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p. 97


   JOSEPH, the son of Jacob, the son of Isaac, the son of Abraham, was from his childhood the darling of his father; and as he lived with an aunt at a distance from his home, Jacob's constant longing for him added much to the fervor of his parental love. When he was only six years of age, his aunt became so much attached to him, that, in order to prevent her ever being obliged to part with him, she invented the following expedient. She took the family girdle which she, being the first-born, had inherited from Abraham through Isaac (it was the same which Abraham wore on his loins when thrown into the pile), girded Joseph with it, and accused him of theft, so that, according to the laws of those days, he became her slave for life. It was not until after her death that he returned again to the house of his father, and was naturally treated by him with greater care and tenderness than his elder brothers. Moreover, he was his eldest son by Rachael, the only one of his wives whom he had truly loved.

   One morning Joseph told his father that he had seen in a dream how he and his brothers had each set a twig in the earth, and how those p. 98 of his brothers withered, while his began to bloom, and shaded theirs with its foliage and blossoms. Jacob was so absorbed with the meaning of this dream, that he left a poor man who stood before him holding out his hand for alms unobserved, and allowed him to depart, without a gift. It was this transgression that brought on him all those sufferings by which he was soon to be visited. On the following morning Joseph again related to his father: "I have dreamed that the sun, moon, and the eleven stars bowed down to me." Jacob could now no longer remain in doubt as to the meaning of these dreams; he perceived in them Joseph's future greatness, but recommended him not to speak of them to his brothers, who had long since envied him for the greater tenderness of his father. But, although Jacob knew the sentiments of his sons toward Joseph, yet was he one day persuaded by them to send him with them to the pasture. Scarcely were they alone in the open field, when they began to beat and to mock him. He would have sunk under their ill treatment if Allah had not filled the heart of his brother Judah with compassion toward him. Judah said, "Do not kill your brother; if we but regain the undivided love of our father, we have attained our object. Let us therefore cast him into a pit till a caravan passes, and then sell him as a p. 99 slave." Judah's advice was taken, and Joseph, stripped of his garments, was cast into a pit, where he must have been drowned had not Allah caused the angel Gabriel to place a large stone under his feet. Gabriel at the same time was instructed to illumine the pit by a jewel, and to cry, "Joseph, the time will come when thou shalt call thy brothers to account, without their suspecting it." The brothers then left the pit, but before returning home they slaughtered a lamb, and besmeared Joseph's upper garment with its blood, which can not be distinguished from that of man. They then said to their father, "While we were engaged in our occupations, there came a wolf and tore Joseph, who had remained with the stores; and, on seeking him afterward, we found this upper garment, which we recognized as his."

   "How," said Jacob, "shall I believe that a wolf has devoured my son, while there is not a single rent in this garment?" (for the brothers had forgotten likewise to damage the garment). "Besides," he added, "there has no wolf been seen in these regions for many years."

   "We imagined, indeed, that thou wouldst not give credence to our words," said one of his sons; "but let us search for the wolf," he continued, turning to his brothers, "in order to convince our father of the truth of our statement."

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   They then provided themselves with all kinds of implements of the chase, and scoured the whole region round about, until they at last found a large wolf, which they caught alive, and accused it before Jacob as Joseph's murderer; but Allah opened the mouth of the wolf, and he said,

   "Believe not, O son of Isaac! the accusation of thy envious sons. I am a wolf from a foreign country, and have long been wandering about to seek my young one, which one morning I missed on waking. How should I, who am mourning the loss of a wild beast, bereave the prophet of Allah of his son?"

   Jacob then delivered the wolf from the hands of his sons, and sent them away again, so as not to have their faces before his eyes; only Benjamin, his youngest son, he kept with him. The ten brothers thereupon returned to the pit in which they had left Joseph, and arrived at the very moment when he was freed by some Bedouins, who, on their march from Madjan to Egypt, had sought to draw water from this pit but had brought up Joseph instead, who clung to their bucket. "This youth," said Judah to the leader of the caravan, ere Joseph could utter a word, "is our slave, whom we have confined in this pit on account of his disobedience. If you will take him with you to Egypt, and sell him p. 101 there, you may buy him from us at a moderate rate." The leader of the caravan was greatly rejoiced at this offer, for he knew well that so beautiful a youth would bring him much gain. He bought him, therefore, for a few drachms; and Joseph did not break silence, for he feared that his brothers might put him to death if he contradicted them. Trusting in Allah, he journeyed quietly with the Bedouins until he was passing the grave of his mother. There, his grief overpowered him, and, casting himself on the ground, he wept and prayed. The leader of the caravan struck him, and would have dragged him away by force, when suddenly a black cloud overspread the sky, so that he started back affrighted, and prayed Joseph so long to forgive him, till the darkness again disappeared.

