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Joseph (Hebrew: יוֹסֵף , Standard Yosef Tiberian Yôsēp̄; "May Yahweh add"; Arabic: يوسف, Yūsuf ) is an important person in the Hebrew Bible who connects the story of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in Canaan to the subsequent narrative of the liberation of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt.
The Book of Genesis tells that Joseph was the 11th of Jacob's 12 sons and Rachel's firstborn, and tells how Joseph came to be sold into slavery by his jealous brothers. He rose to become the second most powerful man in Egypt next to Pharaoh. When famine struck Canaan, Joseph is reunited with Jacob (Joseph's father) and his brothers when they come to the Land of Goshen in Egypt to escape starvation.
The Bible offers two explanations of the name Yosef: first it is compared to the word asaf from the root /'sp/, "taken away": "And she conceived, and bare a son; and said, God hath taken away my reproach"; Yosef is then identified with the similar root /ysp/, meaning "add": "And she called his name Joseph; and said, The LORD shall add to me another son."
19th century source criticism divided the Joseph story between the Jahwist, Elohist and Priestly sources of the documentary hypothesis. In the early 20th century Hermann Gunkel suggested that, unlike the Abraham-Isaac-Jacob stories, the Joseph story formed a single unitary story with literary rather than oral origins. In 1953 Gerhard von Rad made a detailed assessment of its literary artistry and drew attention to its identity as a Wisdom novella, and in 1968 R.N. Whybray argued that unity and artistry implied a single author. All three insights are now widely accepted, and the majority of modern biblical scholars date the Joseph story in its current form to the 5th century BCE Persian era at the earliest. There have been many attempts to trace the story's redaction history including work by Donald Redford. His theory states that a first "Reuben version" of the story originated in the northern kingdom of Israel and was intended to justify the domination by the “house of Joseph” over the other tribes; this was followed by a later “Judah-expansion” (chapters 38 and 49) elevating Judah as the rightful successor to Jacob; and finally various embellishments were added so that the novella would function as the bridge between the Abraham-Isaac-Jacob material in Genesis and the following story of Moses and the Exodus.
Modern day scholars believe the historicity of the events in the Joseph narrative cannot be demonstrated. Hermann Gunkel, Hugo Gressmann and Gerhard von Rad identified the story of Joseph as a literary composition, in the genre of romance, or the novella. As a novella, it is read as reworking legends and myths, in particular the motifs of his reburial in Canaan, associated with the Egyptian god Osiris. Others compare the burial of his bones at Shechem, with the disposal of Dionysus’s bones at Delphi. For Schenke, the tradition of Joseph's burial at Shechem is understood as a secondary, Israelitic historical interpretation woven around a more ancient Canaanite shrine in that area. The reworked legends and folklore were probably inserted into the developing textual tradition of the Bible between the 8th and 6th centuries BCE. Most scholars place its composition in a genre that flourished in the Persian period of the Exile.
Some scholars, such as Israel Finkelstein and Israel Knohl, claim Joseph to be a summarizing character of the Hyksos period, created as a referent of the glorious past of Hyksos which was still preserved by their descendents by the time of the Israelites' emergence during the Iron Age in Canaan. From these scholars' point of view the Hyksos' descendents were part of the Proto-Israelite groups which join to form the Biblical Israelite nation.
Joseph, son of Israel (Jacob) and Rachel, lived in the land of Canaan with ten half-brothers, one full brother and one half-sister. He was Rachel's firstborn and Israel's eleventh son. Of all his sons, Joseph's father loved him the most. Israel even arrayed Joseph with a "long coat of many colors".
