As told in the Bible, Joseph was Jacob’s eleventh son and his first with his favorite wife Rachel. Within the Jewish faith, Joseph is widely recognized for his trust in God and cagey capacity to live as a Jew among Gentiles.
The book of Genesis explains that Joseph was Jacob’s favorite son—a fact exhibited by Jacob’s gift to him of a multicolored coat—and that Joseph’s uncanny abilities to interpret dreams only exacerbated fraternal jealousies. Famously, Joseph reported one dream in which his father, mother, and elder brothers would kneel down before Joseph as his servants. Angered by Joseph’s dream, his brothers formed a plot to kill him. Joseph was only seventeen. They stopped only when the eldest brother, Reuben, intervened. Instead, they threw Joseph into a pit.
Joseph was eventually discovered and sold to the Egyptian captain of the pharoah’s guard, Potiphar, as a slave. He served Potiphar dutifully until Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce him. When he refused her advances, she accused him of rape, and Potiphar had Joseph imprisoned. Joseph was then sent to jail, where he met an imprisoned servant of the pharaoh who interpreted his dream. The servant was later released, and when the pharaoh had a troubling dream, he sought Joseph’s advice. Joseph interpreted the dream to mean Egypt would face seven years of plentiful harvests followed by seven years of extreme famine. The pharaoh trusted Joseph and stored excess food for seven years. When Joseph’s prophecy came true, the gracious pharaoh gave him unprecedented power.
As the predicted famine spread throughout the region, Joseph’s brothers fled to Egypt in search of food. In order to punish them for their sins against him, Joseph disguised himself and took his brother Benjamin as a slave, sending the others home. Another brother, Judah, begged to be taken in Benjamin’s stead. Joseph saw this as a sign that his brothers had changed. He allowed his family to move to Egypt. There, he and his eleven brothers founded the twelve tribes of Israel.
- It is speculated that one of the reasons the pharaoh accepted Joseph in the first place was that the pharaoh may have been a Hyksos, an ethnicity with some ties to the Hebrews.
- Joseph’s story was adapted by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice into the musical Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, which debuted on Broadway in 1982