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Outlines Of Jewish History -Rev. Francis E. Gigot D.D.


              A. In Chanaan: (Gen. 37).

              1. Hated of his brothers.

              Illustrations from Eastern and Egyptian manners.


                            2. Sold by them.


                            3. Abiding grief of Jacob.




              B. In Egypt:

              1. Joseph in the House of Putiphar (Gen. 39:1–19).




                            2. Joseph in Prison (Gen. 39:20–41:37):

              The prison described.


                                          The dreams of the two co-prisoners.


                                          The dreams of Pharao.




                            3. Joseph in the House of Pharao (Gen. 41:38–45:28):

              Power and Marriage. Treatment of his brothers.


                                          Sending for his father.




              Character of Joseph: A Type of our Lord.


§ 1. History of Joseph in Chanaan

1. Joseph Hated by his Brethren. The sacred narrative points out the reasons for which Joseph gradually became an object of hatred to his brothers. First of all, he had witnessed some very wicked deed of several among them, and they knew that he had revealed it to his father. Their next grievance consisted in the manifest partiality of Jacob for this elder son of Rachel born to him in his old age. They contemplated with a jealousy which soon grew into intense hatred, the fine garment which the patriarch had given to his beloved child. Whilst they had to be satisfied with the shepherd’s sleeveless tunic reaching only to the knees, Joseph wore an ample garment covering nearly the whole frame, and probably made of fine linen, in stripes of many colors, such as it is usual still in the East to give to favorite children. Finally, with the imprudence of youth, Joseph narrated to them dreams which clearly portended his future elevation above them all, but which, for the present, simply caused them to envy and hate him all the more (Gen. 37:1–11. See VIGOUROUX, Bible et Découvertes Modernes, vol. ii, p. 7).

2. Joseph Sold by his Brethren. The cruel revenge soon taken upon Joseph by his brothers as related in the book of Genesis (37:12–28) is perfectly true both to Biblical topography and to Oriental customs. The wide expanse of the valley of Sichem where Jacob’s children had fed their flocks for some time and to which Joseph was sent by his father, contrasts indeed favorably with the barren hills of the country farther south, but it cannot compare with the pasture-ground of Dothain, and this is why the children of Jacob, who had first moved from Hebron to Sichem, had left it for Dothain, now identified with a spot bearing this ancient name and about 20 miles north of Sichem. In repairing to Dothain to find out his brothers, Joseph, after climbing the high hill north of Samaria, had to descend the steep northern slope of the ridge, and at Dothain in the plain below, he would easily be seen “afar off” and even recognized by his brothers “sharp-sighted, as all Arab shepherds are to-day.” (HARPER, p. 41). At first they intended to put him to death, but they next agreed to cast him into one of the many dry pits or underground cisterns still visible in the district. Finally, they acceded to Juda’s proposal to sell their brother to Ismaelite merchants whom they noticed coming by the great caravan road from Galaad to Egypt which still passes by Dothain. “The brown-skinned children of Ismael, who brought camels richly laden from the East to the Nile, are drawn to the life on the Egyptian monuments”; and of the three kinds of spices they were carrying into Egypt—and are even now the principal articles of commerce of their descendants between the East and that country—two are named in recently discovered papyri, whilst the odor of the third may still be detected among those of other materials used in the embalming of mummies. That they should willingly purchase Joseph on their way down to Egypt is all the more natural because Syrian slaves had a special value on Egyptian markets, and it seems beyond doubt that “their descendants would not now hesitate to make such a purchase, and actually do so in certain parts of the country” (THOMPSON, quoted by RAWLINSON, Isaac and Jacob, p. 142).

3. Abiding Grief of Jacob. Before casting Joseph into the pit, his brothers had stripped him of his fine garment, and it is this garment which, dipped in the blood of a kid, they sent to their father to make him believe that a wild beast had devoured his beloved son. They succeeded but too well in deceiving Jacob, who gave at once all the customary signs of intense grief, “tearing his garments and putting on sackcloth, and mourning for his son a long time.” In vain did his children gather around him to comfort him, he refused every proffered consolation, saying “I will go down to my son into the grave, mourning” (Gen. 37:31–35). For long years afterwards, Jacob centred indeed his affection in Benjamin, the younger son of Rachel, yet all the while, even this other child of his most tenderly loved wife filled but partly the vacant place in the patriarch’s heart (cfr. Gen. 42:4, 36–38; 45:26–28).