Israel's favoritism toward Joseph caused his half brothers to hate him. When Joseph was seventeen years old, he had two dreams which caused his brothers to hate him even more and to later plot his murder. In the first dream, Joseph and his brothers gathered bundles of grain. The bundles that were prepared by the brothers bowed down to Joseph's bundle. In the second dream, the sun (father), the moon (mother) and eleven stars (brothers) bowed down to Joseph himself. Joseph's father rebuked him for what he perceived as arrogance, but also pondered over what Joseph's dreams might mean. (Genesis 37:1-11)
Later, when the brothers were in Dothan feeding the flocks, they saw Joseph approaching and plotted to kill him. However, the eldest brother, Reuben, did not want Joseph to die. He suggested that rather than shedding blood, they throw Joseph into an empty cistern without food or water. He intended to come back later and rescue Joseph and return him to their father. The brothers stripped Joseph of the coat his father made for him, and threw him into the cistern. After that, the brothers decided to have a meal. As they were eating, they noticed a camel caravan of Ishmaelites coming out of Gilead, carrying spices and perfumes to Egypt, for trade. (Ishmaelites is a synonym for Medianites.) Judah had second thoughts about killing their own kin and proposed selling Joseph so that they would at least profit from their crime. The traders paid twenty pieces of silver for Joseph. When Reuben returned (upset after discovering Joseph was no longer in the pit), the brothers realized they would have to explain to the family what happened to Joseph. They put goat's blood on Joseph's coat  and then took it to Jacob, who assumed Joseph had been devoured by wild beasts. He deeply mourned his son, believing him dead. (Genesis 37:12-35)
Joseph was sold to Potiphar, the captain of Pharaoh's bodyguards. While serving in Potiphar's household, Yahweh was with Joseph and he became successful at everything he did. He became Potiphar's personal servant and was put in charge of the entire household. The Bible notes that Joseph was not only successful, but also very handsome. Potiphar's wife began asking Joseph to have sex with her. Despite her persistence, he refused for fear of sinning against God. One day, in an attempt to seduce him, she grabbed him by his cloak, but he escaped, leaving his garment behind. Angered by this, she took the coat and claimed that he tried to rape her. This resulted in Joseph being thrown into prison. (Genesis 39:1-20)
Once again, Joseph impressed others with his aptitude and the warden put Joseph in charge of the other prisoners. Soon afterward, Pharaoh's chief cup-bearer and chief baker, who had offended Pharaoh, were thrown into the prison. They both had dreams, and Joseph offered to interpret them. The chief cup-bearer had held a vine in his hand, with three branches that brought forth grapes; he took them to Pharaoh and put them in his cup. The chief baker had three baskets of bread on his head, intended for Pharaoh, but some birds came along and ate the bread. Joseph told them that within three days the chief cup-bearer would be reinstated, but the chief baker would be hanged. When the interpretations came true, Joseph asked the cup-bearer to mention him to Pharaoh and secure his release from prison, but the cup-bearer, reinstalled in office, forgot Joseph. Two years later, Pharaoh had two dreams which disturbed him. None of his wise men could interpret them and then the chief cup-bearer remembered Joseph and spoke of his skill to Pharaoh. Joseph was called and interpreted the dreams. The first dream was that seven lean cows rose out of the river and devoured seven fat cows, and the second, that seven withered ears of grain devoured seven fat ears. Joseph said 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.
Pharaoh approved of Joseph's proposal to store grain. He released him from prison and put him in charge over "all the land of Egypt" as Vizier. Pharaoh put his signet ring on Joseph's hand, then clothed him in fine linen, and put a gold necklace around his neck. He was then renamed Zaphnath-Paaneah  and was given Asenath, the daughter of Potipherah who was the priest of On, to be his wife. At the age of 30, Joseph was the most powerful man in Egypt, after Pharaoh. During the seven years of abundance, he ensured that extra grain was stored for the future famine until there was so much that it became immeasurable. In the sixth year of abundance, Asenath bore two children to Joseph: Manasseh and Ephraim.
