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TitleJoseph in Egypt
Publication TypeMagazine Article
Year of Publication1973
AuthorsBrandt, Edward J.
Issue Number9
Date PublishedSeptember 1975
KeywordsJoseph (of Egypt)

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Joseph in Egypt

In the March Ensign the following statement appeared in an article on the ancient sites of the Holy Land: “… the brothers, jealous of Joseph’s apparent future, threw him into a pit and then sold him for twenty pieces of silver to a company of Ishmaelites. …” (Jay M. Todd, “Some Dwelling Sites of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,” p. 22.) In the June 1973 issue, this same event was mentioned again: “The brothers conspired against Joseph and sold him to traveling merchants.” (Edward J. Brandt, “Journeys and Events in the Lives of Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph,” p. 59).

The 28th verse of Genesis 37 [Gen. 37:28] states:

“Then there passed by Midianites merchantmen; and they drew and lifted up Joseph out of the pit, and sold Joseph to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver: and they brought Joseph into Egypt.”

Who sold Joseph, his brothers or the Midianites?

Harold Stringham
St. Louis, Missouri

Some have interpreted the 28th verse to mean that “the Midianites … drew and lifted up Joseph … and sold Joseph. …” The antecedent of the pronoun they, however, is his brothers. The confusion arises from the use of the terms Ishmaelites and Midianites. Both groups are descendants of Abraham (Gen. 16:15; Gen. 25:1–2) who through the years had conjoined and are among those known as the forefathers of the Arabs. In this story the terms are used interchangeably to refer to the Arab merchant group. Genesis 37:36 records that the “Midianites” sold Joseph to Potiphar. In the continuation of the account, Genesis 39:1 [Gen. 39:1] states that “Joseph was brought down to Egypt; and Potiphar … bought him of the hands of the Ishmaelites. …” (Italics added.)

That his brothers were responsible is further supported in the scriptures. Stephen’s great discourse recorded in Acts reviews the events of the people of Israel and declares that because of envy, his brothers (“the patriarchs”) sold Joseph into Egypt. (Acts 7:8–9.) Amulek, in the Book of Mormon, proclaims, in his testimony of his genealogy, that he was “a descendant of Manasseh, who was the son of Joseph who was sold into Egypt by the hands of his brethren.” (Alma 10:3. See also 1 Ne. 5:14; 2 Ne. 3:4; Alma 46:23.)

Finally, we have Joseph’s own witness. When his brothers made their second journey to Egypt for provisions, he made known unto them his identity: “I am Joseph your brother, whom ye sold into Egypt.” (Gen. 45:4. See also Gen. 50:20.) Joseph’s ten older brothers stand fully accountable for his enslavement.—Edward J. Brandt

Scripture Reference

Genesis 37:28