|jo'-zef (increase; addition, remover)
RELATED: Benjamin, Cyrenius, Dan, Ephraim, Jacob, Jesus, Kingdom of Israel, Naphtali, On, Pharaoh, Rachel, Reuben, Simeon
Easton's Bible Dictionary
remover or increaser.
(1) The elder of the two sons of Jacob by Rachel ( Genesis
30:23 , 30:24
), who, on the occasion of his birth, said, "God hath taken away [Hebrew. 'asaph]
my reproach." "The Lord shall add [Hebrew. yoseph] to me another son" ( Genesis
30:24 ). He was a child of probably six years of age when his father returned
from Haran to Canaan and took up his residence in the old patriarchal town of
Hebron. "Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his children, because he was the
son of his old age," and he "made him a long garment with sleeves" ( Genesis
37:3 , RSV marg.), i.e., a garment long and full, such as was worn by the
children of nobles. This seems to be the correct rendering of the words. The phrase,
however, may also be rendered, "a coat of many pieces", i.e., a patchwork of many
small pieces of divers colours.
When he was about seventeen years old Joseph incurred the jealous hatred of his
brothers ( Genesis
37:4 ). They "hated him, and could not speak peaceably unto him." Their anger
was increased when he told them his dreams ( Genesis
Jacob desiring to hear tidings of his sons, who had gone to Shechem with their
flocks, some 60 miles from Hebron, sent Joseph as his messenger to make inquiry
regarding them. Joseph found that they had left Shechem for Dothan, whither he
followed them. As soon as they saw him coming they began to plot against him,
and would have killed him had not Reuben interposed. They ultimately sold him
to a company of Ishmaelite merchants for twenty pieces (shekels) of silver (about
$2,10s.), ten pieces less than the current value of a slave, for "they cared little
what they had for him, if so be they were rid of him." These merchants were going
down with a varied assortment of merchandise to the Egyptian market, and thither
they conveyed him, and ultimately sold him as a slave to Potiphar, an "officer
of Pharaoh's, and captain of the guard" ( Genesis
37:36 ). "The Lord blessed the Egyptian's house for Joseph's sake," and Potiphar
made him overseer over his house. At length a false charge having been brought
against him by Potiphar's wife, he was at once cast into the state prison (Genesis
39 ; 40),
where he remained for at least two years. After a while the "chief of the cupbearers"
and the "chief of the bakers" of Pharaoh's household were cast into the same prison
40:2 ). Each of these new prisoners dreamed a dream in the same night, which
Joseph interpreted, the event occurring as he had said.
This led to Joseph's being remembered subsequently by the chief butler when Pharaoh
also dreamed. At his suggestion Joseph was brought from prison to interpret the
king's dreams. Pharaoh was well pleased with Joseph's wisdom in interpreting his
dreams, and with his counsel with reference to the events then predicted; and
he set him over all the land of Egypt ( Genesis
41:46 ), and gave him the name of Zaphnath-paaneah. He was married to Asenath,
the daughter of the priest of On, and thus became a member of the priestly class.
Joseph was now about thirty years of age.
As Joseph had interpreted, seven years of plenty came, during which he stored
up great abundance of corn 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 corn" ( Genesis
41:56 , 41:57
). Thus "Joseph gathered up all the money that was in the land of Egypt, and in
the land of Canaan, for the corn which they bought." Afterwards all the cattle
and all the land, and at last the Egyptians themselves, became the property of
During this period of famine Joseph's brethren also came down to Egypt to buy
corn. The history of his dealings with them, and of the manner in which he at
length made himself known to them, is one of the most interesting narratives that
can be read ( Genesis
42 - 45).
Joseph directed his brethren to return and bring Jacob and his family to the land
of Egypt, saying, "I will give you the good of the land of Egypt, and ye shall
eat the fat of the land. Regard not your stuff; for the good of all the land is
yours." Accordingly Jacob and his family, to the number of threescore and ten
souls, together with "all that they had," went down to Egypt. They were settled
in the land of Goshen, where Joseph met his father, and "fell on his neck, and
wept on his neck a good while" ( Genesis
The excavations of Dr. Naville have shown the land of Goshen to be the Wady Tumilat,
between Ismailia and Zagazig. In Goshen (Egyptian Qosem) they had pasture for
their flocks, were near the Asiatic frontier of Egypt, and were out of the way
of the Egyptian people. An inscription speaks of it as a district given up to
the wandering shepherds of Asia.
Jacob at length died, and in fulfilment of a promise which he had exacted, Joseph
went up to Canaan to bury his father in "the field of Ephron the Hittite" ( Genesis
47:29 - 31
). This was the last recorded act of Joseph, who again returned to Egypt.