   The sun was declining when the caravan entered the capital of Egypt, which was then governed by Rajjan, a descendant of the Amalekites. But Joseph's face shone brighter than the noon-day sun, and the singular light which it diffused attracted all the maidens and matrons to their windows and terraces. On the following day he was exposed for sale before the royal palace. The richest women of the city sent their husbands and guardians to buy him; but they were outbidden by Potiphar, the treasurer of the king, who was childless, and designed to adopt Joseph p. 102 as his son. Zuleicha, the wife of Potiphar, received Joseph kindly, and gave him new robes; she likewise appointed him a separate summer-house for his abode, because he refused to eat with the Egyptians, preferring to live on herbs and fruits. Joseph lived six years as Potiphar's gardener, and, although Zuleicha loved him passionately since his first entrance into her house, she conquered her feelings, and was satisfied to regard him from her kiosk as he performed his labors in the garden. But in the seventh year Zuleicha became lovesick: her cheeks grew pale, her gaze was lifeless, her form was bent, and her whole body consumed away. When no physician was able to heal her, her nurse said one day, "Zuleicha, confess that it is not thy body, but thy soul, which suffers in secret; sorrow is preying on thy health. Confide in thy nurse, who has fed thee with her own substance, and fostered thee since thy infancy like a mother. My advice may, perhaps, be useful."

   Zuleicha then threw herself into the arms of her aged friend, and avowed her love to Joseph, and her fruitless endeavors during six years to conquer it.

   "Be of good cheer," said the matron to Zuleicha; "thou hast done more than others of thy sex, and art therefore excusable. Be thyself again; eat, drink, dress to advantage, take thy p. 103 bath, that thy former beauty return; then shall Joseph's love surely exceed thy own. Besides, is he not thy slave? and from mere habit of obedience he will gratify all thy wishes."

   Zuleicha followed her advice. In a short time she was as blooming and healthful as before; for she thought that only a favorable opportunity was needed to crown her wishes with success.

   But Joseph resisted all her allurements; and when she at length found that all her efforts to lead him astray were in vain, she accused him before her husband Potiphar, who threw him into prison; but Allah, who knew his innocence, changed the dark cell in which he was confined to a bright and cheerful abode. He also commanded a fountain to spring up in the midst thereof, and a tree rose at his door, which gave him shade and pleasant fruit.

   Joseph, who was soon universally known and feared for his wisdom and the skill which he possessed to interpret dreams, had not been long in prison when the following circumstance occurred: The King of the Greeks, who was then at war with Egypt, sent an ambassador to Rajjan, ostensibly with the design of negotiating for peace, but in reality only to seek the means of slaying this heroic king. The ambassador addressed himself to a Grecian matron who had for many years lived in Egypt, and asked her p. 104 advice. "I know of no better means," said the Grecian to her countryman, "than to bribe either the king's chief cook or his butler to poison him." The ambassador made the acquaintance of them both, but, finding the chief cook the most tractable, he cultivated a closer intimacy with him, until he succeeded at last, by means of a few talents of gold, in determining him to poison the king.

   As soon as he supposed that he had secured the object of his mission, he prepared for his departure, but previously visited his countrywoman, with the intention of communicating to her the chief cook's promise; but, as she was not alone, he could merely say that he had every reason to be gratified with his success. These words of the ambassador soon reached the king's ears; and as they could not be referred to his ostensible mission, since the negotiations for peace, on account of which he alleged that he had come, were entirely broken off, and the war had already recommenced, some secret or other was suspected. The Grecian was led before the king, and tortured, until she confessed all that she knew; and as Rajjan did not know which of them was guilty, he commanded that both the chief cook and butler should mean while be put into the same prison where Joseph was languishing. One morning they came to him, and said, p. 105 "We have heard of thy skill in the interpretation of dreams; tell us, we pray thee, what we may expect from our dreams of last night." The butler then related that he had pressed out grapes, and presented the wine to the king. But the chief cook said that he had carried meats in a basket in his hand, when the birds came and devoured the best of them. Joseph exhorted them first of all to faith in one God, and then foretold the butler's restoration to his former office, but to the chief cook he predicted the gallows. As soon as he finished his speech, both of them burst out in laughter, and derided him, for they had not dreamed at all, and merely meant to put his skill to the test. But Joseph said to them, "Whether your dreams have been real or invented, I can not say; but what I have prophesied is the judgment of Allah, which can not be turned aside." He was not mistaken. The spies of the king soon found out that the Greek ambassador had had frequent interviews with the chief cook, while he had seen the butler but once; the former was therefore condemned to death, but the latter reinstated in his office.

