Joseph, in the Hebrew Bible appears in the Book of Genesis. (His name Yosef, Hebrew: יוֹסֵף means "The Lord increases", (Tiberian Hebrew Yôsēp̄), later called Zaphnath-paaneah or Tzáfnat panéach צפנת פענח, Standard Hebrew Ẓáfənat paʿnéaḥ, Tiberian Hebrew Ṣāp̄ənaṯ paʿănēªḥ : Egyptian origin "Discoverer of hidden things"). He is one of the best known figures in the Hebrew Bible, famous for his coat of many colours and his ability to interpret dreams. He was sold as a slave to Potiphar, was later freed, and became the chief adviser (vizier) to the Egyptian Pharaoh around 1600 BC.
This article will focuses on the story as told in the primary source of the Book of Genesis chapters 30 to 50  (http://bible.ort.org/books/pentd2.asp?ACTION=displaypage&BOOK=1&CHAPTER=30). See Joseph according to Bible critics below.
The Genesis story
According to the story, Joseph was the elder of the two sons of Jacob by Rachel (Gen. 30:23, 24), who, on the occasion of his birth, said, "The Lord shall add [Heb. yoseph] to me another son" (Gen. 30:24). This was the reputed origin of his name. He was probably six years old when his father returned from Haran to Canaan and took up his residence in the town of Hebron. Joseph was a favorite son of his father's, and was envied by his brothers. They "hated him, and could not speak peaceably unto him." Their anger was increased when he told them his dreams (37:11).
The story tells that his brothers plotted against him, and would have killed him had not Reuben interposed. They instead sold him to a company of Ishmaelite merchants for twenty shekels of silver. These merchants sold him as a slave to Potiphar, an "officer of Pharaoh's, and captain of the guard" (Gen. 37:36). Potiphar is probably a rendering of the Egyptian name Pa-tu-pa-Ra, 'the gift of the sun-god.'
Potiphar's wife accused Joseph of attempted rape, and he was cast into the state prison (39; 40), where he remained for at least two years. The story tells of two members of Pharaoh's household who were in jail with Joseph, and asked him to interpret their dreams. When Joseph correctly predicted the future based on their dreams, one of the prisoners was impressed enough to recommed his services to the Pharaoh upon his release. At his suggestion Joseph was brought from prison to interpret the king's dreams. Pharaoh was well pleased with Joseph's interpretion and advice. Because of this, Pharaoh gave him authority over all the land of Egypt (Gen. 41:46), and gave him the name of Zaphnath-paaneah. This name is probably the Egyptian title Zaf-nti-pa-ankh, 'nourisher of the living one,' although other interpretations are possible.
Joseph then married Asenath, the daughter of the priest of On, and thus became a member of the priestly class. Joseph was now about thirty years of age.
As Joseph had foreseen, seven years of plenty came, during which he stored up great abundance of corn in granaries built for the purpose. These years were followed by seven years of famine "over all the face of the earth," when "all countries came into Egypt to Joseph to buy corn" (Gen. 41:56, 57; 47:13, 14). Thus "Joseph gathered up all the money that was in the land of Egypt, and in the land of Canaan, for the corn which they bought." Afterwards all the cattle and all the land, and at last the Egyptians themselves, became the property of Pharaoh.
During this period of famine Joseph's brethren also came down to Egypt to buy corn. The history of his dealings with them, and of the manner in which he at length made himself known to them, is one of the most interesting narratives in Genesis. Joseph disguised his identity from his brothers, promised them a good deal of supplies, framed them for theft, and then revealed himself to them, forgiving them.
Sold as Slave
Eleventh son of Jacob and the elder of the two sons of Rachel; born at Haran (Gen. xxx. 24). The meaning given to the name (l.c.) is "shall add": "The Lord shall add to me another son." It seems probable, however, from Ps. lxxxi. 6, that, like all other Hebrew names beginning with the syllable "Jo," it has Yhwh as its first element, and is a contraction, the original form being "Jehoseph," while in Gen. xxx. 23 there is an allusion to the connection of "Joseph" with ("to take away"). Upon Joseph centered the love of his father, Jacob, who showered upon "the son of his old age" many tokens of special favor and arrayed him in a "coat of many colors." This favoritism, however, excited the envy of his older brothers, and Joseph increased their envy by telling them of two dreams which prognosticated his ruling over them (Gen. xxxvii. 2-11). When a lad of seventeen, Joseph was sent by his father to inquire after his brothers, who were pasturing the flocks in Shechem. He found them at Dothan, and when his brothers saw him approaching they planned to kill him. Reuben, however, took his part, and, in order to remove him from the fury of the others, advised them to throw Joseph into a pit (Gen. xxxvii. 13-24). Different accounts are given of the sale of Joseph, which immediately followed; according to one, the brothers, while eating at some distance from the pit, sighted a caravan of Ishmaelites, to whom they decided, at Judah's advice, to sell Joseph. In the meantime some Midianite merchants passing the pit drew Joseph out and sold him for twenty pieces of silver to the Ishmaelites, who took Joseph to Egypt (Gen. xxxvii. 25-28). The last statement is repeated in Gen. xxxix. 1, while in Gen. xxxvii. 36 it is said that the Midianites (Hebr. "Medanites") sold him to Potiphar in Egypt.