"The 'Story of the Two Brothers,' an Egyptian romance written for the son of the
Pharaoh of the Oppression, contains an episode very similar to the Biblical account
of Joseph's treatment by Potiphar's wife. Potiphar and Potipherah are the Egyptian
Pa-tu-pa-Ra, 'the gift of the sun-god.' The name given to Joseph, Zaphnath-paaneah,
is probably the Egyptian Zaf-nti-pa-ankh, 'nourisher of the living one,' i.e.,
of the Pharaoh. There are many instances in the inscriptions of foreigners in
Egypt receiving Egyptian names, and rising to the highest offices of state."
By his wife Asenath, Joseph had two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim ( Genesis
41:50 ). Joseph having obtained a promise from his brethren that when the
time should come that God would "bring them unto the land which he sware to Abraham,
to Isaac, and to Jacob," they would carry up his bones out of Egypt, at length
died, at the age of one hundred and ten years; and "they embalmed him, and he
was put in a coffin" ( Genesis
50:26 ). This promise was faithfully observed. Their descendants, long after,
when the Exodus came, carried the body about with them during their forty years'
wanderings, and at length buried it in Shechem, in the parcel of ground which
Jacob bought from the sons of Hamor ( Joshua
24:32 ; Compare Genesis
33:19 ). With the death of Joseph the patriarchal age of the history of Israel
came to a close.
The Pharaoh of Joseph's elevation was probably Apepi, or Apopis, the last of the
Hyksos kings. Some, however, think that Joseph came to Egypt in the reign of Thothmes
III. (see PHARAOH),
long after the expulsion of the Hyksos.
(2) The name Joseph denotes the two tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh in Deuteronomy
33:13 - 17
; the kingdom of Israel in Ezekiel
37:16 , 37:19
5:6 ; and the whole covenant people of Israel in Psalms
(3) One of the sons of Asaph, head of the first division of sacred musicians (
Chronicles 25:2 , 25:9
(4) The son of Judah, and father of Semei ( Luke
3:26 ). Other two of the same name in the ancestry of Christ are also mentioned
3:24 , 3:30
(5) The foster-father of our Lord ( Matthew
1:16 ; Luke
3:23 ). He lived at Nazareth in Galilee ( Luke
2:4 ). He is called a "just man." He was by trade a carpenter ( Matthew
13:55 ). He is last mentioned in connection with the journey to Jerusalem,
when Jesus was twelve years old. It is probable that he died before Jesus entered
on his public ministry. This is concluded from the fact that Mary only was present
at the marriage feast in Cana of Galilee. His name does not appear in connection
with the scenes of the crucifixion along with that of Mary (q.v.), John
(6) A native of Arimathea, probably the Ramah of the Old Testament ( 1
Samuel 1:19 ), a man of wealth, and a member of the Sanhedrim ( Matthew
27:57 ; Luke
23:50 ), an "honourable counsellor, who waited for the kingdom of God." As
soon as he heard the tidings of Christ's death, he "went in boldly" (lit. "having
summoned courage, he went") "unto Pilate, and craved the body of Jesus." Pilate
having ascertained from the centurion that the death had really taken place, granted
Joseph's request, who immediately, having purchased fine linen ( Mark
15:46 ), proceeded to Golgotha to take the body down from the cross. There,
assisted by Nicodemus, he took down the body and wrapped it in the fine linen,
sprinkling it with the myrrh and aloes which Nicodemus had brought ( John
19:39 ), and then conveyed the body to the new tomb hewn by Joseph himself
out of a rock in his garden hard by. There they laid it, in the presence of Mary
Magdalene, Mary the mother of Joses, and other women, and rolled a great stone
to the entrance, and departed ( Luke
23:53 , 23:55
). This was done in haste, "for the Sabbath was drawing on" (Compare Isaiah
(7) Surnamed Barsabas ( Acts
1:23 ); also called Justus. He was one of those who "companied with the apostles
all the time that the Lord Jesus went out and in among them" ( Acts
1:21 ), and was one of the candidates for the place of Judas.
