The Saga of Joseph – Part 1: A Comparative study of Prophet Joseph’s story in Genesis (Ch. 37-50) and the Holy Quran

Dr A. R. Bhutta, Germany
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Genesis, the first book of the Bible, narrates the stories of many prophets; however, the story of Prophet Josephas is unique in many ways. It makes a very moving and inspiring read and is highly educative morally and spiritually.

The story of Propeht Josephas – known as Yusufas in the Holy Quran – is also mentioned in the Holy Quran, and apparently, it looks very similar to the one in the Bible. However, a careful look at the two versions makes it clear that there are important differences between the two. The Quranic version is more elaborate, coherent and logical than the Biblical version. And some important incidents are missing, altogether, in the Biblical story.

Before we point out the differences between the Biblical and Quranic versions of Prophet Joseph’sas story, it seems necessary to know the family background of Prophet Josephas, which makes the basis of his story.

The family background of Josephas

We learn from the Bible that Jacobas, the father of Josephas, was living in Haran with his maternal uncle Laban. In Haran, Jacobas worked very hard as a cattle farmer and became quite a rich man. During his stay in Haran, he had four wives. Three of his wives produced ten sons for him, but one of them, Rachel, did not produce any child for him for a very long time. Eventually, God heard the prayers of Rachel too and she was blessed with a son who was named Josephas. By that time, all the ten elder stepbrothers of Josephas were already grown-up youths, helping their father in the fields.

Some years after the birth of Josephas, Jacobas felt that his uncle Laban, and his children, did not regard him as before and they seemed to be jealous of his riches. So he decided, under divine command, to leave Haran and go back to his home town in Canaan. He consulted his wives and children, and, one day, he took all his family members, slaves, servants and flocks of animals, and left for Canaan.

On his way back to Canaan, Rachel gave birth to another son for Jacobas who was named Benjamin. Sadly enough, however, Rachel had gone through a very hard labour and could not survive the birth of her second baby. Thus, Josephas lost his mother but he got a real brother, Benjamin. And these two brothers happened to be the youngest of all the twelve sons of Jacob which he had from his four wives. (Gen.30:1-24; 35:17-26)

Stepbrothers make a wicked plan

Out of his 12 sons, Jacobas loved Josephas most, and that made all the ten step-brothers of Josephas extremely jealous of him. So they began to hate him. When still a small boy, Josephas saw a dream which he mentioned to his brothers. The brothers felt insulted by the dream, and they rebuked him for that dream. Then Josephas had another dream in which he saw that the sun, moon and 11 stars had bowed down before him. Again he mentioned this vision to his father and brothers, and again they rebuked him for his vision. (Gen. 37:1 – 22)

Now, after this second dream all the stepbrothers of Josephas, who already hated him, begin to feel even more angry and jealous of him and they decide to get rid of him. So they make a very wicked plan against Josephas. And thus begins the ‘story of Josephas’ which we find mentioned in the Bible as well as in the Holy Quran. And which we are now going to consider and compare in the next pages. (Gen. 39 – 45, & Surah Yousuf. Ch.12)

Differences between Biblical and Quranic versions

As already mentioned, the story of Josephas that appears in the Holy Quran may seem similar to the story mentioned in the Bible; however, a closer examination of the two makes it clear that the Quranic version is much more elaborate and realistic than the Biblical version. The Biblical story is short, ambiguous and lacks many important incidents. It even goes on to tarnish the innocent image of Josephas in the incident involving Potipher’s wife.

Let us now see the main differences between the Quranic and Biblical versions.

Joseph did not tell his dream to his brothers

According to the Biblical story, when Josephas narrated his first dream to his brothers, they rebuked him saying:

“And his brethren said to him, Shalt thou indeed reign over us? or shalt thou indeed have dominion over us? And they hated him yet the more for his dreams, and for his words.

“And he dreamed yet another dream, and told it his brethren, and said, Behold, I have dreamed a dream more; and, behold, the sun and the moon and the eleven stars made obeisance to me.” (Gen.37:8,9)

Now, we know from the Bible that on hearing the first dream, the brothers of Josephas were very angry and they rebuked and condemned him for that dream. In this context, therefore, it is evident that Josephas couldn’t have told his second dream to his brothers which was even more insulting and annoying to them than the first one.

According to the Holy Quran, Josephas did not tell his second dream to his brothers. He had mentioned it only to his father who had advised him:

“He said, ‘O my darling son, relate not thy dream to thy brothers, lest they contrive a plot against thee; for Satan is to man an open enemy.” (Surah Yusuf, Ch.12: V.6)

Father didn’t rebuke Josephas for his dreams

Again, the Biblical story states that on hearing the second dream:

“[…] his father rebuked him, and said unto him, What is this dream that thou hast dreamed? Shall I and thy mother and thy brethren indeed come to bow down ourselves to thee to the earth?

“And his brethren envied him; but his father observed the saying.” (Gen.37:10,11)

Here, again, we have something illogical in the Biblical story. It is not in one’s power to see dreams at their own will, and Joseph’sas father knew this fact very well. How then, could he rebuke his son for seeing such a dream? As already quoted from the Holy Quran (Surah Yusuf, Ch.12: V.6), the father understood the message underlying the dream and had advised Josephas not to tell that dream to his brothers.

Even the Genesis story says that “his father observed the saying.” (Gen.37:11)

This shows that the father fully understood the importance of Joseph’sas vision, and he remembered it all his life because that dream foretold how his family affairs were going to develop in the future.

Jacobas did not send Josephas to the fields

The Biblical story says that it was Jacobas himself who had sent his son, Josephas, into the fields to go and look for his stepbrothers saying:

“And he said to him, Go, I pray thee, see whether it be well with thy brethren, and well with the flocks; and bring me word again.” (Gen.37:14)

Here, again, we see something very strange. We are told that Jacobas was worried about the welfare of his ten grown-up sons who were pasturing the flocks in the fields; and that he had told his young son of tender age to go out in the fields and look around for his elder brothers and bring back the news about them.

Now, we have already read in the Biblical story that Joseph’sas ten elder brothers “hated him, and could not speak peaceably unto him” (Gen.37:4) because they could see that their father “loved Joseph more than all his children” (Gen.37:3,4). In this context, therefore, it was not likely that the father would have sent Josephas to go and meet his elder brothers in the fields when he knew that all of his step-brothers hated him and were inimically disposed towards him.

The Holy Quran, on the other hand, tells us that it was the brothers of Josephas who had persuaded their father to let Josephas go out with them, saying:

“‘Send him with us tomorrow that he may enjoy himself and play, and we shall surely keep guard over him.’” (Surah Yusuf, Ch.12: V.13) Their father, however, was reluctant to part with Josephas and had replied to them: “‘It grieves me that you should take him away, and I fear lest the wolf should devour him while you are heedless of him.’” (Ibid., V.14)

But the sons had insisted on taking Josephas out with them, and the father had agreed to let Josephas go with them only after they had reassured him: “‘Surely, if the wolf devour him while we are a strong party, then we shall indeed be [great] losers.’” (Ibid., V.15)

So we can see that the Biblical version is not consistent in logic. The father could not have sent his small boy out in the fields to look for his step-brothers when he knew quite well that they were not friendly to him and could harm him. The Holy Quran, on the other hand, tells us that it was the brothers who had insisted on taking Joseph along, and the father had agreed reluctantly when all of them had assured him about the boy’s safety.

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