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Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible

Joseph

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JOSEPH (in OT and Apocr. [Note: Apocrypha, Apocryphal.] ). 1. The patriarch. See next article. 2. A man of Issachar ( Numbers 13:7 ). 3. A son of Asaph ( 1 Chronicles 25:2 ; 1 Chronicles 25:9 ). 4. One of the sons of Bani who had married a foreign wife ( Ezra 10:42 ); called in 1Es 9:34 Josephus. 5. A priest ( Nehemiah 12:14 ). 6. An ancestor of Judith ( Jdt 8:1 ). 7. An officer of Judas Maccabæus ( 1Ma 5:18 ; 1Ma 5:56 ; 1Ma 5:60 ). 8. In 2Ma 8:22 , and probably also 10:19, Joseph is read by mistake for John , one of the brothers of Judas Maccabæus.

JOSEPH. Jacob’s eleventh son, the elder of the two sons of Rachel; born in Haran. The name is probably contracted from Jehoseph ( Psalms 81:5 ), ‘May God add’ (cf. Genesis 30:23 f., where etymologies from two sources are given). Joseph is the principal hero of the later chapters of Genesis, which are composed mainly of extracts from three documents. J [Note: Jahwist.] and E [Note: Elohist.] supply the bulk of the narrative, and as a rule are cited alternately, the compiler often modifying a quotation from one document with notes derived from the other. From P [Note: Priestly Narrative.] some six or seven short excerpts are made, the longest being Genesis 46:6-27 , where the object and the parenthetic quality are evident. For the details of analysis, see Driver LOT [Note: OT Introd. to the Literature of the Old Testament.] 6 , 17 ff. The occasional differences of tradition are an evidence of original independence, and their imperfect harmonization in the joint narrative is favourable to its substantial historicity.

At present the date of Joseph can be only provisionally fixed, as the account of his life neither mentions the name of the ruling Pharaoh nor refers to distinctive Egyptian manners or customs in such a way as to yield a clue to the exact period. The Pharaoh of the oppression is now generally taken to be Rameses ii. of the 19th dynasty ( c [Note: circa, about.] . b.c. 1275 1208); and if this be correct, the addition of the years of residence in Egypt ( Exodus 12:41 ) would bring Joseph’s term of office into the reign of the later Hyksos kings ( c [Note: circa, about.] . b.c. 2098 1587; for dates and particulars, see Petrie, History of Egypt ).

With the return of Jacob to Hebron (Genesis 35:27 ) he ceases to be the central figure of the story, and Joseph takes his place. Of his life to the age of 17 ( Genesis 37:2 ) nothing is told, except that he was his father’s favourite, and rather too free in carrying complaints of his brothers and telling them of his boyish dreams. Sent to Shechem, he found that his brothers had taken their flocks northwards fifteen miles, to the richer pasturage of Dothan. As soon as he came within sight, their resentment perceived its opportunity, and they arranged to get rid of him and his dreams; but the two traditions are not completely harmonized. J [Note: Jahwist.] represents Judah as inducing his brothers to sell Joseph to a company of Ishmaelites; but E [Note: Elohist.] makes Reuben a mediator, whose plans were frustrated by a band of Midianites, who had in the interval kidnapped Joseph and stolen him away ( Genesis 40:15 ). The phraseology is against the identification of the two companies; and the divergent traditions point to a natural absence of real agreement among the brothers, with a frustration of their purposes by means of which they were ignorant. What became of Joseph they did not really know; and to protect themselves they manufactured the evidence of the blood-stained coat.

