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Biblical Israel – Joseph & His Brothers


One of the Patriarchs and favorite son of Jacob, young Joseph was sold into slavery by his jealous brothers. From that calamity, he rose to become vizier of Egypt and rescuer of his people. To later Israelites, Joseph's life demonstrated that God could reveal his purpose through adversity as well as success.

Joseph's Origins

As mentioned in the last episode, Joseph was born near Haran in northern Mesopotamia during the eighteenth century B.C. Being the youngest of the family, before his brother Benjamin, Joseph had his own responsibilities. If his older brothers were grazing the sheep near the main camp, he carried fresh bread and goat cheese to them. He also helped to herd the animals into the stone-walled sheepfold in the evening. As he grew older, he took turns standing night watch over the flocks, armed with a sling and a club. By the time he was 17 he was sharing all the duties of a shepherd with his brothers.

Joseph's older brothers resented him and their jealousy intensified when their father gave Joseph a coat of many colors'. This was a tunic reaching down to the arms and feet, such as princes and persons of distinction wore. The richer classes among the ancient Egyptians wore long tunics of white linen. The people of Palestine and Syria, represented on the Egyptian monuments as enemies or tributaries, wore similar tunics, partly colored, generally with a stripe around the middle and the borders of the sleeves. By wearing this, it betokened to Joseph's brothers only too clearly that their father intended to transfer to Joseph the right of the firstborn. We know that the three eldest sons of Leah had lost this right; Simeon and Levi by their cruelty at Shechem, and Reuben by his crime at the 'watchtower of the flock'. Moreover, Joseph's sometimes arrogant behavior did nothing to lessen their anger.

Jacob kept a small field of wheat or barley next to the main camp at Hebron. Each year his sons assisted in harvesting the grain, reaping it, and tying it in bundles. One day, during the harvest, Joseph began to tell of his dreams.

''”Hear this dream which I have dreamed,” he said to his brothers, “We were binding sheaves in the field, and lo, my sheaf arose and stood upright; and behold your sheaves gathered round it and bowed down to my sheaf.”' (Gen 37:6-7)

The brothers saw the meaning clearly enough and responded angrily.

'”Are you indeed to reign over us?” and they hated him yet more for his dreams and for his words.' (Gen 37:8)

Sometime later, Jacob's older sons were pasturing their father's flocks in Shechem, about 60 miles north of their home. Jacob sent Joseph to check up on them. Taking a few days' supply of bread with him, the youth headed north through the highlands around Hebron. When Joseph finally arrived at the Plain of Shechem, he looked for his brothers until some of the shepherds told him his brothers had traveled to Dothan.

Joseph wearily headed another 20 miles northward until he reached the large plain where Dothan was located about 12 miles from Samaria. This area had the richest pasture-lands that spread north, where a few swelling hills separated it from the great plain of Esdraelon. Through this plain ran one branch of the main intercontinental highway, connecting Asia Minor and Mesopotamia with Egypt. Several wells and cisterns had been dug in the area to provide water for the many travelers who passed that way.

In ancient Greek writer describes these cisterns as regularly built and plastered, narrow at the mouth, but widening as they descend, until at the bottom they attain a with sometimes of 100 feet. We know that when dry, or covered with only mud at the bottom, they serve as hiding places, and even as temporary prisons.