   On leaving the prison, Joseph entreated the butler to remember him, and to obtain his freedom from the king. The butler did not remember him; but the tree before his door withered, and his fountain was dried up, because, instead p. 106 of trusting in Allah, he had relied upon the help of a feeble man.* He was seven years in prison when one morning he saw the butler again. He came to lead him before the king, who had had a dream which no one was able to interpret. But Joseph refused to appear unless he had first convinced the king of his innocence. He then related the cause of his imprisonment to the butler, who brought his answer to the king, and the latter immediately summoned Zuleicha and her friends. They confessed that they had falsely accused Joseph. Rajjan then sent a writing, which not only restored him to liberty, but even declared the imprisonment which he had endured to have been unjust, and the result of a calumnious charge.

   Joseph then put on the robes which Rajjan had sent him, and was conducted to the royal palace, where the king had assembled about him all the nobles, the priests, the astrologers, and soothsayers of Egypt.

   "I saw in my dream," said the king, as soon p. 107 as Joseph was near him, "seven lean kine, which devoured seven fat ones; and seven blasted ears, which consumed seven rank and full ones. Canst thou tell me what this dream signifies?"

   Joseph replied, "Allah will grant to thy kingdom seven plentiful years, which shall be succeeded by seven years of famine. Be therefore provident, and during the first seven years let as much grain be collected and stored up as shall be required for the maintenance of thy subjects during the seven years that shall follow."

   This interpretation pleased the king so well, that he made Joseph the high steward of his dominions in Potiphar's stead.

   He now traveled through the country buying the grain, which, on account of the great abundance, was sold on most moderate terms, and built store-houses every where, but especially in the capital. One day, while riding out to inspect a granary beyond the city, he observed a beggar in the street, whose whole appearance, though most distressing, bore the distinct traces of former greatness. Joseph approached her compassionately, and held out to her a handful of gold. But she refused, and said, sobbing aloud, "Great prophet of Allah, I am unworthy of thy gift, although my transgression has been the stepping-stone to thy present fortune."

   At these words, Joseph regarded her more p. 108 closely, and behold, it was Zuleicha, the wife of his lord. He inquired after her husband, and was told that he had died of sorrow and poverty soon after his deposition.

   On hearing this, Joseph led Zuleicha to a relative of the king, where she was treated like a sister, and she soon appeared to him as blooming and youthful as at the time of his entrance into her house. He asked her hand from the king, and married her with his permission, and she bore him two sons before the frightful years of famine, during which the Egyptians were obliged to sell to Rajjan, first their gold, their jewelry, and other costly things, for corn; then their estates and slaves, and at last their own persons, their wives and children.

   Yet not only in Egypt, but even in the adjacent countries, a great famine prevailed. In the land of Canaan, too, there was no more corn to be found, and Jacob was forced to send all his sons save Benjamin to buy provisions in Egypt. He recommended them to enter the capital by the ten different gates, so as not to attract the evil eye by the beauty of their appearance, and to avoid public attention.*

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   Joseph recognized his brothers, and called them spies, because they had come to him separately, though, according to their own confession, they were brothers. But when, to exculpate themselves, they explained to him the peculiar circumstances of their family, and, to justify their father's carefulness, they spoke of a lost brother, Joseph grew so angry, that he refused them the desired provisions, and demanded of them to bring down their brother Benjamin with them; and, to be certain of their return, he detained one of them as a hostage.

   A few weeks after they returned again with Benjamin.

   Jacob was indeed unwilling to let his youngest son depart, for he feared lest a misfortune similar to that of Joseph's would befall him: yet, to escape from famine, he was obliged to yield at last.

   Joseph now directed that the corn which they had desired should be measured to them, but gave orders to his steward to conceal a silver cup in Benjamin's sack, to seize them as thieves p. 110 at the gate of the city, and to lead them back to his palace.

   "What punishment," demanded Joseph of the brethren, "is due to him that has stolen my cup?"

   "Let him be thy slave," replied the sons of Jacob, certain that none of them was capable of committing so disgraceful an act. But when their sacks were opened, and the cup was found in Benjamin's, they cried to him, "Woe to thee! what hast thou done? Why hast thou followed the example of thy lost brother, who stole the idol of Laban his grand-father, and the girdle of his aunt?"

   Still, as they had sworn to their father not to step before his face without Benjamin, they prayed Joseph to keep one of their number as his slave in Benjamin's stead. But Joseph insisted on retaining Benjamin, and Reuben said therefore to his brothers, "Journey to our father, and tell him all that has befallen us; but I, who am the eldest of you, and have vowed unto him to sacrifice my life rather than to return without Benjamin, will remain here until he himself shall recall me. He will probably acknowledge that such an accident could not have been foreseen, and that, if our brother had been known to us as a thief, we should not have pledged ourselves for him."