Cast into prison
In Potiphar's house Joseph fared well, for, seeing that he prospered in all that he did, his master appointed him superintendent of his household. But Joseph was "a goodly person and well favored," and his master's wife conceived a passion for him. Her repeated advances being repulsed, she finally attempted compulsion; still failing, she brought a false accusation against him before her husband, and Joseph was thrown into prison. There, too, Yhwh was with Joseph; the keeper of the prison, seeing that he could place confidence in him, committed the other prisoners to his charge (Gen. xxxix.). Soon afterward two of Pharaoh's officers, the chief cupbearer and the chief baker, having offended the king, were thrown into the prison where Joseph was, and Joseph was appointed to serve them. One morning both officers told Joseph their dreams of the previous night, which they themselves were unable to interpret. Joseph concluded from their dreams that the chief cupbearer would be reinstated within three days and that the chief baker would be hanged. Joseph requested the chief cupbearer to mention him to Pharaoh and secure his release from prison, but that officer, reinstalled in office, forgot Joseph (Gen. xl.). Joseph remained two years longer in prison, at the end of which period Pharaoh had a dream of seven lean kine devouring seven fat kine and of seven withered ears devouring seven full ears. Great importance was attached to dreams in Egypt, and Pharaoh was much troubled when his magicians proved unable to interpret them satisfactorily. Then the chief cupbearer remembered Joseph and spoke of his skill to Pharaoh. Accordingly he was sent for, and he interpreted Pharaoh's dream as foretelling that seven years of abundance would be followed by seven years of famine and advised the king to appoint some able man to store the surplus grain during the period of abundance. Pleased with his interpretation, Pharaoh made him viceroy over Egypt, giving him the Egyptian name of Zaphnath-paaneah and conferring on him other marks of royal favor. Joseph was then thirty years of age. Pharaoh married him to Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera, priest of On, through whom he had two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim (Gen. xli. 1-52).
As Viceroy of Egypt
During the seven years of abundance Joseph amassed for the king a great supply of corn, which he sold to both Egyptians and foreigners (Gen. xli. 48-49, 54-57). The famine having extended to all the neighboring countries, Joseph's brothers, with the exception of Benjamin, went to Egypt to buy corn. Joseph recognized his brothers, who prostrated themselves before him and therein fulfilled, in part, his dreams. He received them roughly and accused them of being spies, thereby compelling them to give him information about their family. Desiring to see Benjamin, Joseph demanded that they substantiate their statements by sending one of their number for Benjamin while the others remained behind. He accordingly imprisoned them for three days, and then sent them away with corn, retaining Simeon as a hostage (Gen.xlii. 1-25). The famine in Canaan continuing, Jacob was again obliged to send his sons to Egypt for corn. As Joseph had commanded them not to appear before him again without Benjamin, Jacob was compelled to let Benjamin go with them. He sent also a present to Joseph in order to win his favor, together with the money which had been, by Joseph's orders, put into their sacks.
Makes himself known to his brothers
The second time Joseph received them very kindly and prepared a feast for them, but paid special attention to Benjamin (Gen. xliii.). Desiring to know what his brothers would do if under some pretext he retained Benjamin, Joseph gave orders to fill their sacks with corn, put their money into their sacks, and put his silver goblet in Benjamin's. On the following morning the brothers departed, but before they had gone far a messenger overtook them, accusing them of stealing the goblet. The messenger searched their sacks and found the goblet in Benjamin's sack; this compelled them to return. Joseph reproached them for what they had done, and Judah, speaking on behalf of his brothers, expressed their willingness to remain as slaves to Joseph. The latter, however, declined their offer, declaring that he would retain Benjamin only (Gen. xliv. 1-17). Overcome by Judah's eloquent appeal (Gen. xliv. 18-34) and convinced of his brothers' repentance, Joseph disclosed himself to them. He inquired after his father, but as they were too much amazed and startled to answer him, he assured them that in treating him as they did they had been carrying out the will of God. He then urged them to return home quickly, loaded them with presents for his father, and supplied them with vehicles for the transportation of the whole family (Gen. xlv.). Joseph met his father in the land of Goshen. He recommended his brothers to represent themselves as shepherds so that they might remain in Goshen unmolested. Then he presented five of his brothers to Pharaoh, who granted them a domain in Goshen; and, after having introduced Jacob to Pharaoh, Joseph domiciled the whole family, at Pharaoh's command, "in the land of Rameses," where he supplied them with all they needed (Gen. xlvi. 29-xlvii. 12).
See: Joseph and his brothers (http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/volume7/V07p247001.jpg) (From the Sarajevo Haggadah, 14th century).
