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Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature


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Joseph, 1

Jo´seph (God-increased), son of Jacob and Rachel, born under peculiar circumstances, as may be seen in ; on which account, and because he was the son of his old age (), he was beloved by his father more than were the rest of his children, though Benjamin, as being also a son of Jacob's favorite wife, Rachel, was in a peculiar manner dear to the patriarch. The partiality evinced towards Joseph by his father excited jealousy on the part of his brethren, the rather that they were born of different mothers (). Joseph had reached his seventeenth year, when some conduct on the part of his brothers seems to have been such as in the opinion of Joseph to require the special attention of Jacob, to whom, accordingly, he communicated the facts. This greatly increased their dislike to him, and they henceforth 'hated him, and could not speak peaceably unto him' (). Their aversion, however, was carried to the highest pitch when Joseph acquainted them with two dreams, which appeared to indicate that Joseph would acquire preeminence in the family, if not sovereignty; and while even his father rebuked him, his brothers were filled with envy. Jacob, however, was not aware of the depth of their ill will; so that, on one occasion, having a desire to hear intelligence of his sons, who were pasturing their flocks at a distance, he did not hesitate to make Joseph his messenger for that purpose. His appearing in view of his brothers was the signal for their malice to gain head. They began to devise means for his immediate destruction, which they would unhesitatingly have effected, but for his half-brother, Reuben, who, as the eldest son, might well be the party to interfere on behalf of Joseph. A compromise was entered into, in virtue of which the youth was stripped of the distinguishing vestments which he owed to his father's affection, and cast into a pit. Having performed this evil deed, and while they were taking refreshment, the brothers beheld a caravan of Arabian merchants, who were bearing the spices and aromatic gums of India down to the well-known and much-frequented mart, Egypt. On the proposal of Judah they resolved that, instead of allowing Joseph to perish, they should sell him to the merchants. This was accordingly done. Joseph was sold for a slave, to be conveyed by his masters into Egypt. While on his way thither, Reuben returned to the pit, intending to rescue his brother, and convey him safely back to their father. Joseph was gone. On which Reuben went to the wicked young men, who, not content with selling a brother into slavery, determined to punish their father for his partiality towards the unoffending sufferer. With this view they dipped Joseph's party-colored garment in the blood of a kid and sent it to Jacob, in order to make him believe that his favorite child had been torn to pieces by some wild beast. The trick succeeded, and Jacob was grieved beyond measure.

Meanwhile the merchants sold Joseph to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh's, and captain of the royal guard, who was a native of the country. In Potiphar's house Joseph enjoyed the highest confidence and the largest prosperity. A higher power watched over him; and whatever he undertook succeeded, till at length his master gave everything into his hands. But a second time he innocently brought on himself the vengeance of the ill-disposed. Charged by his master's wife with the very crime to which he had in vain been tempted, he was at once cast by his master into the state prison.

The narrative, which is obviously constructed in order to show the workings of divine Providence, states, however, that Joseph was not left without special aid, in consequence of which he gained favor with the keeper of the prison to such an extent that everything was put under his direction. Two of the regal officers, 'the chief of the butlers' and 'the chief of the bakers,' having offended their royal master, were consigned to the same prison with Joseph. While there, each one had a dream, which Joseph interpreted correctly. The butler, whose fate was auspicious, promised the young Hebrew to employ his influence to procure his deliverance; but when again in the enjoyment of his 'butlership,' he 'forgat' Joseph (Genesis 40). Pharaoh himself, however, had two dreams, which found in Joseph a successful expounder; for the butler then remembered the skill of his prison-companion, and advised his royal master to put it to the test in his own case. Pharaoh's dream, as interpreted by Joseph, foreboded the approach of a seven years' famine; to abate the evils of which Joseph recommended that some 'discreet and wise' man should be chosen and set in full power over the land of Egypt. The monarch was alarmed, and called a council of his advisers. The wisdom of Joseph was recognized as of divine origin and supereminent value; and the king and his ministers (whence it appears that the Egyptian monarchy—at Memphis—was not despotic, but constitutional) resolved that Joseph should be made (to borrow a term from Rome) Dictator in the approaching time of need. The highest honors were conferred upon him. He was made ruler over all the land of Egypt, and the daughter of Potipherah, priest of On, given him to wife.

