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


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Dr A. R. Bhutta, Germany
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Dario Morandotti | Unsplash

Prophet Joseph’sas Brothers visited Egypt thrice, not twice

With a study of Genesis, we learn that there was a famine in the land of Canaan, and in order to buy grain, Prophet Jacobas had sent all his ten elder sons to Egypt, where Josephas happened to be the governor and agriculture minister. When the brothers of Josephas appeared before him, he recognised his step-brothers but they could not recognise him. Josephas noted that his real brother, Benjamin, was not among them.

According to the Bible, the brothers of Josephas made two trips to Egypt but the Quranic version says that they went there three times. There are some other differences, too, in the Biblical and Quranic versions of their trips to Egypt. Here, within this part, we shall analyse and compare the two versions of their trips to Egypt.

The Biblical version of the first visit of Joseph’sas brothers

According to the Biblical story, when the brothers of Josephas went to Egypt for the first time, they were treated roughly by Josephas. He accused them of spying and put them in prison for three days. When they denied the charge, Josephas told them that to prove that they were not spies, they should leave one of them in his custody and the others should go back home with the grain, and then they should come back with their youngest brother, