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Holman Bible Dictionary
1. Joseph in the Old Testament primarily refers to the patriarch, one of the sons of Israel. Joseph was the eleventh of twelve sons, the first by Jacob's favorite wife, Rachel. His name, “may he [the Lord] add,” was a part of Rachel's prayer at his birth (Genesis 30:24 ).
As the child of Jacob's old age and Rachel's son, Joseph became the favorite and was given the famous “coat of many colors” (Genesis 37:3; “long robe with sleeves,” NRSV, NEB; “richly ornamented robe” NIV) by his father. This and dreams which showed his rule over his family inspired the envy of his brothers, who sold Joseph to a caravan of Ishmaelites (Genesis 37:1 ).
Joseph was taken to Egypt where he became a trusted slave in the house of Potiphar, an official of the pharaoh. On false accusations of Potiphar's wife, Joseph was thrown in the royal prison, where he interpreted the dreams of two officials who had offended the pharaoh (Genesis 39-40 ). Eventually Joseph was brought to interpret some worrisome dreams for the pharaoh. Joseph predicted seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine and recommended a program of preparation by storing grain. Pharaoh responded by making Joseph his second in command (Genesis 41:39-45 ).
With the famine, persons from other countries came to Egypt to buy food, including Joseph's brothers. They did not recognize him, but Joseph saw the fulfillment of his earlier dreams in which his brothers bowed down to him. After testing their character in various ways, Joseph revealed himself to them on their second visit (Genesis 42-45 ). Under Joseph's patronage, Jacob moved into Egypt (Genesis 46:1-47:12 ). Joseph died in Egypt but was embalmed and later buried in Shechem (Genesis 50:26; Exodus 13:19; Joshua 24:32 ).
That the influential Joseph (Genesis 47:13-26 ) is not known from Egyptian records would be expected if he served under a Hyksos pharaoh, as seems likely. See Exodus 1:8 , NRSV) did not “know” of him in a political or historical sense.
While in Egypt, Joseph became the father of two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim (Genesis 41:50-52 ), who were counted as sons of Jacob (Genesis 48:5-6 ) and whose tribes dominated the northern nation of Israel. The name Joseph is used later in the Old Testament as a reference to the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh (Numbers 1:32; Numbers 36:1 ,Numbers 36:1,36:5; 1 Kings 11:28 ) or as a designation for the whole Northern Kingdom (Psalm 78:67; Ezekiel 37:16 ,Ezekiel 37:16,37:19; Amos 5:6 ,Amos 5:6,5:15; Amos 6:6; Obadiah 1:18; Zechariah 10:6 ).
Four other men named Joseph are mentioned in the Old Testament: 2. the spy of the tribe of Issachar (Numbers 13:7 ); 3 . a Levite of the sons of Asaph (1 Chronicles 25:2 ); 4 . a contemporary of Ezra with a foreign wife (Ezra 10:42 ); and Ezra 10:5 . a priest in the days of high priest Joiakim (Nehemiah 12:14 ).
New Testament 6. Several Josephs are mentioned in the New Testament, the most important being the husband of Mary, mother of Jesus. He was a descendant of David, a carpenter by trade (Matthew 13:55 ), and regarded as the legal or foster father of Jesus (Matthew 1:16 ,Matthew 1:16,1:20; Luke 2:4; Luke 3:23; Luke 4:22; John 1:45; John 6:42 ). Upon learning of Mary's pregnancy, Joseph, being a righteous man, sought to put her away without public disgrace. His response to God's assurances in a dream further demonstrated his piety and character (Matthew 1:18-25 ). Joseph took Mary to his ancestral home, Bethlehem, was with her at Jesus' birth, and shared in the naming, circumcision, and dedication of the child (Luke 2:8-33 ). Directed through dreams, Joseph took his family to Egypt until it was safe to return to Nazareth (Matthew 2:13-23 ). As dedicated father, he was anxious with Mary at the disappearance of Jesus (Luke 2:41-48 ). Joseph does not appear later in the Gospels, and it is likely that he died prior to Jesus' public ministry.
7. Also important in the New Testament is Joseph of Arimathea, a rich member of the Sanhedrin and a righteous man who sought the kingdom of God (Matthew 27:57; Mark 15:43; Luke 23:50 ). After the crucifixion, Joseph, a secret disciple of Jesus, requested the body from Pilate and laid it in his own unused tomb (Matthew 27:57-60; Mark 15:43-46; Luke 23:50-53; John 19:38-42 ). Arimathea is probably the same as Ramathaim-zophim (1 Samuel 1:1 ) northwest of Jerusalem.
Two Josephs are mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus (Luke 3:24 ,Luke 3:24,3:30 ). Another was a brother of Jesus, apparently named after His father (Matthew 13:55; KJV “Joses” as in Mark 6:3 ). It likely but uncertain that the brother of James (Matthew 27:56; Joses in Mark 15:40 ,Mark 15:40,15:47 ) is a different person. Joseph was also another name of both Barsabbas (Acts 1:23 ) and Barnabas (Acts 4:36 ).
Daniel C. Browning Jr.
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Joseph'. Holman Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hbd/j/joseph.html. 1991.