As a ruler, Joseph changed the system of land-tenure in Egypt. The famine being severe, the people first expended all their money in the purchase of corn, then they sold their cattle, and finally gave up their land. Thus all the cultivated land in Egypt, except that of the priests, became the property of the crown, and the people farmed it for the king, giving him one-fifth of the produce (Gen. xlvii. 14-26). Hearing of his father's sickness, Joseph went to him with his two sons, whom Jacob blessed, conferring upon Joseph at the same time one portion more than the portions of his brothers (Gen. xlviii.). Joseph carried Jacob's remains to the land of Canaan, where he gave them stately burial. His brothers, fearing that he would avenge himself upon them, then sent to implore his forgiveness. Joseph allayed their fears and promised that he would continue to provide for their wants. He lived to the age of one hundred and ten, and saw his great-grandchildren grow up. Before his death he made the children of Israel take an oath that when they left the land of Egypt they would take his bones with them. His body was embalmed and placed temporarily in a coffin. At the Exodus his bones accompanied Moses, and were finally buried in Shechem (Gen. 1.; Ex. xiii. 19; Josh. xxiv. 32). J. M. Sel.
Like his father
In rabbinical literature
Joseph occupies a very important place in the Haggadah, and no patriarch was the subject of so many Midrashic legends. As Rachel was visited by the Lord on Rosh ha-Shanah (R. H. 10b), Joseph was born in due course on the 1st of Tammuz, 2199 (Book of Jubilees, xxviii. 32). He is represented as a perfectly righteous man ("?addi? gamur") and as the counterpart of his father; not only did Joseph resemble his father in appearance and in having been born circumcised, but the main incidents of their lives were parallel. Both were born after their mothers had been barren for a long time; both were hated by their brothers; both were met by angels at various times (Gen. R. lxxxiv. 6; Num. R. xiv. 16). Joseph is extolled by the Rabbis for being well versed in the Torah, for being a prophet, and for supporting his brothers (Tan., Wayesheb, 20). According to R. Phinehas, the Holy Spirit dwelt in Joseph from his childhood until his death (Pir?e R. El. xxxviii.). Jacob's other children came into the world only for Joseph's sake; the Red Sea and the Jordan were passed dry-shod by the children of Israel through the virtue of Joseph (Gen. R. lxxxiv. 4; Le?a? ?ob to Gen. xxxvii. 2). When Joseph and his mother bowed to Esau (Gen. xxxiii. 7), Joseph shielded his mother with his figure (Targ. pseudo-Jonathan, ad loc.), protecting her from the lascivious eyes of Esau, for which he was rewarded through the exemption of his descendants from the spell of the evil eye (Gen. R. lxxviii. 13; comp. Ber. 20a; So?ah 36b). When Joseph reported to his father the evil doings of his brothers (Gen. xxxvii. 2), his design was merely that his father might correct them (Le?a? ?ob, ad loc.). The nature of the "evil report" is variously given by the Rabbis. According to Pir?e R. El. xxxviii., Joseph spoke only against the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, that they ate meat which they had not slaughtered in accordance with the Law (comp. Targ. pseudo-Jonathan, ad loc.). According to R. Judah, Joseph reported that the sons of Leah slighted the sons of the concubines by calling them slaves. R. Simeon's opinion was that Joseph spoke against them all, accusing them of "looking at the daughters of the land" (Gen. R. lxxxiv. 7). The reason for Jacob's special love toward Joseph was, according to R. Judah, that Joseph resembled Jacob in appearance; but according to R. Nehemiah it was that he transmitted to Joseph all the halakot he had studied in the school of Shem and Eber (ib. lxxxiv. 8).
Sent to brothers
Joseph is represented as an exemplar of filial respect, for when his father requested him to go and see how his brothers fared, he went promptly and with gladness of heart, although he knew that they hated him (Mek., Beshalla?, Wayehi, 1; Gen. R. lxxxiv. 12, 15). When he went to his brothers, he was accompanied to Dothan by three angels (ib. lxxxiv. 13; comp. Targ. pseudo-Jonathan to Gen. xxxvii. 15, and "Sefer ha-Yashar," section "Wayesheb"). When the brothers saw Joseph approaching from a distance, they decided to set the dogs upon him (l.c.). After being beaten by his brethren, Joseph was thrown by Simeon into a pit, among serpents and scorpions; but Joseph prayed to God and the reptiles retired to their holes (ib. lxxxiv. 15; Targ. pseudo-Jonathan, ad loc.). Afterward, Simeon ordered stones thrown into the pit (Tan., Wayesheb, 13; Yal?., Gen. 142). The brothers encamped at a distance from the pit that they might not hear Joseph's cries, and while they were eating a company of Midianites passed by the pit, heard Joseph calling for help, and drew him up. A struggle then ensued between the brothers and the Midianites. The former declared that Joseph was their rebellious slave; the latter regarded their statements with suspicion; but the difference was settled by the sale of Joseph to the Midianites ("Sefer ha-Yashar," l.c.). The brothers then divided among themselves the purchase-money—twenty pieces of silver (Gen. xxxvii. 28), each taking two pieces, with which they bought shoes (Pir?e R. El. xxxviii.). As Joseph had been thrown naked into the pit, the Midianites would have compelled him to accompany them so, but God, not willing that so righteous a man should travel in an unseemly manner, sent Gabriel to transform into a long garment the amulet Joseph wore on his neck. The brothers, however, on seeing the garment, demanded it of the Midianites, saying that they had sold them a naked slave, but, after some altercation, consented to take four pairs of shoes in exchange. Joseph wore the same garment when he was Potiphar's slave, when he was in prison, and when he became the viceroy of Egypt (Jellinek, "B. H." v. 157, vi. 120).