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   But Jacob would not credit the story of his returning sons, and feared that they had now acted toward Benjamin as they had formerly done toward Joseph. He burst into tears, and wept till the light of his eyes was extinguished: his grief for Joseph also revived afresh, though he had never ceased to trust to the fulfillment of his dream.

   But now the brothers returned the third time into Egypt, determined to free Benjamin by force, for they were so powerful that they could engage single-handed with whole hosts of warriors. Judah especially, when excited to wrath would roar like a lion, and kill the strongest men with his voice;* nor could he be pacified until one of his kinsmen touched the prickly bunch of p. 112 hair which, on such occasions, protruded from his neck.

   However, they once more endeavored by entreaty to move Joseph to set Benjamin free; but when they spoke of their father's love for him, he inquired, "What, then, has become of Joseph?"

   They said, "A wolf has devoured him."

   But Joseph took his cup into his hand, and feigning to prophesy out of it, cried, "It is false; you have sold him."

   When they denied this charge, Joseph told Zuleicha to give him the parchment which Judah had with his own hand given to the Bedouin when they sold him; and he showed it to them.

   "We had a slave whose name was Joseph," said Judah; and he grew so enraged that he was on the point of roaring aloud; but his voice failed him, for Joseph had beckoned to his son Ephraim to touch his bunch of hair, which was so long that it nearly trailed on the ground. When his brothers saw this, there remained no doubt to them of their standing before Joseph, for they could have no other kinsman in Egypt. They therefore fell down before him and cried, "Thou art our brother Joseph; forgive us!"

   "You have nothing to fear from me," replied Joseph, "and Allah, the merciful, will also be gracious and pardon you. But rise, and go up p. 113 quickly to our father, and bring him hither. Take my garment with you; cast it over his face, and his blindness will pass away."

   Scarcely had they left the capital of Egypt when the wind carried the fragrance of Joseph's garment to their father, and when Judah, who was hastening in advance of his brothers, gave it to him, his eyes were opened again.* They now departed together for Egypt. Joseph came out to meet them, and, having embraced his father, exclaimed, "Lord, thou hast now fulfilled my dreams, and given me great power! Creator of heaven and earth, be thou my support in this world and the future! Let me die the death of a Moslem, and be gathered to the rest of the pious!"

   Neither Jacob nor Joseph left Egypt any more; and both ordained in their testaments that they should be buried in Canaan by the side of Abraham, which was also done. May the peace of Allah be with them!



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   * The Midrash says, "Joseph remained yet two years in prison, because he had asked the chief butler to remember him."

    "Potiphar's wife looked so ill, that her friends inquired what she complained of. She related her adventure with Joseph, and they said, 'Accuse him before thy husband, that he may be put in prison.' She entreated her friends to accuse him likewise to their husbands. They did so; and their husbands came to Potiphar complaining of Joseph's audacious demeanor toward their wives," &c.—Midrash, p. 45.

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   * Jacob said to his sons, "Do not enter by one gate, because of the evil eye." Joseph expected his brothers, and therefore commanded the keepers of the gates to report every day the names of arriving strangers. One day the first keeper brough thim the name of Reuben; the second the name of Simeon; and so on, until he p. 109 had received the name of Asher, Jacob's tenth son. He then commanded all the store-houses but one to be closed, and said to the keeper of that, "If such and such men come, let them be taken and brought before me."

   "You are spies," said he to his brothers when they stood before him, "otherwise you would have entered the city by the same gate."—Midrash, p. 46, 47.

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   * "When Joseph would have shut up Simeon, his brothers offered him their assistance, but he declined it. Joseph commanded seventy valiant men to put him in chains; but when they approached him, Simeon roared so loud that the seventy fell down at his feet and broke their teeth. Joseph said to his son Manasseh, who was standing at his side, 'Chain thou him.' Manasseh struck him a single blow, and bound him instantly; so that Simeon exclaimed, 'Certainly this was the blow of a kinsman!' Again, when Joseph sent Benjamin to prison, Judah cried so loud, that Chushim, the son of Dan, heard him in Canaan, and responded. Joseph feared for his life, for Judah was so enraged that he wept blood. Some say Judah wore five garments, one over the other; but when he was angry his heart swelled so much that his five garments burst open. Joseph also cried so terribly, that one of the pillars of his house fell in, and was changed into sand. Then Judah said, 'He is valiant, like one of us.'"—Midrash, p. 46, 47.

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   * The Jewish legend relates, that when the brothers learned Joseph's safety, they were unwilling to communicate it to their father, fearing the violent effects of sudden joy.

   But the daughter of Asher, Jacob's grand-child, took her harp and sung to him the story of Joseph's life and greatness; and her beautiful music calmed his spirit. Jacob blessed her, and she was taken into Paradise without having tasted death.—E. T.