by Louis Ginzberg

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The Legends of the Jews
by Louis Ginzberg

Volume II

Bible Times and Characters from Joseph to the Exodus



Great was the joy of Joseph when his brethren stood before him and Benjamin was with them. In his youngest brother he saw the true counterpart of his father.[235] He ordered his son Manasseh,[236] the steward of his house, to bring the men into the palace, and make ready a meal for them. But he was to take care to prepare the meat dishes in the presence of the guests, so that they might see with their own eyes that the cattle had been slaughtered according to the ritual prescriptions, and the sinew of the hip which is upon the hollow of the thigh had been removed.[237]

The dinner to which Joseph invited his brethren was a Sabbath meal, for he observed the seventh day even before the revelation of the law. The sons of Jacob refused the invitation of the steward, and a scuffle ensued. While he tried to force them into the banqueting hall, they tried to force him out,[238] for they feared it was but a ruse to get possession of them and their asses, on account of the money they had found in their sacks on their return from their first journey to Egypt. In their modesty they put the loss of their beasts upon the same level as the loss of their personal liberty. To the average man property is as precious as life itself.[239]

Standing at the door of Joseph's house, they spake to the steward, and said: "We are in badly reduced circumstances. In our country we supported others, and now we depend upon thee to support us." After these introductory words, they offered him the money they had found in their sacks. The steward reassured them concerning the money, saying, "However it may be, whether for the sake of your own merits, or for the sake of the merits of your fathers, God hath caused you to find a treasure, for the money ye paid for the corn came into my hand." Then he brought Simon out to them. Their brother looked like a leather bottle, so fat and rotund had he grown during his sojourn in Egypt.[240] He told his brethren what kind treatment had been accorded unto him. The very moment they left the city he had been released from prison, and thereafter he had been entertained with splendor in the house of the ruler of Egypt.

When Joseph made his appearance, Judah took Benjamin by the hand, and presented him to the viceroy, and they all bowed down themselves to him to the earth.[241] Joseph asked them concerning the welfare of their father and their grandfather, and they made reply, "Thy servant our father is well; he is yet alive," and Joseph knew from their words that his grandfather Isaac was no more.[242] He had died at the time when Joseph was released from prison, and the joy of God in the liberation of Joseph was overcast by His sorrow for Isaac.[243] Then Judah handed his father's letter to Joseph, who was so moved at seeing the well-known handwriting that he had to retire to his chamber and weep. When he came back, he summoned Benjamin to approach close to him, and he laid his hand upon his youngest brother's head, and blessed him with the words, "God be gracious unto thee, my son."[244] His father had once mentioned "the children which God hath graciously given Thy servant," and as Benjamin was not among the children thus spoken of, for he was born later, Joseph compensated him now by blessing him with the grace of God.[245]

The table was set in three divisions, for Joseph, for his brethren, and for the Egyptians. The sons of Jacob did not venture to eat of the dishes set before them, they were afraid they might not have been prepared according to the ritual prescriptions--a punishment upon Joseph for having slandered his brethren, whom he once charged with not being punctilious in the observance of the dietary laws.[246] The Egyptians, again, could not sit at the same table with the sons of Jacob, because the latter ate the flesh of the animals to which the former paid divine worship.[247]

When all was ready, and the guests were to be seated, Joseph raised his cup, and, pretending to inhale his knowledge from it, he said, "Judah is king, therefore let him sit at the head of the table, and let Reuben the first-born take the second seat," and thus he assigned places to all his brethren corresponding to their dignity and their age.[248] Moreover, he seated the brothers together who were the sons of the same mother, and when he reached Benjamin, he said, "I know that the youngest among you has no brother borne by his own mother, next to whom he might be seated, and also I have none, therefore he may take his place next to me."

The brethren marvelled one with another at all this. During the meal, Joseph took his portion, and gave it to Benjamin, and his wife Asenath followed his example, and also Ephraim and Manasseh, so that Benjamin had four portions in addition to that which he had received like the other sons of Jacob.[249]

Wine was served at the meal, and it was the first time in twenty-two years that Joseph and his brethren tasted of it, for they had led the life of Nazarites, his brethren because they regretted the evil they had done to Joseph, and Joseph because he grieved over the fate of his father.[250]

Joseph entered into conversation with his brother Benjamin. He asked him whether he had a brother borne by his own mother, and Benjamin answered, "I had one, but I do not know what hath become of him." Joseph continued his questions: "Hast thou a wife?"

Benjamin: "Yes, I have a wife and ten sons."

Joseph: "And what are their names? "

Benjamin: "Bela, and Becher, and Ashbel, Gera, and Naaman, Ehi, and Rosh, Muppim, and Huppim, and Ard."

Joseph: "Why didst thou give them such peculiar names?"

Benjamin: "In memory of my brother and his sufferings: Bela, because my brother disappeared among the peoples; Becher, he was the first-born son of my mother; Ashbel, he was taken away from my father; Gera, he dwells a stranger in a strange land; Naaman, he was exceedingly lovely; Ehi, he was my only brother by my father and my mother together; Rosh, he was at the head of his brethren; Muppim, he was beautiful in every respect; Huppim, he was slandered; and Ard, because he was as beautiful as a rose."[251]

Joseph ordered his magic astrolabe to be brought to him, whereby he knew all things that happen, and he said unto Benjamin, "I have heard that the Hebrews are acquainted with all wisdom, but dost thou know aught of this?" Benjamin answered, "Thy servant also is skilled in all wisdom, which my father hath taught me." He then looked upon the astrolabe, and to his great astonishment he discovered by the aid of it that he who was sitting upon the throne before him was his brother Joseph. Noticing Benjamin's amazement, Joseph asked him, "What hast thou seen, and why art thou astonished?" Benjamin said, "I can see by this that Joseph my brother sitteth here before me upon the throne." And Joseph said: "I am Joseph thy brother! Reveal not the thing unto our brethren. I will send thee with them when they go away, and I will command them to be brought back again into the city, and I will take thee away from them. If they risk their lives and fight for thee, then shall I know that they have repented of what they did unto me, and I will make myself known unto them. But if they forsake thee, I will keep thee, that thou shouldst remain with me. They shall go away, and I will not make myself known unto them."[252]

