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Associate Justice of the Supreme Court
Joseph Story was born on September 18, 1779, in Marblehead, Massachusetts, the son of a surgeon who participated in the Boston Tea Party. Story was graduated from Harvard in 1798, delivering the poem at commencement, and decided to study law. In 1801, he began his legal practice in Salem, and began studying feudal law and British real property law. As his reputation for a fine legal mind grew, he was engaged for important cases and was became one of the leading New England lawyers.
In 1805, he was elected to the Massachusetts Legislature, where he displayed his debating skills and became a leader of the Republican Party. Nevertheless, he was true to himself and was not afraid to disagree with the prevailing beliefs of the party. He was elected to the US House of Representatives, where he fought for the repealing of the Embargo Act, since he felt it was only useful as a temporary measure. In addition, Story promoted the expansion of the Navy, in contradiction to the generally-accepted Republican view. Because he sometimes supported policies championed by the Federalists, President Jefferson claimed that he was only a "pseudo-Republican."
After his term in Congress ended, Story returned to his home state, in which he was elected to the State House of Representatives. In 1811, he was elected Speaker of the (Massachusetts) House and, in the same year, President Madison appointed him an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. As was the custom at the time, he was assigned a circuit court position as well, and his region consisted on Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Rhode Island. In his dealing with various cases, he helped establish law and precedents in admiralty law, the law of salvage, marine insurance law, prize law, and patent law. He and Chancellor Kent were responsible for having founded the American system of equity jurisprudence. He strongly opposed slavery, and took part in protests against the Missouri Compromise.
In 1829, Story became a professor of law at Harvard and moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts. He was a popular professor, with conversational exercises instead of lectures and frequent mock-courts. Although he declined the position of chief justice of Massachusetts, he did serve as acting Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court between the death of John Marshall and the confirmation of Roger Taney, and again when Taney became ill in 1844. Story wrote many legal textbooks, and was respected in Britain, as well as the United States, for his scholarship. Story had begun preparing to retire from the bench and devote his energies to teaching when he became ill. He died in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on September 10, 1845.
Joseph Story served as associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court from 1811 to 1845. One of the towering figures in U.S. legal history, Story shaped U.S. law both as a judge and as the author of a series of legal treatises. Some legal commentators believe Story's treatises were as influential in the development of nineteenth-century U.S. law as the works of the English jurists sir william blackstone and sir edward coke had been earlier.
Story was born on September 18, 1779, in Marblehead, Massachusetts. He graduated from Harvard University in 1798 and read the law with Samuel Sewall. He established a practice in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1801 and quickly developed an impressive professional career, becoming a director and eventually the president of the Merchant's Bank of Salem. He became a member of the democratic party and was elected to the state legislature in 1805. He served part of a term in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1808 to 1809 and then returned to the state legislature in 1810. The following year he was elected speaker of the house.
In November 1811 President james madison appointed Story, at the age of only thirty-two, to the U.S. Supreme Court. Madison hoped that Story would help move the Court in a more democratic direction, correcting the aristocratic tendencies of the federal bench, which had been dominated by the Federalists. In particular, Madison sought to check the influence of Chief Justice john marshall, whose nationalist philosophy led him to construe federal powers broadly. thomas jefferson was opposed to the appointment, however, believing that Story did not subscribe to the Democratic party belief in according deference to state governments.
Jefferson proved to be correct as Story quickly revealed an inclination to accept most of Marshall's principles. In martin v. hunter's lessee, 14 U.S. 304, 4 L. Ed. 97 (1816), the U.S. Supreme Court reviewed a decision by the Virginia Supreme Court declaring a section of the federal judiciary act of 1789 unconstitutional. In his majority opinion, Story reversed the state supreme court and affirmed the Supreme Court's power to review the highest state courts in all civil cases involving the federal Constitution, statutes, and treaties. This decision was a key component of federal judicial power and antithetical to Jefferson's conception of state-federal relations.
"[The law] is a jealous mistress and requires a long and constant courtship. Itis not to be won by trifling favors, but by lavish homage."
In trustees of dartmouth college v. woodward, 17 U.S. 518, 4 L. Ed. 629 (1819), Story joined in Chief Justice Marshall's holding that the grant of a corporate charter was a contract with the state. As the state had not reserved a power of amendment, the charter grantees were immune from destructive state interference. Story noted that this corporate immunity should be extended only to private, not public, corporations. In making this distinction, Story articulated for the first time that the public character of a corporation turned not on the services it performed but on the identity of the contributors of its capital. Thus, a corporation that was chartered to serve the public, such as a bank, would be considered a private corporation if it was owned by private individuals, and its charter could not be withdrawn or amended in the
absence of a legislative reservation at the time of the original grant. This definition of private corporations by reference to their capitalization was critical to corporate development in the nineteenth century.
Story's most controversial decision came in prigg v. pennsylvania, 41 U.S. 539, 10 L. Ed. 1060 (1842), which involved the federal fugitive slave act of 1793. Many northern states demonstrated their hostility to slavery by enacting laws designed to frustrate southern slave owners who came north in search of runaway slaves. Slave owners were outraged at these laws and argued that the federal act gave them the right to reclaim their property without interference by state governments.
Story, writing for an 8–1 majority, declared unconstitutional all fugitive slave laws enacted by the states because the federal law provided the exclusive remedy for the return of runaway slaves. Story also ruled, however, that states were not compelled to enforce the federal fugitive slave provisions. It would be inconsistent and without legal basis, he reasoned, for the Court to declare the preeminence of federal law and then require state courts to help carry out that law.
Prigg was a crucial decision because it announced that slavery was a national issue that could not be disturbed by state action. It angered many opponents of slavery and hurt Story's reputation in the north. Some state judges took Story's opinion to heart and refused to participate in federal fugitive slave proceedings.
Story's other major contribution on the Court was the development of "federal common law," which was first articulated in the 1842 civil procedure case of swift v. tyson, 41 U.S. 1, 10 L. Ed. 865. The controversy arose on a technical question involving the negotiability of a commercial bill of exchange. New York and other states were divided over whether the bill was negotiable. Under the federal Judiciary Act of 1789, the federal courts were instructed to follow state laws when deciding cases between parties from two different states.
Story, who believed the negotiability of such bills was crucial to the development of a national commercial community, declared that the decisions of the New York courts—based not on legislative statutes but on interpretations of the common law—were not "laws" binding on federal judges. Common-law decisions were only "evidence" of the appropriate law. Story concluded that it was the duty of federal courts to examine evidence from all relevant state common-law jurisdictions before proclaiming the governing rule.
Story's opinion came to stand for the proposition that a general federal common law existed that federal courts were free to apply in virtually all common-law matters of private law. The idea of federal common law promoted national uniformity but also constituted a revolutionary expansion of federal jurisdiction. The Supreme Court overruled this proposition in erie railroad co. v. tompkins, 304 U.S. 64, 58 S. Ct. 817, 82 L. Ed. 1188 (1938), declaring that federal courts must apply the law of the state, whether it is statutory or case law.
Story's influence went beyond his court decisions. In 1829 he was appointed to be the first Dane Professor of Law at Harvard. He remained in this position the rest of his life while simultaneously serving on the Supreme Court and acting as president of the Salem bank.
The endowment that Nathan Dane had given to Harvard Law School also paid for the publication of Story's many legal commentaries and treatises, which summarized and codified various areas of the law. Story's works included Bailments (1832), Bills of Exchange (1843), Conflict of Laws (1834), Equity Jurisprudence (1836), Equity Pleading (1838), Federal Constitution (1833), and Promissory Notes (1845). They served as valuable reference works for lawyers, judges, and legislators and had a profound influence on the development of commercial law in particular. Alexis de Tocqueville, the French author of Democracy in America (1835–1840), a classic analysis of U.S. society and government, used Story's constitutional commentaries in writing his work.
Story died on September 10, 1845, in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Marriage to Mary
After marrying Mary, Joseph found that she was already pregnant, and being "a just man and unwilling to put her to shame" (Matt. 1:19), he decided to divorce her quietly, knowing that if he did so publicly, she could be stoned to death. An angel, however, came to Joseph and told him that the child Mary carried was the son of God and was conceived by the Holy Spirit, so Joseph kept Mary as his wife.
After Jesus&apos birth in Bethlehem, an angel came to Joseph again, this time to warn him and Mary about King Herod of Judaea and the violence he would bring down upon the child. Joseph then fled to Egypt with Mary and Jesus, and the angel appeared again, telling Joseph that Herod had died and instructing him to return to the Holy Land.
Avoiding Bethlehem and possible actions by Herod&aposs successor, Joseph, Mary and Jesus settled in Nazareth, in Galilee. The Gospels describe Joseph as a "tekton," which traditionally has meant "carpenter," and it is assumed that Joseph taught his craft to Jesus in Nazareth. At this point, however, Joseph is never mentioned again by name in the Bible𠅊lthough the story of Jesus in the temple includes a reference to "both his parents."
Joseph McCarthy and the Rise of McCarthyism
All of these factors combined to create an atmosphere of fear and dread, which proved a ripe environment for the rise of a staunch anticommunist like Joseph McCarthy. At the time, McCarthy was a first-term senator from Wisconsin who had won election in 1946 after a campaign in which he criticized his opponent’s failure to enlist during World War II while emphasizing his own wartime heroics.
In February 1950, appearing at the Ohio County Women’s Republican Club in Wheeling, West Virginia, McCarthy gave a speech that propelled him into the national spotlight. Waving a piece of paper in the air, he declared that he had a list of 205 known members of the Communist Party who were “working and shaping policy” in the State Department.
The next month, a Senate subcommittee launched an investigation and found no proof of any subversive activity. Moreover, many of McCarthy’s Democratic and Republican colleagues, including President Dwight Eisenhower, disapproved of his tactics (“I will not get into the gutter with this guy,” the president told his aides). Still, the senator continued his so-called Red-baiting campaign. In 1953, at the beginning of his second term as senator, McCarthy was put in charge of the Committee on Government Operations, which allowed him to launch even more expansive investigations of the alleged communist infiltration of the federal government. In hearing after hearing, he aggressively interrogated witnesses in what many came to perceive as a blatant violation of their civil rights. Despite a lack of any proof of subversion, more than 2,000 government employees lost their jobs as a result of McCarthy’s investigations.
Federal Judicial Service:
Associate Justice, Supreme Court of the United States
Nominated by James Madison on November 15, 1811, to a seat vacated by William Cushing. Confirmed by the Senate on November 18, 1811, and received commission on November 18, 1811. Service terminated on September 10, 1845, due to death.
Allotment as Circuit Justice:
First Circuit, March 14, 1812-September 10, 1845
Harvard College, 1798
Read law, 1801
Private practice, Salem, Massachusetts, 1801-1811
State representative, Massachusetts, 1805-1807, 1811 speaker, 1811
U.S. representative from Massachusetts, 1808-1809
Professor of law, Harvard University, 1829-1845
Cassoday, John B. “James Kent and Joseph Story.” Yale Jaw Journal, vol. 12, no. 3 (Jan. 1903): 146-53.
Dowd, Morgan D. “Justice Story and the Politics of Appointment.” American Journal of Legal History, vol. 9, no. 4 (1965): 265-85.
________. “Justice Joseph Story: A Study of the Legal Philosophy of a Jeffersonian Judge.” Vanderbilt Law Review, vol. 18, no. 2 (Mar. 1965): 643-62.
Dunne, Gerald T. “Joseph Story: 1812 Overture.” Harvard Law Review, vol. 77, no. 2 (Dec. 1963): 240-78.
________. “Joseph Story: The Age of Jackson.” Missouri Law Review, vol. 34, no. 3 (1969): 307-55.
________. “Joseph Story: The Germinal Years.” Harvard Law Review, vol. 75, no. 4 (Feb. 1962): 707-54.
________. “Joseph Story: The Great Term.” Harvard Law Review, vol. 79, no. 5 (Mar. 1966): 877-913.
________. “Joseph Story: The Lowering Storm.” American Journal of Legal History, vol. 13, no. 1 (Jan. 1969): 1-41.
________. “Joseph Story: The Middle Years.” Harvard Law Review, vol. 80, no. 8 (Jun. 1967): 1679-1709.
Eisgruber, Christopher L. M. “Justice Story, Slavery, and the Natural Law Foundations of American Constitutionalism. University of Chicago Law Review, vol. 55, no. 1 (Winter 1998): 273-327.
Finkleman, Paul. “Joseph Story and the Problem of Slavery: A New Englander’s Nationalist Dilemma.” Massachusetts Legal History: A Journal of the Supreme Judicial Court Historical Society, vol. 8 (2002): 65-84.
Gould, Elizabeth Porter. “Joseph Story – An Additional Word.” Chicago Law Times, vol. 3, no. 3 (Jul. 1889): 231-36.
Hoeflich, M.H. “John Austin and Joseph Story: Two Nineteenth Century Perspectives on the Utility of the Civil Law for the Common Lawyer.” American Journal of Legal History, vol. 29, no. 1 (Jan. 1985): 36-77.
Lockhard, Joe. “Justice Story’s ‘Prigg’ Decision and the Defeat of Freedom.” American Studies, vol. 52, no. 4 (2007): 467-80.
Lynch, David. The Role of Circuit Courts in the Formation of United States Law in the Early Republic: Following Supreme Court Justices Washington, Livingston, Story and Thompson. Oxford, UK: Hart Publishing, 2018.
McClellan, James. “Joseph Story: A Justice Under the Rule of Law.” Journal of Christian Jurisprudence, vol. 7 (1988): 13-30.
________. “Joseph Story’s Natural Law Philosophy.” Benchmark, vol. 5, no. 2 (Winter 1993): 85-92.
________ and Stephen B. Presser. Joseph Story and the American Constitution: A Study in Political and Legal thought with Selected Readings. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1971.
Moses, Adolph. “The Friendship between Marshall and Story.” American Law Review, vol. 35, no. 3 (May-Jun. 1901): 321-42.
Newmyer, R. Kent. “Justice Joseph Story, The Charles River Bridge Case and the Crisis of Republicanism.” Journal of American Legal History, vol. 17, no. 3 (Jul. 1973): 232-45.
________. “Justice Joseph Story on Circuit and a Neglected Phase of American Legal History." American Journal of Legal History, vol. 14, no. 2 (Apr. 1970): 112-35.
________. “A Note on the Whig Politics of Justice Joseph Story.” Mississippi Valley Historical Review, vol. 48, no. 3 (Dec. 1961): 480-91.
________. Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1985.
Robbins, Donald Clark. “Joseph Story: The Early Years, 1779-1811.” Ph.D. Diss., University of Kentucky, 1965.
Snow, MacCormac. “Joseph Story.” Oregon Law Review, vol. 5, no. 3 (Apr. 1926): 169-84.
Story, William Wetmore, ed. The Life and Letters of Joseph Story: Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, and Dane Professor at Harvard University. Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1851.
“Biographical Sketch of Joseph Story L.L.D.” American Law Magazine, vol. 6, no. 2 (Jan. 1846): 241-68.
“Joseph Story.” Chicago Law Times, vol. 3, no. 1 (Jan. 1889): 1-13.
“Joseph Story.” Current Commentary and Legal Miscellany, vol. 2, no. 7 (Jul. 15, 1890): 385-401.
“Joseph Story.” Green Bag, vol. 9, no. 2 (Feb. 1897): 49-53.
Havard Law School
Joseph Story Papers, 1796-1844.
2 boxes finding aid. Contains correspondence and the original manuscript of his book on promissory notes.
Library of Congress
Joseph Story Papers, 1807-1843.
1,400 items finding aid collection contains personal, legal, and professional correspondence.
Joseph Story papers, 1826-1836.
3 items collection is a part of the Miscellaneous Manuscripts collection.
Massachusetts Historical Society
Joseph Story papers, 1797-1857.
4 boxes correspondence concerning contemporary legal matters and the U.S. Supreme Court.
University of Michigan
William L. Clements Library
Ann Arbor, Mich.
Joseph Story papers, 1794-1843.
697 items correspondence Story received relating to legislation of the U.S. Congress and miscellaneous legal matters.
New-York Historical Society
New York, N.Y.
Joseph Story papers, 1802-1804.
2 vols. collection contains a writ book and notebook of legal forms.
University of Texas at Austin
Humanities Research Center Library
Story family papers, 1732-1910.
ca. 8 ft. finding aid Joseph Story's correspondence, legal case files, and opinions.
Are there records for the Biblical Joseph in Egyptian history?
There are definite records for the Biblical Joseph in Egyptian history. Here are some:
First – Inscriptions
- After Joseph interpreted the dreams of Pharaoh, the king elevated him to the highest office under the crown. The king gave Joseph a new name “Zaphnath-paaneah (Genesis 41:45). This name has been discovered in an inscription of the later, Bubastid period (9th century B.C.), and was written in Egyptian Djed–pa–netjer–iuf–ankh, meaning, “The god speaks that he may live.”
- This below inscription talks about Pharaoh’s dream and Joseph’s interpretation of the seven years of plenty as well as the following seven years of famine. (Source)
Second – Coins
According to a report in the Egyptian Newspaper Al-Ahram, by Wajih Al-Saqqar, archeologists have discovered ancient Egyptian coins bearing the name and image of the Biblical Joseph (Al-Ahram (Egypt), September 22, 2009).
The following are excerpts from the article:
“The researchers discovered the coins when they sifted through thousands of small archeological artifacts stored in [the vaults of] the Museum of Egypt. [Initially] they took them for charms, but a thorough examination revealed that the coins bore the year in which they were minted and their value, or effigies of the pharaohs [who ruled] at the time of their minting. Some of the coins are from the time when Joseph lived in Egypt, and bear his name and portrait.
“Research team head Dr. Sa’id Muhammad Thabet said that during his archeological research on the Prophet Joseph, he had discovered in the vaults of the [Egyptian] Antiquities Authority and of the National Museum many charms from various eras before and after the period of Joseph, including one that bore his effigy as the minister of the treasury in the Egyptian pharaoh’s court…
“One Coin… [Had] an Image of a Cow Symbolizing Pharaoh’s Dream about the Seven Fat Cows and Seven Lean Cows”
“The researcher identified coins from many different periods, including coins that bore special markings identifying them as being from the era of Joseph. Among these, there was one coin that had an inscription on it, and an image of a cow symbolizing Pharaoh’s dream about the seven fat cows and seven lean cows, and the seven green stalks of grain and seven dry stalks of grain. It was found that the inscriptions of this early period were usually simple, since writing was still in its early stages, and consequently there was difficulty in deciphering the writing on these coins. But the research team [managed to] translate [the writing on the coin] by comparing it to the earliest known hieroglyphic texts…
“Joseph’s name appears twice on this coin, written in hieroglyphs: once the original name, Joseph, and once his Egyptian name, Saba Sabani, which was given to him by Pharaoh when he became treasurer. There is also an image of Joseph, who was part of the Egyptian administration at the time.
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St. Joseph, (flourished 1st century ce , Nazareth, Galilee, region of Palestine principal feast day March 19, Feast of St. Joseph the Worker May 1), in the New Testament, Jesus’ earthly father and the Virgin Mary’s husband. St. Joseph is the patron of the universal church in Roman Catholicism, and his life is recorded in the Gospels, particularly Matthew and Luke.
Joseph was a descendant of the house of King David. After marrying Mary, he found her already pregnant and, “being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace” (Matthew 1:19), decided to divorce her quietly, but an angel told him that the child was the Son of God and was conceived by the Holy Spirit. Obeying the angel, Joseph took Mary as his wife. After Jesus’ birth at Bethlehem in Judaea, where the Holy Family received the Magi, an angel warned Joseph and Mary about the impending violence against the child by King Herod the Great of Judaea, whereupon they fled to Egypt. There the angel again appeared to Joseph, informing him of Herod’s death and instructing him to return to the Holy Land.
Avoiding Bethlehem out of fear of Herod’s successor, Joseph, Mary, and Jesus settled in Nazareth (Matthew 2:22–23) in Galilee, where Joseph taught his craft of carpentry to Jesus. Joseph is last mentioned in the Gospels when he and Mary frantically searched for the lost young Jesus in Jerusalem, where they found him in the Temple (Luke 2:41–49). Like Mary, Joseph failed to comprehend Jesus’ ironic question, “ ‘Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?’ ” The circumstances of Joseph’s death are unknown, except that he probably died before Jesus’ public ministry began and was certainly dead before the Crucifixion (John 19:26–27).
Some of the subsequent apocryphal narratives concerning Joseph are extravagantly fictitious. The 2nd-century Protevangelium of James and the 4th-century History of Joseph the Carpenter present him as a widower with children at the time of his betrothal to Mary, contributing to the confusion over the question of Jesus’ brothers and sisters. The allegation that he lived to be 111 years old is spurious. Reliable information about Joseph is found only in the Gospels, for the later pious stories distort his image and helped delay his commemoration.
Although the veneration of Joseph seems to have begun in Egypt, the earliest Western devotion to him dates from the early 14th century, when the Servites, an order of mendicant friars, observed his feast on March 19, the traditional day of his death. Among the subsequent promoters of the devotion were Pope Sixtus IV, who introduced it at Rome about 1479, and the celebrated 16th-century mystic St. Teresa of Ávila. Already patron of Mexico, Canada, and Belgium, Joseph was declared patron of the universal church by Pope Pius IX in 1870. In 1955 Pope Pius XII established the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker on May 1 as a counter-celebration to the communists’ May Day.
This article was most recently revised and updated by Melissa Petruzzello, Assistant Editor.
Is the Biblical story of Joseph in Egypt verified?
T he events narrated in the Joseph Story, Genesis 37-50, have long been a favorite topic of investigation for both Biblical scholars and those Egyptologists with an interest in the Old Testament. No reference to Joseph has turned up in Egyptian sources, but given the relative paucity of information about Egyptian officials before the New Kingdom and the lack of consensus regarding Joseph's Egyptian name, this should not surprise us.
Any specific reference to Joseph in any recognizable form will probably not be discovered any time soon. But, if we believe in the historicity of Joseph and the accuracy of the events recorded in Genesis about his life and career, we can ask two questions with some hope of receiving an answer from the written and archeological sources: what is the best date for Joseph, and, once that has been posited, do the Biblical events fit in that period of Egyptian history?
In answer to our first question, two major positions exist regarding the date of Joseph among serious students of the Joseph Story who accept its historicity. The majority of such modern scholars date Joseph to the Second Intermediate Period of Egyptian history, ca. 1786-1570 BC (Vergote 1959 Kitchen 1962 Stigers 1976), a time when an Asiatic group called the Hyksos ruled the delta of the Nile.
This view is based primarily on two assumptions: first, that the so-called Late Date of the Exodus (during the reign of Ramses II) is correct, and second, that the rise to power of an Asiatic can best be placed during a period of Egyptian history when his fellow Asiatics, the Hyksos, controlled the government. Let us briefly examine these two arguments.
If the Exodus occurred in the 13th century BC, and the Sojourn lasted approximately 400 years (430, according to Exodus 12:40), Joseph would belong in the 17th century BC. But if the Exodus took place in the 15th century BC, Joseph's career would be shifted back to the 19th century BC, during the days of the 12th Dynasty of the Middle Kingdom.
If the Biblical numbers are taken literally and at face value, the probable kings during the enslavement and subsequent rise to power of Joseph would have been Sesostris II (1897-1878 BC) and Sesostris III (1878-1843 BC). This argument then rests on how one interprets 1 Kings 6:1, a verse which dates the Exodus 480 years before the fourth year of Solomon, ca. 966 BC.
There seem to be three commonly held ways to regard this verse. One may accept it at face value, thus dating the Exodus to the 15th century BC one may totally disregard the verse's historical accuracy, which allows one to date the Exodus to any period one chooses, or indeed to deny it altogether or one may interpret the numbers given in it to mean something less than a literal 480 years, thus invoking support from the verse for a late Exodus. It is not our purpose here to argue these positions, although I personally hold to an early Exodus. My only point is that one's view on the date of the Exodus is a determiner of one's date for Joseph.
The second idea, that Joseph should best be thought of as serving when fellow Syro-Palestinians ruled part of Egypt seems to be unsound. It assumes that Syro-Palestinians, regardless of specific nationality, would favor one another. Our emerging knowledge of Canaan, with its political division and inter-city warfare, and indeed the rivalries between groups visible in the Biblical narrative, casts great doubt in my mind that a Canaanite group such as the Hyksos would be automatically friendly to a Hebrew.
It has long ago been observed that certain features of the Joseph Story fit well in the 12 Dynasty. A survey of some of these might be helpful.
Supporters of a 12th Dynasty date for the Joseph Story begin their arguments with a strict literal acceptance of the Biblical chronology of the Exodus and Sojourn. 1 Kings 6:1 is seen as dating the Exodus to ca. 1446 BC, and Exodus 12:40 is seen as placing the entrance of Jacob and his family into an Egypt where Joseph holds high office under the reign of Sesostris III, ca. 1876 BC. Joseph's career as an Egyptian governmental official would thus begin under Sesostris II and would continue into the reign of Sesostris III. (RIGHT: Sesostris III)
Specific elements of the Joseph Story are normally cited in support of such a Middle Kingdom date. A few examples will illustrate.
Potiphar, the official who first bought Joseph, is called an Egyptian and commander of the king's guard in Genesis 39:1. It is argued that if the king were a Hyksos ruler, it would not make sense for a native Egyptian to have been commander of the royal bodyguard. Further, Joseph is described several times (Gen 41, 42, and 45) as ruler over all the land of Egypt. The Hyksos controlled only the northern part of Egypt, but the 12th Dynasty ruled the entire nation. And when the king wanted to reward Joseph, he gave him the daughter of a priest of On, or Heliopolis, to be his wife. The argument there is that a Hyksos king would more probably give Joseph the daughter of the priest of another god, such as Seth, who was a more important deity to the Hyksos than were the solar deities venerated by the native Egyptians.
It should be observed, however, that the Hyksos did not in any way suppress the worship of Re, the sun god of On. Also, proponents of a 12th Dynasty date for Joseph argue that when Joseph is called from prison to meet Pharaoh in Genesis 41:14, he has to shave and put on clean clothing. This would reflect native Egyptian customs rather than those of the Syro-Palestinian Hyksos.
An argument that has been used to date Joseph to the Hyksos period is the mention of chariots in the account of Joseph's promotion and rewarding by Pharaoh. It is often pointed out that since the war chariot was probably introduced into Egypt by the Hyksos, Pharaoh's gift to Joseph would best fit in the Second Intermediate Period and not in the earlier Middle Kingdom.
But need we connect this vehicle used for transportation by a high official of government with war chariots? Nothing is said in the Joseph Story about chariots being used in battle, and in fact the chariot given to Joseph is called the second chariot of Pharaoh, thus leaving the impression that there were not many of them. When a horse was found by the excavators of the fortress of Buhen, from a period well before the Egyptians began to use chariots for war, the conclusion of the archeologists was that “It is likely that, at least in the early periods, horses were owned by the most top-ranking members of society and that they were only used for drawing chariots on state occasions” (Emery, Smith and Millard 1979: 194 cf. B. Wood 1993).
Lastly, mention ought to be made of a papyrus in the Brooklyn Museum and published by William C. Hayes (1955). This late Middle Kingdom document is of great importance for study of the Joseph Story, and can only be summarized here. It contains information on Asiatic slaves in Egypt during the late Middle Kingdom, only a few generations after Joseph, assuming a 12th Dynasty date for him. The most striking thing about these Asiatic slaves is that one of the most common jobs they were assigned was household servant, just like Joseph (Hayes 1955:103). Joseph's servitude thus fits the pattern for the Middle Kingdom period of Egyptian history.
Our purpose here, assuming a 12th Dynasty date for Joseph to be most in accord with the Scriptural chronology, is to examine what new evidence there may be that would both support and further illustrate a career for Joseph in the Middle Kingdom. But first let us note an area for further research, involving the seven years of plenty followed by the seven years of famine so important to the Joseph Story.
About 20 years ago Barbara Bell studied the 12th Dynasty Egyptian records of Nile levels at the Middle Kingdom Nubian forts (1975). Collating this information with an analysis of statuary, and with the well-known literary work entitled The Complaint of Khahkeperre-Seneb, Bell concludes that the mid-12th Dynasty suffered erratic Nile levels which caused crop failure and the resultant social disruption mirrored in the Complaint.
One might ask why an unusually high Nile would hurt crops Bell's answer is that under such conditions it would take longer for the water to drain off the fields, and would thus impede the year's planting. As more information comes to light and as our knowledge of Nile fluctuations becomes more complete, we may be better able to consider Joseph's famine in a 12th Dynasty context.
In recent years our archeological knowledge of the Nile delta has increased significantly. Much of this advance is due to the work of the Austrians under Manfred Bietak at Tell el Daba Khatana-Qantir. This region is now the accepted location of the Biblical city of Ramses and the earlier Hyksos capital of Avaris. Our knowledge of the northeast delta and Asiatic influence in the region is much greater than it was 20 years ago. One discovery, made by Bietak's team between 1984 and 1987 and pointed out recently by John J. Bimson, is of extreme significance for the 12th Dynasty historicity of the Joseph Story (Bietak 1990).
A palace and accompanying garden dating to the 12th Dynasty were found. There is no evidence that the palace was any kind of royal residence Bietak hypothesizes on the basis of inscriptional material that it was the headquarters of an official who supervised trade and mining expeditions across the northeastern border (Bietak 1990: 69).
But what is most interesting about this find is the cemetery located in the palace garden, and particularly one of the tombs in it. All of the other graves (there are approximately 12 altogether) seem to date to a slightly later period, perhaps the early years of Dynasty 13, and were on the basis of their orientation, definitely not part of the original palace-garden complex. But the largest and most impressive tomb of the lot, consisting of a single brick chamber with a small chapel in front of it, was oriented to the structures of stratum E (early-to-middle 12th Dynasty) (Bietak 1990: 61).
While the tomb had been robbed and badly damaged, a most interesting find was discovered in the robbers' tunnel between the tomb chamber and the chapel. A statue, almost certainly of one of the officials who lived in the palace in the late years of the 12th Dynasty, had been removed (probably from the tomb chapel) and had been smashed to pieces. All that remain are a few fragments of the head the facial features have been very deliberately destroyed. The statue was approximately 1½ times life size, and exhibits no characteristics of a royal personage. But the most interesting thing is that this official was clearly an Asiatic. This is demonstrated by the yellow coloration of the skin, which was, as Bietak observes, typical for the depiction of male Asiatics, and by another Asiatic feature, the so-called Mushroom hairstyle which the statue had (Bietak 1990: 61-64).
The significance of this find for a 12th Dynasty setting of the Joseph Story is obvious. As John Bimson has observed, there is not enough evidence to claim with any degree of certainty that the tomb of Joseph has been found, or that a statue of the famed Biblical character has been found. But it is clear that this man, without doubt a Canaanite of some kind, became a very important official in the Egyptian government. He was important enough to have lived in a major palace complex and to have equipped a tomb for himself in its garden, and to have commissioned a more than life-sized statue of himself for his tomb chapel.
This demonstrates that an Asiatic could indeed rise to a position of prominence in an earlier period than the days of Hyksos rule, and allows us to accept the possibility, which I believe to be the case, that Joseph served a king of the Middle Kingdom at almost exactly the same time as did this Canaanite.
The next issues to be addressed are Joseph's titles after his rise to importance in the Egyptian court. What office or offices did he hold? And is there room for him among the known holders of these offices in Dynasty 12?
Genesis 45:8 is a key reference. I believe, as I have pointed out elsewhere (Aling 1981:47-48), that three distinct titles and/or epithets are mentioned in this verse.
“Father to Pharaoh” should be associated with the Egyptian title “God's Father,” where the term “God” refers to the king. This title evidently had several usages, some of which can be quickly eliminated in the case of Joseph. He was not a priest, nor did a daughter of his enter the harim of the Pharaoh. These are meanings of this title, but neither fits Joseph. The best explanation is to view him as having been honored with this title as a sort of Elder Statesman, a common use of the title “God's Father” in the Middle and New Kingdoms.
A second title in Genesis 45:8 is “Lord of All His (the king's) Household.” There is some disagreement among scholars as to the Egyptian equivalent of this phrase. Some would interpret it as some sort of palace overseer or court chamberlain. The closest Egyptian title however seems to be [imy-r pr wr, Chief Steward of the King, or more literally the Chief Overseer of the House, with the term “house” referring to the personal estates of the king.
The Egyptian title usually translated Chamberlain, [imy-r 'hnwty n pr- nsw, translates Overseer of the Interior of the King's House and does not seem to fit either the Biblical phrase or the context of the Joseph Story. Joseph had, after his interpretation of the king's dream, advised Pharaoh regarding agricultural matters relating to the future years of plenty and the following famine. It seems most natural, in light of the king's response, for Joseph to be given a post that was connected with agriculture, as that of Chief Steward of the King certainly was.
The chamberlain had no such function. The title “Chief Steward of the King” is common in the Middle Kingdom. William Ward, in his Index of Egyptian Administrative and Religious Titles of the Middle Kingdom, cites over 20 examples of the title in various publications, without attempting to enumerate all the occurrences in the major museums of the world (1982: 22, n. 141).
Franke, in his Personendaten Aus Dem Mittleren Reich, presents dossiers of 19 Chief Stewards (1984: 17). Allan Gardiner said that the office was second in importance only to that of Vizier (1947:45*-46*). The duties of the Chief Steward are known from New Kingdom texts and from the 11th Dynasty biographical text of the chief Steward Henunu preserved in his tomb at Deir el Bahri (Hayes 1949). This official was administrator of the royal estates, supervisor of royal granaries, and overseer of royal flocks and herds. Henunu was also involved in taxation, supplying certain parts of Upper Egypt with provisions, construction of the royal tomb, collection of tribute from Beduin tribes, and procuring cedar wood from Syria.
Joseph would have been very qualified to perform most of these tasks the ones connected with agriculture and taxation would certainly fit the context of the Biblical story. It is therefore best to agree with Vergote (1959: 98ff) and Ward (1960:146-47) that Joseph was Chief Steward of the King.
The greatest debate concerning Joseph's titles centers around that of Vizier. William Ward has argued against the idea that Joseph was ever Vizier of Egypt (1960:148-50 1957). He views several of the descriptive phrases used about Joseph in the Old Testament as Hebrew equivalents of general Egyptian platitudes that could be applied to any middle level official. The problem with this is that direct equation does not appear strong. An example is the phrase in Genesis 41:40, “Only in the throne will I be greater than you.” Ward equates this with the Egyptian epithet “Favorite of the Lord of the Two Lands” (1960:148). To me such an equation is weak.
I find a number of phrases describing Joseph and the duties performed by Joseph that would fit only the Vizier, who was in the Middle Kingdom the single most powerful man in the kingdom aside from the sovereign himself. Let us note these and a few other points:
Genesis 41:40, “Only in the throne will I be greater than you.” This was true of only one person, the Vizier.
Genesis 41:41, “I have set you over all the land of Egypt.”
When Joseph's brothers came to Egypt for food during the famine, Joseph was the official they met. At least in the New Kingdom, a period about which we are far better informed, the Vizier was the official who met foreign delegations (Hayes 1966: 46). It may have been the same in the Middle Kingdom.
In Genesis 47:20 ff., we have the curious story of the purchase of the land of the nobility of Egypt by the king. Joseph is the supervisor of the process. It seems most natural to view him as a powerful Vizier during this episode and not as some lower official, since ultimate responsibility over lesser governmental officials rested with the Vizier. This incident is most probably the Biblical version of the weakening of the provincial Nomarchs, which took place in about the middle of the reign of Sesostris III.
After about 1860 BC, we hear no more of them. G.P.F. van den Boorn has in his book, The Duties of the Vizier, discussed the Vizier's responsibilities during the New Kingdom as presented in Rekhmire's tomb dating to Dynasty 18 (1988). From van den Boorn's study we get the impression that the Vizier was indeed second only to the Pharaoh as ruler of Egypt.
In summary, we find that the Vizier was managing director of the king's palace complex, head of the civil administration, and the general deputy of the king. These kinds of duties fit well with the concept of Joseph as second in command of the realm, even allowing for the fact that van den Boorn's text is New Kingdom rather than Middle Kingdom.
If we accept as probable that Joseph was Vizier, we next have to ask if there is room for him in the list of Viziers of the Middle Kingdom, and if there is any evidence of his holding that post. Let it be said at the outset that we do not have all the information we would like to have regarding the Vizierate, or regarding any non-royal title, from the Middle Kingdom. Great gaps in our knowledge exist.
The most recent attempt to list all the known Viziers of Dynasty 12 was made by Detlef Franke in 1984 his list includes 13 names for the roughly 200 years the dynasty was in power. Some of the individuals in Franke's list may not have actually served their titles may have been honorary. Furthermore, there are a number of Viziers who probably belong in the 12th Dynasty but cannot be placed with any certainty.
One final general observation should be made. It seems certain, thanks to the work of William Kelly Simpson, that Middle Kingdom Viziers could serve under more than one king (1957: 29). They were not automatically removed when the throne changed hands.
We cannot at this time discuss the Viziers of the entire 12th Dynasty, but will only examine the reigns of Sesostris II and III, 1897-1843 BC. The earliest complete study of the institution of the Vizierate in ancient Egypt was that of Arthur Weil, published in 1908. This monumental work is to a marked degree out of date today, but still remains useful. Although Weil has a number of undatable Viziers, his 12th Dynasty list has no one beyond Year 8 of Amenemhat II, ca. 1920 BC. No Vizier was known from the reigns of either Sesostris II or his son and successor Sesostris III.
In 1957, William Kelly Simpson called attention to the existence of two viziers of Sesostris III, both of whom had tombs near the pyramid of that king at Dahshur. The first, a masataba called number 17, was said by its excavator De Morgan to be the tomb of a high official of the king's court. The location of the tomb makes it certain that that king was Sesostris III.
De Morgan did not find the name or titles of the tomb owner, but fragments did exist. Simpson cites an offering table which has part of a name, [Sbk m… Another fragment preserves the last portion of the name, …[m-h3t (1957: 26). The official was thus Sebekemhat.
Simpson also discovered that the man's titles were those of a serving Vizier, including Vizier and Overseer of the City, meaning the capital. This last is a common title for Viziers on into the New Kingdom. This Vizier of Sesostris III was totally unknown to Weil.
Simpson also cites another masataba near the pyramid of Sesostris III, number 2 (1957: 27). It is located to the northwest of tomb 17, and was also the tomb of an important official. The name is preserved it is Khnumhotep. Weil knew of him, and knew that he was a Vizier, but wrongly dated him (with a question mark) to one of the Amenemhats. The location of Khnumhotep's tomb shows that he, like Sebekemhat, in all probability served under Sesostris III. Simpson in his paper on these two officials also states that neither was a nomarch, and that their service seems to have been actual they did not hold the title only honorarily.
The next study of the Middle Kingdom Vizierate was that of Michel Valloggia in 1974. He lists the same two Viziers as Simpson for the reign of Sesostris III. There is another Vizier who may fit in this period, since his name is Senwosret-ankh, or “Sesostris Lives,” thus incorporating the name of a 12th Dynasty king into his name. He is known from a statue found at Ugarit and now in the Louvre, and from a stele in Florence.
Could he have served in our period? It is not likely for two reasons. Valloggia (1974: 131-32 132, n. 4), citing Vandier, states that artistically the statue fits best in the late 12th Dynasty and not the middle. Further, names are of course given at birth, so a man named after either Sesostris II or III would probably serve later than those reigns or at least later than the transition between them. It is best to date him to the later years of the dynasty.
Franke in 1984 published a compilation of dossiers of Middle Kingdom officials (Bietak 1990: 61). This has been and will continue to be a useful tool for Middle Kingdom prosopography for years to come. In his introduction Franke discusses key offices such as that of Vizier, and lists all those known to him. This is the most recent listing that has been compiled. He acknowledges Sebekemhat and Knumhotep for the reign of Sesostris III, but, of course, we still do not know the order in which they served.
Interestingly, he adds, with a question mark, Ameny the son of Smy-ib for the late years of Sesostris II and the early years of Sesostris III (Franke 1984:18). This is the first attempt of which I am aware to place any known Vizier in the reign of Sesostris II. Franke gives no reason, other than the existence of a gap here, for this dating, and he admits that the statue of Ameny may be from a later time. At this point there is not enough evidence to place Ameny during the transition from Sesostris II to Sesostris III with any degree of certainty.
For the 50-odd years of the reigns of Sesostris II and III we therefore have two Viziers, Sebekemhat and Khnumhotep, both of whom should be dated to the reign of the later Sesostris. We have a possible Vizier, Ameny, for the earlier part of this period, but we cannot date him here with any certainty. There is, therefore, plenty of room for Joseph to have served in the 12th Dynasty.
His long life span does not make his service unlikely he need not have continued to hold this high office until his death. Before we proceed further, let me state that there is no reason to conclude that either Sebekemhat or Khnumhotep was Joseph. There appears to be no similarity between their names and the Hebrew version of Joseph's Egyptian name given in the book of Genesis. But there is one interesting thing about the titles held by one of these two Middle Kingdom Viziers.
Khnumhotep held both the titles Vizier and Chief Steward of the King (Weil 1908: 44, no. 11). He is, to my knowledge, the only person in the Middle Kingdom to have done so. Nor was this done in other periods of Egyptian history. As stated above, I do not argue that this personage was Joseph but it seems possible that the idea of one person holding both these posts could be patterned after Joseph.
Perhaps, if Joseph was Vizier and Chief Steward in the last years of Sesostris II and the early years of Sesostris III, it is conceivable that after Joseph's retirement, Khnumhotep could have also have been granted both of these high court positions. We at the very least see that the combination is a possibility in the Middle Kingdom.
In conclusion, we have attempted to make the case that Joseph's career fits quite well in Dynasty 12, both Biblically and historically, and that there is no good reason to try to place him in the later Second Intermediate Period. He did, I believe, make a significant impact on Egyptian history, an impact which is reflected in events such as the breaking of the power of the Nomarchs and the combining of the offices of Vizier and Chief Steward of the King. As our knowledge of the Middle Kingdom increases, and as new archeological information from the delta is discovered and published, we can expect to understand both the Middle Kingdom and the Second Intermediate Period better, and we can expect to expand our knowledge of the Egyptian background of the Story of Joseph.
What is the story of Joseph and his brothers?
Joseph was the second youngest of twelve brothers born to Jacob, who was called Israel. In Genesis 37:3&ndash4 we read, “Now Israel loved Joseph more than any of his other sons, because he had been born to him in his old age and he made an ornate robe for him. When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them, they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him.” The same passage also discusses two dreams Joseph had that angered his brothers the dreams indicated his brothers would someday bow to him. Joseph’s brothers also despised him due to their father’s overt favoritism toward him.
One day, Joseph traveled to check on his brothers while they were watching their sheep. His brothers plotted against him, threw him in an empty well, and later sold him as a slave to some traveling Midianites. Applying animal blood to his “ornate robe,” they returned home and made Jacob believe his son had been killed by wild animals.
In the meantime, Joseph was taken to Egypt and sold to the captain of the guard, Potiphar, as a household slave. Joseph was later falsely accused of attempting to rape Potiphar’s wife and thrown into prison. While in prison, Joseph accurately interpreted the dreams of two of Pharaoh’s servants, who were also incarcerated. Later, Pharaoh had a disturbing dream no one could interpret. One of the servants Joseph had previously helped then suggested to Pharaoh that Joseph could interpret the dream. Joseph was summoned from prison, and he interpreted Pharaoh’s dream in such a powerful way that he was appointed second-in-command over Egypt.
Pharaoh’s dream predicted seven years of famine. During the famine, Joseph’s older brothers came to Egypt to buy food. They did not recognize Joseph, now twenty years older, and he treated them harshly, pretending that he thought they were spies. Joseph kept one brother in prison until the others brought their youngest brother, Benjamin, back to Egypt to prove they were not spies. They brought Benjamin with them on a return trip, and, after a series of twists that included his brothers bowing before him&mdashin fulfillment of Joseph’s dream of long ago&mdashJoseph revealed himself to his brothers. They were shocked, yet soon glad to be reunited. Joseph sent word for the entire family to join them in Egypt until after the famine.
Later, when their father, Jacob, died, Joseph’s brothers feared that Joseph would take revenge against them for their prior treatment of him. They came to Joseph and begged for his forgiveness, appealing to a request their father had made before he died (Genesis 50:16&ndash17) Joseph wept when he heard their appeal. Revenge was the last thing on his mind. Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Genesis 50:19&ndash20).
In the story of Joseph and his brothers, we see the themes of forgiveness, the father-son bond, sibling rivalry, brotherly love, God’s sovereignty, and God’s greater good in times of suffering. Just like Joseph, we are called to forgive those who have offended us and see life’s experiences as part of God’s plan to help us serve others.
What Does the Coat of Many Colors Mean for Us?
So what? We may ask. Why should we care about a coat Joseph wore thousands of years ago?
We should care about the coat for a variety of reasons.
First, the coat illuminates how generations can often repeat the same mistakes as their parents. Jacob had felt slighted because Isaac favored Esau over him. If anyone should understand the frustration of favoritism, it should’ve been him.
But instead of breaking the cycle, he ups the ante.
When we read this passage, we should ask ourselves what bad habits we’ve picked up from our families and how they’ve driven a wedge into our relationships. We should exercise more awareness than Jacob had.
Second, this passage should serve as a cautionary tale about what happens when we exercise favoritism (James 2). This doesn’t just apply to families.
Do we show preferential treatment to those with wealth, to those with a large social media platform, to those who can grant us opportunities?
And conversely, how poorly do we treat those who are not our “favorites,” who don’t have positions of power or serve in a job we may deem to be lowly?
How often do we give out ornate coats to our favorites?
This passage helps us to analyze where we fall short in our own lives and how we can show God’s love to everyone equally.
Finally, we know that Josephus also catalogs this event. Most people do assert the authority of Josephus as a historian. The Jewish people had a strong heritage that stemmed from the events of the coat of many colors. This story would have been woven into the very fabric of their nation. They took it very seriously, and so should we as Christians now.
Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/tatyana_tomsickova
Hope Bolinger is an editor at Salem, a multi-published novelist, and a graduate of Taylor University's professional writing program. More than 1,100 of her works have been featured in various publications ranging from Writer's Digest to Keys for Kids. She has worked for various publishing companies, magazines, newspapers, and literary agencies and has edited the work of authors such as Jerry B. Jenkins and Michelle Medlock Adams. Her modern-day Daniel trilogy released its first two installments with IlluminateYA, and the final one, Vision, releases in August of 2021. She is also the co-author of the Dear Hero duology, which was published by INtense Publications. And her inspirational adult romance Picture Imperfect releases in November of 2021. Find out more about her at her website.
This article is part of our People of Christianity catalog that features the stories, meaning, and significance of well-known people from the Bible and history. Here are some of the most popular articles for knowing important figures in Christianity: