Joseph of Old: A Messianic Figure and Allusions to the Endowment
To make sense of how the Lord would bring about His promises made to Japheth and his seed, a messianic figure must be brought into the equation, namely Joseph who was sold into Egypt. Joseph of Old serves as an important archetype. For members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints his preeminence comes to the fore in certain passages in the Book of Mormon cited by Lehi revealing important prophecies Joseph of Old had given. Joseph foretold of two great seers arising from his loins during the last days. One of them was none other than Joseph Smith Jr. of whom Brigham Young taught descended through one of the sons of Joseph, claiming the prophet was a pure Ephraimite.1 The other seer Joseph of Old spoke of, however, has yet to be revealed.
Joseph of Old looms large within the Abrahamic traditions, with various accounts of great importance narrating the saga of his life: the Genesis account being chief among them. Revered as the Book of Genesis is, this Old Testament text has details that appear limited when compared with those of the Book of Jasher. The latter provides greater details and insights into Joseph’s life that are worth considering. For instance, the Jasher account portrays Joseph’s youth as a bit more pretentious than the account given in Genesis, with the latter, in my mind, presenting a person who seems a bit unawares of the consequences of his actions.
And when Joseph saw the strength of his brethren, and their greatness, he praised them and extolled them, but he ranked himself greater than them, and extolled himself above them; and Jacob, his father, also loved him more than any of his sons, for he was a son of his old age, and through his love toward him, he made him a coat of many colors. And Joseph saw that his father loved him more than his brethren, he continued to exalt himself above his brethren, and he brought unto his father evil reports concerning them. And the sons of Jacob seeing the whole of Joseph’s conduct toward them, and that their father loved him more than any of them, they hated him and could not speak peaceably to him all the days. (Jasher 41:6-8) 2
From this account we learn the haughty nature of Joseph in his youth at the age of 17. Blessed as Joseph was with the birthright over the House of Israel, his actions and words present an even more reprehensible spectacle, revealing a man who had not learned the wisdom necessary for ruling and leading others. The Jasher account divulges Joseph’s childish nature and his tendencies to aggrandize himself with his father’s love at the expense of his brother’s respect. He repeated these offenses to such an exponential degree that his brothers no longer cared for him. Yet this is not all; he further antagonized them by openly recounting the dreams the Lord had given him in their presence, solidifying the alienation of them.
And Joseph was seventeen years old, and he was still magnifying himself above his brethren, and thought of raising himself above them. At that time he dreamed a dream, and he came unto his brothers and told them his dream, and he said unto them, I dreamed a dream, and behold we were all binding sheaves in the field, and my sheaf rose and placed itself upon the ground and your sheaves surrounded it and bowed down to it. And his brethren answered him and said unto him, What meaneth this dream that thou didst dream? dost thou imagine in they heart to reign or rule over us? And he still came, and told the thing to his father Jacob, and Jacob kissed Joseph when he heard these words from his mouth, and Jacob blessed Joseph. (Jasher 41:9-12)
Hearing the dream allowed Joseph’s brothers to infer a preliminary interpretation about their own standing in what they perceived to be Joseph’s grandiose imagination. The center sheaf represents Joseph himself and his posterity, whereas the other sheaves represent Joseph’s brothers and their posterity bowing down to Joseph and his descendants. His brothers, however, weren’t the only ones to become impatient with his recounting of his visions, for one of them, in particular, drew the indignation of Jacob.
And when the sons of Jacob saw their father had blessed Joseph and had kissed him, and that he loved him exceedingly, they became jealous of him and hated him the more. And after this Joseph dreamed another dream and related the dream to his father in the presence of his brethren, and Joseph said unto his father and brethren, Behold I have again dreamed a dream, and behold the sun and the moon and the eleven starts bowed down to me. And his father heard the words of Joseph and his dream, and seeing that his brethren hated Joseph on account of this matter, Jacob therefore rebuked Joseph before his brethren on account of this thing, saying, What meaneth this dream which thou hast dreamed, and this magnifying thyself before they brethren who are older than thou art? Dost thou imagine in thy heart that I and thy mother and thy eleven brethren will come and bow down to thee, that thou speakest these things? (Jasher 41:13-16)
Note well that the patriarch, Jacob, appears incensed at the prospect of Joseph supplanting his authority over his own house at some future date because not only will Joseph’s brothers genuflect before him but also his parents. Yet the biblical account informs the reader that, although Jacob appears incensed outwardly, he did have the awareness to take note of the dream and its possible importance as solid prophecy.3 This fact makes this dream remarkable, to say the least.
Despite the grandeur of Joseph’s dreams, eventually his recounting of them resulted in his brothers selling him into slavery to rid themselves of Joseph’s presence and rivalry over the birthright within the family. Slavery was the lesser punishment the majority of Joseph’s brothers desired to inflict upon him. The decision to sell their younger brother came only after Reuben, intervening on Joseph’s behalf, persuaded the majority not to execute their own blood and kin. Judah reasoned from Reuben’s entreaties that their proposed actions would not profit them anything, believing at minimum some money should be made for their troubles.4 Money, indeed, they made. After casting Joseph into a pit, Judah and the rest negotiated with Ishmaelite merchants and acquired twenty pieces of silver for selling off their brother. The actions perpetrated here foreshadows similar ones that would occur at future time, specifically during Christ’s ministry on the earth. Just as Judah and his brothers betrayed Joseph into the hands of foreigners, the Pharisees and the nation of Judah betrayed Christ into the hands of the Romans and orchestrated the Messiah’s death. The most glaring difference between Joseph and Christ’s betrayals surfaces when considering the amount for which they were each sold: Joseph for twenty pieces of silver, Christ for thirty.
Joseph’s Descent and Learning
The motion conveyed in the scriptures after Joseph’s enslavement serves as an instructive motif for all readers. The movement commences with the Ishmaelites leading Joseph away from the land of Canaan, a land higher in elevation than that of his destination Egypt, and reveals this man descending from a higher station towards a lower one. This imagery becomes more poignant when one considers the land into which he descends represents a Gentile nation. Being exiled from his family, the Ishmaelites transported Joseph into a troubled land away from the tranquility of the pastures of his homeland. Recall that within the Book of Mormon the Allegory of the Olive Tree symbolizes the Gentiles as a wild olive tree signifying the perhaps untamed spirits of this people.5 Furthermore, the Hebrew tradition often depicts the Gentile nations as those filled with unclean peoples. The descent motif perhaps apprises the readers here that the Lord must use such a scenario, and ones similar to it, to temper his servants when they still require further training so that they can fulfill their missions upon the earth. Thus, such adverse conditions serve as a testing ground whereupon the Lord can forge solid steel out of the mingled alloy offered in the person undergoing the trials. Yet, before expounding on this a bit, something mentioned previously needs attention.
The previous post on this topic gave a definition of the term “Gentile” in which the descendants of Japheth were denoted as such. Reading this post presents another connotation of this term. Here this particular usage of the term “Gentile” refers to those nations and peoples outside of the House of Israel, meaning non-Israelites. The Egyptians surrounding Joseph happened to fall under this connotation of the word “Gentile.” Again, the descent motif provides more insights for the reader in light of this particular meaning of the term “Gentile.”
Perhaps the movement away from the Israelites into boisterous cities of Egypt signals a movement away from a different spiritual level of people, with the Egyptians representing those on a telestial or an even lower scale of people. On the other hand, Israel may represent a terrestrial or an even higher gradation of people. Joseph’s descent into Egypt provided the necessary atmosphere for the Lord to refine His servant in hope of polishing the rough edges remaining because ample opposition would be supplied from the cultural aspects of Egyptian civilization. Thus, Joseph’s enslavement, though appalling to the 21st century reader, served as a time of refinement in which the trials and tribulations Joseph would pass through would result in something greater. The culmination of these trials enable Joseph to mature to the point he obtained tremendous power and favor in Egypt.
Undoubtedly, many readers here know and understand the details surrounding Joseph’s trials during his sojourn in a foreign land. Perhaps the most dire event in Joseph’s descent occurred in his imprisonment after being wrongfully accused of sin within the house of his master, Potiphar.6 Gloomy as Joseph’s situation became, positive aspects shine through the darkness as the reader pays close attention to the motifs and allusions the scriptures present, for Joseph’s arrival into Egypt at the hands of purchasers brought about his conveyance into the hands of Potiphar, a man seeking “a good servant who shall stand before him to attend him, and to make him overseer over his house and all belonging to him.”7 Notice immediately the Lord orchestrated this particular event and ensured Joseph obtained an esteemed position within the household of Potiphar, a high-ranking officer within Pharaoh’s administration. This position served to instruct Joseph in his duties in overseeing the needs and wants of the household of the patriarch, Jacob, whom he would replace. Yet this office only fulfilled the preliminary requirements for understanding the basic needs and economics of an individual household. Finishing this requirement led to a test examining whether Joseph would take that which did not belong to him, though being tempted somewhat to the extreme. In this case, Potiphar’s wife, Zelicah, basically threw herself at Joseph.