When the famine came, it was so severe that people from surrounding nations "from all over the earth" came to Egypt to buy bread. The narrative also indicates that they went straight to Joseph or were directed to him, even by Pharaoh himself, so as to buy from him. (Genesis 41:37-57) Toward the end, even Egypt was feeling the effects. Eventually, the Egyptians used up all of their money to buy grain and had to pay with livestock. As a last resort, all of the inhabitants of Egypt, except for the Egyptian priestly class, sold their properties to Joseph for seed. After ownership of the land passed to Pharaoh, Joseph mandated a tax of one-fifth of the produce to go to the Pharaoh. This mandate continued down to the days of Moses. (Genesis 47:20-31)
In the second year of famine, Joseph's half brothers were sent to Egypt by their father, Jacob, to buy goods. When they stood before the Vizier but did not recognize him as their brother Joseph, who was now almost 40 years old. However, Joseph did recognize them and did not receive them kindly. He spoke to them in the Egyptian language using an interpreter. Hebrew. After questioning them as to where they came from, he accused them of being spies. They pleaded with him that their only purpose was to buy grain for their family in the land of Canaan. After they mentioned that they had left a younger brother at home, the Vizier (Joseph) demanded that they send someone to bring him to Egypt as a demonstration of their veracity. He then placed the brothers in prison for three days. On the third day, he brought them out of prison and told them he would release all but one of them who would be held hostage until they returned with their youngest brother. He also provided them with the grain that they needed for their families. The brothers conferred amongst themselves, in Hebrew, reflecting that this was divine repayment for the wrong they had done to Joseph. Joseph understood what they were saying and left the room because he was overcome by emotion. When he returned, he took Simeon and bound him as a hostage. Unbeknownst to them, when their donkeys were loaded with grain, Joseph also had his servants return their money by hiding it in the sacks. (Genesis 42:1-28)
The remaining brothers returned to Canaan, and told Israel all that had transpired in Egypt. They were dismayed to discover that all of their money was still in the sacks. When they informed Israel that the Vizier demanded that Benjamin be brought before him to demonstrate that they were honest men, he became greatly distressed and refused to let Benjamin go. Eventually, however, they consumed all of the grain from Egypt, and with their families in danger of starvation, they persuaded their father to let Benjamin go with them to Egypt to buy more grain. (Genesis 42:29-43:15)
Upon their return to Egypt, Joseph instructed his steward to bring the brothers to dine with him. However, they were afraid they were going to be taken into slavery because of the money found in their sacks, so they immediately tried to return it to the steward. However, he put them at ease and released Simeon to them. When they went before Joseph, they gave him gifts from their father and Joseph inquired of Benjamin. He was overcome by emotion, and left the room so that his brothers would not see it. After composing himself, he returned and brought out the feast. At that time, Egyptians looked down on Hebrews and would not eat at the same table with them. So they were astonished when the Vizier (Joseph) himself brought portions of his own dishes over to their table. (Genesis 43:16-44:34)
That night, Joseph ordered his steward to load the brothers' donkeys with food and double their money from the first trip. Joseph also ordered that his silver cup be put in Benjamin's sack. The following morning, the brothers began their journey back to Canaan. At Joseph's command, the steward apprehended them and questioned them about the silver cup which was found in Benjamin's sack (just as he had planted it the night before). This was a great shock to the brothers and they all returned to the city. When the Vizier (Joseph) confronted them about the silver cup, he demanded that the one who possessed the cup in his bag become his slave. In response, Judah pleaded with the Vizier that Benjamin be allowed to return to his father, who would die without him, and that he, Judah, remain in Benjamin's place as a slave. (Genesis 44)
When Judah offered to serve as a slave in Benjamin's place, Joseph could not control himself any longer. He sent the Egyptians out and, weeping so loudly he was heard in the courtyard, he told his brothers who he was. He explained the events that led to his becoming Vizier and told them not to fear, because God had sent him to Egypt so that they could be saved from death. He commanded them to go and return with their father and his entire household to live in the province of Goshen, because there were five more years of famine left. Joseph supplied them with Egyptian transport wagons, new garments, money, and twenty additional donkeys carrying provisions for the journey. (Genesis 45:1-28)
Thus, Israel and his entire house of seventy, gathered up their livestock and began their journey to Egypt. As they approached Egyptian territory, Judah went ahead to ask Joseph where the caravan should unload. They were directed into the province of Goshen and Joseph readied his chariot to meet his father there. It had been over twenty years since Joseph had last seen his father. When they met, they embraced each other and wept together for quite a while. His father then remarked, “Now let me die, since I have seen your face, because you are still alive.” (Genesis 46:1-34)
Afterward, Joseph’s family were presented to the Pharaoh of Egypt. The Pharaoh honored their stay and suggested that Joseph should elect one of them as chief herdsman to oversee his livestock. The family was then settled in Goshen.
