Of all the narratives in Genesis, perhaps none has captivated people as much as that of Joseph. It has been fictionalized and allegorized almost to death. Let’s try to set aside what we think we know about the story.
Although he had eleven older half brothers, he was Jacob’s firstborn by his favored wife Rachel. His father gave him a special garment, called in Hebrew ka-othnath rafyim and often translated as “robe of many colors” although we are not completely sure what the Hebrew word means. What we do know is that the robe was meant to set Joseph apart from his brothers.
His brothers, most of whom were significantly older than him, despised Joseph and envied his position of favor, so they captured him and sold him into slavery. They told Jacob that Joseph had been killed.
Joseph became a slave in Egypt, rising to power in the house of a powerful man named Potiphar but then crashing to a prison cell when Potiphar’s wife betrayed him for spurning her advances. Ultimately, Joseph was freed when he interpreted the dreams of the Pharaoh. He became powerful in Egypt and during a time of famine brought his father’s tribe to live in Egypt.
After taking the Egyptian name Zaphenath-peneah (which means something like “treasury of rest”) and marrying an Egyptian named Asenath, Joseph had two sons: Manasseh and Ephraim. On his deathbed, Jacob blessed Ephraim – setting up a rivalry between the house of Jacob (through Judah) and the house of Joseph (through Ephraim) that would last for another thousand years.
Joseph died in Egypt at the age of 110. He was buried there, but when the people of Israel came out of Egypt during the Exodus, they brought Joseph’s body with them and buried him in Shechem.