Zelicah, upon seeing the countenance and form of Joseph, became obsessed with the Hebrew to the degree she became ill and her appearance, from the Jasher account, seems to have waned some because “she coveted his beauty in her heart, and her soul was fixed upon Joseph.”8 The madness of her obsession drove her to adopt seductive measures through which she hoped to entice Joseph into committing sin with her. She first only used words but continued to unleash more tactics from her repertoire of skills, and yet Joseph withstood all of these by rebutting her words with uttering his meditations of God. Realizing the indomitable fortitude of Joseph’s resolve, Zelicah threatened physical punishment against him should he refuse “to lie with her.”9 Isn’t it interesting that whenever sinful persons or organizations desire others to accept them in the manner they deem appropriate, they often do so by requiring their targets to stoop to their own level of debauchery? Like Zelicah, whenever they’re unable to achieve their objectives, they threaten their targets with bodily harm. Harm, however, does necessarily come directly from predators, for they often resort to swaying public opinion in their favor so that others, those who assign themselves the self-proclaimed role of protector, will carry out the sordid deeds the predators would not. By adopting these methods, their feigned innocence remains assured. It was this approach Zelicah applied to Joseph after accosting him and tearing some of his garments from his body.
And when Zelicah saw that Joseph’s garment was torn, and that he had left it in her hand, and had fled, she was afraid of her life, lest the report should spread concerning her, and she rose up and acted with cunning, and put off the garments in which she was dressed, and she put on her other garments. And she took Jospeh’s garment, and she laid it beside her, and she went and seated herself in the place where she had sat in her illness, before the people of her house had gone out to the river, and she called a young lad who was then in the house, and she ordered him to call the people of the house to her. And when she saw them she said unto them with a loud voice and lamentation, See what a Hebrew your master has brought to me in the house, for he came this day to lie with me. For when you had gone out he came to the house, and seeing that there was no person in the house, he came unto me, and caught hold of me, with intent to lie with me. And I seized his garments and tore them and called out against him with a loud voice, and when I had lifted up my voice he was afraid of his life and left his garment before me, and fled. And the people of her house spoke nothing, but their wrath was very much kindled against Joseph, and they went to his master and told him the words of his wife. (Jasher 44:55-60)
Note well the vehemence with which Zelicah emphasized her victimization and the evidence she used to deceive the people into believing her tale. The portrayal of her plight in this manner brought about the desired effect she expected. Preying upon the trust she had with the people of the household and leveraging it for her benefit, she assured the exile of Joseph from Potiphar’s estate and his condemnation in order to cover her own sin. Having received this information, the master of the house ordered his other servants to flog Joseph through which the latter received “severe stripes.”10
Joseph, The Messianic Figure
Joseph descended even further at this point in the narrative, entering into prison among perhaps the worst humanity had to offer at that time. Why would God exact such suffering of Joseph? The injustice this man suffered at the hands of others seems to apprise the reader of the fortitude required of favored disciples of the Lord as they receive tutoring in the intricacies necessary for truly learning to become like God. Joseph’s time spent in prison was no less instructive. Reading this portion of the story for many seems to simply make the reader aware of the details of Joseph’s sojourn, and yet a closer investigation reveals something a bit more enlightening. Just as he received favor in being placed over the entire household of Potiphar, Joseph’s entrance into prison again indicates the favor the Lord bestowed upon his servant.
But the Lord was with Joseph, and shewed him mercy, and gave him favour in the sight of the keeper of the prison. And the keeper of the prison committed to Joseph’s hand all the prisoners that were in the prison; and whatsoever they did there, he was overseer of it. The keeper of the prison looked not to anything that was under his hand; because the LORD was with him, and that which he did, the LORD made it to prosper. (Genesis 39:21-23 JST)
These scriptures tell of the Lord entrusting Joseph with the stewardship encompassing those who resided within prison and further alludes to imagery suggestive of his ministry among those considered dead to Egyptian society. Thus, the prison represents hell or spiritual prison. Notice too Joseph’s receiving the keys over the prison from its keeper and the subtle shift in the positions of the mortals described in these verses. Verses twenty-two and twenty-three point to Joseph becoming the overseer of the prison upon receiving the keys, with the former overseer fading into the backdrop of the narrative. The ultimate meaning suffused within these verses indicates Joseph’s descending below all things and marks the point at which ascent, a transitional phase denoting rebirth and recreation of the soul of Joseph, becomes the next movement in his journey.
This movement into ascent commenced once Joseph obtained release from prison upon the request of the Pharaoh, a ruler to whom the Lord had revealed a dream imbued with rich symbolism and meaning which he could not understand. Neither could his wise men nor his priests determine the exact import embedded within the dream. Yet Pharoah’s cup bearer, a person who had served time in prison with Joseph, remembered his prison keeper’s ability to interpret the true meaning of his own dream experienced in confinement.11 He then proceeded to tell Pharaoh concerning the Hebrew interpreter of dreams upon which Pharaoh ordered Joseph’s release. The movement occurring during this transitional phase is no less important, for, after having obtained release, the emissaries of Pharaoh immediately washed and clothed Joseph before being admitted into the presence of Pharaoh, god of Egypt.12 Successfully interpreting Pharaoh’s dream also resulted in additional movement upward for Joseph, but, before this movement could occur, the Jasher narrative describes the Lord sending a “ministering angel,” or a true messenger from God, to administer further light and knowledge and give Joseph a new name, specifically Jehoseph.13 The new name the angel conferred upon Joseph demands some remarks here about its possible implications not only for Joseph but also for the reader whoso desires to embark upon the same path as this man.
A comparative analysis of both names attributed to this man produces some useful insights. His original name derives its form from the Qal verb יָסַף (yasaf) and morphs into future form of the verb, becoming the name יוֹסֵף (Yosef): the former meaning “to add, increase,” and the latter “let him add.” When comparing the name Joseph with the new one, יְהוֹסֵף (Yehosef), the obvious change that occurred indicates the addition of a prefix derived from the divine name יְהוָֹה (Yehovah). Attaching this prefix to the original renders the new name to be theophoric (θεόφορος), with this Greek term meaning “bearing or carrying a god” or “possessed or inspired by a god.”14 Not only had Joseph increased in wisdom and understanding, but the new name, coupled with the meaning of the Greek term θεόφορος, also seems to show he had increased in divinity.
יְהוֹסֵף (Yehosef) means “Jehovah has added,” but there is no indication as to what the Lord added to Joseph, save one closely considers the Jasher account of his ascent from prison into the presence of Pharaoh, god of Egypt. Accessing the presence of Pharaoh led to further glory being added to Joseph, for, prior to leaving Pharaoh’s court after interpreting the dream, he had advised the king to “seek throughout the kingdom for a man very discreet and wise, who knoweth all the affairs of government, and appoint him to superintend over the land of Egypt.”15 The very words of Joseph allude to the fact that Pharaoh may not be as wise as most readers would think. To rule at the capacity Joseph advises essentially relegates the Pharaoh as figurehead who serves as a check against the superintendent’s power. From this last assertion, perhaps Pharaoh does serve an important purpose after all. Despite these musings, recall the two previous stewardships placed in the hands of Joseph and what type of skills he acquired and applied daily to his various tasks. His overseeing Potiphar’s household instructed him in the minutia of administering temporal affairs. While presiding over others in prison, his charge appears to have been to help captives understand things pertaining to the spiritual realm. He did this through revealing the meaning of dreams to Pharaoh’s cup bearer and baker. All that was left for Joseph to do was to apply all that he had learned in the macrocosm, and this glory Pharaoh added to Joseph.
Now thou didst give me counsel to appoint a wise man over the land of Egypt, in order with his wisdom to save the land from the famine; now therefore, since God has made all this known to thee, and all the words which thou hast spoken, there is not throughout the land a discreet and wise man like unto thee. And thy name no more shall be called Joseph, but Zaphnath Paaneah shall be thy name; thou shalt be second to me, and according to thy word shall be all the affairs of my government, and at thy word shall my people go out and come in. Also from under thy hand shall my servants and officers receive their salary which is given to them monthly, and to thee shall all the people of the land bow down; only in my throne will I be greater than thou. (Jasher 49:20-22)16
The imagery presented in this passage suggests Joseph obtained the keys of the kingdom, and yet this is not all. Joseph’s elevation to this high station once again reveals his reception of another name, צָפְנַת פַּעְנֵהַ (Zaphnath Paaneah), and if we consider Pharaoh acting symbolically as God here, then this one comes by way of a higher authority. This information should provoke within the minds of readers a curiosity to investigate further. Examining this name demands that the reader understand it is an Egyptian name transliterated into Biblical Hebrew, so any definitions ascribed to it by rabbis, scribes, and pharisees may not be accurate; rather, the Egyptian meaning itself must guide the reader. The dictionary entry, citing not only the Hebrew but also the true Egyptian meaning, defines צָפְנַת פַּעְנֵהַ (Zaphnath Paaneah) as “salvation,” “savior of the age,” and “savior of the world.”17 The implications of this name further buttresses the claim made earlier concerning the increase in divinity Joseph experienced. Furthermore, pay particular attention to the details and movement of the narrative, for, as Joseph, in the highest palace of Egypt, receives the new name from Pharaoh (symbolic God), notice that the initiate receives the rights and privileges of the ruler who then moves into the background.
