Saint Joseph was the husband of Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ. Given prominent attention in the first two chapters of Matthew and Luke, Joseph is portrayed as a carpenter in Nazareth, a righteous descendant of Bethlehem's David, and a kind husband and father. Although little else is known of his life, Joseph's faithful cooperation in the birth of Christ earned him sainthood. He is venerated by Orthodox and by Roman Catholics, who consider him the patron saint of workers. Feast days: May 1 (Western); first Sunday after Christmas (Eastern).
|BELIEVE Religious Information Source - By Alphabet Our List of 2,300 Religious Subjects|
Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary and foster-father of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
The chief sources of information on the life of St. Joseph are the first chapters of our first and third Gospels; they are practically also the only reliable sources, for, whilst, on the holy patriarch's life, as on many other points connected with the Saviour's history which are left untouched by the canonical writings, the apocryphal literature is full of details, the non-admittance of these works into the Canon of the Sacred Books casts a strong suspicion upon their contents; and, even granted that some of the facts recorded by them may be founded on trustworthy traditions, it is in most instances next to impossible to discern and sift these particles of true history from the fancies with which they are associated. Among these apocryphal productions dealing more or less extensively with some episodes of St. Joseph's life may be noted the so-called "Gospel of James", the "Pseudo-Matthew", the "Gospel of the Nativity of the Virgin Mary", the "Story of Joseph the Carpenter", and the "Life of the Virgin and Death of Joseph".
St. Matthew (1:16) calls St. Joseph the son of Jacob; according to St. Luke (3:23), Heli was his father. This is not the place to recite the many and most various endeavours to solve the vexing questions arising from the divergences between both genealogies; nor is it necessary to point out the explanation which meets best all the requirements of the problem (see GENEALOGY OF CHRIST); suffice it to remind the reader that, contrary to what was once advocated, most modern writers readily admit that in both documents we possess the genealogy of Joseph, and that it is quite possible to reconcile their data.
At any rate, Bethlehem, the city of David and his descendants, appears to have been the birth-place of Joseph. When, however, the Gospel history opens, namely, a few months before the Annunciation, Joseph was settled at Nazareth. Why and when he forsook his home-place to betake himself to Galilee is not ascertained; some suppose -- and the supposition is by no means improbable -- that the then-moderate circumstances of the family and the necessity of earning a living may have brought about the change. St. Joseph, indeed, was a tekton, as we learn from Matthew 13:55, and Mark 6:3. The word means both mechanic in general and carpenter in particular; St. Justin vouches for the latter sense (Dial. cum Tryph., lxxxviii, in P.G., VI, 688), and tradition has accepted this interpretation, which is followed in the English Bible.
It is probably at Nazareth that Joseph betrothed and married her who was to become the Mother of God. When the marriage took place, whether before or after the Incarnation, is no easy matter to settle, and on this point the masters of exegesis have at all times been at variance. Most modern commentators, following the footsteps of St. Thomas, understand that, at the epoch of the Annunciation, the Blessed Virgin was only affianced to Joseph; as St. Thomas notices, this interpretation suits better all the evangelical data.
It will not be without interest to recall here, unreliable though they are, the lengthy stories concerning St. Joseph's marriage contained in the apocryphal writings. When forty years of age, Joseph married a woman called Melcha or Escha by some, Salome by others; they lived forty-nine years together and had six children, two daughters and four sons, the youngest of whom was James (the Less, "the Lord's brother"). A year after his wife's death, as the priests announced through Judea that they wished to find in the tribe of Juda a respectable man to espouse Mary, then twelve to fourteen years of age. Joseph, who was at the time ninety years old, went up to Jerusalem among the candidates; a miracle manifested the choice God had made of Joseph, and two years later the Annunciation took place. These dreams, as St. Jerome styles them, from which many a Christian artist has drawn his inspiration (see, for instance, Raphael's "Espousals of the Virgin"), are void of authority; they nevertheless acquired in the course of ages some popularity; in them some ecclesiastical writers sought the answer to the well-known difficulty arising from the mention in the Gospel of "the Lord's brothers"; from them also popular credulity has, contrary to all probability, as well as to the tradition witnessed by old works of art, retained the belief that St. Joseph was an old man at the time of marriage with the Mother of God.