In Egypt, Joseph was bought by Potiphar, a court official, whose title makes him chief of the royal butchers and hence of the body-guard; and the alertness and trustworthiness of the slave led quickly to his appointment as major domo (Egyp. mer-per ), a functionary often mentioned on the monuments (Erman, Life in Anc. Egypt , 187 f.). Everything prospered under Joseph’s management; but his comeliness and courtesy attracted the notice of his master’s wife, whose advances, being repelled, were transformed into a resentment that knew no scruples. By means of an entirely false charge she secured the removal of Joseph to the State prison, which was under the control of Potiphar ( Genesis 40:3 ), and where again he was soon raised to the position of overseer or under-keeper. Under his charge were placed in due course the chief of the Pharaoh’s butlers and the chief of his bakers, who had for some unstated reason incurred the royal displeasure. Both were perplexed with dreams, which Joseph interpreted to them correctly. Two years later the Pharaoh himself had his duplicated dream of the fat and lean kine and of the full and thin ears; and as much significance was attached in Egypt to dreams, the king was distressed by his inability to find an interpreter, and ‘his spirit was troubled.’ Thereupon the chief butler recalled Joseph’s skill and his own indebtedness to him, and mentioned him to the Pharaoh, who sent for him, and was so impressed by his sagacity and foresight that exaltation to the rank of keeper of the royal seal followed, with a degree of authority that was second only to that of the throne. The Egyptian name of Zaphenath-paneah (of which the meaning is perhaps ‘The God spake and he came into life,’ suggesting that the bearer of the name owed his promotion to the Divine use of him as revealer of the Divine will) was conferred upon him, and he married Asenath , daughter of one of the most important dignitaries in the realm, the priest of the great national temple of the sun at On or Heliopolis, seven miles north-east of the modern Cairo.

So far as Egypt was concerned, Joseph’s policy was to store the surplus corn of the years of plenty in granaries, and afterwards so to dispose of it as to change the system of land-tenure. Famines in that country are due generally to failure or deficiency in the annual inundation of the Nile, and several of long endurance have been recorded. Brugsch ( Hist . 2 i. 304) reports an inscription, coinciding in age approximately with that of Joseph, and referring to a famine lasting ‘many years,’ during which a distribution of corn was made. This has been doubtfully identified with Joseph’s famine. Other inscriptions of the kind occur, and are sufficient to authenticate the fact of prolonged famines, though not to yield further particulars of the one with which Joseph had to deal. His method was to sell corn first for money (rings of gold, whose weight was certified by special officials), and when all this was exhausted ( Genesis 47:15 ), corn was given in exchange for cattle of every kind, and finally for the land. The morality of appropriating the surplus produce and then compelling the people to buy it back, must not be judged by modern standards of justice, but is defensible, if at all, only in an economic condition where the central government was responsible for the control of a system of irrigation upon which the fertility of the soil and the produce of its cultivation directly depended, and where the private benefit of the individual had to be ignored in view of a peril threatening the community. Instead of regarding the arrangement as a precedent to be followed in different states of civilization, ground has been found in it for charging Joseph with turning the needs of the people into an occasion for oppressing them; and certainly the effect upon the character and subsequent condition of the people was not favourable. The system of tenure in existence before, by which large landed estates were held by private proprietors, was changed into one by which all the land became the property of the crown, the actual cultivators paying a rental of one-fifth of the produce ( Genesis 47:24 ). That some such change took place is clear from the monuments (cf. Erman, Life in Anc. Egypt , 102), though they have not yielded the name of the author or the exact date of the change. An exception was made in favour of the priests ( Genesis 47:22 ), who were supported by a fixed income in kind from the Pharaoh, and therefore had no need to part with their land. In later times (cf. Diodorus Siculus, i. 73 f.) the land was owned by the kings, the priests, and the members of a military caste; and it is not likely that the system introduced by Joseph lasted long after his death. The need of rewarding the services of successful generals or partisans would be a strong temptation to the expropriation of some of the royal lands.

