07. Joseph in Egypt; his imprisonment

Jacob returned to Canaan after spending many years in the slavery of his uncle, Laban. He bought considerable land in the city of Shechem to graze his sheep flocks. His children looked after his land and flocks in Shechem while Jacob himself stayed at his father’s place in Hebron.

Here in Shechem, the son of the local ruler – ‘Shechem’, saw Dinah, Jacob’s daughter. He felt attracted to her and so he kidnapped and raped her. This enraged Dinah’s brothers. Among them, Shimon and Levi, in a fit of extreme rage not only killed the ruler and his son but also massacred all the males in the city and freed their sister.

On learning about the heinous act, Jacob rebuked Shimon and Levi for punishing the whole of the city for one man’s crime.

But by then, other Canaanite rulers had ganged up against him and were about to attack Jacob. Jacob prayed to God to help him out of the precarious situation. It was after this and before the war actually began, that all the invading rulers developed cold feet and backed out from the battleground, so says the story.

Some years later, rallying afresh and in fact with a greater number of troops, these rulers attacked Jacob’s sons all over again. Their number of troops, though meagre, did not deter them at all and putting up a tough fight under the leadership of Jacob’s fourth son, Judah they in fact won the battle. All the invading rulers were forced to surrender to Jacob and they entered into a peace treaty with his sons. As a result, some more of the Canaanite land, the one that God had promised Abraham, was now under their rule.

Later, Jacob returned to Hebron and his children stayed back in Shechem to look after his flocks. On Jacob’s return, his father passed away. With heavy hearts, Jacob and Esau performed Isaac’s last rites. He too was buried at the Cave of Machpelah.

Jacob, who had settled with this family in Canaan, was now the successor to the responsibilities and rewards of the ‘Abraham-Isaac’ tradition.

Although, Jacob loved all his children equally, Joseph, his son from Rachel, was his favourite and there was a reason for this: he found Joseph to be calm, prudent, stable and righteous. Moreover, he became certain that it was Joseph, who would prove the able successor to the responsibilities and rewards of the ‘Abraham-Isaac’ legacy which he had inherited. When Joseph turned 17, Jacob got a ‘long multi-coloured coat’ stitched for him, a coat considered very special in those times. This fuelled futher, the jealously that Joseph’s brothers already had for him.

Jacob slowly started imparting to Joseph, all the knowledge that he had gained from his father, Isaac and his grandfather, Abraham. Joseph too, on his part, imbibed it very sincerely and quickly. Jacob’s soft spot for Joseph was now apparent to his other sons and their disdain for Joseph grew.

In the meantime, Joseph had a few very suggestive, in fact pointed dreams. Among other characteristics and traits, Joseph had the ability to interpret the meaning of dreams. Joseph’s dreams implied that his brothers had accepted his supremacy. Joseph casually happened to mention them to his father and brothers. Though Jacob knew that these dreams were true, Joseph’s words further fuelled the jealously of his brothers and they plotted to kill him. And the opportunity soon knocked on their door….

This was how it came about: Jacob was tutoring Joseph which often required him to stay in Hebron with him. Once, worried that he had not heard from his children in Shechem for quite some time, Jacob asked Joseph to visit Shechem and check on them.

By then, the jealously of Joseph’s brothers had peaked and on seeing that Joseph was alone they attacked him. This, they thought, was an opportune moment to kill him. But Reuben, who was the eldest of the brothers, mercifully stopped them from killing Joseph.

Joseph sold by his brothers to Ishameli merchants
Joseph sold by his brothers to Ishameli merchants

Exactly then, the brothers saw a caravan of Ishmaeli merchants headed for Egypt. Joseph’s brothers sold him as a slave, to these merchants in return for 20 silver coins. They did not, of course, forget to take away his ‘long coat of many colours’ before selling him.

Their anger once subsided; they began to wonder about the explanation they were going to have to give Jacob. So then they killed an animal and soaked Joseph’s coat in its blood. They showed the blood-stained coat to their father and told him that that was how they had found it in the woods.

Joseph's Coat Brought to Jacob
Joseph’s Coat brought to Jacob

On seeing the blood-stained coat, Jacob thought Joseph was killed by some wild animal. He was heartbroken. Joseph’s death had destroyed his world. Jews believe this incident to have happened around 1544 BC.

Joseph, sold as a slave to the Ishmaeli merchants, reached Egypt with their caravan. These merchants then sold him as a slave to Potiphar, a security officer at the palace of the Pharoah, who ruled Egypt at the time.

Potiphar brought Joseph home and appointed him servant. But impressed with his politeness, his prudence and intelligence, Potiphar soon appointed him superintendent of the household. A few years passed by.

Potiphar’s wife seducing Joseph
Potiphar’s wife seducing Joseph

By now, Potiphar’s wife developed a liking for Joseph and kept trying to attract and lure him. But Joseph simply ignored her. One day, while he happened to be alone at home with her, she tried to seduce him. Impossible for Joseph to accept it, he rejected her advances and left.

Angered by this insult and frightened that he might disclose the incident to someone, she made a false accusation of rape against him. But Potiphar, who knew Joseph well, did not believe that Joseph could have committed this crime. He had a strong suspicion that his wife was lying but then he had to protect her honour in public, she, being his wife. Potiphar was left with no option but to imprison Joseph. (To be continued…)

– Shulamith Penkar-Nigrekar

One Response to "07. Joseph in Egypt; his imprisonment"

  1. Pooja Pai   November 24, 2017 at 4:35 pm

    Very interesting article and arouses curiosity to read the next one


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