This marriage, true and complete, was, in the intention of the spouses, to be virgin marriage (cf. St. Augustine, "De cons. Evang.", II, i in P.L. XXXIV, 1071-72; "Cont. Julian.", V, xii, 45 in P.L.. XLIV, 810; St. Thomas, III:28; III:29:2). But soon was the faith of Joseph in his spouse to be sorely tried: she was with child. However painful the discovery must have been for him, unaware as he was of the mystery of the Incarnation, his delicate feelings forbade him to defame his affianced, and he resolved "to put her away privately; but while he thought on these things, behold the angel of the Lord appeared to him in his sleep, saying: Joseph, son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife, for that which is conceived in her, is of the Holy Ghost. . . And Joseph, rising from his sleep, did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him, and took unto him his wife" (Matthew 1:19, 20, 24).
The Nativity and the Flight to Egypt
A few months later, the time came for Joseph and Mary to go to Bethlehem, to be enrolled, according to the decree issued by Caesar Augustus: a new source of anxiety for Joseph, for "her days were accomplished, that she should be delivered", and "there was no room for them in the inn (Luke 2:1-7). What must have been the thoughts of the holy man at the birth of the Saviour, the coming of the shepherds and of the wise men, and at the events which occurred at the time of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, we can merely guess; St. Luke tells only that he was "wondering at those things which were spoken concerning him" (k12:33). New trials were soon to follow. The news that a king of the Jews was born could not but kindle in the wicked heart of the old and bloody tyrant, Herod, the fire of jealousy. Again "an angel of the Lord appeared in sleep to Joseph, saying: Arise, and take the child and his mother, and fly into Egypt: and be there until I shall tell thee" (Matthew 2:13).
Return to Nazareth
The summons to go back to Palestine came only after a few years, and the Holy Family settled again at Nazareth. St. Joseph's was henceforth the simple and uneventful life of an humble Jew, supporting himself and his family by his work, and faithful to the religious practices commanded by the Law or observed by pious Israelites. The only noteworthy incident recorded by the Gospel is the loss of, and anxious quest for, Jesus, then twelve years old, when He had strayed during the yearly pilgrimage to the Holy City (Luke 2:42-51).
This is the last we hear of St. Joseph in the sacred writings, and we may well suppose that Jesus's foster-father died before the beginning of Savior's public life. In several circumstances, indeed, the Gospels speak of the latter's mother and brothers (Matthew 12:46; Mark 3:31; Luke 8:19; John 7:3), but never do they speak of His father in connection with the rest of the family; they tell us only that Our Lord, during His public life, was referred to as the son of Joseph (John 1:45; 6:42; Luke 4:22) the carpenter (Matthew 13:55). Would Jesus, moreover, when about die on the Cross, have entrusted His mother to John's care, had St. Joseph been still alive?
According to the apocryphal "Story of Joseph the Carpenter", the holy man reached his hundred and eleventh year when he died, on 20 July (A.D. 18 or 19). St. Epiphanius gives him ninety years of age at the time of his demise; and if we are to believe the Venerable Bede, he was buried in the Valley of Josaphat. In truth we do not know when St. Joseph died; it is most unlikely that he attained the ripe old age spoken of by the "Story of Joseph" and St. Epiphanius. The probability is that he died and was buried at Nazareth.
