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Biblical People
Joseph. [Heb. "may he add," from the root yasaph, "to add," according to Gen 30:24; v 23 seems to indicate that the author also had in mind the similarly sounding verb Õasaph, "to take away," that is, the reproach of barrenness. The name occurs also in Phoenician and Aramaic texts. Gr. Ioµseµph.]

1. The son of Jacob, born to his beloved wife Rachel after a long period of barrenness. At his birth his father Jacob had served Laban 14 years, hence was 91 years old (cf. Gen 41:46; 45:6; 47:9); this was 6 years before the family returned to Canaan (chs 30:22-26; 31:41). Because Joseph was the first-born son of his favoured wife, Jacob showed favouritism to the boy, especially after Rachel's death. He demonstrated this attitude by providing Joseph with an expensive garment, such as was worn by noble youths (ch 37:3). The jealousy created by this was increased when Joseph told his brothers 2 dreams in which he had seen all the members of his family, including his parents, doing obeisance to him (vs. 4-11). When he was 17 years of age his father sent him to Shechem to visit his brothers, who were pasturing the family's flocks there. Reaching Shechem he found that they had passed on to Dothan, so he sought them there. As soon as they saw him they conspired to kill him, but Reuben, hoping to save him, persuaded the others to throw him into an empty cistern instead. However, when in Reuben's absence a caravan of Ishmaelites and Midianites came along, travelling to Egypt, the other brothers sold him to these traders as a slave. To deceive their father they stained Joseph's garment with the blood of a goat killed for that purpose, and took the bloodstained coat to their father, saying that they had found it. Jacob concluded that Joseph had been torn to pieces by a wild animal (vs. 12-33).

On his arrival in Egypt Joseph was sold to Potiphar, an Egyptian captain of the royal bodyguard (Gen 39:1).

Joseph's faithfulness and ability won the confidence of Potiphar so that he was made steward of his master's household. However, his handsomeness created lustful feelings in the heart of his master's wife. When he persistently refused her approaches she accused him of lustful intent. As a result he was imprisoned. Soon, however, he gained the confidence of the jailer through his faithfulness, and obtained a position of trust in the prison. It was there that he was able to interpret the dreams and predict the fate of 2 fellow prisoners, the royal butler and the royal baker (Gen 39:1 to 40:23).

Two years later, some 13 years after Joseph had been sold into slavery, Pharaoh had disturbing dreams which his magicians were unable to explain. Then the royal butler, long since restored to his office, remembered Joseph and told Pharaoh about his own experience with him. Summoned to interpret the dreams to Pharaoh, Joseph told him that Egypt would experience first 7 years of plenty and then 7 years of famine, and counselled the king to store up grain during the first 7 years for the years of want. Seeing Joseph's wisdom, Pharaoh appointed this 30-year-old slave as vizier—the second man in the kingdom—publicly endowing him with all necessary authority (Gen 41:1-46).

Joseph married Asenath, a daughter of the priest of On (Heliopolis), the city in which was located the great temple dedicated to the sun-god Ra. Two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim, were born to Joseph during the 7 years of plenty. Meanwhile he was engaged in storing up foodstuffs for the coming years of famine, when the *Nile would fail the country because of a lack of rainfall in the highlands of Abyssinia and in central Africa. When this drought came, it also affected western Asia and created famine conditions in Canaan. Consequently, Jacob's sons, like other people of Canaan, went to Egypt to purchase grain. They appeared before Joseph, not recognising in this great official—Egyptian in dress, language, and customs—the brother whom they had sold 20 years before. But Joseph recognised them immediately. Remembering his boyish dreams of long ago, and the jealousy and cruelty of his brothers, he began to test them in various ways. At the same time, the sons of Jacob, thinking of their brother who they supposed was still a slave in Egypt, suffered much anguish and remorse over their mistreatment of him. Finally, on their 2d trip to Egypt at the end of 2 years of famine, he revealed himself to them (Gen 42:1 to 45:8), convinced them of his kind intentions, and sent for his father and the whole family to come down to Egypt. He settled them in Goshen, probably the fertile WaÆd÷i T\umilaÆt, not far from the Hyksos capital of Egypt—Avaris, Tanis, or Zoan (Gen 45:9 to 46:30; cf. Ps 78:12, 13). Fearing that his brothers would not be able to withstand the temptations of Egyptian court life, he counselled them to remain shepherds, following an occupation despised by the Egyptians. This would give them an opportunity to remain separate from the pagans and to live together in a section of the country assigned to them (Gen 46:31-34). Pharaoh gave the family a great welcome upon their arrival in Egypt, and granted Jacob an audience.