Hitchcock's Dictionary of Bible Names
Smith's Bible Dictionary
(1) The elder of the two sons of Jacob by Rachel. He was born in Padan-aram (Mesopotamia),
probably about B.C. 1746. He is first mentioned when a youth, seventeen years
old. Joseph brought the evil report of his brethren to his father, and they hated
him because his father loved him more than he did them, and had shown his preference
by making a dress which appears to have been a long tunic with sleeves, worn by
youths and maidens of the richer class. ( Genesis 37:2 ) He dreamed a dream foreshadowing
his future power, which increased the hatred of his brethren. ( Genesis 37:5 -
7 ) He was sent by his father to visit his brothers, who were tending flocks in
the fields of Dothan. They resolved to kill him, but he was saved by Reuben, who
persuaded the brothers to cast Joseph into a dry pit, to the intent that he might
restore him to Jacob. The appearance of the Ishmaelites suggested his sale for
"twenty pieces (shekels) of silver." ver. 28. Sold into Egypt to Potiphar, Joseph
prospered and was soon set over Potiphars house, and "all he had he gave into
his hand;" but incurring the anger of Potiphars wife ch. ( Genesis 39:7 - 13 )
he was falsely accused and thrown into prison, where he remained at least two
years, interpreting during this time the dreams of the cupbearer and the baker.
Finally Pharaoh himself dreamed two prophetic dreams. Joseph, being sent for,
interpreted them in the name of God, foretelling the seven years of plenty and
the seven years of famine. Pharaoh at once appointed Joseph not merely governor
of Egypt, but second only to the sovereign, and also gave him to wife Asenath,
daughter of Potipherah priest of On (Hieropolis), and gave him a name or title,
Zaphnath-paaneah (preserver of life). Josephs first act was to go throughout all
the land of Egypt. During the seven plenteous years there was a very abundant
produce, and he gathered the fifth part and laid it up. When the seven good years
had passed, the famine began. ( Genesis 41:54 - 57 ) [FAMINE] After the famine
had lasted for a time, apparently two years, Joseph gathered up all the money
that was found in the land of Egypt and in the land of Canaan, for the corn which
they brought, and brought it into Pharaohs house, ( Genesis 47:13 Genesis 47:14
) and when the money was exhausted, all the cattle, and finally all the land except
that of the priests, and apparently, as a consequence, the Egyptians themselves.
He demanded, however, only a fifth part of the produce as Pharaohs right. Now
Jacob, who had suffered also from the effects of the famine, sent Josephs brother
to Egypt for corn. The whole story of Josephs treatment of his brethren is so
graphically told in Genesis 42 - 45 and is so familiar, that it is unnecessary
here to repeat it. On the death of Jacob in Egypt Joseph carried him to Canaan,
and laid him in the cave of Machpelah, the burying-place of his fathers. Joseph
lived "a hundred and ten years," having been more than ninety in Egypt. Dying,
he took an oath of his brethren that they should carry up his bones to the land
of promise: thus showing in his latest action the faith, ( Hebrews 11:22 ) which
had guided his whole life. Like his father he was embalmed, "and he was put in
a coffin in Egypt." ( Genesis 50:26 ) His trust Moses kept, and laid the bones
of Joseph in his inheritance in Shechem, in the territory of Ephraim his offspring.
His tomb is, according to tradition, about a stones throw from Jacobs well.
(2) Father of Igal, who represented the tribe of Issachar among the spies. ( Numbers
(3) A lay Israelite who had married a foreign wife. ( Ezra 10:42 ) (B.C. 459.)
(4) A representative of the priestly family of Shebaniah. ( Nehemiah 12:14 ) (B.C.
(5) One of the ancestors of Christ, ( Luke 3:30 ) Son of Jonan.
(6) Another ancestor of Christ, son of Judah. ( Luke 3:26 ) (B.C. between 536-410.)
(7) Another, son of Mattathias. ( Luke 3:24 ) (B.C. after 400.)
(8) Son of Heli, and reputed father of Jesus Christ. All that is told us of Joseph
in the New Testament may be summed up in a few words. He was a just man, and of
the house and lineage of David. He lived at Nazareth in Galilee. He espoused Mary,
the daughter and heir of his uncle Jacob, and before he took her home as his wife
received the angelic communication recorded in ( Matthew 1:20 ). When Jesus was
twelve years old Joseph and Mary took him with them to keep the passover at Jerusalem,
and when they returned to Nazareth he continued to act as a father to the child
Jesus, and was reputed to be so indeed. But here our knowledge of Joseph ends.
That he died before our Lords crucifixion is indeed tolerably certain, by what
is related ( John 19:27 ) and perhaps ( Mark 6:3 ) may imply that he was then
dead. But where, when or how he died we know not.
(9) Joseph of Arimathaea, a rich and pious Israelite, probably a member of the
Great Council or Sanhedrin. He is further characterized as "a good man and a just."
( Luke 23:50 ) We are expressly told that he did not "consent to the counsel and
deed" of his colleagues in conspiring to bring about the death of Jesus; but he
seems to have lacked the courage to protest against their judgment. On the very
evening of the crucifixion, when the triumph of the chief priests and rulers seemed
complete, Joseph "went in boldly unto Pilate and craved the body of Jesus." Pilate
consented. Joseph and Nicodemus then, having enfolded the sacred body in the linen
shroud which Joseph had bought, consigned it to a tomb hewn in a rock, in a garden
belonging to Joseph, and close to the place of crucifixion. There is a tradition
that he was one of the seventy disciples.
(10) Joseph, called Barsabas, and surnamed Justus; one of the two person chosen
by the assembled church, ( Acts 1:23 ) as worthy to fill the place in the apostolic
company from which Judas had fallen.
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
(1) jo'-zef (yoceph, "He will add"; Septuagint Ioseph).
The narrative (Genesis 30:23 , 14) indicates not so much a double etymology as
the course of Rachel's thoughts. The use of 'acaph, "He takes away," suggested
to her mind by its form in the future, yoceph, "He will add," "And she called
his name Joseph, saying, Yahweh add to me another son"):
The eleventh son of Jacob. The Biblical narrative concerning Joseph presents two
subjects for consideration, the Joseph story, a literary question, and the story
of Joseph, a biography. It is of the first importance to consider these questions
in this order.
Cheyne in Encyclopedia Biblica reaches such conclusions concerning the Joseph
story that the story of Joseph is mutilated almost beyond recognition as a biography
at all. Driver in HDB holds that the Joseph story was "in all probability only
committed to writing 700-800 years" later than the time to which Joseph is attributed,
points out that Joseph's name was also the name of a tribe, and concludes that
"the first of these facts at once destroys all guarantee that we possess in the
Joseph narrative a literal record of the facts," and that "the second fact raises
the further question whether the figure of Joseph, in part or even as a whole,
is a reflection of the history and characteristics of the tribe projected upon
the past in the individual form." But he draws back from this view and thinks
it "more probable that there was an actual person Joseph, afterward .... rightly
or wrongly regarded as the ancestor of the tribe .... who underwent substantially
the experience recounted of him in Genesis." In the presence of such critical
notions concerning the literature in which the narrative of Joseph is embodied,
it is clear that until we have reached some conclusions concerning the Joseph
story, we cannot be sure that there is any real story of Joseph to relate.
I. THE JOSEPH STORY, A LITERARY QUESTION
1. An Independent Original or an Adaptation?:
This literary problem will be solved, if satisfactory answers may be found to
two questions: Is it an independent original or an adaptation? Suitable material
for such an adaptation as would produce a Joseph story has been sought at either
end of the line of history: Joseph the progenitor and Joseph the tribe. The only
contestant for the claim of being an early original of which the Joseph story
might be an adaptation is the nasty "Tale of Two Brothers" (RP, series I, volume
II, 137-46). This story in its essential elements much resembles the Joseph story.
But such events as it records are common: why not such stories?
What evidence does this "Tale of Two Brothers" afford that the Joseph story is
not an independent original? Are we to suppose that because many French romances
involve the demi-monde, there was therefore no Madame de Pompadour? Are court
scandals so unheard of that ancient Egypt cannot afford two? And why impugn the
genuineness of the Joseph story because the "Tale of Two Brothers" resembles it?
Is anyone so ethereal in his passions as not to know by instinct that the essential
elements of such scandal are always the same? The difference in the narrative
is chiefly in the telling. At this latter point the Joseph story and the "Tale
of Two Brothers" bear no resemblance whatever.
If the chaste beauty of the Biblical story be observed, and then one turn to the
"Tale of Two Brothers" with sufficient knowledge of the Egyptian tongue to perceive
the coarseness and the stench of it, there can be no question that the Joseph
story is independent of such a literary source. To those who thus sense both stories,
the claim of the "Tale of Two Brothers" to be the original of the Joseph story
cannot stand for a moment. If we turn from Joseph the progenitor to Joseph the
tribe, still less will the claim that the story is an adaptation bear careful
examination. The perfect naturalness of the story, the utter absence from its
multitudinous details of any hint of figurative language, such as personification
always furnishes, and the absolutely accurate reflection in the story of the Egypt
of Joseph's day, as revealed by the many discoveries of which people of 700-800
years later could not know, mark this theory of the reflection of tribal history
and characteristics as pure speculation. And besides, where in all the history
of literature has it been proven that a tribe has been thus successfully thrown
back upon the screen of antiquity in the "individual form"? Similar mistakes concerning
Menes and Minos and the heroes of Troy are a warning to us. Speculation is legitimate,
so long as it does not cut loose from known facts, but gives no one the right
to suppose the existence in unknown history of something never certainly found
in known history. So much for the first question.