DEVOTION TO SAINT JOSEPH
Joseph was "a just man". This praise bestowed by the Holy Ghost, and the privilege of having been chosen by God to be the foster-father of Jesus and the Spouse of the Virgin Mother, are the foundations of the honour paid to St. Joseph by the Church. So well-grounded are these foundations that it is not a little surprising that the cult of St. Joseph was so slow in winning recognition. Foremost among the causes of this is the fact that "during the first centuries of the Church's existence, it was only the martyrs who enjoyed veneration" (Kellner). Far from being ignored or passed over in silence during the early Christian ages, St. Joseph's prerogatives were occasionally descanted upon by the Fathers; even such eulogies as cannot be attributed to the writers among whose works they found admittance bear witness that the ideas and devotion therein expressed were familiar, not only to the theologians and preachers, and must have been readily welcomed by the people. The earliest traces of public recognition of the sanctity of St. Joseph are to be found in the East. His feast, if we may trust the assertions of Papebroch, was kept by the Copts as early as the beginning of the fourth century. Nicephorus Callistus tells likewise -- on what authority we do not know -- that in the great basilica erected at Bethlehem by St. Helena, there was a gorgeous oratory dedicated to the honour of our saint. Certain it is, at all events, that the feast of "Joseph the Carpenter" is entered, on 20 July, in one of the old Coptic Calendars in our possession, as also in a Synazarium of the eighth and nineth century published by Cardinal Mai (Script. Vet. Nova Coll., IV, 15 sqq.). Greek menologies of a later date at least mention St. Joseph on 25 or 26 December, and a twofold commemoration of him along with other saints was made on the two Sundays next before and after Christmas.
In the West the name of the foster-father of Our Lord (Nutritor Domini) appears in local martyrologies of the ninth and tenth centuries, and we find in 1129, for the first time, a church dedicated to his honour at Bologna. The devotion, then merely private, as it seems, gained a great impetus owing to the influence and zeal of such saintly persons as St. Bernard, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Gertrude (d. 1310), and St. Bridget of Sweden (d. 1373). According to Benedict XIV (De Serv. Dei beatif., I, iv, n. 11; xx, n. 17), "the general opinion of the learned is that the Fathers of Carmel were the first to import from the East into the West the laudable practice of giving the fullest cultus to St. Joseph". His feast, introduced towards the end shortly afterwards, into the Dominican Calendar, gradually gained a foothold in various dioceses of Western Europe. Among the most zealous promoters of the devotion at that epoch, St. Vincent Ferrer (d. 1419), Peter d'Ailly (d. 1420), St. Bernadine of Siena (d. 1444), and Jehan Charlier Gerson (d. 1429) deserve an especial mention. Gerson, who had, in 1400, composed an Office of the Espousals of Joseph particularly at the Council of Constance (1414), in promoting the public recognition of the cult of St. Joseph. Only under the pontificate of Sixtus IV (1471-84), were the efforts of these holy men rewarded by Roman Calendar (19 March). From that time the devotion acquired greater and greater popularity, the dignity of the feast keeping pace with this steady growth. At first only a festum simplex, it was soon elevated to a double rite by Innocent VIII (1484-92), declared by Gregory XV, in 1621, a festival of obligation, at the instance of the Emperors Ferdinand III and Leopold I and of King Charles II of Spain, and raised to the rank of a double of the second class by Clement XI (1700-21). Further, Benedict XIII, in 1726, inserted the name into the Litany of the Saints.
One festival in the year, however, was not deemed enough to satisfy the piety of the people. The feast of the Espousals of the Blessed Virgin and St. Joseph, so strenuously advocated by Gerson, and permitted first by Paul III to the Franciscans, then to other religious orders and individual dioceses, was, in 1725, granted to all countries that solicited it, a proper Office, compiled by the Dominican Pierto Aurato, being assigned, and the day appointed being 23 January. Nor was this all, for the reformed Order of Carmelites, into which St. Teresa had infused her great devotion to the foster-father of Jesus, chose him, in 1621, for their patron, and in 1689, were allowed to celebrate the feast of his Patronage on the third Sunday after Easter. This feast, soon adopted throughout the Spanish Kingdom, was later on extended to all states and dioceses which asked for the privilege. No devotion, perhaps, has grown so universal, none seems to have appealed so forcibly to the heart of the Christian people, and particularly of the labouring classes, during the nineteenth century, as that of St. Joseph.
