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Joseph or Yosef ( , Standard Yosef Tiberian , , Yusuf ; "May Yahweh add"), was the eleventh son of Jacob and first son of Rachel in the book of Genesis. He is also mentioned prominently in the Qur'an as a Prophet, most notably in the 12th chapter, named after him.

The story of Joseph is told in Genesis, chapters 37-50 (one of the longest continuous narratives in the Bible). The favorite son of his father Jacob, Joseph is sold into slavery in Egypt by his jealous brothers, but rises to become Pharaoh's viceroy, and brings the Children of Israel (i.e., of Jacob) to Egypt to live in the land of Goshen.

Joseph is one of the best-known figures in the Torah, famous for his coat of many colors (although this is a possible mistranslation of the Hebrew phrase "kethoneth passim כְּתֹנֶת פַּסִּים" which means a "shirt with sleeves".) and for his ability to interpret dreams. The shrine called Joseph's Tombmarker in Nablusmarker is traditionally considered to be his tomb.


The Bible relates the birth of Joseph at Genesis 30:23-24:
God remembered Rachel: God heeded her and unclosed her womb. She conceived and bore a son, declaring, "God has removed my disgrace." She named him Joseph, meaning "May Yahweh add another son for me!"
The verses contain two explanations of the name: the first, from the Elohist source, bases it on the root /'sp/, meaning "taken away," while the second, from the Jahwist, cites the similar root /ysp/, meaning "add."


(The following summary is based on the ESV translation)

Joseph was the eleventh of the twelve sons of Jacob and the first of the two sons of Rachel. Upon him centered the love of his father, Jacob, who arrayed him in a "coat of many colors." But this excited the envy of his older brothers, and Joseph increased their hatred by telling them of dreams which predicted that he would some day rule over them (Gen. 37:2-11).

One day, when Joseph was seventeen, his brothers plotted to kill him. But Reuben, the eldest brother, advised them to throw Joseph into a pit, intending to rescue him later. And so the brothers stripped Joseph of the coat of many colours and threw him into the pit. A caravan of Ishmaelites passed by, and Judah, another of the brothers, suggested that they sell Joseph to the merchants. Some Midianite merchants passed by, and found Joseph and pulled him from the pit and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver, and took him to Egypt. When Reuben came back to the pit he found Joseph gone. The brothers dipped Joseph's coat in the blood of a goat and showed it to Jacob, who mourned for Joseph, believing him dead. The Midanites took Joseph to Egypt where they sold him to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh.

Potiphar bought Joseph from the Ishmaelites and appointed him superintendent of his household. But Potiphar's wife conceived a passion for Joseph, and, when her advances were repulsed, brought a false accusation against him before her husband, and Joseph was thrown into prison. But God was with Joseph, and he found favour in the eyes of the warden of the prison, who committed the other prisoners to his charge.

Soon afterward two of Pharaoh's chief butler and chief baker, having offended the king, were thrown into the prison. One morning both officers told Joseph their dreams of the previous night, which they were unable to interpret, and Joseph told them that the chief butler would be reinstated within three days but that the chief baker would be hanged. Joseph requested the butler to mention him to Pharaoh and secure his release from prison, but that officer, reinstalled in office, forgot Joseph.

Joseph remained two years in prison, and Pharaoh dreamt of seven lean cows which rose out of the river and devoured seven fat cows. Pharoah dreamt again, of seven withered ears of grain which devoured seven fat ears of corn. Pharaoh's wise men were unable to interpret these dreams, but the chief butler remembered Joseph and spoke of his skill to Pharaoh. Joseph interpreted the dreams as foretelling that seven years of abundance would be followed by seven years of famine, and advised Pharaoh to store surplus grain during the years of abundance. And so Pharaoh made Joseph viceroy over Egypt, and Egypt became prosperous under his care, and Joseph was married by Pharaoh to Asenath, the daughter of Potipherah, priest of On, by whom he soon had two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim. And when the time of famine came all the Earth came to Egypt to buy grain.

Among those who came to Egypt were Joseph's brothers, for the famine was also in Canaan, and Joseph recognized his brothers, but they did not recognize him. Joseph received them roughly and accused them of being spies, and sent them back to their father, demanding that they return with their brother Benjamin, the youngest, who was with their father in Canaan. And so the brothers returned to Jacob in Canaan, with Reuben lamenting that they had not listened to him and spared the life of their brother Joseph.

Jacob sent his sons again to Egypt for grain. As Joseph had commanded them not to appear before him again without Benjamin, Jacob was compelled to let Benjamin go with them. And they were amazed when this time the viceroy received them kindly, and took them to feast in his own house, inquiring after their father and their youngest brother Benjamin.
But while they feasted Joseph gave orders to his servants to fill their sacks with wheat and put his silver goblet in Benjamin's sack. On the following morning the brothers departed, but before they had gone far a messenger overtook them, accusing them of stealing the goblet. And when the messenger searched their sacks he found the goblet in Benjamin's sack, and compelled them to return. In front of Joseph, whom he still did not know, Judah pleaded that Benjamin be allowed to return to his father, and he himself kept in Benjamin's place.