The house of Israel acquired many possessions and multiplied exceedingly during the course of seventeen years, even through the worst of the seven-year famine. At this time, Joseph’s father was 147 years old and bedridden. He had fallen ill and lost most of his vision. Joseph was called into his father’s house and Israel pleaded with his son that he not be buried in Egypt. Rather, he requested to be carried to the land of Canaan to be buried with his forefathers. Joseph was sworn to do as his father asked of him. (Genesis 47:27-31)
Later, Joseph came to visit his father having with him his two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh. Israel declared that they would be heirs to the inheritance of the house of Israel, as if they were his own children, just as Reuben and Simeon were. Then Israel laid his left hand on the eldest Mannasseh’s head and his right hand on the youngest Ephraim’s head and blessed Joseph. However, Joseph was displeased that his father’s right hand was not on the head of his firstborn, so he switched his father’s hands. But Israel refused saying, “but truly his younger brother shall be greater than he.” A declaration he made just as Israel himself was to his firstborn brother Esau. To Joseph, he gave a portion more of Canaanite property than he had to his other sons; land that he fought for against the Amorites. (Genesis 48:1-22)
Then Israel called all of his sons in and prophesied their blessings or curses to all twelve of them in order of their ages. To Joseph he declared:
After relaying his prophecies, Israel died. The family, including the Egyptians, mourned him seventy days. Joseph had his father embalmed, a process that took forty days. Then he prepared a great ceremonial journey to Canaan leading the servants of the Pharaoh, and the elders of the houses Israel and Egypt beyond the Jordan River. They stopped at Atad where they observed seven days of mourning. Here, their lamentation was so great that it caught the attention of surrounding Canaanites who remarked “This is a deep mourning of the Egyptians.” So they named this spot Abel Mizraim. Then Joseph buried Israel in the cave of Machpelah, the property of Abraham when he bought it from the Hittites. (Genesis 49:33-50:14)
After their father died, the brothers of Joseph feared retribution for being responsible for Joseph’s deliverance into Egypt as a slave. Joseph wept as they spoke and told them that what had happened was God’s purpose to save lives and the lives of his family. He comforted them and their ties were reconciled. (Genesis 50:15-21)
Joseph lived to the age of 110, living to see his great-grandchildren. Before he died, he 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. (Genesis 50:22-26)
The children of Israel remembered their oath, and when they left Egypt during the Exodus, Moses took Joseph's bones with him. (Exodus 13:19) The bones were buried at Shechem, in the parcel of ground which Jacob bought from the sons of Hamor (Joshua 24:32), which has traditionally been identified with site of Joseph's Tomb, before Jacob and all his family moved to Egypt. Shechem was in the land which was allocated by Joshua to the Tribe of Ephraim, one of the tribes of the House of Joseph, after the conquest of Canaan.
The motif of dreams/dream interpretation contributes to a strong story-like narrative. One can see the structure of a story develop with the distinct episodes containing the dream motif. The exposition contains Joseph’s beginnings as a dreamer; this leads him into trouble as, out of jealousy, his brothers sell him to into slavery. The next two instances of dream interpretation establish his reputation as a great interpreter of dreams; first, he begins in a low place, interpreting the dreams of prisoners. Then Joseph is summoned to interpret the dreams of Pharaoh himself. Impressed with Joseph’s interpretations, Pharaoh appoints him as second-in-command (Gen 41:41). This sets up the climax of the story, which many regard to be the moment Joseph reveals his identity to his brothers (Gen 45:3).
In the midrash, the selling of Joseph was part of God's divine plan for him to save his tribes. The favoritism Israel showed Joseph and the plot against him by his brothers were divine means of getting him into Egypt. Maimonides comments that even the villager in Shechem, whom Joseph inquired about his brother's whereabouts, was a "divine messenger" working behind the scene.
A midrash asked, how many times was Joseph sold? In analyzing Genesis Chapter 37, there are five different Hebrew names used to describe five different groups of people involved in the transaction of selling Joseph, according to Rabbi Judah and Rav Huna. The first group identified, are Joseph's brothers when Judah brings up the idea of selling Joseph in verses 26 and 27. The first mention of Ishmaelites (Yishma'elîm) is in verse 25. Then the Hebrew phrase ŉāshîm midyanîm sōĥrîm in verse 28 describes Midianite traders. A fourth group in verse 36 is named in Hebrew as m‘danîm that is properly identified as Medanites. The final group where a transaction is made, is amongst the Egyptians in the same verse.