This wonderful and unprecedented increase of popularity called for a new lustre to be added to the cult of the saint. Accordingly, one of the first acts of the pontificate of Pius IX, himself singularly devoted to St. Joseph, was to extend to the whole Church the feast of the Patronage (1847), and in December, 1870, according to the wishes of the bishops and of all the faithful, he solemnly declared the Holy Patriarch Joseph, patron of the Catholic Church, and enjoined that his feast (19 March) should henceforth be celebrated as a double of the first class (but without octave, on account of Lent). Following the footsteps of their predecessor, Leo XIII and Pius X have shown an equal desire to add their own jewel to the crown of St. Joseph: the former, by permitting on certain days the reading of the votive Office of the saint; and the latter by approving, on 18 March, 1909, a litany in honour of him whose name he had received in baptism.
Publication information Written by Charles L. Souvay. Transcribed by Joseph P. Thomas. In memory of Father Joseph Paredom The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume VIII. Published 1910. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, October 1, 1910. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York
Joseph, the 11th son of Jacob and the first son of Jacob's favorite wife, Rachel, is the biblical hero in the drama of Genesis 37-50. Joseph's favored status and his coat of many colors, a gift from his father, caused his brothers to be jealous, and they staged his accidental "death." Joseph was actually taken to Egypt, where his ability to interpret dreams brought him into favor with the pharaoh. Joseph became a high Egyptian official. When, during a famine, his unsuspecting brothers sought grain in Egypt, the forgiving Joseph--whom his brothers did not at first recognize--arranged a family reunion. Thus the whole family of Jacob moved to Egypt and lived there until the Exodus.
Joseph, remover or increaser.
"Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his children, because he was the son of his old age," and he "made him a long garment with sleeves" (Gen. 37:3, R.V. marg.), i.e., a garment long and full, such as was worn by the children of nobles. This seems to be the correct rendering of the words. The phrase, however, may also be rendered, "a coat of many pieces", i.e., a patchwork of many small pieces of divers colours.
When he was about seventeen years old Joseph incurred the jealous hatred of his brothers (Gen. 37:4). They "hated him, and could not speak peaceably unto him." Their anger was increased when he told them his dreams (37:11). Jacob desiring to hear tidings of his sons, who had gone to Shechem with their flocks, some 60 miles from Hebron, sent Joseph as his messenger to make inquiry regarding them. Joseph found that they had left Shechem for Dothan, whither he followed them.
As soon as they saw him coming they began to plot against him, and would have killed him had not Reuben interposed. They ultimately sold him to a company of Ishmaelite merchants for twenty pieces (shekels) of silver (about $2,10s.), ten pieces less than the current value of a slave, for "they cared little what they had for him, if so be they were rid of him." These merchants were going down with a varied assortment of merchandise to the Egyptian market, and thither they conveyed him, and ultimately sold him as a slave to Potiphar, an "officer of Pharaoh's, and captain of the guard" (Gen. 37:36).
"The Lord blessed the Egyptian's house for Joseph's sake," and Potiphar made him overseer over his house. At length a false charge having been brought against him by Potiphar's wife, he was at once cast into the state prison (39; 40), where he remained for at least two years. After a while the "chief of the cupbearers" and the "chief of the bakers" of Pharaoh's household were cast into the same prison (40:2). Each of these new prisoners dreamed a dream in the same night, which Joseph interpreted, the event occurring as he had said.
This led to Joseph's being remembered subsequently by the chief butler when Pharaoh also dreamed. At his suggestion Joseph was brought from prison to interpret the king's dreams. Pharaoh was well pleased with Joseph's wisdom in interpreting his dreams, and with his counsel with reference to the events then predicted; and he set him over all the land of Egypt (Gen. 41:46), and gave him the name of Zaphnath-paaneah. He was married to 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 interpreted, 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 that can be read (Gen. 42-45).
Joseph directed his brethren to return and bring Jacob and his family to the land of Egypt, saying, "I will give you the good of the land of Egypt, and ye shall eat the fat of the land. Regard not your stuff; for the good of all the land is yours." Accordingly Jacob and his family, to the number of threescore and ten souls, together with "all that they had," went down to Egypt. They were settled in the land of Goshen, where Joseph met his father, and "fell on his neck, and wept on his neck a good while" (Gen. 46:29).