Then Joseph inquired of Benjamin what his brethren had told their father after they had sold him into slavery, and he heard the story of the coat dipped in the blood of a kid of the goats. "Yes, brother," spoke Joseph, "when they had stripped me of my coat, they handed me over to the Ishmaelites, who tied an apron around my waist, scourged me, and bade me run off. But a lion attacked the one that beat me, and killed him, and his companions were alarmed, and they sold me to other people."[253]

Dismissed by Joseph with kind words, his brethren started on their homeward journey as soon as the morning was light, for it is a good rule to "leave a city after sunrise, and enter a city before sundown."[254] Besides, Joseph had a specific reason for not letting his brethren depart from the city during the night. He feared an encounter between them and his servants, and that his men might get the worst of it, for the sons of Jacob were like the wild beasts, which have the upper hand at night.



They were not yet far beyond the city gates, when Joseph dispatched Manasseh, the steward of his house, to follow after them, and look for the silver cup that he had concealed in Benjamin's sack. He knew his brethren well, he did not venture to let them get too far from the city before he should attempt to force their return. He hoped that the nearness of the city would intimidate them and make them heed his commands. Manasseh therefore received the order to bring them to a halt, by mild speech if he could, or by rough speech if he must, and carry them back to the city.[255] He acted according to his instructions. When the brethren heard the accusation of theft , they said: "With whomsoever of thy servants the cup be found, let him die, and we also will be my lord's bondmen." And Manasseh said, "As you say, so were it proper to do, for if ten persons are charged with theft, and the stolen object is found with one of them, all are held responsible. But I will not be so hard. He with whom the cup is found shall be the bondman, and the rest shall be blameless."

He searched all the sacks, and in order not to excite the suspicion that he knew where the cup was, he began at Reuben, the eldest, and left off at Benjamin, the youngest, and the cup was found in Benjamin's sack. In a rage, his brethren shouted at Benjamin, "O thou thief and son of a thief! Thy mother brought shame upon our father by her thievery, and now thou bringest shame upon us." But he replied, "Is this matter as evil as the matter of the kid of the goats--as the deed of the brethren that sold their own brother into slavery?"[256]

In their fury and vexation, the brethren rent their clothes. God paid them in their own coin. They had caused Jacob to tear his clothes in his grief over Joseph, and now they were made to do the same on account of their own troubles. And as they rent their clothes for the sake of their brother Benjamin, so Mordecai, the descendant of Benjamin, was destined to rend his on account of his brethren, the people of Israel. But because mortification was inflicted upon the brethren through Manasseh, the steward of Joseph, the allotment of territory given to the tribe of Manasseh was "torn" in two, one-half of the tribe had to live on one side of the Jordan, the other half on the other side. And Joseph, who had not shrunk from vexing his brethren so bitterly that they rent their clothes in their abasement, was punished, in that his descendant Joshua was driven to such despair after the defeat of Ai that he, too, rent his clothes.[257]

Convicted of theft beyond the peradventure of a doubt, the brethren of Joseph had no choice but to comply with the steward's command and return to the city. They accompanied him without delay. Each of them loaded his ass himself, raising the burden with one hand from the ground to the back of the beast, and then they retraced their steps cityward,[258] and as they walked, they rapped Benjamin roughly on the shoulder, saying, "O thou thief and son of a thief, thou hast brought the same shame upon us that thy mother brought upon our father." Benjamin bore the blows and the abusive words in patient silence, and he was rewarded for his humility. For submitting to the blows upon his shoulder, God appointed that His Shekinah should "dwell between his shoulders," and He also called him "the beloved of the Lord."[259]

Joseph's brethren returned to the city without fear. Though it was a great metropolis, in their eyes it appeared but as a hamlet of ten persons, which they could wipe out with a turn of the hand.[260] They were led into the presence of Joseph, who, contrary to his usual habit, was not holding a session of the court in the forum on that day. He remained at home, that his brethren might not be exposed to shame in public. They fell to the earth before him, and thus came true his dream of the eleven stars that made obeisance to him.[261] But even while paying homage to Joseph, Judah was boiling inwardly with suppressed rage, and he said to his brethren, "Verily, this man hath forced me to come back hither only that I should destroy the city on this day."

Guarded by his valiant men on the right and on the left, Joseph addressed his brethren, snarling, "What deed is this that ye have done, to steal away my cup? I know well, ye took it in order to discover with its help the whereabouts of your brother that hath disappeared."[262] Judah was spokesman, and he replied: "What shall we say unto my lord concerning the first money that he found in the mouth of our sacks? What shall we speak concerning the second money that also was in our sacks? And how shall we clear ourselves concerning the cup? We cannot acknowledge ourselves guilty, for we know ourselves to be innocent in all these matters. Yet we cannot avow ourselves innocent, because God hath found out the iniquity of thy servants, like a creditor that goes about and tries to collect a debt owing to him.[263] Two brothers take care not to enter a house of mirth and festivity together, that they be not exposed to the evil eye, but we all were caught together in one place, by reason of the sin which we committed in company."

Joseph: "But if your punishment is for selling Joseph, why should this brother of yours suffer, the youngest, he that had no part in your crime.

Judah: "A thief and his companions are taken together."

Joseph: "If you could prevail upon yourselves to report to your father concerning a brother that had not stolen, and had brought no manner of shame upon you, that a wild beast had torn him, you will easily persuade yourselves to say it concerning a brother that hath stolen, and hath brought shame upon you. Go hence, and tell your father, 'The rope follows after the water bucket.'[264] But," continued Joseph, shaking his purple mantle, "God forbid that I should accuse you all of theft. Only the youth that stole the cup in order to divine his brother's whereabouts shall remain with me as my bondman; but as for you, get you up in peace unto your father."

The holy spirit called out, "Great peace have they which love thy law!"

The brethren all consented to yield Benjamin to the ruler of Egypt, only Judah demurred, and he cried out, "Now it is all over with peace!" and he prepared to use force, if need be, to rescue Benjamin from slavery.[265]



Joseph dismissed his brethren, and carried Benjamin off by main force, and locked him up in a chamber. But Judah broke the door open and stood before Joseph with his brethren.[266] He determined to use in turn the three means of liberating Benjamin at his disposal. He was prepared to convince Joseph by argument, or move him by entreaties, or resort to force, in order to accomplish his end.[267]

He spake: "Thou doest a wrong unto us. Thou who didst say, 'I fear God,' thou showest thyself to be like unto Pharaoh, who hath no fear of God. The judgments which thou dost pronounce are not in accordance with our laws, nor are they in accordance with the laws of the nations. According to our law, a thief must pay double the value of what he hath stolen. Only, if he hath no money, he is sold into slavery, but if he hath the money, he maketh double restitution. And according to the law of the nations, the thief is deprived of all he owns. Do so, but let him go free. If a man buys a slave, and then discovers him to be a thief, the transaction is void. Yet thou desirest to make one a slave whom thou chargest with being a thief. I suspect thee of wanting to keep him in thy power for illicit purposes,[268] and in this lustfulness thou resemblest Pharaoh. Also thou art like Pharaoh in that thou makest a promise and keepest it not. Thou saidst unto thy servants, Bring thy youngest brother down unto me, that I may set mine eyes upon him. Dost thou call this setting thine eyes upon him?[269] If thou didst desire nothing beside a slave, then wouldst thou surely accept our offer to serve thee as bondmen instead of Benjamin. Reuben is older than he, and I exceed him in strength. It cannot but be as I say, thou hast a lustful purpose in mind with our brother.[270]

"Therefore let these words of mine which I am about to speak find entrance into thy heart: For the sake of the grandmother of this lad were Pharaoh and his house stricken with sore plagues, because he detained her in his palace a single night against her will. His mother died a premature death, by reason of a curse which his father uttered in inconsiderate haste. Take heed, then, that this man's curse strike thee not and slay thee. Two of us destroyed the whole of a city on account of one woman, how much more would we do it for the sake of a man, and that man the beloved of the Lord, in whose allotment it is appointed that God shall dwell!

"If I but utter a sound, death-dealing pestilence will stalk through the land as far as No. In this land Pharaoh is the first, and thou art the second after him, but in our land my father is the first, and I am the second. If thou wilt not comply with our demand, I will draw my sword, and hew thee down first, and then Pharaoh."

When Judah gave utterance to this threat, Joseph made a sign, and Manasseh stamped his foot on the ground so that the whole palace shook. Judah said, "Only one belonging to our family can stamp thus!" and intimidated by this display of great strength, he moderated his tone and manner. "From the very beginning," he continued to speak, "thou didst resort to all sorts of pretexts in order to embarrass us. The inhabitants of many countries came down into Egypt to buy corn, but none of them didst thou ask questions about their family relations. In sooth, we did not come hither to seek thy daughter in marriage, or peradventure thou desirest an alliance with our sister? Nevertheless we gave thee an answer unto all thy questions."

Joseph replied: "Verily, thou canst talk glibly! Is there another babbler like thee among thy brethren?[271] Why dost thou speak so much, while thy brethren that are older than thou, Reuben, Simon, and Levi, stand by silent?"

Judah: "None of my brethren has so much at stake as I have, if Benjamin returns not to his father. I was a surety to my father for him, saying, If I bring him not unto thee, and set him before thee, then let me bear the blame forever, in this world and in the world to come.[272]

The other brethren withheld themselves intentionally from taking part in the dispute between Judah and Joseph, saying, "Kings are carrying on a dispute, and it is not seemly for us to interfere between them."[273] Even the angels descended from heaven to earth to be spectators of the combat between Joseph the bull and Judah the lion, and they said, "It lies in the natural course of things that the bull should fear the lion, but here the two are engaged in equal, furious combat."

In reply to Judah, when he explained that his great interest in Benjamin's safety was due to the pledge he had given to his father, Joseph spoke: "Why wast thou not a surety for thy other brother, when ye sold him for twenty pieces of silver? Then thou didst not regard the sorrow thou wast inflicting upon thy father, but thou didst say, A wild beast hath devoured Joseph. And yet Joseph had done no evil, while this Benjamin has committed theft. Therefore, go up and say unto thy father, The rope hath followed after the water bucket."

These words had such an effect upon Judah that he broke out in sobs, and cried aloud, "How shall I go up to my father, and the lad be not with me?"[274] His outcry reached to a distance of four hundred parasangs, and when Hushim the son of Dan heard it in Canaan, he jumped into Egypt with a single leap and joined his voice with Judah's, and the whole land was on the point of collapsing from the great noise they produced. Joseph's valiant men lost their teeth, and the cities of Pithom and Raamses were destroyed, and they remained in ruins until the Israelites built them up again under taskmasters. Also Judah's brethren, who had kept quiet up to that moment, fell into a rage, and stamped on the ground with their feet until it looked as though deep furrows had been torn in it by a ploughshare.[275] And Judah addressed his brethren, "Be brave, demean yourselves as men, and let each one of you show his heroism, for the circumstances demand that we do our best."

Then they resolved to destroy Mizraim, the city of Egypt, and Judah said, "I will raise my voice, and with it destroy Egypt."

Reuben: "I will raise my arm, and crush it out of existence."

Simon: "I will raise my hand, and lay waste its palaces."

Levi: "I will draw my sword, and slay the inhabitants of Egypt."

Issachar: "I will make the land like unto Sodom."

Zebulon: "Like unto Gomorrah will I render it."

Dan: "I will reduce it to a desert."[276]

Then Judah's towering rage began to show signs of breaking out: his right eye shed tears of blood; the hair above his heart grew so stiff that it pierced and rent the five garments in which he was clothed; and he took brass rods, bit them with his teeth, and spat them out as fine powder. When Joseph observed these signs, fear befell him, and in order to show that he, too, was a man of extraordinary strength, he pushed with his foot against the marble pedestal upon which he sat, and it broke into splinters. Judah exclaimed, "This one is a hero equal to myself!" Then he tried to draw his sword from its scabbard in order to slay Joseph, but the weapon could not be made to budge, and Judah was convinced thereby that his adversary was a God-fearing man, and he addressed himself to the task of begging him to let Benjamin go free, but he remained inexorable.[277]

Judah then said: "What shall we say unto our father, when he seeth that our brother is not with us, and he will grieve over him?"

Joseph: "Say that the rope hath followed after the water bucket."

Judah: "Thou art a king, why dost thou speak in this wise, counselling a falsehood? Woe unto the king that is like thee!"

Joseph: "Is there a greater falsehood than that ye spake concerning your brother Joseph, whom you sold to the Midianites for twenty pieces of silver, telling your father, An evil beast bath devoured him?"

Judah: "The fire of Shechem burneth in my heart, now will I burn all thy land with fire."

Joseph: "Surely, the fire kindled to burn Tamar, thy daughter-in-law, who did kill thy sons, will extinguish the fire of Shechem."

Judah: "If I pluck out a single hair from my body, I will fill the whole of Egypt with its blood."

Joseph: "Such is it your custom to do; thus ye did unto your brother whom you sold, and then you dipped his coat in blood, brought it to your father, and said, An evil beast hath devoured him, and here is his blood."

When Judah heard this, he was exceedingly wroth, and he took a stone weighing four hundred shekels that was before him, cast it toward heaven with one hand, caught it with his left hand, then sat upon it, and the stone turned into dust. At the command of Joseph, Manasseh did likewise with another stone, and Joseph said to Judah: "Strength hath not been given to you alone, we also are powerful men. Why, then, will ye all boast before us?" Then Judah sent Naphtali forth, saying, "Go and count all the streets of the city of Egypt and come and tell me the number," but Simon interposed, saying, "Let not this thing trouble you, I will go to the mount, and take up one huge stone from the mount, throw it over the whole of Mizraim, the city of Egypt, and kill all therein."

Hearing all these words, which they spake aloud, because they did not know that he understood Hebrew, Joseph bade his son Manasseh make haste and gather together all the inhabitants of Egypt, and all the valiant men, and let them come to him on horseback and afoot. Meantime Naphtali had gone quickly to execute Judah's bidding, for he was as swift as the nimble hart, he could run across a field of corn without breaking an ear. And he returned and reported that the city of Egypt was divided into twelve quarters. Judah bade his brethren destroy the city; he himself undertook to raze three quarters, and he assigned the nine remaining quarters to the others, one quarter to each.

In the meantime Manasseh had assembled a great army, five hundred mounted men and ten thousand on foot, among them four hundred valiant heroes, who could fight without spear or sword, using only their strong, unarmed hands. To inspire his brethren with more terror, Joseph ordered them to make a loud noise with all sorts of instruments, and their appearance and the hubbub they produced did, indeed, cause fear to fall upon some of the brethren of Joseph. Judah, however, called to them, "Why are you terrified, seeing that God grants us His mercy?" He drew his sword, and uttered a wild cry, which threw all the people into consternation, and in their disordered flight many fell over each other and perished, and Judah and his brethren followed after the fleeing people as far as the house of Pharaoh. Returning to Joseph, Judah again broke out in loud roars, and the reverberations caused by his cries were so mighty that all the city walls in Egypt and in Goshen fell in ruins, the pregnant women brought forth untimely births, and Pharaoh was flung from his throne. Judah's cries were heard at a great distance, as far off as Succoth.

When Pharaoh learnt the reason of the mighty uproar, he sent word to Joseph that he would have to concede the demands of the Hebrews, else the land would suffer destruction. "Thou canst take thy choice," were the words of Pharaoh, "between me and the Hebrews, between Egypt and the land of the Hebrews. If thou wilt not heed my command, then leave me and go with them into their land."



Seeing that his brethren were, indeed, on the point of destroying Egypt, Joseph resolved to make himself known to them, and he cast around for a proper opening, which would lead naturally to his announcement. At his behest, Manasseh laid his hand upon Judah's shoulder, and his touch allayed Judah's fury, for he noticed that he was in contact with a kinsman of his, because such strength existed in no other family. Then Joseph addressed Judah gently, saying:[278] "I should like to know who advised him to steal the cup. Could it have been one of you?" Benjamin replied: "Neither did they counsel theft, nor did I touch the cup." "Take an oath upon it," demanded Joseph, and Benjamin complied with his brother's request: "I swear that I did not touch the cup! As true as my brother Joseph is separated from me; as true as I had nothing to do with the darts that my brethren threw at him; as true as I was not one of those to take off his coat; as true as I had no part in the transaction by which he was given over to the Ishmaelites; as true as I did not help the others dip his coat in blood; so true is my oath, that they did not counsel theft, and that I did not commit theft."

Joseph: "How can I know that this oath of thine taken upon thy brother's fate is true?"