During the following 5 years of want the country went through hard times, and the Egyptian people were forced to sell all their property, and finally even themselves, to the royal house to obtain food; except for the priests and the temple properties, all land reverted to the Pharaoh, and the occupants thenceforth paid a fifth of the harvest to the king (Gen 47:13-26). Joseph at the same time cared well for his relatives. Shortly before Jacob died, he blessed Joseph's two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, and adopted them as his own sons; consequently Joseph's descendants formed not one but two tribes. When Jacob passed away he was embalmed according to Egyptian custom and taken to the family sepulchre at Hebron in Canaan for burial. Joseph assured his apprehensive brothers that they would have nothing to fear from him even after their father's death (chs 47:1-12, 27-31; 48:1-20; 49:33; 50:1-21). Joseph reached the age of 110 years, which in Egyptian literature was considered as the perfect age, and before his death charged his descendants to take his bones to Canaan for burial when they should return to the Promised Land (ch 50:22-26). In compliance with his wishes, at the time of the Exodus his embalmed body was taken by the children of Israel to Canaan and buried near Shechem (Ex 13:19; Jos 24:32).

Joseph's 2 sons became the ancestors of 2 large and important tribes, Ephraim and Manasseh, but the name Joseph is frequently used in the OT to denote the combined tribes or the northern kingdom as a whole (Jos 16:1, 4; Jgs 1:22; 1 Ki 11:28; Ps 78:67; Eze 37:16; etc.).

The story of Joseph shows a true Egyptian setting in numerous details, and fits best into the Hyksos period, when the Pharaohs were foreigners, mostly Semitic. This is the period to which Joseph belongs, according to Biblical chronology. In no other time was it more likely that a Semite could occupy a position of honour in Egypt such as Joseph did; the Semitic Hyksos kings would be inclined to have more confidence in officials of kindred race than in any of the subjugated Egyptians, even though they also employed Egyptians as officials, such as "Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard" (RSV). It is noticeable that the Bible calls Potiphar "an Egyptian" (Gen 39:1)—a designation that would seem superfluous and illogical for a high official of a native Egyptian king, but worthy of mention if the king and the ruling class were foreigners. It is evident from the records that the economic change that took place during the Hyksos period can be accounted for by the story of Joseph. During the Middle Kingdom, preceding the Hyksos invasion, Egypt enjoyed a system of private enterprise, and the land was owned by the people as well as by the king and the temple priesthoods. The scanty records surviving from the Hyksos period throw no light on the matter, but in the 18th dynasty, after the expulsion of the Hyksos, we find that all real estate was in the hands of the Pharaoh except the temple properties. The change from private to crown ownership must have taken place during the interval. The story of Joseph explains how all privately owned property had come, during the famine, into the possession of the crown. This new land system would give to the 18th dynasty kings an opportunity to bestow lands and other properties on their veteran soldiers as rewards for faithful service in the war of liberation.

The Egyptian monuments also illustrate many details of the story of Joseph and provide many close parallels to it: A demotic papyrus now in the British Museum, which tells how prisoners were freed on the anniversary of the accession of Pharaoh, can be compared with Gen 40:20. The Egyptians paid much attention to dreams and believed them to contain divine messages, as is attested by many ancient records (cf. chs 40:8; 41:8); therefore, a professional group of magicians and soothsayers was in great demand to interpret dreams. Before Joseph could appear before the king he had to take time to shave himself, although it was ordered that he should be brought with haste (Gen 41:14). In contrast to the Asiatics, the Egyptians had clean-shaven faces, and the Egyptian story of Sinuhe tells us how Sinuhe, returning to Egypt after a long exile in Asia, first of all shaved and changed his garments, so as to be considered once more a civilised person. Joseph's investiture as vizier, as described in Gen 41:41-44, can be paralleled by literary records from Egypt and by ancient pictures showing the king in the act of placing golden chains with pectorals around the necks of his high courtiers.

From the 13th cent. comes an Egyptian document, the Papyrus DÕOrbiney in the British Museum, that contains a "Story of the Two Brothers," who lived together. The older brother's wife made an attempt to seduce the younger brother while her husband was in the field. When the young man failed to submit to her lusts, she became so angry with him that she accused him to her husband of having attempted to rape her. Thereupon the outraged husband immediately set out to kill his younger brother, who, however, was warned through a divine intervention and was able to escape. Later the truth was found out, and the unfaithful wife was killed. The story continues with legendary matter (ANET 23-25). Many modern commentators, dating the origin of the Pentateuch in the 1st millennium b.c., think that the story of Joseph in Gen 39 borrowed its theme from the Egyptian "Story of the Two Brothers." However, the 2 stories have only one thing in common: an unfaithful wife attempting unsuccessfully to seduce a young man living in the house, and later accusing him of an attempted rape. Such dramas may have happened frequently in ancient times, as they occur in this modern age, although the object of a seducer usually falls victim. Since Joseph lived many centuries before the Papyrus DÕOrbiney was composed, and the "Story of the Two Brothers" has mythological trends, there is no reason to suppose that one story depends upon the other.