Joseph in captivity
When the Midianites noticed the nobility of Joseph's countenance, they understood that he was not a slave and regretted having bought him. They would have taken him back to his father had not the distance been too great; but when they met, soon after, a company of Ishmaelites they sold Joseph to them. Passing his mother's grave, Joseph prostrated himself upon it, weeping bitterly and imploring her assistance; from her grave she answered that she was afflicted by his troubles, but that he must hope and await the intervention of God. The Ishmaelites violently dragged Joseph away, beat him cruelly, and continued their journey. They finally met four merchants, descendants of Medan, to whom they sold Joseph; and the Medanites in turn sold Joseph to Potiphar for four hundred pieces of silver ("Sefer ha-Yashar," l.c. ; comp. Gen. R. lxxxiv. 20.) Joseph was sold by his brothers on Yom Kippur (Book of Jubilees, xxxiv. 15). In reward for his righteousness, the Ishmaelites, who generally dealt in ill-smelling articles, were on that occasion influenced by Providence to carry fragrant spices in order that Joseph's journey to Egypt might be more agreeable (Gen. R. lxxxiv. 16). When Jacob's sons reached home, affirming that Joseph had been devoured by a wild beast (comp. Gen. xxxvii. 33), Jacob ordered them to arm themselves and capture the beast. They accordingly went forth and returned with a wolf; but when Jacob began to reproach the beast for its cruelty, the wolf answered, in human language, that it had not committed the crime of devouring Joseph, and that it was itself searching for its lost cub; Jacob therefore let the wolf go ("Sefer ha-Yashar," l.c.). Jacob did not wholly believe that Joseph was dead, because he could not forget him, while the dead are soon forgotten. He therefore hewed out twelve stones and placed them in a row, after writing on them the names of his twelve sons with their corresponding months and zodiacal signs. Then he commanded them to bow to the stone of Reuben, but no stone moved; then he commanded them to bow to Simeon's stone, with the same result; but when he came to the stone of Joseph, all the other stones bowed to it. Even then Jacob was not sure that Joseph was alive, and repeated the same experiment with sheaves, getting the same result, without, however, reaching a conviction. He was finally convinced by a vision which he had of the future priestly organization, interpreting the names of Eliashib, chief of a division of the sons of Aaron (I Chron. xxiv. 12), and Elkanah, a noted Levite (I Sam. i. 1), as signifying respectively "God will bring him back" and "he was bought by Potiphar" (Soferim xxi. 9).
The prosperity of Joseph in Potiphar's house is described by the Rabbis as follows: "The wishes of Potiphar were executed in an instant; when he desired that the cup which Joseph handed him should be warm, it was warm; and if he desired that it should be cold, it was cold" (Tan., Wayesheb, 16; Gen. R. lxxxvi. 6). At first Potiphar was of the opinion that Joseph was a magician, and he wondered, saying, "Is there a lack of magicians in Egypt?" but afterward he saw that the Shekinah dwelt in Joseph (Gen. R. l.c. ; Le?a? ?ob to Gen. xxxix. 3). Joseph's character was antithetical to the characters of all the other slaves; the latter were rapacious, while Joseph never enjoyed anything that was not his (Zeb. 118b); the other slaves were given over to lust, while Joseph was chaste; the others ate the priestly portions because they were slaves of the priests (see Lev. xxii. 11), while Joseph, through his righteousness, caused the descendants of his master, who were his own descendants as well, to eat those portions; this identifies Joseph with Putiel, Eleazar's father-in-law (Gen. R. lxxxvi. 3; comp. Mek., l.c. ; So?ah 43a). Like all other righteous men, Joseph was tried by God (Gen. R. lxxxvii. 3; comp. Test. Patr., Joseph, 2). He was one of the three men who successfully resisted temptation; for this he was rewarded by having the letter ? (one of the letters composing the Tetragrammaton) added to his name (Lev. R. xxiii. 10; comp. Ps. lxxxi. 6). The day on which Joseph "went into the house to do his work" (Gen. xxxix. 11-12) was the Sabbath day, and the work consisted in repeating the Torah, which he had learned from his father (Midrash Abkir, quoted in Yal?., Gen. 146). Some rabbis, however, charged Joseph with vanity, saying that, even before being sold, he took too much pains with his personal appearance (Gen. R. lxxxiv. 7), and that he continued to do so as ruler over Potiphar's house, forgetting his father, who was mourning over his disappearance. God punished him, therefore, by setting against him Potiphar's wife (Gen. R. lxxxvii. 3). Certain rabbis declared even that Joseph was ready to yield to his mistress, but that his father's image suddenly appeared to him and called him to his duty (So?ah 36b; Gen. R. lxxxvii. 