Benjamin: "From the names of my ten sons, which I gave them in memory of my brother's life and trials, thou canst see how dearly I loved him. I pray thee, therefore, do not bring down my father with sorrow to the grave."

Hearing these words of abiding love, Joseph could refrain himself no longer. He could not but make himself known unto his brethren.[279] He spake these words to them: "Ye said the brother of this lad was dead. Did you yourselves see him dead before you?" They answered, "Yes!"

Joseph: "Did you stand beside his grave?"

The brethren: "Yes!"

Joseph: "Did you throw clods of earth upon his corpse?"

The brethren: "No."

Then Joseph reflected, saying to himself: "My brethren are as pious as aforetime, and they speak no lies. They said I was dead, because when they abandoned me, I was poor, and 'a poor man is like unto a dead man;' they stood beside my grave, that is the pit into which they cast me; but they did not say that they had shovelled earth upon me, for that would have been a falsehood."

Turning to his brethren, he said: "Ye lie when ye say that your brother is dead. He is not dead. You sold him,[280] and I did buy him. I shall call him, and set him before your eyes," and he began to call, "Joseph, son of Jacob, come hither! Joseph, son of Jacob, come hither! Speak to thy brethren who did sell thee." The others turned their eyes hither and thither, to the four corners of the house, until Joseph called to them: "Why look ye here and there? Behold, I am Joseph your brother! "Their souls fled away from them, and they could make no answer, but God permitted a miracle to happen, and their souls came back to them.

Joseph continued, "Ye see it with your own eyes, and also my brother Benjamin seeth it with his eyes, that I speak with you in Hebrew, and I am truly your brother." But they would not believe him. Not only had he been transformed from a smooth-faced youth into a bearded man since they had abandoned him, but also the forsaken youth now stood before them the ruler of Egypt. Therefore Joseph bared his body and showed them that he belonged to the descendants of Abraham.

Abashed they stood there, and in their rage they desired to slay Joseph as the author of their shame and their suffering. But an angel appeared and flung them to the four corners of the house. Judah raised so loud an outcry that the walls of the city of Egypt tumbled down, the women brought forth untimely births, Joseph and Pharaoh both rolled down off their thrones, and Joseph's three hundred heroes lost their teeth, and their heads remained forever immobile, facing backward, as they had turned them to discover the cause of the tumult. Yet the brethren did not venture to approach close to Joseph, they were too greatly ashamed of their behavior toward their brother.[281] He sought to calm them, saying, "Now be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that ye sold me hither, for God did send me before you to preserve life."

Even such kind words of exhortation did not banish their fear, and Joseph continued to speak, "As little as I harbor vengeful thoughts in my heart against Benjamin, so little do I harbor them against you."And still his brethren were ill at case, and Joseph went on, "Think you that it is possible for me to inflict harm upon you? If the smoke of ten candles could not extinguish one, how can one extinguish ten?"

At last the brethren were soothed, and they went up to Joseph,[282] who knew each by name, and, weeping, he embraced and kissed them all in turn. The reason why he wept was that his prophetic spirit showed him the descendants of his brethren enslaved by the nations.[283] Especially did he weep upon Benjamin's neck, because he foresaw the destruction decreed for the two Temples to be situated in the allotment of Benjamin. And Benjamin also wept upon Joseph's neck, for the sanctuary at Shiloh, in the territory of Joseph which was likewise doomed to destruction.[284]

Pharaoh was well pleased with the report of the reconciliation between Joseph and the Hebrews, for he had feared that their dissensions might cause the ruin of Egypt, and he sent his servants to Joseph, that they take part in his joy. Also he sent word to Joseph that it would please him well if his brethren took up their abode in Egypt, and he promised to assign the best parts of the land to them for their dwelling-place.[285]

Not all the servants of Pharaoh were in agreement with their master concerning this invitation to the Hebrews. Many among them were disquieted, saying, "If one of the sons of Jacob came hither, and he was advanced to a high position over our heads, what evil will happen to us when ten more come hither?"[286]

Joseph gave all his brethren two changes of raiment, one for use on the ordinary days of the week and one for use on the Sabbath, for, when the cup was found with Benjamin, they had rent their clothes, and Joseph would not have his brethren go about in torn garments.[287] But to Benjamin he gave five changes of raiment, though not in order to distinguish him above his brethren. Joseph remembered only too well what mischief his father had caused by giving him the coat of many colors, thereby arousing the envy of his brethren. He desired only to intimate that Mordecai, a descendant of Benjamin, would once be arrayed in five royal garments.[288]

Joseph presented his brethren, apparelled in their gold and silver embroidered clothes, before Pharaoh, who was well pleased to become acquainted with them when he saw that they were men of heroic stature and handsome appearance.[289] He gave them wagons, to bring their families down into Egypt, but as they were ornamented with images of idols, Judah burnt them,[290] and Joseph replaced them with eleven other wagons, among them the one he had ridden in at his accession to office, to view the land of Egypt. This was to be used by his father on his journey to Egypt. For each of his brothers' children, he sent raiments, and also one hundred pieces of silver for each, but for each of the children of Benjamin he sent ten changes of raiment. And for the wives of his brethren he gave them rich garments of state, such as were worn by the wives of the Pharaohs, and also ointments and aromatic spices. To his sister Dinah he sent silver and gold embroidered clothes, and myrrh, aloes, and other perfumes, and such presents he gave also to the wife and the daughters-in-law of Benjamin. For themselves and for their wives the brethren received all sorts of precious stones and jewelled ornaments, like those that are worn by the Egyptian nobility.