2. Father of the spy who represented the tribe of Issachar (Num 13:7).

3. A son of Asaph and the head of the 1st of the 24 courses into which David organised the musicians for the sanctuary service (1 Chr 25:2, 9).

4. A Judahite appearing in Luke's genealogy of Jesus Christ (Lk 3:30).

5. A Jew belonging to the family of Bani (RSV "Binnui"); he had married a foreign wife in the time of Ezra (Ezr 10:42).

6. A priest, head of the family of Shebaniah in the time of high priest Joiakim (Neh 12:14).

7. According to the KJV, a Judahite appearing in Luke's genealogy of Jesus Christ (Lk 3:26, KJV). The RSV, following a different Greek text, calls him Josech.

8. Another in Luke's genealogy of Jesus Christ (Lk 3:24).

9. The husband of Mary (Mt 1:16; Lk 3:23), considered by his contemporaries to be the father of Jesus. He seems earlier to have been widowed and apparently had children by a former marriage (see Brethren of the Lord). While engaged to Mary he discovered that she was to have a child and decided to put her away without exposing her; but after he was informed in a dream that the child had been miraculously conceived, he married her and brought her child up as his own son (Mt 1:18-25). The birth took place at Bethlehem because Joseph had taken Mary with him from Nazareth, their home town, to Bethlehem in compliance with a census decree that required every individual to register in the town of his ancestors. Since Joseph (as well as Mary) was a member of the tribe of Judah and a descendant of the house of David, he had to fulfil their registration duties at David's birthplace, Bethlehem (Lk 2:1-16). Joseph was also with Mary when the child Jesus was taken to the Temple for the customary presentation, and heard there the predictions of Simeon and Anna (vs. 22-38). Before Herod could carry out his cruel murder of the infants at Bethlehem, Joseph was directed in a dream to go to Egypt; hence he took Mary and Jesus to Egypt, returning to Palestine to settle in Nazareth after the death of Herod (Mt 2:13-23). As a faithful Jew he probably went regularly to Jerusalem every year for the great feasts. When Jesus was 12 years old He was taken on the annual pilgrimage to the Passover. It was on this occasion that His parents lost Him, and after a search of 3 days discovered Him in the Temple (Lk 2:41-50). Joseph, a carpenter (Mt 13:55), apparently taught his trade to Jesus (Mk 6:3). Joseph seems to have died before Jesus began His ministry, as seems evident from the fact that it was His mother and brothers who visited Him (Mt 12:46), and His brothers who attempted to advise Him (Jn 7:3-5); also Jesus' request that the disciple John take care of His mother would hardly have been made if her husband had still been alive (ch 19:26, 27).

10. One of the brothers of Jesus Christ (Mt 13:55, RSV). The KJV, following a different Greek text, calls him Joses (as in Mk 6:3 in both versions). See Joses, 1.

11. A Jew of the town of Arimathea, a wealthy man who owned a yet-unused rock sepulchre in a garden outside the city of Jerusalem (Mt 27:57, 60; Jn 19:41). He was a member of the Sanhedrin, but had not consented to the resolution condemning Christ, because he was already a secret disciple of the Lord (Mt 27:57; Lk 23:50, 51; Jn 19:38). It was on the day of crucifixion that he, together with Nicodemus, another ruler of the Jews, found the courage to identify himself with the followers of Jesus. Joseph went boldly to Pilate, requested the body of Jesus, and buried Him in his own tomb, which was near the place of crucifixion (Mt 27:58-60; Mk 15:42-46; Lk 23:52, 53; Jn 19:38-41).

12. About the Joseph of Mt 27:56, RSV, see Joses, 2.

13. A Jewish Christian, also called Barsabbas, meaning "son of Sabbas," and surnamed Justus. He had been a follower of Jesus from the beginning of His ministry, and together with Matthias was selected by the apostles as a candidate to replace Judas, who had betrayed the Lord and then committed suicide. Matthias was chosen by a lot, and we hear no more of Joseph (Acts 1:21-26). He may have been the brother of "Judas called Barsabbas" (ch 15:22, RSV).

14. The original name of Barnabas (Acts 4:36, RSV). The KJV, following a different Greek text, calls him Joses See Joses, 3 -- Seventh-day Adventist Bible Dictionary.

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