9; comp. Pir?e R. El. xxxix.). The story of Joseph and Zelikah (Zulaikha), the wife of Potiphar, is narrated in the "Sefer ha-Yashar" (l.c., following Arabic sources, as the very name "Zelikah" shows) as follows: Zelikah at first attempted to seduce Joseph by arraying him in fine garments, putting before him the most delicious viands, and speaking to him in amorous terms. These means failing, she used threats, but without effect, for Joseph remained inflexible (comp. Test. Patr., Joseph, 3). The vehemence of her unrequited passion soon impaired her health. On one occasion, when some noble ladies of Egypt had come to see her, she told her maid to give them oranges and sent Joseph in to wait upon them; the women, unable to turn their eyes from Joseph, cut their fingers while peeling the oranges, and when Zelikah asked them the cause, they answered that they could not help looking at Joseph. She then said: "What would you do if, like myself, you had him every day before your eyes?" According to Gen. R. lxxxvii. 5 and Test. Patr., Joseph, 4-5, Zelikah told Joseph that she was ready to kill her husband so that he might marry her legally. But Joseph exclaimed: "After inducing me to commit adultery, thou desirest me to become a murderer!" Zelikah promised that, if he would yield to her, she would embrace his religion and induce all the Egyptians to do the same. Joseph answered that the God of the Hebrews does not desire unchaste worshipers. She next brought Joseph into her chamber in the inner part of the house and placed him on her bed, over which was the image of her Egyptian god. Then she covered her face with a veil, and Joseph said: "Thou art afraid of an idol; shall I not fear Yhwh, who sees all things?" (Gen. R. l.c.).
Joseph in prison
It happened that, at the Nile festival, all the people of the house except Joseph and Zelikah had gone to see the ceremonies; Zelikah feigned illness as her reason for not attending the festival (comp. So?ah 36b). With one hand she grasped a sword and with the other caught Joseph's garment, and when he attempted to release himself a rent was made in the garment. Afterward, when Joseph was brought before the priests for judgment, and while they were deliberating, Zelikah's child of eleven months suddenly began to speak, accusing its mother and declaring Joseph's innocence. The priests then ordered the garment to be brought in order that they might see on which side it had been rent; seeing that it was rent in the back, they declared Joseph innocent. Joseph was nevertheless thrown into prison by Potiphar, who was anxious thus to save his wife a public exposure ("Sefer ha-Yashar," l.c. ; comp. Gen. R. lxxxvii. 10). According to Midrash Abkir (Yal?., Gen. 146), Zelikah requested her female friends to testify that Joseph had assailed them also. Potiphar was going to kill him, but his wife prevailed on him to imprison him and then sell him, so as to recover the money he had paid for Joseph. According to the same Midrash, it was Asenath who told Potiphar of her mother's false accusation.
Joseph as ruler
Joseph's duties took him every day to his master's house, and this gave Zelikah opportunities to renew her entreaties and threats. As Joseph continued to look downward, she put an iron spear under his chin to force him to look at her, but still Joseph averted his gaze (Gen. R. lxxxvii. 11; comp. "Sefer ha-Yashar," l.c.). There is a disagreement among rabbinical writers as to the length of time Joseph spent in Potiphar's house and in prison. According to Seder 'Olam (Neubauer, "M. J. C." ii. 28) and Gen. R. (lxxxvi. 7, after the correction of "Mattenot Kehunnah"), Joseph was one year in Potiphar's house and twelve years in prison; according to Pir?e R. El. (l.c.), he was in prison ten years; according to the Book of Jubilees (xlvi. 7), he was ten years in the house and three years in prison. The last opinion seems to be supported by Gen. R. lxxxix. 2 and Tan., Mi??e?, 2, where it is said that Joseph remained two years longer in prison as a punishment for having trusted in the promises of man (comp. Gen. xl. 14-15). When the chief butler told Pharaoh of Joseph's skill in interpreting dreams (Gen. xli. 12-13), he endeavored at the same time to discredit Joseph, but an angel baffled the chief butlet's design (Gen. R. lxxxviii. 6, lxxxix. 9). According to So?ah 36b, Gabriel taught Joseph the seventy languages which a ruler of Egypt was obliged to know, and it was then that he added the letter ? to Joseph's name (comp. Num. R. xiv. 16). Joseph was released from prison on Rosh ha-Shanah (R. H. 10b). When Joseph interpreted Pharaoh's dreams, the king asked him for a sign by which he might know that his interpretation was true. Joseph then told him that the queen, who was about to be delivered of a child, would give birth to a son, but that at the same time another son, two years of age, would die; and it so happened. As a viceroy, Joseph built himself a magnificent palace, placing in it a great number of slaves. He equipped also a considerable army, with which he marched to help the Ishmaelites against the Tarshishites, winning a great victory ("Sefer ha-Yashar," section "Mi??e?"). Joseph showed great discernment in preserving the grain which he gathered, by storing in each district only the amount which had grown there (Gen. R. xc. 5). Later, when the famine waxed sore and the Egyptians went to Joseph for grain, he compelled them to undergo circumcision, refusing food to uncircumcised people (ib. xc. 6, xci. 5). He stored up in Egypt all the gold and silver of the world, and it was carried away by the Israelites when they left Egypt. According to another opinion, Joseph placed the gold and silver in three hidden treasuries, of which one was discovered by Korah, one by Antoninus, son of Severus, and one is being kept for the righteous in the future world (Pes. 119a; comp. "Sefer ha-Yashar," section "Wayiggash").