Seven years of abundance afforded Joseph opportunity to carry into effect such plans as secured an ample provision against the seven years of need. The famine came, but it found a prepared people. The visitation did not depend on any mere local causes, for 'the famine was over all the face of the earth;' 'and all countries came into Egypt to Joseph to buy corn' (). Among these customers appeared ten brethren, sons of the Hebrew Jacob. They had of necessity to appear before Joseph, whose license for the purchase of corn was indispensable. Joseph had probably expected to see them, and he seems to have formed a deliberate plan of action. His conduct has brought on him the always ready charges of those who would rather impeach than study the Bible, and even friends of that sacred book have hardly in this case done Joseph full justice. Joseph's main object appears to have been to make his brothers feel and recognize their guilt in their conduct towards him. For this purpose suffering, then as well as now, was indispensable. Accordingly Joseph feigned not to know his brothers, charged them with being spies, threatened them with imprisonment, and allowed them to return home to fetch their younger brother, as a proof of their veracity, only on condition that one of them should remain behind in chains, with a prospect of death before him should not their words be verified. Then it was, and not before, that 'they said one to another, We are verily guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the anguish of his soul and would not hear; therefore is this distress come upon us' (). On which, after weeping bitterly, he by common agreement bound his brother Simeon, and left him in custody. At length Jacob consented to Benjamin's going in company with his brothers, and provided with a present consisting of balm, honey, spices and myrrh, nuts and almonds, and with double money in their hands (double, in order that they might repay the sum which Joseph had caused to be put into each man's sack at their departure, if, as Jacob supposed, 'it was an oversight'), they went again down to Egypt and stood before Joseph (); and there, too, stood Benjamin, Joseph's beloved brother. The required pledge of truthfulness was given. If it is asked why such a pledge was demanded, since the giving of it caused pain to Jacob, the answer may be thus: Joseph knew not how to demean himself towards his family until he ascertained its actual condition. That knowledge he could hardly be certain he had gained from the mere words of men who had spared his life only to sell him into slavery. How had these wicked men behaved towards his venerable father? His beloved brother Benjamin, was he safe? or had he suffered from their jealousy and malice the worse fate with which he himself had been threatened? Nothing but the sight of Benjamin could answer these questions, and resolve these doubts.

Benjamin had come, and immediately a natural change took place in Joseph's conduct: the brother began to claim his rights in Joseph's bosom. Jacob was safe, and Benjamin was safe. Joseph's heart melted at the sight of Benjamin: 'And he said to the ruler of his house, Bring these men home, and slay and make ready, for these men shall dine with me at noon' (). But guilt is always the ready parent of fear. Accordingly the brothers expected nothing but being reduced to slavery. When taken to their own brother's house, they imagined they were being entrapped. A colloquy ensued between them and Joseph's steward, whence it appeared that the money put into their sacks, to which they now attributed their peril, was in truth a present from Joseph, designed, after his own brotherly manner, to aid his family in their actual necessities. Noon came, and with it Joseph, whose first question regarded home: 'He asked them of their welfare, and said, Is your father well, the old man of whom ye spake? is he yet alive? And he lifted up his eyes and saw his brother Benjamin, his mother's son, and said, Is this your younger brother? And he said, God be gracious unto thee, my son!' 'And Joseph made haste, for his bowels did yearn upon his brother, and he sought where to weep, and he entered into his chamber and wept there.' Does this look like harshness?

The connection brings into view an Egyptian custom, which is of more than ordinary importance, in consequence of its being adopted in the Jewish polity: 'And they set on (food) for him by himself (Joseph), and for them by themselves (the brethren), and for the Egyptians which did eat with them, by themselves: because the Egyptians might not eat bread with the Hebrews; for that is an abomination with the Egyptians' (). This passage is also interesting, as proving that Joseph had not, in his princely grandeur, become ashamed of his origin, nor consented to receive adoption into a strange nation: he was still a Hebrew, waiting, like Moses after him, for the proper season to use his power for the good of his own people.