The Right Hand Of Pharaoh: Savior of The Gentiles and The House of Israel
Reexamining the previously quoted passage from Jasher presents some key phrases signaling the messianic call Joseph entered into. Pharaoh’s granting of omniscient powers required him to reorient his subjects to place gravity in the words of his second-in-command, with this undoubtedly transpiring by way of a royal edict pronounced and disseminated throughout the political order. Inclining the people to the words of the new ruler initiated their habituation in receiving orders from him so that stability could remain during the peaceful and frightening times awaiting Egypt. This motif evokes imagery associated with the Father and the Son during the creation of this earth, with the latter receiving authority by way of the word from the former.18 And through the words of Christ, the intelligences lent their obedience resulting in the cosmic order’s formation and stability.19 Likewise, Joseph served as the Son under Pharaoh, and this arrangement points to and mimics the patriarchal order described in the blog post connected with this one.
Joseph possessed authority to act on behalf of Pharaoh for the well-being of his subjects and also did so on behalf of Jacob’s household. Pharaoh’s ceremonial adoption of Joseph presents the latter not just simply as a Hebrew serving under the dictates of the ruler but as a universalizing figure welding together various cultures. Moreover, the adoption rendered him the elder brother and protector of a people not his biological blood and kin but figuratively grafted into his jurisdiction. It was under these auspices some of the sons of Jacob, who sought food for their families because the famine had penetrated their land as well, traveled from Canaan.The encounter between Joseph and his brothers fulfilled the dreams given Joseph by God, with his siblings bowing before him because of the salvation he extended to them by bringing all their families into Egypt to dwell in the land of Goshen. Joseph appears as an axial point of humanity, endowed with the obligations to preserve the whole human family as the birthright son should do.
Further intimations of Joseph’s messianic role appear in the Joseph Smith Translation of Genesis 48. Here the reader learns that Jacob received a direct encounter with God who informed the former that He would send him a messiah for saving his household from the future cataclysm.
And Jacob said unto Joseph, When the God of my fathers appeared unto me in Luz in the land of Canaan, he sware unto me that he would give unto me and unto my seed the land for an everlasting possession. Therefore, O my son, he hath blessed me in raising thee up to be a servant unto me, in saving my house from death. (Genesis 48:7-8 JST)
From these verses, coupled with the insights presented in this post, the saga of Joseph reveals a man tried to the very core all in preparation for saving the mighty Gentile nation that was Egypt and the House of Israel. Yet he had to ascend the spiritual ladder before he could truly rule over such a vast order, and this ascension makes several allusions to the endowment. Perhaps the alternative meaning of Joseph’s Egyptian name, צָפְנַת פַּעְנֵהַ (Zaphnath Paaneah) is more appropriate than ever: “The God lives, and He speaks.”
Brigham Young, Preaching and Testimony, Journal of Discourses Vol. 2, p. 269
Parry, J. H. trans. The Book of Jasher (New York, NY: Cosimo Classics, 2005), 118.
Genesis 37:11 JST
Genesis 37:26 JST
Jacob 5:7-10, 34, 46 cf. Romans 11:17
Genesis 39:7-20 JST
Genesis 40:1-3, 9-14 JST. Please note that Joseph’s interpretation of this man’s dream indicates he will remain in prison (symbolic hell) for only three days after which Pharaoh (symbolic God) will lift him from his dire circumstance.
Genesis 41:14 JST cf. Jasher 48:41. The Jasher account provides descriptive remarks concerning the “royal throne” and Pharaoh’s “princely dress,” further indicating the godlike status of the Egyptian ruler.
See also Genesis 41:45 JST
See Gesenius, H. W. F. Gesenius’ Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon of the Old Testament. Translated by Samuel Prideaux Tregelles (Grand Rapid, MI: Eerdmans Publishing, 1976), s.v. “צָפְנַת פַּעְנֵהַ”