Joseph and his brethren
Joseph always kept in mind his father and brothers, and during the twenty-two years he was away from home he drank no wine (Shab. 139a; Gen. R. xciv. 25; Test. Patr., Joseph, 3). It is said also that Joseph wore sackcloth and fasted much (Gen. R. lxxxv. 2; Test. Patr. l.c.). He is represented as very modest, so that though viceroy of Egypt he was not vain of his power (Ex. R. i. 7). Knowing that his brothers would come to buy grain, Joseph gave orders that nobody should be permitted to enter until he had given in writing his own and his father's names. His brothers, fearing the evil eye, entered the city at ten different gates, and in the evening the gatekeepers brought their names to Joseph. Three days passed, and the brothers had not appeared before Joseph; so Joseph sent seventy-strong men to search for them. The brothers were found in the street of the harlots, whither they had gone with the object of looking for Joseph. When they were brought into Joseph's house, Joseph, feigning divination through his goblet, enumerated all their deeds, how they had destroyed Shechem, how they had sold their brother; and the fact of being found in the street of the harlots proved, he said, that they were spies. A struggle ensued between Joseph's men and his brothers, who were on the point of destroying Egypt, but they were subdued by Manasseh, who imprisoned Simeon (Gen. R. xci. 6; comp. "Sefer ha-Yashar," l.c.). Later, when, under the pretext of his having stolen the goblet, Benjamin was detained by Joseph (Gen. xliv.), another violent struggle ensued between Joseph and his brothers, who would have carried Benjamin off by force. Seeing that his brothers, especially Judah, were again becoming furious, Joseph, with his foot, struck a marble pillar on which he was sitting, shattering it into fragments (Gen. R. xciii. 7).
Why he died before his brothers
According to the "Sefer ha-Yashar" (section "Wayiggash"), where the whole struggle is narrated at great length, Manasseh was the hero of that exploit (see Targ. Yer. to Gen. xliv. 19). Joseph allowed himself to be recognized by his brothers for fear they might destroy Egypt (Gen. R. l.c.). Certain rabbis underrated Joseph's merit by declaring that he died before his brothers because he had made them feel his authority (Ber. 55a; comp. Tan., Wayiggash, 3). According to other opinions, Joseph died before them because he embalmed his father's body instead of relying on God to keep the body from decay; or because he heard Judah say "thy servant my father" several times without correcting him (Pir?e R. El. xxxix.; Gen. R. c. 4). Joseph's solicitude on behalf of his brothers is pointed out by Pesi?. R. 3 (ed. Friedmann, p. 10b) as follows: Although he honored his father greatly, he always avoided meeting him, so that he would not have known that his father was sick had not a messenger been sent to him (Gen. xlviii. 1); Joseph apprehended, perhaps, that his father would ask him how he came to be sold by his brothers, and would curse them. When Jacob prepared himself to bless Joseph's two sons, the Holy Spirit had left him, but it returned to him through Joseph's prayer (Pesi?. l.c. p. 12a). Joseph is said to have himself superintended his father's burial, although he had so many slaves; he was rewarded in that Moses himself carried his bones (So?ah 9b; comp. Ex. xiii. 19), and in that his coffin was carried in the wilderness side by side with the Ark of the Covenant (Mek., l.c.). According to most rabbinical authorities, Joseph's coffin was sunk in the Nile (Targ. pseudo-Jonathan to Gen. 1. 26; Mek., Beshalla?, Wayyehi, 1; Ex. R. xx. 17); but according to R. Nathan, Joseph was buried in the royal palace. In the time of the Exodus, Serah, daughter of Asher, showed Moses where the coffin was sunk. Moses threw a pebble into the water there and cried out: "Joseph! Joseph! the time has come for the Israelites to be rescued from their oppressors; come up and do not cause us any further delay!" The coffin thereupon floated up (Mek., l.c. ; Ex. R. l.c.). It may be added that the piyyu? beginning "Arze ha-Lebanon" and recited on Yom Kippur is based on the legend that Joseph was bartered for shoes (comp. Amos ii. 6). Bibliography :Adolf Kurrein,Traum und Wahrheit, Lebensbild Josephs nach der Agada, Regensburg, 1887.S. S. M. Sel.
The narratives concerning Joseph (Gen. xxxvii. and xxxix.-1.) are composed of two principal strata: a Jahvistic stratum and an Elohistic one, with a few details here and there from the compiler of the Priestly Code (for details see J. E. Carpenter and G. Harford-Battersby, "Hexateuch," pp. 58-79). According to the Jahvistic narrative, Joseph is rescued by Judah when his brethren plot against him, and is afterward sold to Ishmaelites, who in turn sell him to an Egyptian of high position whose name is not given. The wife of this Egyptian brings an accusation against Joseph, and he is cast into prison; but the jailer makes him overseer of the other prisoners. The Jahvistic account of his escape from prison has been omitted; and in the sequel nothing is said about Simeon's becoming a hostage. The brethren open their sacks at a halting-place and find their money; Judah offers to become surety to his father for Benjamin's return; the Israelites settle in the land of Goshen; and Jacob's life closes with his poetic blessing. In the Elohistic portions Joseph is rescued from his other brethren by Reuben and thrown into a pit, from which he is taken and sold to the Midianites; they in turn sell him to Potiphar, captain of the guard, who makes him ruler over the prisoners confined in his house. Afterward, when his brethren are accused of being spies, they volunteer the information about the younger brother. Simeon is left in Egypt as a hostage; the others open their sacks at the end of their homeward journey; Reuben offers to become security for Benjamin's return; and there is no mention of Goshen. In other respects the narratives seem to have been closely parallel. The Priestly Code adds a few statistics and gives a list of the people who went down to Egypt. Modern critics have made various estimates of the historical worth of these narratives of Joseph. As the reputed ancestor of the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh, he is regarded by some as altogether legendary or even mythical. Thus Winckler held the story of Joseph to be a sun-myth ("Gesch. Israels," part ii., pp. 73-77; see, however, his "Abraham der Babylonier, Joseph der Egypter," 1903); while the fact that "Jacob-el" and "Joseph-el" appear in a list of Thothmes III. as the names of places in Palestine (W. Max Müller, "Asien und Europa," pp. 163 et seq.), lends to the legendary view some probability. Still, even if these narratives should prove to be legendary, not every legend is a sun-myth. On the other hand, archeological evidence has been urged in favor of the historical character of Joseph. Two of the El-Amarna tablets (Schrader, "K. B." v., Nos. 44, 45) show that a Semite held a position in Egypt quite analogous to that attributed to Joseph. The Egyptian "Tale of Two Brothers" shows that such situations as that in which Joseph found himself with the wife of his master were not unknown in Egypt (comp. Sayce, "Verdict of the Monuments," pp. 209-211). The Egyptians attached great significance to dreams, as they are said to have done in the Biblical narrative (comp. Brugsch, "History of Egypt," pp. 200, 314, 406); famines of long duration were also not infrequent, being produced by the failure of the Nile overflow. One such, from 1064 to 1071, is attested by the Arabic historian Al-Makrizi (comp. Stanley, "Jewish Church," i. 79). Such instances of the correctness of the portraiture from an Egyptian standpoint might be greatly multiplied. At the most, however, they do not prove the historical character of the narrative, but that, if it is fiction, it is very realistic fiction. In either case the narratives were not written till after the ninth century B.C. ; for such names as "Potiphar" (Gen. xxxix. 1) and "Zaphenath-paneah" (Gen. xli. 45) do not occur in Egyptian before that century (comp. Brugsch in "Old Testament Student," xi. 481). Those who regard the Joseph stories as historical generally hold that the Pharaoh by whom Joseph was made the practical ruler of Egypt was one of the Hyksos kings. This result is reached partly by reckoning back from Rameses II., who is regarded as the Pharaoh of the oppression, and partly by assuming that the Hyksos were Semitic or Asiatic, and that such a situation was more possible under them. The El-Amarna tablets cited above make it clear, however, that it would have been equally possible under the kings of the eighteenth dynasty, such as Amenophis III. or Amenophis IV. (about 1400 B.C.).
Bibliography :In addition to the literature cited above, see the commentaries of Dillmann and Gunkel on Genesis, and Driver in Hogarth, Authority and Archœology, pp. 46-54.E. G. H. G. A. B.
In Arabic literature
The story of Joseph or Yusuf as it is told in Arabic literature has the same general outlines as the Biblical narrative; but in the Arabic account there is a wealth of accessory detail and incident. Some of these amplifications have been borrowed by Jewish writers (as in the "Sefer ha-Yashar"; see Grünbaum, "Zu 'Yussuf und Suleicha,'" in "Z. D. M. G." xliii. 1 et seq.). Joseph is regarded by the Arabs as a prophet (Koran, suras vi. 84, xl. 36). He is also a type of manly beauty; so that one often finds the expression "a second Joseph," meaning one extraordinarily beautiful. He is likewise called the "Moon of Canaan." A great many public works in Egypt have been attributed to him. Some believe that he built the city of Memphis, and that he was instrumental in building the obelisks and pyramids. He also instructed the Egyptians in science. In the Koran a whole chapter (sura xii.) is devoted to Joseph; and the commentators add many details to this "best of stories," as Mohammed calls it (sura xii. 3).
Joseph and Zulaikha
The story of Yusuf and Zulaikha is a favorite love-song in the East, and the Persian poet Firdusi has written on the subject an epic which begins with Jacob's suit for Rachel (published by Schlechta-Wssehrd, Vienna, 1889). The narrative, however, among the Mohammedans is more than a simple love-tale. Their theologians use it to symbolize the spiritual love between God and the soul (D'Herbelot, "Bibliothèque Orientale," iii. 371). Zulaikha or Ra'il is the wife of Kitfir or Itfir (the Biblical Potiphar), through whose accusations, although they are proved to be false, Joseph is thrown into prison. After his phenomenal rise to power, as he is passing through the street one day his attention is attracted by a beggar woman whose bearing shows traces of former greatness. Upon stopping to speak to her he discovers Zulaikha, who has been left in misery at the death of her husband. Joseph causes her to be taken to the house of a relative of the king, and soon obtains permission to marry her, she having lost none of her former beauty nor any of her first love for him. Other features in the Arabic history of Joseph which are lacking in the Old Testament narrative, are the stories of Jacob and the wolf and of Joseph at his mother's tomb (contained in a manuscript at Madrid). After Joseph's brothers had returned to their father with the coat dipped in blood, Jacob was so prostrated that for several days he was as one dead. Then he began to wonder that the garment had no rents or marks of claws and teeth, and suspicions of the truth arose in his mind. To allay his doubts the brothers scoured the country and caught in a net a wolf, which they brought alive to their father. Jacob, after reproaching the wolf for its cruelty, asked it to relate how it came to commit so wicked a deed; whereupon Allah opened the mouth of the dumb beast and it talked, disclaiming any connection with the death of Joseph. It even expressed sympathy for the grieving father, saying that it had itself lost its own dear child. The patriarch was much affected by this tale, and entertained the wolf hospitably before sending it on its way with his blessing. The story of Joseph at his mother's tomb shows the boy's piety and forgiving nature. As the caravan bearing him to Egypt passed near his mother's grave Joseph slipped away unnoticed and fell upon the tomb in an agony of tears and prayer. For this he was severely abused, whereupon a storm suddenly arose, making further progress impossible. Only when Joseph had forgiven the offender did the storm disappear (Ticknor, "Hist. of Spanish Literature," 3d American ed., i. 85 et seq., Boston, 1864). This "Poema de José" was written in Spanish with Arabic characters by a Morisco, who had forgotten the language of his forefathers, but still remembered their traditions. These stories are found in the "Sefer ha-Yashar" also; but their origin is certainly Arabic (see Grünbaum, l.c.).
Differences of tradition
There are certain minor points in which the Arabic story differs from the Biblical. In the Koran the brothers ask Jacob to let Joseph go with them. In the Arabic story the pit into which Joseph is thrown is a well with water in it, and Joseph escapes by climbing upon a rock. Joseph's face possessed such a peculiar brilliancy that his brothers noticed the different light in the sky as soon as he appeared above the edge of the well, and they came back to claim him as their slave. This same peculiarity was noticeable when they went to Egypt: although it was evening when they entered the city, his face diffused such a light that the astonished inhabitants came out to see the cause of it. In the Bible Joseph discloses himself to his brethren before they return to their father the second time after buying corn. In the Arabic story 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 a third time, bringing with them Joseph's garment which Gabriel had given him in the well, and which, having come from paradise, healed the patriarch's eyes as soon as he put it to his face. Joseph was buried in the Nile, as there was some dispute as to which province should be honored by having his tomb within its boundaries. Moses was able by a miracle to raise the sarcophagus and to take it with him at the time of the Exodus.
Bibliography : Koran, sura xii., and its commentators, Baidawi,Zamakhshari,?abari, and others D'Herbelot, Bibliothèque Orientale,iii. 368 et seq., Paris, 1789 A. Geiger,Was Hat Mohammed aus dem Judenthume Aufgenommen? Bonn, 1833 ;Schlechta-Wssehrd,Aus Firdusi's "Yussuf und Suleicha," in Z. D. M. G. xli. G. Weil,Biblical Legends of the Mussulmans, Eng. transl., New York, 1846.G. M. W
House of Joseph
- See article House of Joseph.
The story of Joseph (Arabic يوسف Yūsuf) is also told in chapter 12 of the Koran. This is not believed (other than by Muslims) to be an independent source.
The "Story of the Two Brothers," an Egyptian romance written for the son of a 12th Century Pharaoh, contains an episode somewhat similar to the Biblical account of Joseph's treatment by Potiphar's wife. Scholars disagree as to whether the two stories shared a common source.
Joseph according to the Bible critics
To Bible critics, almost nothing is known about the historical Joseph, and like many early Biblical figures, scholars disagree as to whether such a person ever existed. To some non-Bilical scholars, it seems unlikely that a non-Egyptian could become a member of the Pharaoh's court, although it is not impossible. There is no record of a "prime minister" in ancient Egypt called Joseph.
Bible critics are not agreeement as to when the Biblical story was first written down (perhaps it was 1000 years after the events supposedly took place). There is no way to independently verify which, if any, aspects of the story are true.
This article incorporates text from the public domain 1901-1906 Jewish Encyclopedia. Please feel free to update like any other article.