The excavations of Dr. Naville have shown the land of Goshen to be the Wady Tumilat, between Ismailia and Zagazig. In Goshen (Egyptian Qosem) they had pasture for their flocks, were near the Asiatic frontier of Egypt, and were out of the way of the Egyptian people. An inscription speaks of it as a district given up to the wandering shepherds of Asia. Jacob at length died, and in fulfilment of a promise which he had exacted, Joseph went up to Canaan to bury his father in "the field of Ephron the Hittite" (Gen. 47:29-31; 50:1-14). This was the last recorded act of Joseph, who again returned to Egypt.
"The 'Story of the Two Brothers,' an Egyptian romance written for the son of the Pharaoh of the Oppression, contains an episode very similar to the Biblical account of Joseph's treatment by Potiphar's wife. Potiphar and Potipherah are the Egyptian Pa-tu-pa-Ra, 'the gift of the sun-god.' The name given to Joseph, Zaphnath-paaneah, is probably the Egyptian Zaf-nti-pa-ankh, 'nourisher of the living one,' i.e., of the Pharaoh.
There are many instances in the inscriptions of foreigners in Egypt receiving Egyptian names, and rising to the highest offices of state." By his wife Asenath, Joseph had two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim (Gen. 41: 50). Joseph having obtained a promise from his brethren that when the time should come that God would "bring them unto the land which he sware to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob," they would carry up his bones out of Egypt, at length died, at the age of one hundred and ten years; and "they embalmed him, and he was put in a coffin" (Gen. 50:26). This promise was faithfully observed.
Their descendants, long after, when the Exodus came, carried the body about with them during their forty years' wanderings, and at length buried it in Shechem, in the parcel of ground which Jacob bought from the sons of Hamor (Josh. 24:32; comp. Gen. 33:19). With the death of Joseph the patriarchal age of the history of Israel came to a close.
The Pharaoh of Joseph's elevation was probably Apepi, or Apopis, the last of the Hyksos kings. Some, however, think that Joseph came to Egypt in the reign of Thothmes III. (see page 539), long after the expulsion of the Hyksos. The name Joseph denotes the two tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh in Deut. 33:13-17; the kingdom of Israel in Ezek. 37:16, 19, Amos 5:6; and the whole covenant people of Israel in Ps. 81:4.
The eleventh son of Jacob, the firstborn of Rachel, and the immediate ancestor of the tribes of Manasses and Ephraim. His life is narrated in Gen., xxx, 22-24; xxxvii; xxxix-1, wherein contemporary scholars distinguish three chief documents (J, E, P). (See ABRAHAM) The date of his eventful career can be fixed only approximately at the present day, for the Biblical account of Joseph's life does not name the particular Pharaoh of his time, and the Egyptian customs and manners therein alluded to are not decisive as to any special period in Egyptian history. His term of office in Egypt falls probably under one of the later Hyksos kings (see EGYPT). His name, either contracted from Jehoseph (Psalm 81:6, in the Hebrew) or abbreviated from Joseph-El (cf. Karnak inscription of Thothmes III, no. 78), is distinctly connected in Gen., xxx, 23, 24, with the circumstances of his birth and is interpreted: "may God add". He was born in Haran, of Rachel, Jacob's beloved and long-barren wife, and became the favourite son of the aged patriarch. After Jacob's return to Chanaan, various circumstances made Joseph the object of the mortal hatred of his brothers. He had witnessed some very wicked deed of several among them, and they knew that it had been reported to their father. Moreover, in his partiality to Joseph, Jacob gave him an ample garment of many colours, and this manifest proof of the patriarch's greater love for him aroused the jealousy of Joseph's brothers to such an extent that "they could not speak peaceably to him". Finally, with the imprudence of youth, Joseph told his brothers two dreams which clearly portended his future elevation over them all, but which, for the present, simply caused them to hate him all the more (Genesis 37:1-11). In this frame of mind, they seized upon the first opportunity to get rid of the one of whom they spoke as "the dreamer". As they fed their father's flocks in Dothain (now Tell Dothain, about fifteen miles north of Sichem), they saw from afar Joseph, who had been sent by Jacob to inquire about their welfare, coming to them, and they at once resolved to reduce to naught all his dreams of future greatness. At this point the narrative in Genesis combines two distinct accounts of the manner in which the brothers of Joseph actually carried out their intention of avenging themselves upon him. These accounts present slight variations, which are examined in detail by recent commentators on Genesis, and which, far from destroying, rather confirm the historical character of the fact that, through the enmity of his brothers, Joseph was brought down to Egypt. To protect themselves they dipped Joseph's fine garment into the blood of a kid, and sent it to their father. At the sight of this blood-stained garment, Jacob naturally believed that a wild beast had devoured his beloved son, and he gave himself up to the most intense grief (xxxvii, 12-35).