Overcome by Judah's appeal Joseph disclosed himself to his brothers, assuring them that in treating him as they did they had been carrying out the will of God. He then urged them to return home quickly and bring all their families to Egypt, to live in the land of Goshen. And Pharaoh, when he heard of this, rejoiced, and gave to Joseph and his brothers the best that Egypt could offer.

So all of Israel came to Egypt, seventy persons, and Joseph met his father in the Land of Goshen. Then he presented five of his brothers to Pharaoh, and also his father Jacob, and Jacob blessed Pharaoh, and Joseph gave them the land of Ramesses. And as the famine continued in Egypt Joseph bought up all the land, which became Pharaoh's, and the people farmed it for Pharaoh, giving him one-fifth of the produce. And when Jacob was 147 years old he felt his end approaching, and called Joseph to him, and made Joseph swear to bury him not in Egypt but in the land of his fathers.

Jacob, feeling his end approaching, sent for Joseph, who came to him with his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim, and Jacob blessed them and gives them equal inheritance with his own sons, and Jacob asked who they were, and Joseph told him they were his sons, Manasseh and Ephraim, and Jacob blessed them, blessing Ephraim the younger first above Manasseh.

When Reuben lost his firstborn right ( kingship, priesthood, and the double-portion ), Joseph inherited the double-portion instead, by having two tribes from his sons.

Jacob then gave his blessing upon all his sons. Though he blessed them in order by their age, the blessing he gave Joseph was greater than the others:
'Joseph is a fruitful tree by a spring, whose branches climb over the wall.The archers savagely attacked him, shooting and assailing him fiercely,but Joseph's bow remained unfailing and his arms were tirelessby the power of the Strong One of Jacob,by the name of the Shepherd of Israel,by the God of your father-so may he help you!By God Almighty-so may he bless you with the blessings of heaven above,and the blessings of the deep that lies below!The blessings of breast and womband the blessings of your father are strongerthan the blessings of the eternal mountainsand the bounty of the everlasting hills.May they rest on the head of Joseph,on the brow of him who was prince among his brothers.'

Joseph carried Jacob's remains to the land of Canaan, where he gave them burial. His brothers sent to implore his forgiveness for their past actions, but Joseph allayed their fears and promised that he would continue to provide for their wants. He lived to the age of 110, and saw his great-grandchildren, and made the children of Israel swear that when they left the land of Egypt they would take his bones with them, and on his death his body was embalmed and placed in a coffin in Egypt. (At the Exodus his bones accompanied Moses, and were buried at Shechemmarker (Gen. l. 25; Ex. 13:19; Josh. 24:32).

Later traditions

In one Talmudic story, Joseph was buried in the Nile, as there was some dispute as to which province should be honored by having his tomb within its boundaries. Moses, led there by an ancient holy woman named Serach, was able by a miracle to raise the sarcophagus and to take it with him at the time of the Exodus.

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

Joseph ("Yusuf") is regarded by Muslims as a prophet (Qur'an, suras vi. 84, xl. 36), and a whole chapter (sura xii.) is devoted to him. He is believed to have been very beautiful. Prophet Muhammad once said, "One half of all the beauty God apportioned for mankind went to Joseph; the other one half went to the rest of mankind." One significant departure in the Qur'an is the use of an unspecified King in place of the Biblical Pharaoh. The story has the same general outlines as the Biblical narrative, but with a wealth of additional detail and incident. In the Qur'an the brothers ask Jacob to let Joseph go with them. The pit into which Joseph is thrown is a well with water in it, and Joseph was taken as a slave by passing-by travellers (Qur'an 12:19). In one account, Joseph's face possessed such a peculiar brilliancy that his brothers noticed the different light in the sky as soon as he appeared above the edge of the well, and came back to claim him as their slave. This same peculiarity was noticeable when they went to Egypt: although it was evening when they entered the city, his face diffused such a light that the astonished inhabitants came out to see the cause of it.

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

Literature and culture

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

The long-running musical Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice is one of the few major British musical theatre shows with hardly any spoken dialogue, being sung-through almost completely.

See also


  1. verse, note and commentary on Genesis 30:24, The Anchor Bible, Volume 1, Genesis, 1964, Doubleday & Company, Inc., Garden City, New York
  2. - JOSEPH
  3. A Dictionary of the Targumim, Talmud Bavli, Talmud Yerushalmi and Midrashic Literature. 1903. 680+. Print. ISBN 1-932443-20-7
  4. ref>Genesis 30:23-24, The Anchor Bible, Volume 1, Genesis, 1964, Doubleday & Company, Inc., Garden City, New York
  5. Richard Elliott Friedman, "The Bible With Sources Revealed", HarperSanFrancisco, (2003), p.80
  6. Genesis 37, ESV Confusions in the summary over what happened to Joseph reflect confusions in the text of Genesis 37.
  7. Genesis 39, ESV
  8. Genesis 40, ESV
  9. Genesis 41, ESV
  10. Genesis 42, ESV
  11. Genesis 43, ESV
  12. Genesis 44, ESV
  13. Genesis 45, ESV
  14. Genesis 46, ESV
  15. Genesis 48, ESV The confusion in this passage reflects confusion in the text of Genesis 48
  16. Genesis 49, ESV
  17. Genesis 50, ESV
  18. Differences of Tradition

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