§ 2. History of Joseph in Egypt

1. Joseph in the House of Putiphar (Gen. 39:1–19). Whilst thus bewailed by his father, Joseph was carried to Egypt and sold to Putiphar (a word which signifies dedicated to Ra or the Sun,” the chief divinity of On, or Heliopolis), an officer of Pharao and apparently a captain of the State police in charge “of prisoners and prisons, of bodily punishments and executions” (GEIKIE, Hours with the Bible, vol. i, p. 425). Egyptian monuments make us acquainted with the various duties of the position of “overseer” soon held by Joseph in his master’s house. He is a slave placed over all the rest, “now directing the laborers in the field, now taking account of the crops, writing down on tablets the goodly store of goods; introducing what strangers might come to the master, or meting out punishment to offenders” (HARPER, p. 43); he has the special title of “governor of the house,” as we read of Joseph in Genesis 39:4, and to him is entrusted the care of all things “both at home and in the fields.”

Whilst Joseph was discharging with perfect success his manifold duties in his master’s house, he was often brought in contact with the wife of Putiphar, for at that time, as implied in the Bible and clearly shown on Egyptian monuments, there was as much free intercourse between men and women in Egypt, as among us in the present day. Oftentimes she noticed the youthful and handsome Hebrew overseer, and with a passion too much in harmony with the profligacy for which Egyptian women have ever been notorious, she repeatedly tempted him to commit adultery with her, till at length, resenting his virtuous conduct, she charged him to her husband with the very criminal solicitations wherewith she had herself pursued him. The credulous Putiphar believed the report of his wife, and in consequence “cast Joseph into the prison where the King’s prisoners were kept.” Several details of the Biblical narrative of Joseph’s temptation are strikingly similar to those found on a papyrus which goes back to the time before the Exodus, and is known as the “Tale of the Two Brothers.” In it, the younger was tempted to adultery by the wife of his elder brother, and as he refused she “made herself like one who had suffered violence,” falsely accused the younger brother, and her husband in a rage threatened his life, which was saved by the protection of the Sun-God (cfr. BUDGE, the Dwellers on the Nile, p. 115 sq.; VIGOUROUX, tome ii, chap. iii).

2. Joseph in Prison. (Gen. 39:20–41:37). The fact that Putiphar in his anger did not at once put Joseph to death is in harmony with the old Egyptian law which denied to the master power over the life of his slave. The prison to which Joseph was now confined was not a single building, but something like a walled fortress including the barracks of the garrison, some temples and the prisons, a special part of which was reserved for prisoners of state, and where later on two great officers of Pharao (the chief butler and the chief baker) rejoined Joseph because, for some reason unknown to us, they had displeased the Egyptian monarch.

After a little while, Joseph’s co-prisoners had each a dream which caused them all the more sadness because in their prison, they had no access to professional interpreters of dreams. Their dreams were naturally in harmony with each one’s occupation, and the details with which they are described in the Bible correspond most exactly to what Egyptian pictures represent were the occupations of bakers and butlers in that period, wine being freely served at Egyptian banquets, and bread and other articles of food, when carried by men, being carried in baskets on their heads, not on their shoulders as was wont for women. Joseph’s interpretation of each dream came indeed to pass, but, despite the promise of the chief butler to remember him when restored to his office, he had to remain in prison, till his interpretation of two dreams of Pharao secured to him the royal favor.

It would indeed be difficult to imagine something more in harmony with the Egyptian country and civilization than the details connected with Pharao’s dreams, such as the cows feeding on the reeds and sedge of the marshy banks of the Nile, the ears of corn for which Egypt was ever so famous and in which at times, however, it was completely wanting, the number seven common to both dreams and so sacred to Egyptian minds, etc. So is it likewise with the recourse which Pharao had at once to interpreters of dreams, for whilst dreams were in Egypt the object of superstitious fear, several kinds of interpreters—two of which are mentioned with their official Egyptian title in the Hebrew Text—were ever in attendance at Court. Finally, in the care with which Joseph, when taken out of prison, must be shaved and change his garments, it is easy to discover an allusion to that perfect ceremonial cleanness required before any one could be brought in to Pharao (see GEIKIE, vol. i, p. 432 sq.; VIGOUROUX, vol. ii, chap. iv).

3. Joseph in the House of Pharao (Gen. 41:38–45:25). The clear and plausible interpretation of Pharao’s dreams by Joseph struck the King with such admiration that, in virtue of his supreme will, he raised him at once from the lowest to the highest rank in the State. The raising of Joseph to a dignity inferior to none but that of Pharao consisted in three distinct things. (1) He received the insignia of his office—the signet-ring to seal, in the royal name, all public documents; robes of the finest linen, as befitting Pharao’s prime minister; and the golden neck chain, the official badge of his authority. (2) He was carried through the streets of the capital on the second royal chariot, that all might do homage to him as the second ruler over Egypt. (3) He assumed an Egyptian name, and became a member of the highest class of Egypt through marriage with the daughter of a priest of Heliopolis, named Putiphare.

Soon the seven years of plenty predicted by Joseph set in, during which he stored up corn in each of the cities from the lands of which it was gathered. They were followed by seven years of dearth, during which by his skilful management he saved Egypt from the worst features of want and hunger, and not only Egypt, but also the various countries around, which had to suffer from the same protracted famine. At an early period during the seven years of famine Jacob sent his sons to Egypt to buy corn, keeping back, however, Benjamin “lest perhaps he take any harm in the journey.” What occurred on the occasion of this their first journey, as well as in connection with a second one they were compelled to make a little later—this second time in company with Benjamin—is too well known to require a detailed description here. The narrative of the manner in which Joseph discovered himself finally to them is peculiarly beautiful and touching, and shows how little in all his dealings with them, he intended to take revenge on them for their past unworthy conduct. He even went so far as to excuse in some manner, their greatest crime “Let it not seem to you a hard case that you sold me into these countries.… Not by your counsel was I sent hither, but by the will of God” (Gen. 45:5, 8).

The rumor of the arrival of the brothers of Joseph soon spread and reached the ears of Pharao, who gladly entered into the designs of his prime minister that he should send for his aged father, and cause him to settle with all his family in the land of Egypt. Accordingly, the sons of Jacob, supplied with Egyptian chariots, large provisions for the journey and magnificent gifts in money and raiment for their father, went out of Egypt, and brought to the old Jacob the almost incredible, and yet the most certain as well as most welcome news that Joseph “was living, and was ruler in all the land of Egypt.” Convinced at length that this wonderful news was but the expression of a glorious reality, Jacob revived and said, “It is enough for me, if Joseph my son be yet living, I will go and see him before I die.”

4. Character of Joseph. Old Testament history presents few, if any characters more beautiful than that of Joseph. As a boy he has the most vivid horror for the evil done by his brothers, and as a youth he resists with heroic constancy the repeated and pressing solicitations of his master’s wife. Cast into prison, he exhibits great power of endurance, and when raised to the highest rank in the State, he shows himself worthy of that exalted dignity by his modesty no less than by his energetic efforts to promote in the most effective manner the welfare of his adoptive countrymen. His wonderful flexibility enables him to adapt himself to each new position in life and his great amiability endears him to almost all who come in contact with him. His tenderness of heart is revealed in a variety of ways, such as the tears he sheds at the first visit of his brothers after they had sold him, his loving feelings towards Benjamin, his filial respect and devotion for his aged father after years of separation and in the midst of the greatest honors of Pharao’s court.

It would indeed be difficult to point out a character more worthy than that of Joseph to be one of the types of our Lord. In point of fact, there is a manifold resemblance between Jacob’s beloved son and the dearly beloved Son of God. Like Jesus, Joseph was hated and cast out by his brethren, and yet wrought out their salvation through the sufferings they had brought upon him; like Jesus, Joseph obtained his exaltation only after passing through the deepest humiliations, and in the kingdom over which he ruled, he invited his brethren to join those whom heretofore they had looked upon as strangers, in order that they also might enjoy the blessings he had stored up for them; like the Saviour of the world, Joseph had but words of forgiveness and blessing for all who, recognizing their misery, had recourse to his supreme power; finally, it was to Joseph of old, as to Jesus, that all had to appeal for relief, offer homages of the deepest respect and yield ready obedience in all things.

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