Queen's Counsel in Canada, served as president of that synagogue when his nephew, Meldola de Sola, succeeded his father, Abraham, as minister.


M. Brown, Jew or Juif (1987); A. Joseph, Heritage of a Patriarch (1995); Dictionary of Canadian Biography, s.v.

[Michael Brown (2nd ed.)]


views updated Jun 08 2018


The American Indian Joseph (ca. 1840-1904), a Nez Percé chief, fought to preserve his homeland and did much to awaken the conscience of America to the plight of Native Americans.

Joseph was born in the Wallowa Valley of northeastern Oregon. In 1871, upon the death of his father, he assumed leadership of the nontreaty Nez Percé. White settlers coveted the traditional homeland of these Native Americans, and Joseph, seeking confirmation of Nez Percé territorial rights, met with Federal commissioners to discuss a spurious treaty in which the Indians had supposedly ceded their land to the U.S. government. The commissioners were disconcerted by Joseph, who stood 6 feet tall, was amicable but firm, and spoke with amazing eloquence.

Despite the obvious fraudulence of the old treaty, President Ulysses S. Grant opened the Nez Percé lands to settlement and ordered the Native Americans onto reservations. White settlers moved onto the land and committed atrocities against the Indians. Against his will, Joseph was forced by his tribesmen to fight. Pressed hard by Gen. Oliver Otis Howard's forces, Joseph was convinced that he could not win and began a lengthy withdrawal toward Canada. Pursued by Howard and harassed by many small detachments, Joseph fled toward Canada and thrilled the nation, whose sympathies were with the Native Americans.

During the fall of 1877 Joseph led his 500 followers into Montana. In the fighting he showed rare military genius and great humanity; he refused to make war on women and children, bought his supplies when possible, and allowed no mutilation of bodies. On October 1, as the Nez Percé paused to rest at the Bear Paw Mountains just 30 miles from Canada, they were surprised by Col. N. A. Miles with approximately 600 soldiers. With only 87 warriors, Joseph chose to fight. He would not abandon the children, the women, and the aged. After a 5-day siege, however, he said to Miles and his followers: "It is cold and we have no blankets. The little children are freezing to death… . Hear me, my chiefs. I am tired; my heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever."

The 431 remaining Nez Percé were taken to Kansas and subsequently to the Indian Territory (Oklahoma). There so many of them sickened and died that an aroused American public demanded action. Chief Joseph was moved to Colville Reservation in Washington, along with 150 of his followers; the others were returned to Oregon. Joseph made many pleas to be returned to his tribal homeland, but he died on Sept. 21, 1904, and was buried on the Colville Reservation.

Further Reading

The best of the many biographies of Joseph is Merrill D. Beal, I Will Fight No More Forever: Chief Joseph and the Nez Percé War (1963). Other interesting works include Helen Howard and Dan McGrath, War Chief Joseph (1941; published in 1965 as Saga of Chief Joseph), and Lucullus McWhorter, Hear Me, My Chiefs, edited by Ruth Bordin (1952). □


views updated May 21 2018


JOSEPH , British family. sir samuel george (originally "gluckstein") joseph (1888–1944) was born in London and was an officer in the British army in Salonika, Egypt, and France in World War i, being twice mentioned in dispatches. He later became chairman and managing director of Bovis, the large building contracting firm. Joseph held several positions in London municipal government before serving as sheriff of the city of London (1933–34) and was lord mayor of London from 1943 to 1944, the sixth Jew to have held this position. He was made a baronet in 1934.

His son, sir keith joseph (1918–1994), inherited his father's title. Educated at Harrow and Oxford, he was a captain in the British army in World War ii and was mentioned in dispatches. After the war he was admitted to the bar and, from 1946 to 1960, was a fellow of All Souls College, Oxford. He also held various industrial posts before becoming a director in the family building contracting firm. In 1956 Keith Joseph entered Parliament and three years later was made parliamentary secretary of the Ministry of Housing in the Conservative government. He became minister of state at the Board of Trade in 1961 and, from 1962 to 1964, was minister of housing and local government and minister for Welsh affairs. When the Conservatives returned to power in 1970, he was appointed minister of health and social services, serving until 1974. He earned a reputation for intellectual brilliance and integrity and was one of his party's chief advocates of social welfare reforms. After the Tories lost office in 1974, Joseph was often mentioned as a potential leader of the Conservative Party. He was a founder of the influential "Think Tank," the Centre for Policy Studies, which set the intellectual stage for "Thatcherism" by its advocacy of free enterprise policies. Joseph, however, never became a serious challenger for the party's leadership: he was viewed as cold and distant and, in October 1974, made a regrettable speech advocating birth control among alleged "problem families." Instead, he became a strong supporter and advisor of Margaret Thatcher who appointed him minister for industry (1979–81). From 1981 to 1986 he was minister of education. On retiring from the government he was made a peer. Joseph was treasurer of the British Friends of The Hebrew University and in 1966 became chairman of the Research Board of the Institute of Jewish Affairs.


odnb online; M. Halcrow, Keith Joseph: A Singular Mind (1989); A. Denham and Mark Garnett, Keith Joseph (2001).

[Vivian D. Lipman]


views updated Jun 11 2018

Joseph male forename. In the Bible, Joseph is the name of a Hebrew patriarch, son of Jacob. He was given a coat of many colours by his father, whose favourite he was, and he exacerbated his brothers' jealousy by dreams which predicted his dominance over them, as by their sheaves in the harvest field bowing down to the sheaf of Joseph.

Sold by them into captivity in Egypt and at risk from the machinations of Potiphar's wife, he attained high office in Egypt, finding favour with Pharaoh by his interpretation of the dream of seven fat and seven lean cattle, and seven full and seven thin ears of corn, as a warning against a coming famine.

The story is ultimately one of reconciliation, when his brothers come to Egypt to buy corn and are in Joseph's power; in the end the whole family of Jacob settles in Egypt.
St Joseph husband of the Virgin Mary. A carpenter of Nazareth, and by later tradition already elderly, he was betrothed to Mary at the time of the Annunciation. In Christian art, representations of the Nativity often show St Joseph a little apart from the main group, with his chin on his hand. His feast day is 19 March.
Joseph of Arimathea a member of the council at Jerusalem who, after the Crucifixion, asked Pilate for Christ's body, which he buried in his own tomb. He is also known from the medieval story that he came to England with the Holy Grail and built the first church at Glastonbury.


views updated May 23 2018


JOSEPH (d. 38 b.c.e.), son of *Antipater and *Cypros, brother of *Herod i. When the Parthians invaded Judea (40 b.c.e.), they forced Herod to flee, and he left his family in the care of Joseph at *Masada, where a sudden thunderstorm enabled the fortress to hold out against the siege of *Antigonus. Later Herod returned with reinforcements and set his family free. Then, in 38, he set out for Samosata to meet Antony, after forbidding Joseph to get involved in battle with Antigonus until his arrival. Disregarding this advice, Joseph took his army into the hills near Jericho to harvest grain for his soldiers and was attacked by Antigonus and killed. His death caused some unrest in Judea and was later avenged by Herod.


Jos., Ant., 14:361, 390f., 413, 438, 448–50; Jos., Wars, 1:266, 286f., 323f.; Schuerer, Hist, 115, 118.

[Lea Roth]


views updated Jun 11 2018


JOSEPH , king of the *Khazars. As his correspondence with *Ḥisdai ibn Shaprut demonstrates, he ruled in the tenth century. In the heading of his presumed reply to Ḥisdai's letter, the Reply of Joseph, he is called "the Togarmian [i.e., Turkish] king" (cf. Gen. 10:3), and in the text of the Reply is referred to as Joseph b. Aaron b. Benjamin. His descent is traced back to *Obadiah, king of the Khazars. In the fragment known as the Cambridge Document, which was found in the Cairo Genizah, his father Aaron and grandfather Benjamin are also mentioned by name and the document adds (line 59) that Joseph was married to a daughter of the king of the Alans.


Dunlop, Khazars, index; A.N. Poliak, Kazaryah (19513), index.

[Douglas Morton Dunlop]


views updated May 14 2018

Joseph ★★½ 1995

Following “Abraham” and “Jacob” comes the Old Testament story of young Joseph (Mercurio), beloved son of Jacob, who's sold into slavery by his envious older brothers. Joseph is bought by the Pharoah's chief steward, Potiphar (Kingsley), and, after a long series of tribulations, rises to become a power in Egypt, which unexpectedly leads Joseph to hold the fate of his long-lost family in his hands. Filmed in Morocco. 240m/C VHS, DVD . Paul Mercurio, Ben Kingsley, Martin Landau, Lesley Ann Warren, Warren Clarke, Alice Krige, Dominique Sanda, Stefano Dionisi, Valeria Cavalli, Peter Eyre, Timothy Bateson, Jamie Glover, Michael Attwell; D: Roger Young; W: Lionel Chetwynd, James Carrington; C: Raffaele Mertes; M: Marco Frisina.