Joseph, apparently with a view to ascertain how far his brethren were faithful to their father, hit upon a plan which would in its issue serve to show whether they would make any, and what, sacrifice, in order to fulfill their solemn promise of restoring Benjamin in safety to Jacob. Accordingly he ordered not only that every man's money (as before) should be put in his sack's mouth, but also that his 'silver cup in which my lord drinketh, and whereby he divineth,' should be put in the sack's mouth of the youngest. The brethren departed, but were soon overtaken by Joseph's steward, who charged them with having surreptitiously carried off this costly and highly-valued vessel. They on their part vehemently repelled the accusation, adding, 'with whomsoever of thy servants it be found, both let him die, and we also will be my lord's bondmen.' A search was made, and the cup was found in Benjamin's sack. Accordingly they returned to the city. And now came the hour of trial: Would they purchase their own liberation by surrendering Benjamin? After a most touching interview, in which they proved themselves worthy and faithful, Joseph declared himself unable any longer to withstand the appeal of natural affection. On this occasion Judah, who was the spokesman, showed the deepest regard to his aged father's feelings, and entreated for the liberation of Benjamin even at the price of his own liberty. In the whole of literature we know of nothing more simple, natural, true, and impressive.

Most natural and impressive is the scene also which ensues, in which Joseph, after informing his brethren who he was, and inquiring, first of all, 'Is my father alive?' expresses feelings free from the slightest taint of revenge, and even shows how, under Divine Providence, the conduct of his brothers had issued in good—'God sent me before you to preserve a posterity in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance.' Five years had yet to ensue in which 'there would be neither earing nor harvest,' and therefore the brethren were directed to return home and bring Jacob down to Egypt with all speed. 'And he fell upon his brother Benjamin's neck and wept; and Benjamin wept upon his neck. Moreover, he kissed all his brethren, and wept upon them; and after that his brethren talked with him' ().

The news of these striking events was carried to Pharaoh, who being pleased at Joseph's conduct, gave directions that Jacob and his family should come forthwith into Egypt. The brethren departed, being well provided for—'And to his father Joseph sent ten asses laden with the good things of Egypt, and ten she asses laden with corn and bread and meat for his father by the way.'

The intelligence which they bore to their father was of such a nature that 'Jacob's heart fainted, for he believed them not.' When, however, he had recovered from the thus naturally told effects of his surprise, the venerable patriarch said, 'Enough; Joseph my son is yet alive: I will go and see him before I die' (; ).

Accordingly Jacob and his family, to the number of threescore and ten souls, went down to Egypt, and by the express efforts of Joseph, were allowed to settle in the district of Goshen, where Joseph met his father: 'And he fell on his neck, and wept on his neck a good while.' There Joseph 'nourished his father and his brethren, and all his father's household, with bread, according to their families' ().

Meanwhile the predicted famine was pauperizing Egypt. The inhabitants found their money exhausted, and their cattle and substance all gone, being parted with in order to purchase food from the public granaries, until at length they had nothing to give in return for sustenance but themselves. 'Buy us'—they then imploringly said to Joseph—'and our land for bread, and we and our land will be slaves unto Pharaoh.' 'And Joseph bought all the land of Egypt for Pharaoh, so the land became Pharaoh's.' The people too, 'Joseph removed to cities from one end of the borders of the land to the other end.' Religion, however, was too strong to submit to these political and social changes, and so the priests still retained their land, being supplied with provisions out of the common store gratuitously. The land, which was previously the people's own, was now leased to them on a tenancy, at the rent of one-fifth of the produce: the land of the priests being exempted.