2. A Monograph or a Compilation?:
Is it a monograph or a compilation? The author of a monograph may make large use
of literary materials, and the editor of a compilation may introduce much editorial
comment. Thus, superficially, these different kinds of composition may much resemble
each other, yet they are, in essential character, very different the one from
the other. A compilation is an artificial body, an automaton; a monograph is a
natural body with a living soul in it. This story has oriental peculiarities of
repetition and pleonastic expression, and these things have been made much of
in order to break up the story; to the reader not seeking grounds of partition,
it is one of the most unbroken, simply natural and unaffected pieces of narrative
literature in the world. If it stood alone or belonged to some later portion of
Scripture, it may well be doubted that it would ever have been touched by the
scalpel of the literary dissector. But it belongs to the Pentateuch. There are
manifest evidences all over the Pentateuch of the use by the author of material,
either documentary or of that paradoxical unwritten literature which the ancients
handed down almost without the change of a word for centuries.
| (1) An Analytical Theory Resolving It into a Mere Compilation.
An analytical theory has been applied to the Pentateuch as a whole, to resolve
it into a mere compilation. Once the principles of this theory are acknowledged,
and allowed sway there, the Joseph story cannot be left untouched, but becomes
a necessary sacrifice to the system. A sight of the lifeless, ghastly fragments
of the living, moving Joseph story which the analysis leaves behind (compare EB,
article "Joseph") proclaims that analysis to have been murder. There was a life
in the story which has been ruthlessly taken, and that living soul marked the
narrative as a monograph.
(2) A Narrative Full of Gems.
Where else is to be found such a compilation? Here is one of the most brilliant
pieces of literature in the world, a narrative full of gems:
| (a) the account of the presentation of the brothers in the presence of Joseph
when he was obliged to go out to weep (Genesis 43:26 - 34), and
(b) the scene between the terrified brothers of Joseph and the steward of his
house (Genesis 44:6 - 13),
(c) Judah's speech (Genesis 44:18 - 34),
(d) the touching close of the revelation of Joseph to his brothers at last (Genesis
45:1 - 15).
The soul of the whole story breathes through all of these. Where in all literature,
ancient or modern, is to be found a mere compilation that is a great piece of
literature? So far removed is this story from the characteristics of a compilation,
that we may challenge the world of literature to produce another monograph in
narrative literature that surpasses it.
(3) The Argument from Chronology Supporting It as a Monograph
Then the dates of Egyptian names and events in this narrative strongly favor its
origin so early as to be out of the reach of the compilers. That attempts at identification
in Egyptian of names written in Hebrew, presenting as they do the peculiar difficulties
of two alphabets of imperfectly known phonetic values and uncertain equivalency
of one in terms of the other, should give rise to differences of opinion, is to
be expected. The Egyptian equivalents of Zaphenath-paneah and Asenath have been
diligently sought, and several identifications have been, suggested (Brugsch,
Egypt under the Pharaohs, 122; Budge, History of Egypt, V, 126-27). That which
is most exact phonetically and yields the most suitable and natural meaning for
Zaphenath-paneah is by Lieblein (PSBA, 1898, 204-8). It is formed like four of
the names of Hyksos kings before the time of Joseph, and means "the one who furnishes
the nourishment of life," i.e. the steward of the realm. The name Asenath is found
from the XIth Dynasty on to the XVIIIth. Potiphar is mentioned as an Egyptian.
Why not of course an Egyptian? The narrative also points distinctly to conditions
obtaining under the Hyksos kings. When the people were like to perish for want
of food they promised Joseph in return for help that they would be "servants of
Pharaoh" (Genesis 47:18-25). This suggests a previous antagonism to the government,
such as the Hyksos kings had long to contend with in Egypt. But the revolution
which drove out the Hyksos labored so effectually to eradicate every trace of
the hated foreigners that it is with the utmost difficulty that modern Egyptological
research has wrested from the past some small items of information concerning
them. Is it credible that the editor of scraps, which were themselves not written
down until some 700-800 years later, should have been able to produce such a life-story
fitting into the peculiar conditions of the times of the Hyksos? Considered as
an independent literary problem on its own merits, aside from any entangling necessities
of the analytical theory of the Pentateuch, the Joseph story must certainly stand
as a monograph from some time within distinct memory of the events it records.
If the Joseph story be an independent original and a monograph, then there is
in reality to be considered the story of Joseph.