Joseph accompanied his eleven brethren to the frontier, and there he took leave of them with the wish that they and all their families come down to Egypt,[291] and he enjoined upon them, besides, three maxims to be observed by travellers: Do not take too large steps; do not discuss Halakic subjects, that you lose not your way; and enter the city at the latest with the going down of the sun.[292]



In blithe spirits the sons of Jacob journeyed up to the land of Canaan, but when they reached the boundary line, they said to one another, "How shall we do? If we appear before our father and tell him that Joseph is alive, he will be greatly frightened, and he will not be inclined to believe us." Besides, Joseph's last injunction to them had been to take heed and not startle their father with the tidings of joy.

On coming close to their habitation, they caught sight of Serah, the daughter of Asher, a very beautiful maiden, and very wise, who was skilled in playing upon the harp. They summoned her unto them and gave her a harp, and bade her play before Jacob and sing that which they should tell her. She sat down before Jacob, and, with an agreeable melody, she sang the following words, accompanying herself upon the harp: "Joseph, my uncle, liveth, he ruleth over the whole of Egypt, he is not dead!" She repeated these words several times, and Jacob grew more and more pleasurably excited. His joy awakened the holy spirit in him, and he knew that she spoke the truth.[293] The spirit of prophecy never visits a seer when he is in a state of lassitude or in a state of grief; it comes only together with joy. All the years of Joseph's separation from him Jacob had had no prophetic visions, because he was always sad, and only when Serah's words reawakened the feeling of happiness in his heart, the prophetic spirit again took possession of him.[294] Jacob rewarded her therefor with the words, "My daughter, may death never have power over thee, for thou didst revive my spirit." And so it was. Serah did not die, she entered Paradise alive. At his bidding, she repeated the words she had sung again and again, and they gave Jacob great joy and delight, so that the holy spirit waxed stronger and stronger within him.

While he was sitting thus in converse with Serah, his sons appeared arrayed in all their magnificence, and with all the presents that Joseph had given them, and they spake to Jacob, saying: "Glad tidings! Joseph our brother liveth! He is ruler over the whole land of Egypt, and he sends thee a message of joy." At first Jacob would not believe them, but when they opened their packs, and showed him the presents Joseph had sent to all, he could not doubt the truth of their words any longer.[295]

Joseph had had a premonition that his father would refuse to give his brethren credence, because they had tried to deceive him before, and "it is the punishment of the liar that his words are not believed even when he speaks the truth." He had therefore said to them, "If my father will not believe your words, tell him that when I took leave of him, to see whether it was well with you, he had been teaching me the law of the heifer whose neck is broken in the valley." When they repeated this, every last vestige of Jacob's doubt disappeared, and he said: "Great is the steadfastness of my son Joseph. In spite of all his sufferings he has remained constant in his piety.[296] Yea, great are the benefits that the Lord hath conferred upon me. He saved me from the hands of Esau, and from the hands of Laban, and from the Canaanites who pursued after me. I have tasted many joys, and I hope to see more, but never did I hope to set eyes upon Joseph again, and now I shall go down to him and behold him before my death."[297]

Then Jacob and the members of his family put on the clothes Joseph had sent, among them a turban for Jacob, and they made all preparations to journey down into Egypt and dwell there with Joseph and his family. Hearing of his good fortune, the kings and the grandees of Canaan came to wait upon Jacob and express sympathy with him in his joy, and he prepared a three days' banquet for them.[298]

Jacob, however, would not go down into Egypt without first inquiring whether it was the will of God that he should leave the Holy Land.[299] He said, "How can I leave the land of my fathers, the land of my birth, the land in which the Shekinah dwells, and go into an unclean land, inhabited by slaves of the sons of Ham, a land wherein there is no fear of God?"[300] Then he brought sacrifices in honor of God, in the expectation that a Divine vision would descend upon him and instruct him whether to go down into Egypt or have Joseph come up to Canaan. He feared the sojourn in Egypt, for he remembered the vision he had had at Beth-el on leaving his father's house,[301] and he said to God: "I resemble my father. As he was greedy in filling his maw, so am I, and therefore I would go down into Egypt in consequence of the famine. As my father preferred one son to the other, so had I a favorite son, and therefore I would go down into Egypt to see Joseph. But in this I do not resemble my father, he had only himself to provide for, and my house consists of seventy souls, and therefore am I compelled to go down into Egypt. The blessing which my father gave me was not fulfilled in me, but in my son Joseph, whom peoples serve, and before whom nations bow down."[302]

Then the Shekinah addressed Jacob, calling his name twice in token of love,[303] and bidding him not to fear the Egyptian slavery foretold for the descendants of Abraham, for God would have pity upon the suffering of his children and deliver them from bondage.[304] God furthermore said, "I will go down into Egypt with thee," and the Shekinah accompanied Jacob thither, bringing the number of the company with which he entered Egypt up to seventy.[305] But as Jacob entertained fears that his descendants would stay there forever, God gave him the assurance that He would lead him forth together with all the pious that were like unto him.[306] And God also told Jacob that Joseph had remained steadfast in his piety even in Egypt, and he might dismiss all doubts from his mind on this score, for it was his anxiety on this account that had induced Jacob to consider going down into Egypt; he wanted only to make sure of Joseph's faithfulness, and then return home, but God commanded him to go thither and remain there.[307]

Before Jacob left Canaan, he went to Beer-sheba, to hew down the cedars that Abraham had planted there, and take them with him to Egypt. For centuries these cedar trees remained in the possession of his descendants; they carried them with them when they left Egypt, and they used them in building the Tabernacle.[308]

Although Joseph had put wagons at the disposal of his brethren for the removal of his family from Canaan to Egypt, they yet carried Jacob upon their arms, for which purpose they divided themselves into three divisions, one division after the other assuming the burden. As a reward for their filial devotion, God redeemed their descendants from Egypt.[309]

