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Sperling, Original Torah , 91—; S. Cite this article Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography. November 13, Retrieved November 13, from Encyclopedia. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list. Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia. 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 (Genesis)

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.

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.

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Bilhah was Rachel's servant, and Zilpah was Leah's servant. 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.


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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.

Joseph (son of Jacob)

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. 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. 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. 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.

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Joseph in the Bible

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. 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.

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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. However, two years later, the Pharoah experienced troubling dreams that his magicians could not interpret.


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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.

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.