The peculiarity of the famine was that it extended over the neighbouring countries (Genesis 41:56 f.); and that is the fact of significance in regard to the history of Israel, with which the narrative in consequence resumes contact. The severity of the famine in Canaan led Jacob to send all his sons except Benjamin ( Genesis 42:4 ) to buy corn in Egypt. On their arrival they secured an interview with Joseph, and prostrated themselves before him ( Genesis 37:7 , Genesis 42:6 ); but in the grown man, with his shaven face [on the monuments only foreigners and natives of inferior rank are represented as wearing beards] and Egyptian dress, they entirely failed to recognize their brother. The rough accusation that they were spies in search of undefended ways by which the country might be invaded from the east, on which side lines of posts and garrisons were maintained under two at least of the dynasties, aroused their fears, and an attempt was made to allay Joseph’s suspicions by detailed information. Joseph catches at the opportunity of discovering the truth concerning Benjamin, and, after further confirming in several ways the apprehensions of his brothers, retains one as a hostage in ward and sends the others home. On their return ( Genesis 42:35 E [Note: Elohist.] ), or at the first lodging-place ( Genesis 42:27 J [Note: Jahwist.] ) on the way, the discovery of their money in their sacks increased their anxiety, and for a time their father positively refused to consent to further dealings with Egypt. At length his resolution broks down under the pressure of the famine ( Genesis 43:11 ff.). In Egypt the sons were received courteously, and invited to a feast in Joseph’s house, where they were seated according to their age ( Genesis 43:33 ), and Benjamin was singled out for the honour of a special ‘mess’ (cf. 2 Samuel 11:8 ) as a mark of distinction. They set out homewards in high spirits, unaware that Joseph had directed that each man’s money should be placed in his sack, and his own divining-cup of silver ( Genesis 44:5 ; the method of divination was hydromancy an article was thrown into a vessel of water, and the movements of the water were thought to reveal the unknown) in that of Benjamin. Overtaken at almost their first halting-place, they were charged with theft, and returned in a body to Joseph’s house. His reproaches elicited a frank and pathetic speech from Judah, after which Joseph could no longer maintain his incognito . He allayed the fears of his conscience-stricken brothers by the assurance that they had been the agents of Providence ‘to preserve life’ ( Genesis 45:5 ; cf. Psalms 105:17 ff.); and in the name of the Pharaoh he invited them with their father to settle in Egypt, with the promise of support during the five years of famine that remained.

Goshen, a pastoral district in the Delta about forty miles north-east of Cairo, was selected for the new home of Jacob. The district was long afterwards known as ‘the land of Rameses’ (Genesis 47:11 ) from the care spent upon it by the second king of that name, who often resided there, and founded several cities in the neighbourhood. In Egypt swine-herds and cow-herds were ‘an abomination’ to the people ( Genesis 46:34 ; cf. Hdt. ii. 47, and Erman, op. cit. 439f.), but there is no independent evidence that shepherds were, and the contempt must be regarded as confined to those whose duties brought them into close contact with cattle, for the rearing of cattle received much attention, the superintendent of the royal herds being frequently mentioned in the inscriptions. Joseph’s household and brothers flourished during the seventeen years ( Genesis 47:27 f.) Jacob lived in Egypt. Before his death he blessed Joseph’s two sons, giving preference to the younger in view of the greatness of the tribe to be derived from him, and leaving to Joseph himself one portion above his brethren, viz. Shechem ( Genesis 48:22 RVm [Note: Revised Version margin.] ). After mourning for the royal period of seventy days ( Genesis 50:3 ; cf. Diod. Sic. i. 72), Joseph buried his father with great pomp in the cave of Machpelah, and cheered his brothers by a renewed promise to nourish and help them. He is said to have survived to the age of 110 ( Genesis 50:22 ), and to have left injunctions that his body should be conveyed to Canaan when Israel was restored. The body was carefully embalmed ( Genesis 50:26 ), and enclosed in a mummy-case or sarcophagus. In due course it was taken charge of by Moses ( Exodus 13:19 ), and eventually buried at Shechem ( Joshua 24:32 ).

Of the general historicity of the story of Joseph there need be no doubt. Allowance may be made for the play of imagination in the long period that elapsed before the traditions were reduced to writing in their present form, and for the tendency to project the characteristics of a tribe backwards upon some legendary hero. But the incidents are too natural and too closely related to be entirely a product of fiction; and the Egyptian colouring, which is common to both of the principal documents, is fatal to any theory that resolves the account into a mere elaboration in a distant land of racial pride. Joseph’s own character, as depicted, shows no traces of constructive art, but is consistent and singularly attractive. Dutifulness ( 1Ma 2:53 ) is perhaps its keynote, manifested alike in the resistance of temptation, in uncomplaining patience in misfortune, and in the modesty with which he bore his elevation to rank and power. Instead of using opportunities for the indulgence of resentment, he recognizes the action of Providence, and nourishes the brothers ( Sir 49:15 ) who had lost all brotherly affection for him. On the other hand, there are blemishes which should be neither exaggerated nor overlooked. In his youth there was a degree of vanity that made him rather unpleasant company. That his father was left so long in ignorance of his safety in Egypt may have been unavoidable, but leaves a suspicion of inconsiderateness. When invested with authority he treated the people in a way that would now be pronounced tyrannical and unjust, enriching and strengthening the throne at the expense of their woe; though, judged by the standards of his own day, the charge may not equally lie. On the whole, a very high place must be given him among the early founders of his race. In strength of right purpose he was second to none, whilst in the graces of reverence and kindness, of insight and assurance, he became the type of a faith that is at once personal and national (Hebrews 11:22 ), and allows neither misery nor a career of triumph to eclipse the sense of Divine destiny.