After identifying these Hebrew names, Rabbi Judah claims that Joseph was sold four times: First his brothers sold Joseph to the Ishmaelites (Yishma'elîm), then the Ishmaelites sold him to the Midianite traders (ŉāshîm midyanîm sōĥrîm), the Midianite traders to the Medanites (m‘danîm), and the Medanites into Egypt. Rav Huna adds one more sale by concluding that after the Medanites sold him to the Egyptians, a fifth sale occurred when the Egyptians sold him to Potiphar. (Genesis Rabbah 84:22)
The reasons why Joseph did not have an affair with Potiphar’s wife was because he did not want to abuse his Master’s trust, he believed in the sanctity of marriage, and it went against his ethical, moral and religious principles taught by his father Jacob. According to the midrash, Joseph would have been immediately executed by the sexual assault charge against him by Potiphar’s wife. Arbarbanel explains that she had accused other servants of the same crime in the past. Potiphar believed that Joseph was incapable of such an act and petitioned Pharaoh to spare his life. However, punishment could not have been avoided because of her class status and limited public knowledge when she screamed.
Jewish tradition holds that Joseph had his steward plant his personal silver cup in Benjamin’s sack to test his brothers. He wanted to know if they would be willing to risk danger in order to save their half brother Benjamin. Since Joseph and Benjamin were born from Rachel, this test was necessary to reveal if they would betray Benjamin as they did with Joseph when he was seventeen. Because Joseph the Dreamer predicts the future by analyzing dreams, Jewish tradition attest that he practiced divination using this silver cup as the steward charged and as Joseph himself professed in Genesis 44:15.
In one Talmudic story, Joseph was buried in the Nile river, 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 26. 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.
In addition to honoring him, there was a strong tendency in the patristic period to view his life as a typological precursor to Christ. This tendency is represented in John Chrysostom who said that Joseph's suffering was "a type of things to come," Caesarius of Arles who interpreted Joseph's famous coat as representative of the diverse nations who would follow Christ, Ambrose of Milan who interpreted the standing sheaf as prefiguring the resurrection of Christ, and others.
This tendency, although greatly diminished, was followed throughout late antiquity, the Medieval Era, and into the Reformation. Even John Calvin, sometimes hailed as the father of modern grammatico-historical exegesis, writes "in the person of Joseph, a lively image of Christ is presented."
In addition, some Christian authors have argued that this typological interpretation finds its origin in the speech of St. Stephen in Acts , as well as the Gospel of Luke and the parables of Jesus, noting strong verbal and conceptual collocation between the Greek translation of the Joseph Narrative and the Parable of the Wicked Tenants and the Parable of the Prodigal Son.
Joseph ("Yusuf") is regarded by Muslims as a prophet (Qur'an, suras vi. 84, xl. 34), and a whole chapter (sura xii.) is devoted to him, the only instance in the Qur'an in which an entire chapter is devoted to a complete story of a prophet. It is described as the 'best of stories'. Joseph is said to have been extremely handsome, which attracted his Egyptian master's wife to attempt to seduce him. Muhammad is believed to have once said, "One half of all the beauty God apportioned for mankind went to Joseph and his mother; the other one half went to the rest of mankind." The story has the same general outlines as the Biblical narrative, but with certain differences  In the Qur'an the brothers ask Jacob ("Yacub") to let Joseph go with them. The pit into which Joseph is thrown is a well, and Joseph was taken as a slave by a passing caravan (Qur'an 12:19).
In the Bible, Joseph discloses himself to his brethren before they return to their father the second time after buying grain. The same is true 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 which healed the patriarch's eyes as soon as he put it to his face (Qur'an 12:96).
There are numerous mentions of the narrative of Joseph in the Baha'i Writings. These come in the forms of allusions written by The Báb and Bahá'u'lláh. In the Aqdas, Bahá'u'lláh states "from my laws, the sweet-smelling savour of my garment can be smelled", while in the Four Valleys he states, "the fragrance of his garment blowing from the Egypt of Baha" referring to Joseph. Baha'i commentaries have described these as metaphors with the garment implying the recognition of a manifestation of God. In the notes of the Aqdas, the Báb refers to Bahá'u'lláh as the true Joseph and makes an analogous prohecy regarding Bahá'u'lláh suffering at the hands of his brother Mirza Yahya.
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