The Story of Joseph

The famous biblical dreamer.

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The story of Joseph is found in the Book of Genesis, from chapters 37 though 50. Joseph’s saga is both expansive and integral to the overall narrative of the Israelites’ descent into Egypt. His progression from dream-interpreting shepherd to minister of Egypt is one of the more layered and elaborate stories in the Torah.

Family Life

Joseph’s life is a series of highs and lows–literally and figuratively. In his father’s house, Joseph is the favored son: “Israel (another name for Jacob) loved Joseph more than all his sons since he was a child of his old age” (Genesis 37:3). Joseph likely also has this status because he is the eldest child of Jacob’s favorite (deceased) wife, Rachel. To demonstrate this preference, Jacob gifts Joseph with the famous kitonet passim, translated as both a garment with long sleeves, or a fine woolen tunic. (Commentators extrapolate that it had stripes of different colors.) This preferential treatment from their father elicits much jealousy from Joseph’s 10 older brothers.

the biblical story of joseph

Tissot’s “Joseph Reveals
His Dream to His Brethren”

As a teenager, Joseph does little to ingratiate himself to his brothers. To find more favor with his father, he would report back unkindly about his older brothers’ activities while tending to the flocks (37:2). Joseph also tells his family about two dreams he had, the first in which 11 sheaves of wheat bow down to his, and a second where the sun, moon, and 11 stars all bow to him as well. In each case, Joseph interprets the dream as meaning that one day he will rule over his family (37:5-11).

Eventually the brothers act on their emotions. Seeing the “dreamer” approach on a shepherding trip, they ambush Joseph and throw him into a pit–the first of the great depths to which Joseph will sink. The brothers soon sell him to Midianites who in turn sell him to an Ishmaelite caravan headed down to Egypt, continuing Joseph’s descent. The brothers then tear up Joseph’s special coat, dip it in goat’s blood, and present it to Jacob as proof of his son’s death.

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Elana Roth is a graduate of Barnard College and the Jewish Theological Seminary, where she earned degrees in English Literature and Bible. She currently works as a literary agent in New York City.

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