R. W. Moss.

JOSEPH (in NT). 1. 2. Two ancestors of our Lord, Luke 3:24 ; Luke 3:30 .

3. The husband of Mary and ‘father’ of Jesus. Every Jew kept a record of his lineage, and was very proud if he could claim royal or priestly descent; and Joseph could boast himself ‘a son of David’ ( Matthew 1:20 ). His family belonged to Bethlehem, David’s city, but he had migrated to Nazareth ( Luke 2:4 ), where he followed the trade of carpenter ( Matthew 13:55 ). He was betrothed to Mary, a maiden of Nazareth, being probably much her senior, though the tradition of the apocryphal History of Joseph that he was in his ninety-third year and she in her fifteenth is a mere fable. The tradition that he was a widower and had children by his former wife probably arose in the interest of the dogma of Mary’s perpetual virginity. The Evangelists tell us little about him, but what they do tell redounds to his credit. (1) He was a pious Israelite, faithful in his observance of the Jewish ordinances ( Luke 2:21-24 ) and feasts ( Luke 2:41-42 ). (2) He was a kindly man. When he discovered the condition of his betrothed, he drew the natural inference and decided to disown her, but he would do it as quietly as possible, and, so far as he might, spare her disgrace. And, when he was apprised of the truth, he was very kind to Mary. On being summoned to Bethlehem by the requirements of the census, he would not leave her at home to suffer the slanders of misjudging neighbours, but took her with him and treated her very gently in her time of need ( Luke 2:1-7 ). (3) He exhibited this disposition also in his nurture of the Child so wondrously entrusted to his care, taking Him to his heart and well deserving to be called His ‘father’ ( Luke 2:33 ; Luke 2:41 ; Luke 2:48 , Matthew 13:55 , John 1:45 ; John 6:42 ). Joseph never appears in the Gospel story after the visit to Jerusalem when Jesus had attained the age of twelve years and become ‘a son of the Law’ ( Luke 2:41-51 ); and since Mary always appears alone in the narratives of the public ministry, it is a reasonable inference that he had died during the interval. Tradition says that he died at the age of one hundred and eleven years, when Jesus was eighteen.

4. One of the Lord’s brethren, Matthew 13:55 , where AV [Note: Authorized Version.] reads Joses , the Greek form of the name. Cf. Mark 6:3 .

5. Joseph of Arimathæa. A wealthy and devout Israelite and a member of the Sanhedrim. He was a disciple of Jesus, but, dreading the hostility of his colleagues, he kept his faith secret. He took no part in the condemnation of Jesus, but neither did he protest against it; and the likelihood is that he prudently absented himself from the meeting. When all was over, he realized how cowardly a part he had played, and, stricken with shame and remorse, plucked up courage and ‘went in unto Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus’ ( Mark 15:43 ). It was common for friends of the crucified to purchase their bodies, which would else have been cast out as refuse, a prey to carrion birds and beasts, and give them decent burial; and Joseph would offer Pilate his price; in any case he obtained the body ( Mark 15:45 ). Joseph had a garden close to Calvary, where he had hewn a sepulchre in the rock for his own last resting-place; and there, aided by Nicodemus, he laid the body swathed in clean linen ( Matthew 27:57-61 = Mark 15:42-47 = Luke 23:50-56 = John 19:38-42 ).

6. Joseph Barsabbas , the disciple who was nominated against Matthias as successor to Judas in the Apostolate. He was surnamed, like James the Lord’s brother, Justus ( Acts 1:23 ). Tradition says that he was one of the Seventy ( Luke 10:1 ). 7. See Barnabas.

David Smith.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Joseph'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdb/j/joseph.html. 1909.

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