II. THE STORY OF JOSEPH, A BIOGRAPHY
It is unnecessary to recount here all the events of the
life of Joseph, a story so incomparably told in the Biblical narrative. It will
be sufficient to touch only the salient points where controversy has raged, or
at which archaeology has furnished special illumination. The story of Joseph begins
the tenth and last natural division of Genesis in these words: "The generations
of Jacob" (Genesis 37:2). Up to this point the unvarying method of Genesis is
to place at the head of each division the announcement "the generations of" one
of the patriarchs, followed immediately by a brief outline of the discarded line
of descent, and then to give in detail the account of the chosen line.
There is to be now no longer any discarded line of descent. All the sons of Jacob
are of the chosen people, the depository of the revelation of redemption. So this
division of Genesis begins at once with the chosen line, and sets in the very
foreground that narrative which in that generation is most vital in the story
of redemption, this story of Joseph beginning with the words, "Joseph, being seventeen
years old, was feeding the flock with his brethren" (Genesis 37:2). Joseph had
been born in Haran, the firstborn of the beloved Rachel, who died at the birth
of her second son Benjamin. A motherless lad among the sons of other mothers felt
the jealousies of the situation, and the experience became a temptation. The "evil
report" of his brethren was thus naturally carried to his father, and quite as
naturally stirred up those family jealousies which set his feet in the path of
his great career (Genesis 37:2-4). In that career he appears as a Bedouin prince
1. A Bedouin Prince in Canaan:
The patriarchs of those times were all sheiks or princes of those semi-nomadic
rovers who by the peculiar social and civil customs of that land were tolerated
then as they are to this day under the Turkish government in the midst of farms
and settled land tenure. Jacob favored Rachel and her children. He put them hindermost
at the dangerous meeting with Esau, and now he puts on Joseph a coat of many colors
(Genesis 37:3). The appearance of such a coat a little earlier in the decoration
of the tombs of Benichassan among Palestinian ambassadors to Egypt probably indicates
that this garment was in some sense ceremonial, a token of rank. In any case Joseph,
the son of Jacob, was a Bedouin prince. Did the father by this coat indicate his
intention to give him the precedence and the succession as chieftain of the tribe?
It is difficult otherwise to account for the insane jealousy of the older brethren
(Genesis 37:4). According to the critical partition of the story, Joseph's dreams
may be explained away as mere reflections or adaptations of the later history
of Joseph (compare PENTATEUCH). In a real biography the striking providential
significance of the dreams appears at once. They cannot be real without in some
sense being prophetic. On the other hand they cannot be other than real without
vitiating the whole story as a truthful narrative, for they led immediately to
the great tragedy; a Bedouin prince of Canaan becomes a Bedouin slave in Egypt.
2. A Bedouin Slave in Egypt:
The plot to put Joseph out of the way, the substitution of slavery for death,
and the ghastly device for deceiving Jacob (Genesis 37:18 - 36) are perfectly
natural steps in the course of crime when once the brothers had set out upon it.
The counterplot of Reuben to deliver Joseph reflects equally his own goodness
and the dangerous character of the other brothers to whom he did not dare make
a direct protest.
Critical discussion of "Ishmaelites" and "Midianites" and "Medanites" presents
some interesting things and many clever speculations which may well be considered
on their own merits by those interested in ethnology and etymologies. Many opinions
advanced may prove to be correct. But let it be noted that they arc for the most
part pure speculation. Almost nothing is known of the interrelation of the trans-Jordanic
tribes in that age other than the few hints in the Bible. And who can say what
manner of persons might be found in a caravan which had wandered about no one
knows where, or how long, to pick up trade before it turned into the northern
caravan route? Until archaeology supplies more facts it is folly to attach much
importance to such speculations (Kyle, The Deciding Voice of the Monuments in
Biblical Criticism, 221).
In the slave market in Egypt, Joseph was bought by Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh,
"an Egyptian." The significant mention of this fact fits exactly into a place
among the recovered hints of the history of those times, which make the court
then to be not Egyptian at all, but composed of foreigners, the dynasty of Hyksos
kings among whom an "Egyptian" was so unexpected as to have his nationality mentioned.
Joseph's native nobility of character, the pious training he had received in his
father's house, and the favor of God with him gave him such prosperity that his
master entrusted all the affairs of his household to him, and when the greatest
of temptations assails him he comes off victorious (Genesis 39). There is strong
ground for the suspicion that Potiphar did not fully believe the accusation of
his wife against Joseph. The fact that Joseph was not immediately put to death
is very significant. Potiphar could hardly do less than shut him up for the sake
of appearances, and perhaps to take temptation away from his wife without seeming
to suspect her. It is noticeable also that Joseph's character soon triumphed in
prison. Then the same Providence that superintended his dreams is leading so as
to bring him before the king (Genesis 40 ; 41).