While thus bewailed as dead by his father, Joseph was sold into Egypt, and treated with the utmost consideration and the greatest confidence by his Egyptian master, to whom Gen., xxxvii, 36, gives the name of Putiphar ["He whom Ra (the sun-god) gave"] and whom it describes as Pharaoh's eunuch and as the captain of the royal body-guard (cf. xxxix, 1). Quick and trustworthy, Joseph soon became his master's personal attendant. He was next entrusted with the superintendence of his master's house, a most extensive and responsible charge, such as was unusual in large Egyptian households. With Yahweh's blessing, all things, "both at home and in the field", became so prosperous under Joseph's management that his master trusted him implicitly, and "knew not any other things, save the bread which he ate". While thus discharging with perfect success his manifold duties of major-domo (Egyp. mer-per), Joseph was often brought in contact with the lady of the house, for at that time there was as much free intercourse between men and women in Egypt as there is among us in the present day. Oftentimes she noticed the youthful and handsome Hebrew overseer, and carried away by passion, she repeatedly tempted him to commit adultery with her, till at length, resenting his virtuous conduct, she accused him of those very criminal solicitations wherewith she had herself pursued him. The credulous master believed the report of his wife, and in his wrath cast Joseph into prison. There also Yahweh was with His faithful servant: He gave him favour with the keeper of the prison, who soon placed in Joseph implicit confidence, and even committed to his charge the other prisoners (xxxix, 2-23). Shortly afterwards two of Pharaoh's officers, the chief butler and chief baker, having incurred the royal displeasure for some reason unknown to us, were put in ward in the house of the captain of the guard. They also were placed under Joseph's charge, and as he came in to them one morning, he noticed their unusual sadness. They could not catch the meaning of a dream which each had had during the night, and there was no professional interpreter of dreams near at hand. Then it was that Joseph interpreted their dreams correctly, bidding the chief butler to remember him when restored to his office, as indeed he was three days after, on Pharaoh's birthday (xl). Two years rolled by, after which the monarch himself had two dreams, the one of the fat and lean kine, and the other of the full and withered ears. Great was Pharaoh's perplexity at these dreams, which no one in the realm could interpret. This occurrence naturally reminded the chief butler of Joseph's skill in interpreting dreams, and he mentioned to the king what had happened in his own case and in that of the chief baker. Summoned before Pharaoh, Joseph declared that both dreams signified that seven years of plenty would immediately be followed by seven years of famine, and further suggested that one-fifth of he produce of the years of plenty be laid by as provision for the years of famine. Deeply impressed by the clear and plausible interpretation of his dreams, and recognizing in Joseph a wisdom more than human, the monarch entrusted to him the carrying out of the practical measure which he had suggested. for this purpose he raised him to the rank of keeper of the royal seal, invested him with an authority second only to that of the throne, bestowed on him the Egyptian name of Zaphenath-paneah ("God spoke, and he came into life"), and gave him to wife Aseneth, the daughter of Putiphares, the priest of the great national sanctuary at On (or Heliopolis, seven miles north east of the modern Cairo).
Soon the seven years of plenty predicted by Joseph set in, during which he stored up corn in each of the cities from which it was gathered, and his wife, Aseneth, bore him two sons whom he called Manasses and Ephraim, from the favorable circumstances of the time of their birth. Next came the seven years of dearth, during which by his skilful management Joseph 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 grievous and protracted famine (xli). Among these neighbouring countries was counted the land of Chanaan where Jacob had continued to dwell with Joseph's eleven brothers. Having heard that corn was sold in Egypt, the aged patriarch sent his sons thither to purchase some, keeping back, however, Rachel's second child, Benjamin, "lest perhaps he take harm in the journey". Admitted into Joseph's presence, his brothers failed to recognize in the Egyptian grandee before them the lad whom they had so cruelly treated twenty years before. He roughly accused them of being spies sent to discover the undefended passes of the eastern frontier of Egypt, and when they volunteered information about their family, he, desirous of ascertaining the truth concerning Benjamin, retained one of them as hostage in prison and sent the others home to bring back their youngest brother with them. On their return to their father, or at their first lodging-place on the way, they discovered the money which Joseph had ordered to be placed in their sacks. Great was their anxiety and that of Jacob, who for a time refused to allow his sons to return to Egypt in company with Benjamin. At length he yielded under the pressure of famine, sending, at the same time, a present to conciliate the favour of the Egyptian prime minister. at the sight of Benjamin Joseph understood that his brothers had told him the truth at their first appearance before him, and he invited them to a feast in his own house. At the feast he caused them to be seated exactly according to their age, and he honoured Benjamin with "a greater mess", as a mark of distinction (xlii-xliii). Then they left for home, unsuspecting that at Joseph's order his divining cup had been hidden in Benjamin's sack. They were soon overtaken, charged with theft of that precious cup, which, upon search, was found in the sack where it had been hidden. In their dismay they returned in a body to Joseph's house, and offered to remain as his bondmen in Egypt, an offer which Joseph declined, declaring that he would only retain Benjamin. Whereupon Juda pleads most pathetically that, for the sake of his aged father, Benjamin be dismissed free, and that he be allowed to remain in his brother's place as Joseph's bondman. Then it was that Joseph disclosed himself to his brothers, calmed their fears, and sent them back with a pressing invitation to Jacob to come and settle in Egypt (xliv-xlv, 24).
It was in the land of Gessen, a pastoral district about forty miles north-east of Cairo, that Joseph called his father and brothers to settle. There they lived as prosperous shepherds of the king, while in their misery the Egyptians were gradually reduced to sell their lands to the Crown, in order to secure their subsistence from the all-powerful prime minister of Pharaoh. And so Joseph brought it to pass that the former owners of landed property - with the exception, however, of the priests - became simple tenants of the king and paid to the royal treasury, as it were, an annual rent of one-fifth of the produce of the soil (xlvi, 28-xlvii, 26). During Jacob's last moments, Joseph promised his father that he would bury him in Chanaan, and caused him to adopt his two sons, Manasses and Ephraim (xlvii, 25-xlviii). After his father's demise, he had his body embalmed and buried with great pomp in the Cave of Machpelah (l, 1-14). He also allayed the fears of his brothers who dreaded that he should now avenge their former ill-treatment of him. He died at the age of 110, and his body was embalmed and put in a coffin in Egypt (l, 15-25). Ultimately, his remains were carried into Chanaan and buried in Sichem (Exodus 13:19; Joshua 24:32).