Judah was sent on ahead by his father, to erect a dwelling in Goshen, and also a Bet ha-Midrash, that Jacob might set about instructing his sons at once after his arrival. He charged Judah with this honorable task in order to compensate him for a wrong he had done him. All the years of Joseph's absence he bad suspected Judah of having made away with Rachel's son.[310] How little the suspicion was justified he realized now when Judah in particular had been assiduous in securing the safety of Benjamin, the other son of Rachel. Jacob therefore said to Judah: "Thou hast done a pious, God-bidden deed, and hast shown thyself to be a man capable of carrying on negotiations with Joseph. Complete the work thou hast begun! Go to Goshen, and together with Joseph prepare all things for our coming. Indeed," continued Jacob, "thou wast the cause of our going down into Egypt, for it was at thy suggestion that Joseph was sold as a slave, and, also, through thy descendants Israel will be led forth out of Egypt."[311]

When Joseph was informed of the approach of his father, he rejoiced exceedingly, chiefly because his coming would stop the talk of the Egyptians, who were constantly referring to him as the slave that had dominion over them. "Now," thought Joseph, "they will see my father and my brethren, and they will be convinced that I am a free-born man, of noble stock."

In his joy in anticipation of seeing his father, Joseph made ready his chariot with his own hands, without waiting for his servants to minister to him, and this loving action redounded later to the benefit of the Israelites, for it rendered of none effect Pharaoh's zeal in making ready his chariot himself, with his own hands, to pursue after the Israelites.[312]



When the Egyptian nobles observed their viceroy completing his preparations to meet his father, they did the same.[313] Indeed, Joseph had issued a proclamation throughout the land, threatening with death all that did not go forth to meet Jacob. The procession that accompanied him was composed of countless men, arrayed in byssus and purple, and marching to the sound of all sorts of musical instruments. Even the women of Egypt had a part in the reception ceremonies. They ascended to the roofs of the houses and the walls of the cities, ready to greet Jacob with the music of cymbals and timbrels.

Joseph wore the royal crown upon his head, Pharaoh had yielded it to him for the occasion. He descended from his chariot when he was at a distance of about fifty ells from his father, and walked the rest of the way on foot, and his example was followed by the princes and nobles of Egypt. When Jacob caught sight of the approaching procession, he was rejoiced,[314] and even before he recognized Joseph, he bowed down before him, but for permitting his father to show him this mark of honor, punishment was visited upon Joseph. He died an untimely death, before the years of life assigned to him had elapsed.[315]

That no harm befall Jacob from a too sudden meeting with him, Joseph sent his oldest son ahead with five horses, the second son following close after him in the same way. As each son approached, Jacob thought he beheld Joseph, and so he was prepared gradually to see him face to face.[316]

Meantime Jacob had espied, from where he was seated, a man in royal robes among the Egyptians, a crown upon his head, and a purple mantle over his shoulders, and he asked Judah who it might be. When he was told that it was Joseph, his joy was great over the high dignity attained by his son.

By this time Joseph had come close to his father, and he bowed himself before him down to the earth, and all the people with him likewise prostrated themselves.[317] Then Joseph fell upon his father's neck, and he wept bitterly. He was particularly grieved that he had permitted his father to bow down before him but a little while before without hindering it.[318] At the very moment when Joseph embraced his father, Jacob was reciting the Shema', and he did not allow himself to be interrupted in his prayer,[319] but then he said, "When they brought me the report of the death of Joseph, I thought I was doomed to double death--that I should lose this world and the world to come as well. The Lord had promised to make me the ancestor of twelve tribes, and as the death of my son rendered it impossible that this promise should be realized, I feared I had incurred the doom by my own sins, and as a sinner I could not but expect to forfeit the future world, too. But now that I have beheld thee alive, I know that my death will be only for the world here below."[320]

Such was the manner of Jacob's arrival in Egypt. He came with his whole family, sixty-nine persons they were in all, but the number was raised to seventy by the birth of Jochebed, afterward the mother of Moses, which took place when the cavalcade had advanced to the space between the one and the other city wall.[321] All the males in his family were married men; even Pallu and Hezron, the latter of whom was but one year old at the time of their migration, and the former but two years, had the wives with them that had been chosen for them by their parents.[322] In general, all the sons and grandsons of Jacob had married young, some of them had been fathers at the age of seven.[323]

Joseph took some from among his brethren, and presented them to Pharaoh. He chose the weakest of them, that the king might not be tempted to retain them in his service as warriors.[324] And as he did not desire his family to live at close quarters with the Egyptians and perhaps amalgamate with them, he introduced them as shepherds. The Egyptians worshipped the constellation of the rain, and paid divine honors to animals, and they kept aloof from shepherds. Pharaoh therefore was inclined to grant Joseph's wish, to give them the pasture land of Goshen for their sojourning place, the land that was theirs by right, for the Pharaoh that took Sarah away from Abraham by force had given it to her as her irrevocable possession.[325]

In their conversation with Pharaoh the brethren of Joseph made it plain to the Egyptian king that it was not their intention to remain in Egypt forever, it was to be only a temporary dwelling-place.[326]

Then Joseph set Jacob his father before Pharaoh, and when the king saw him, he said to Og, who happened to be with him at that moment, "Seest thou! Thou wast wont to call Abraham a sterile mule, and here is his grandson with a family of seventy persons!" Og would not believe his own eyes, he thought Abraham was standing before him, so close was the resemblance between Jacob and his progenitor. Then Pharaoh asked about Jacob's age, to find out whether he actually was Jacob, and not Abraham. And Jacob said unto Pharaoh, "The days of the years of my pilgrimage are an hundred and thirty years," using the word pilgrimage in reference to life on earth, which the pious regard as a temporary sojourn in alien lands. "Few and evil," he continued, "have been the days of the years of my life. In my youth I had to flee to a strange land on account of my brother Esau, and now, in my old age, I must again go to a strange land, and my days have not attained unto the days of the years of the life of my fathers in the days of their pilgrimage." These words sufficed to convince Pharaoh and Og that the man standing before them was not Abraham, but his grandson.[327]