3. The Bedouin Slave Becomes Again the Bedouin Prince:
The events of the immediately preceding history prepared Joseph's day: the Hyksos
kings on the throne, those Bedouin princes, "shepherd kings" (Petrie, Hyksos and
Israelite Cities), the enmity of the Egyptians against this foreign dynasty so
that they accounted every shepherd an "abomination" (Genesis 46:34), the friendly
relation thus created between Palestinian tribes and Egypt, the princely character
of Joseph, for among princes a prince is a prince however small his principality,
and last of all the manifest favor of God toward Joseph, and the evident understanding
by the Pharaohs of Semitic religion, perhaps even sympathy with it (Genesis 41:39).
All these constitute one of the most majestic, Godlike movements of Providence
revealed to us in the word of God, or evident anywhere in history. The same Providence
that presided over the boy prince in his father's house came again to the slave
prince in the Egyptian prison. The interpretation of the dreams of the chief butler
and the chief baker of Pharaoh (Ge 40-41:1-24) brought him at last through much
delay and selfish forgetfulness to the notice of the king, and another dream in
which the same cunning hand of Providence is plainly seen (Genesis 41) is the
means of bringing Joseph to stand in the royal presence. The stuff that dreams
are made of interests scarcely less than the Providence that was superintending
over them. As the harvest fields of the semi-nomadic Bedouin in Palestine, and
the household routine of Egypt in the dreams of the chief butler and the chief
baker, so now the industrial interests and the religious forms of the nation appear
in the dreams of Pharaoh. The "seven kine" of the goddess Hathor supplies the
number of the cows, and the doubling of the symbolism in the cattle and the grain
points to the two great sources of Egypt's welfare. The Providence that had shaped
and guided the whole course of Joseph from the Palestinian home was consummated
when, with the words, "Inasmuch as thou art a man in whom is the spirit of God,"
Pharaoh lifted up the Bedouin slave to be again the Bedouin prince and made him
the prime minister.
4. The Prime Minister:
The history of "kings' favorites" is too well known for the elevation of Joseph
to be in itself incredible. Such things are especially likely to take place among
the unlimited monarchies of the Orient. The late empress of China had been a Chinese
slave girl. The investiture of Joseph was thoroughly Egyptian--the "collar," the
signet "ring," the "chariot" and the outrunners who cried before him "Abrech."
The exact meaning of this word has never been certainly ascertained, but its general
import may be seen illustrated to this day wherever in the East royalty rides
out. The policy adopted by the prime minister was far-reaching, wise, even adroit
(Genesis 41:25 - 36). It is impossible to say whether or not it was wholly just,
for we cannot know whether the corn of the years of plenty which the government
laid up was bought or taken as a taxlevy. The policy involved some despotic power,
but Joseph proved a magnanimous despot. The deep and subtle statesmanship in Joseph's
plan does not fully appear until the outcome. It was probably through the policy
of Joseph, the prime minister, that the Hyksos finally gained the power over the
people and the mastery of the land.
Great famines have not been common in Egypt, but are not unknown. The only one
which corresponds well to the Bible account is that one recorded in the inscription
of Baba at el Kab, translated by Brugsch. Some scarcely justifiable attempts have
been made to discredit Brugsch in his account of that inscription. The monument
still remains and is easily visited, but the inscription is so mutilated that
it presents many difficulties. The severity of the famine, the length of its duration,
the preparation by the government, the distribution to the people, the success
of the efforts for relief and even the time of the famine, as far as it can be
determined, correspond well to the Bible account (Brugsch, Egypt under the Pharaohs,
chapter vi). The way in which such famines in Egypt come about has been explained
by a movement of the sudd, a sedgelike growth in the Nile, so as to clog the upper
river (Wright, Scientific Confirmations, 70-79).
Joseph's brethren came "with those that came," i.e. with the food caravans. The
account does not imply that the prime minister presided in person at the selling
of grain, but only that he knew of the coming of his brethren and met them at
the market place. The watchfulness of the government against "spies," by the careful
guarding of the entrances to the land, may well have furnished him with such information.
Once possessed with it, all the rest of the story of the interviews follows naturally
(compare traditions of Joseph, Jewish Encyclopedia).
The long testing of the brethren with the attendant delay in the relief of the
father Jacob and the family (Genesis 42-45) has been the subject of much discussion,
and most ingenious arguments for the justification of Joseph. All this seems unnecessary.
