1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Joseph (Old Testament)

JOSEPH, in the Old Testament, the son of the patriarch Jacob by Rachel; the name of a tribe of Israel. Two explanations of the name are given by the Biblical narrator (Gen. xxx. 23 [E], 24 [J]); a third, “He (God) increases,” seems preferable. Unlike the other “sons” of Jacob, Joseph is usually reckoned as two tribes (viz. his “sons” Ephraim and Manasseh), and closely associated with it is the small tribe of Benjamin (q.v.), which lay immediately to the south. These three constituted the “sons” of Rachel (the ewe), and with the “sons” of Leah (the antelope?) are thus on a higher level than the “sons” of Jacob’s concubines. The “house of Joseph” and its offshoots occupied the centre of Palestine from the plain of Esdraelon to the mountain country of Benjamin, with dependencies in Bashan and northern Gilead (see Manasseh). Practically it comprised the northern kingdom, and the name is used in this sense in 2 Sam. xix. 20; Amos v. 6; vi. 6 (note the prominence of Joseph in the blessings of Jacob and Moses, Gen. xlix., Deut. xxxiii.). Originally, however, “Joseph” was more restricted, possibly to the immediate neighbourhood of Shechem, its later extension being parallel to the development of the name Jacob. The dramatic story of the tribal ancestor is recounted in Gen. xxxvii.–l. (see Genesis). Joseph, the younger and envied son, is seized by his brothers at Dothan north of Shechem, and is sold to a party of Ishmaelites or Midianites, who carry him down to Egypt. After various vicissitudes he gains the favour of the king of Egypt by the interpretation of a dream, and obtains a high place in the kingdom.[1] Forced by a famine his brothers come to buy food, and in the incidents that follow Joseph shows his preference for his young brother Benjamin (cf. the tribal data above). His father Jacob is invited to come to Goshen, where a settlement is provided for the family and their flocks. This is followed many years later by the exodus, the conquest of Palestine, and the burial of Joseph’s body in the grave at Shechem which his father had bought.

The history of Joseph in Egypt displays some familiarity with the circumstances and usages of that country; see Driver (Hastings’s D.B.) and Cheyne (Ency. Bib., col. 2589 seq.); although Abrech (xli. 43), possibly the Egyptian ib rk (Crum, in Hastings’s D.B., i. 665), has been otherwise connected with the Assyrian abarakku (a high officer). An interesting parallel to the story of Joseph in Gen. xxxix. is found in the Egyptian tale of The Two Brothers (Petrie, Eg. Tales, 2nd series, p. 36 seq., 1895), which dates from about 1500 B.C., but the differences are not inconsiderable compared with the points of resemblance, and the tale has features which are almost universal (Frazer, Golden Bough, 2nd ed., vol. iii. 351 seq.). On the theory that the historical elements of Joseph’s history refer to an official (Yanhamu) of the time of Amenophis III. and IV., see Cheyne, op. cit., and Hibbert Journal, October 1903. That the present form of the narrative has been influenced by current mythological lore is not improbable; on this question see (with caution) Winckler, Gesch. Israels, ii. 67–77 (1900); A. Jeremias, Alte Test., pp. 383 sqq. (1906). It may be added that the Egyptian names in the story of Joseph are characteristic of the XXII. and subsequent dynasties. See, also Meyer and Luther, Die Israeliten (1906), Index, s.v.  (S. A. C.) 

  1. Joseph’s marriage with the daughter of the priest of On might show that the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh were believed to be half-Egyptian by descent, but it is notoriously difficult to determine how much is of ethnological value and how much belongs to romance (viz. that of the individual Joseph).