Joseph had now to pass through the mournful scenes which attend on the death and burial of a father. Having had Jacob embalmed, and seen the rites of mourning fully observed, the faithful and affectionate son proceeded into the land of Canaan, in order, agreeably to a promise which the patriarch had exacted, to lay the old man's bones with those of his fathers, in 'the field of Ephron the Hittite.' Having performed with long and bitter mourning Jacob's funeral rites, Joseph returned into Egypt. The last recorded act of his life forms a most becoming close. After the death of their father, his brethren, unable, like all guilty people, to forget their criminality, and characteristically finding it difficult to think that Joseph had really forgiven them, grew afraid, now they were in his power, that he would take an opportunity of inflicting some punishment on them. They accordingly go into his presence, and, in imploring terms and an abject manner, entreat his forgiveness. 'Fear not'—this is his noble reply—'I will nourish you and your little ones.'

Joseph lived an hundred and ten years, kind and gentle in his affections to the last; for we are told, 'The children of Machir, the son of Manasseh, were brought up upon Joseph's knees' (). And so having obtained a promise from his brethren, that when the time came, as he assured them it would come, that God should visit them, and 'bring them unto the land which he sware to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob,' they would carry up his bones out of Egypt, Joseph at length 'died and they embalmed him, and he was put in a coffin' (). This promise was religiously fulfilled. His descendants, after carrying the corpse about with them in their wanderings, at length put it in its final resting-place in Shechem, in a parcel of ground that Jacob bought of the sons of Hamor, which became the inheritance of the children of Joseph ().

By his Egyptian wife, Asenath, daughter of the high priest of Heliopolis, Joseph had two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim ( sq.), whom Jacob adopted (), and who accordingly took their place among the heads of the twelve tribes of Israel.

Joseph, 2

Joseph, 'the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ' (). By Matthew He is said to have been the son of Jacob, whose lineage is traced by the same writer through David up to Abraham. Luke represents Him as being the son of Heli, and traces His origin up to Adam. How these accounts are to be reconciled, is shown under Genealogy.

The statements of Holy Writ in regard to Joseph are few and simple. According to a custom among the Jews, traces of which are still found, Joseph had pledged his faith to Mary; but before the marriage was consummated she proved to be with child. Grieved at this, Joseph was disposed to break off the connection; but, not wishing to make a public example of one whom he loved, he contemplated a private disruption of their bond. From this step, however, he is deterred by a heavenly messenger, who assures him that Mary has conceived under a divine influence. 'And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call His name Jesus; for He shall save His people from their sins' ( sq.; ). To this account various objections have been taken; but most of them are drawn from the ground of a narrow, shortsighted and half-informed rationalism, which judges everything by its own small standard, and either denies miracles altogether, or admits only such miracles as find favor in its sight.

Joseph was by trade a carpenter, in which business he probably educated Jesus (; ). The word rendered 'carpenter' is of a general character, and may be fitly rendered by the English word 'artificer' or 'artisan.' Schleusner asserts that the universal testimony of the ancient church represents our Lord as being a carpenter's son. Hilarius, on Matthew, asserts, in terms which cannot be mistaken, that Jesus was a smith. Of the same opinion was the venerable Bede; while others have held that our Lord was a mason, and Cardinal Cajetan, that he was a goldsmith. The last notion probably had its origin in those false associations of more modern times which disparage hand-labor. Among the ancient Jews all handicrafts were held in so much honor, that they were learned and pursued by the first men of the nation.

Christian tradition makes Joseph an old man when first espoused to Mary, being no less than eighty years of age, and father of four sons and two daughters. The painters of Christian antiquity conspire with the writers in representing Joseph as an old man at the period of the birth of our Lord—an evidence which is not to be lightly rejected, though the precise age mentioned may be but an approximation to fact.

It is not easy to determine when Joseph died, but it has been alleged, with great probability, that he must have been dead before the crucifixion of Jesus. There being no notice of Joseph in the public life of Christ, nor any reference to him in the discourses and history, while 'Mary' and 'His brethren' not infrequently appear, these circumstances afford evidence not only of Joseph's death, but of the inferior part which as legal father only of our Lord, Joseph might have been expected to sustain. So far as our scanty materials enable us to form an opinion, Joseph appears to have been a good, kind, simple-minded man, who, while he afforded aid in protecting and sustaining the family, would leave Mary unrestrained to use all the impressive and formative influence of her gentle, affectionate, pious, and thoughtful soul.





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Bibliography Information
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Joseph'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature".

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