Joseph was not perfect, and there is no claim of perfection made for him in the
Bible. Two things are sufficient to be noted here: one that Joseph was ruler as
well as brother, with the habits of a ruler of almost unrestrained power and authority
and burdened with the necessity for protection and the obligation to mete out
justice; the other that the deliberateness, the vexatious delays, the subtle diplomacy
and playing with great issues are thoroughly oriental. It may be also that the
perplexities of great minds make them liable to such vagaries. The career of Lincoln
furnishes some curious parallels in the parleying with cases long after the great
president's mind was fully made up and action taken.
The time of these events and the identification of Joseph in Egypt are most vexed
questions not conclusively settled. Toffteen quite confidently presents in a most
recent identification of Joseph much evidence to which one would like to give
full credence (Toffteen, The Historical Exodus). But aside from the fact that
he claims two exodi, two Josephs, two Aarons, two lawgivers called Moses, and
two givings of the law, a case of critical doublets more astounding than any heretofore
claimed in the Pentateuch, the evidence itself which he adduces is very far from
conclusive. It is doubtful if the texts will bear the translation he gives them,
especially the proper names. The claims of Rameses II, that he built Pithom,.
compared with the stele of 400 years, which he says he erected in the 400th year
of King Nubti, seems to put Joseph about the time of the Hyksos king. This is
the most that can be said now. The burial of Jacob is in exact accord with Egyptian
customs. The wealth of the Israelites who retained their possessions and were
fed by the crown, in contrast with the poverty of the Egyptians who sold everything,
prepares the way for the wonderful growth and influence of Israel, and the fear
which the Egyptians at last had of them. "And Joseph died, being 110 years old,"
an ideal old age in the Egyptian mind. The reputed burial place of Joseph at Shechem
still awaits examination.
5. The Patriarch:
Joseph stands out among the patriarchs in some respects with preeminence. His
nobility of character, his purity of heart and life, his magnanimity as a ruler
and brother Patriarch make him, more than any other of the Old Testament characters,
an illustration of that type of man which Christ was to give to the world in perfection.
Joseph is not in the list of persons distinctly referred to in Scripture as types
of Christ--the only perfectly safe criterion--but none more fully illustrates
the life and work of the Saviour. He wrought salvation for those who betrayed
and rejected him, he went down into humiliation as the way to his exaltation,
he forgave those who, at least in spirit, put him to death, and to him as to the
Saviour, all must come for relief, or perish.
Commentaries on Genesis; for rabbinical literature, compare Seligsohn in Jewish
Encyclopedia, some very interesting and curious traditions; Ebers, Egypten und
die Bucher Moses; "The Tale of Two Brothers," RP, series I, volume II, 13746;
Wilkinson-Birch, The Manners and Customs of the Ancient Egyptians; Erman, Life
in Ancient Egypt.
M. G. Kyle
(2) jo'-zef (yoceph; Ioseph):
1. In the Old Testament:
| (1) The 11th son of Jacob and 1st of Rachel (see separate article).
(2) The father of Igal of Issachar, one of the 12 spies (Numbers 13:7).
(3) A son of Asaph (1 Chronicles 25:2,9).
(4) A man of the sons of Bani, who had married a foreign wife (Ezra 10:42).
(5) A priest of the family of Shebaniah in the days of Joiakim (Nehemiah 12:14).
2. In the Apocrypha:
| (1) Son of Zacharias, defeated by Gorgias circa 164 BC (1 Macc 5:18,56,60).
(2) Called a brother of Judas Maccabeus in 2 Macc 8:22, probably by mistake for
(3) Great-grandfather of Judith (Judith 8:1).
3. In the New Testament:
| (1) The husband of Mary, the mother of Jesus (see special article).
(2, 3) The name of 3 ancestors of Jesus according to the King James Version (Luke
3:24,26,30); the name of two according to the Revised Version (British and American),
which reads "Josech" in Luke 3:26.
(4) A Jew of Arimathea in whose sepulcher Jesus was buried (Matthew 27:57, etc.;
(5) One of the brethren of Jesus, according to the Revised Version (British and
American) (Matthew 13:55, the King James Version "Joses"). the King James Version
and the Revised Version (British and American) both have "Joses" in Matthew 27:56;
Mark 6:3; 15:40,47.
(6) Joseph Barsabbas (Acts 1:23; see article).
(7) Joseph, surnamed Barnabas (Acts 4:36, the King James Version "Joses"; see
S. F. Hunter
bible commentary, bible history, bible reference, bible study, define, governor of egypt, interpreted king's dreams, jealous brothers tried to kill, joseph, preserver of life, sold as slave, son of jacob by rachel, yoseph