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Joseph, his Brothers, and his Coloured Coat
Joseph and his brothers
A story of jealousy, triumph and love.
The son of Jacob and the great-grandson of Abraham, Joseph is one of the earlier characters that we meet in the Bible, the story told in Genesis. One of twelve sons, Joseph was special from the beginning of his life. Jacob seemed to love him more than his other sons and made him the gift of a specially decorated tunic, the famous coat of story and song. Aged only 17, Joseph was subject to strange dreams that he was able to interpret readily.
One day, he told his brothers of a dream he’d had where he and they were binding sheaves in a field. His sheaf stood upright while all of the other sheaves bowed before it. This angered the brothers since they felt that Joseph was setting himself above them. In another dream, Joseph saw the sun, moon and eleven stars bowing to him. This dream unsettled Jacob and Rachel, his parents, and incensed his brothers so much that they plotted to kill him. But his eldest brother, Rueben, intervened.
Instead of killing him, the brothers threw Joseph down a well in the desert. He was “rescued” by merchants on their way to Egypt, but they took him with them and sold him to Potiphar, the Pharaoh’s favourite official. Meanwhile, the brothers took the tunic they had stripped him of, sprinkled it with the blood of a slaughtered goat and gave it to Jacob. He went wild with grief, thinking that wild beasts had devoured his favourite son.
In Egypt, Potiphar was so pleased with Joseph that he made him steward of his household. However, this made Potiphar’s wife so jealous that she schemed to make him look dishonest. Joseph was thrown into jail but again, his talents shone through. The jailer saw that his new prisoner was special and put Joseph in charge of the jail. It so happened that Pharaoh’s cupbearer and his baker offended him, and they were sent to jail.
Because of their rank, Joseph was made their special attendant. He correctly interpreted their dreams, foretelling the cupbearer’s release and the baker’s execution. Two years later, the Pharaoh had a very strange dream. He saw seven fat cows on the banks of the Nile being devoured by seven lean cows. He then dreamed of seven healthy ears of grain being devoured by seven meagre ears of grain.
Pharaoh summoned all of the wise men and magicians in Egypt but no one was able to tell him the meaning of the dream. Then, the cupbearer remembered Joseph and Pharaoh sent for him. Joseph told Pharaoh that seven years of harvest plenty would be followed by seven years of famine. The only way to prevent disaster, he told Pharaoh, was to build stores of surplus grain during the years of plenty with which to feed the people during the years of want.
Pharaoh believed Joseph and immediately appointed him as official to organise the storing of the grain. By now, Joseph was thirty. In a chariot given him by Pharaoh, he travelled all over Egypt, building granaries and ordering farmers to store one fifth of their harvests. He also married and had two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim. After seven years of plenty, famine did indeed strike. From all over the Biblical world, people came to buy food from Egyptian stores.
In Caanan, Jacob and his people were starving. He sent all his sons, barring Benjamin (the youngest) to Egypt in order to buy food. Joseph recognised his brothers but they did not recognise him. He had no desire for vengeance, but he could not resist playing a trick. Joseph asked them a lot of questions before giving them the food they needed. The gift was conditional; they would have to return to Egypt with their youngest brother, else Joseph would have to conclude that they were spies.
The brothers agreed and left, with brother Simeon remaining behind as hostage. Later, they were surprised to find they money they thought they had paid Joseph in their panniers together with the grain. Back in Caanan, Jacob protested at their taking Benjamin to Egypt. Rueben, the kindly brother who had saved Joseph's life, intervened again. He not only assumed responsibility for Benjamin, but offered Jacob his own two sons as pawns. Still, Jacob resisted, but the famine threatened to grow worse.
Eventually, the brothers returned to Egypt with Benjamin. Joseph was pleased to see them all, but still didn’t reveal himself. He asked them many questions about their father. He ordered servants to fill their panniers with grain, and asked another servant to clandestinely place a silver cup in Benjamin’s pannier. The brothers left for Caanan. Joseph ordered his chamberlain after them, saying that they had stolen from him.
The brothers were stopped, searched and the silver cup discovered. In custody, the brothers pleaded for Benjamin’s life, saying that Jacob would die of grief if anything happened to his youngest son. Joseph ordered the brothers to his house where a feast awaited them. He revealed his identity. They wept for joy as he told them to summon Jacob, and their wives and children to Egypt. In short, the family had been saved from famine.
In addition to the musical, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, the story has inspired artists throughout the ages. Many great artists drew inspiration in depicting scenes from the life of Joseph. The picture accompanying this piece is one of them. The painting by Giulio Romano (1499-15460) showing the moment that Joseph is seized by his brothers, with his two dreams in medallions above the scene, is just one of them.
The Holy Bible