Such, in substance, is the Biblical account of Joseph's career. In its wonderful simplicity, it sketches one of the most beautiful characters presented by Old-Testament history. As a boy, Joseph has the most vivid horror for the evil done by some of his brothers; and as a youth, he resists with unflinching courage the repeated and pressing solicitations of his master's wife. Cast into prison, he displays great power of endurance, trusting to God for his justification. When raised to the rank of viceroy of Egypt, he shows himself worthy of that exalted dignity by his skilful and energetic efforts to promote the welfare of his adopted countrymen and the extension of his master's power. A character so beautiful made Joseph a most worthy type of Christ, the model of all perfection, and it is comparatively easy to point out some of the traits of 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 and most undeserved 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 which 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. 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. Finally, to the Patriarch Joseph, as to Jesus, it was given to inaugurate a new order of things for the greater power and glory of the monarch to whom he owed his exaltation. While thus recognizing the typical meaning of Joseph's career, one should not for a moment lose sight of the fact that one is in presence of a distinctly historical character. Efforts have indeed been made in certain quarters to transform the history of Joseph into a story of a tribe of the same name which, at some remote period, would have attained to great power in Egypt, and which, at a much later date, popular imagination would have simply pictured as an individual. But such a view of the Biblical account is decidedly inadmissible. To careful scholars it will always appear more difficult to think of Joseph as a tribe that rose to power in Egypt than as an individual who actually passed through the experiences which are described in Genesis. Again, they will always look upon the incidents narrated in the sacred record as too natural, and too closely related, to be entirely the product of fiction. The same historical character of the Biblical narrative is powerfully confirmed by the substantial agreement which contemporary critics feel bound to admit between the two principal documents (J, E), which, according to them, have been used in its composition: such an agreement points manifestly to an earlier oral tradition, which, when committed to writing in two distinct forms, was not materially affected by the altered circumstances of a later age. It is finally put beyond the possibility of a doubt by the Egyptian colouring which is common to both these documents, and which will be presently described. This Egyptian element is no mere literary dress with which the poplar fancy of a later date and in a distant land could have vested more or less happily the incidents narrated. It belongs to the very core of the history of Joseph, and is plainly a direct reflection of the manners and customs of ancient Egypt. Its constant truthfulness to things Egyptian proves the existence of an ancient tradition, dating as far back as the Egyptian period, and faithfully preserved in the composite account of Genesis.
The extent of the Egyptian colouring just referred to in the history of Joseph has been closely investigated by recent scholars. The brown-skinned children of Israel, who brought camels richly laden from the East to the Nile, are drawn to life on the Egyptian monuments, and the three kinds of spices they were carrying into Egypt are precisely those which would be in demand in that country for medicinal, religious, or embalming purposes. The existence of various overseers in the houses of Egyptian grandees is in perfect harmony with ancient Egyptian society, and the mer-per or superintendent of the house, such as Joseph was, is in particular often mentioned on the monuments. To the story of Joseph and his master's wife, there is a remarkable and well-known parallel in the Egyptian "Tale of the Two Brothers". The functions and dreams of the chief butler and chief baker are Egyptian in their minute details. In the seven cows which Pharaoh saw feeding in the meadow, we have a counterpart of the seven cows of Athor, pictured in the vignette of chapter cxlviii of the "Book of the Dead". Joseph's care to shave and change his raiment before appearing in the presence of Pharaoh, is in agreement with Egyptian customs. His advice to gather corn during the seven years of plenty falls in with Egyptian institutions, since all important cities were supplied with granaries. Joseph's investiture, his change of name at his elevation, can be easily illustrated by reference to the Egyptian monuments. The occurrence of famines of long duration, the successful efforts made to supply the corn to the people year after year while they lasted, find their parallels in recently discovered inscriptions. The charge of being spies, made by Joseph against his brothers, was most natural in view of the precautions known to have been taken by the Egyptian authorities for the safety of their Eastern frontier. The subsequent history of Joseph, his divining cup, his giving to his brothers changes of garments, the land of Gessen being set apart for his father and brethren, because the shepherd was an abomination to the Egyptians, Joseph's embalming of his father, the funeral procession for Jacob's burial, etc., exhibit in a striking manner the great accuracy of the Biblical account in its numerous and oftentimes passing references to Egyptian habits and customs. Even the age of 110 years, at which Joseph died, appears to have been regarded in Egypt - as is shown by several papyri - as the most perfect age to be desired.
Publication information Written by Francis E. Gigot. Transcribed by Paul T. Crowley. Dedicated to Mr. Michael Crowley and Mr. Neal Crowley and Families The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume VIII. Published 1910. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, October 1, 1910. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York
This page - -
- - is at
This subject presentation was last updated on - -
Send an e-mail question or comment to us: E-mail
The main BELIEVE web-page (and the index to subjects) is at: BELIEVE Religious Information Source - By Alphabet http://mb-soft.com/believe/indexaz.html