When Jacob uttered the words, "The days of the years of my pilgrimage have been few and evil," God said to him: "Jacob, I saved thee out of the hands of Esau and Laban, I restored Joseph unto thee, and made him to be a king and a ruler, and yet thou speakest of few and evil days. Because of thy ingratitude, thou wilt not attain unto the days of the years of the life of thy fathers," and Jacob died at an age thirty-three years less than his father Isaac's.[328]

On going out from the presence of Pharaoh, Jacob blessed the king with the words, "May the years still in store for me be given unto thee, and may the Nile overflow its banks henceforth again and water the land." His words were fulfilled. In order to show that the pious are a blessing for the world, God caused the Nile to rise above its bed and fructify the land of Egypt.[329]



Jacob and his family now settled in the land of Goshen, and Joseph provided them with all things needful, not only with food and drink, but also with clothing, and in his love and kindness he entertained his father and his brethren daily at his own table.[330] He banished the wrong done to him by his brethren from his mind, and he besought his father to pray to God for them, that He should forgive their great transgression. Touched by this noble sign of love, Jacob cried out, "O Joseph, my child, thou hast conquered the heart of thy father Jacob."[331]

Joseph had other virtues, besides. The title "the God- fearing one," borne only by him, Abraham, Job, and Obadiah, he gained by reason of his kindness of heart and his generosity. Whatever he gave his brethren, he gave with a "good eye," a liberal spirit. If it was bread for food, it was sure to be abundant enough, not only to satisfy the hunger of all, but also for the children to crumble, as is their habit.[332]

But Joseph was more than a helper to his family. As a shepherd pastures his flock, so he provided for the whole world during the years of famine. The people cursed Pharaoh, who kept the stores of corn in his treasure chambers for his own use, and they blessed Joseph, who took thought for the famishing, and sold grain to all that came.[333] The wealth which he acquired by these sales was lawful gain, for the prices were raised, not by him, but by the Egyptians themselves.[334] One part of his possessions, consisting of gold and silver and precious stones, Joseph buried in four different places, in the desert near the Red Sea, on the banks of the Euphrates, and in two spots in the desert in the vicinity of Persia and Media.[335] Korah discovered one of the hiding- places, and the Roman emperor Antoninus, the son of Severus, another. The other two will never be found, because God has reserved the riches they hold for the pious, to be enjoyed by them in the latter days, the days of the Messiah.[336] The remainder of Joseph's possessions he gave away, partly to his brethren and their families, and partly to Pharaoh, who put them into his treasury.[337]

The wealth of the whole world flowed into Egypt at that time, and it remained there until the exodus of the Israelites. They took it along, leaving Egypt like a net without fish. The Israelites kept the treasure until the time of Rehoboam, who was deprived of it by the Egyptian king Shishak, and he in turn had to yield it to Zerah, the king of Ethiopia. Once more it came into possession of the Jews when King Asa conquered Zerah, but this time they held it for only a short while, for Asa surrendered it to the Aramean king Ben-hadad, to induce him to break his league with Baasha, the king of the Ten Tribes. The Ammonites, in turn, captured it from Ben-hadad, only to lose it in their war with the Jews under Jehoshaphat. Again it remained with the Jews, until the time of King Ahaz, who sent it to Sennacherib as tribute money. Hezekiah won it back, but Zedekiah, the last king of the Jews, lost it to the Chaldeans, from whom it came to Persia, thence to the Greeks, and finally to the Romans, and with the last it remained for all time.[338]

The people were soon left without means to purchase the corn they needed. In a short time they had to part with their cattle, and when the money thus secured was spent, they sold their land to Joseph, and even their persons. Many of them would cover themselves with clay and appear before Joseph, and say to him, "O lord king, see me and see my possessions!" And so Joseph bought all the land of Egypt, and the inhabitants became his tenants, and they gave a fifth of their ingatherings unto joseph.[339]

The only class of the people permitted to remain in possession of their land were the priests. Joseph owed them gratitude, for they had made it possible for him to become the ruler over Egypt. The Egyptians had hesitated to make him their viceroy, because they shrank from choosing a man accused of adultery for so high an office. It was the priests that made the suggestion to examine Joseph's torn garment, which his mistress had submitted as evidence of his guilt, and see whether the rent was in front or in back. If it was in back, it would show his innocence--he had turned to flee, and his temptress had clutched him so that the garment tore. But if the tear was in front, then it would be a proof of his guilt--he had used violence with the woman, and she had torn the mantle in her efforts to defend her honor. The angel Gabriel came and transferred the rent from the fore part to the back, and the Egyptians were convinced of Joseph's innocence, and their scruples about raising him to the kingship were removed.[340]

As soon as the Egyptians learnt of the advantageous position of the priests, they all tried to prove themselves members of the caste. But Joseph investigated the lists in the archives, and determined the estate of every citizen.

The priests were favored in another way. Beside remaining in possession of their land, they received daily portions from Pharaoh, wherefore God said, "The priests that serve idols receive all they need every day, how much more do the sons of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who are My priests, deserve that I should give them what they need every day."[341]

The rest of the inhabitants of Egypt, who had to part with their land, were not permitted to remain in their native provinces. Joseph removed them from their own cities, and settled them in others. His purpose herein was to prevent the Egyptians from speaking of his brethren derogatorily as "exiles the sons of exiles"; he made them all equally aliens.[342] For the same reason, God later, at the time of the going forth of the Israelites from Egypt, caused all nations to change their dwelling-places about, so that the Israelites could not be reproached with having had to leave their home. And, finally, when Sermacherib carried the Jews away from their land into exile, it also happened that this king first mixed up the inhabitants of all the countries of the world.[343]

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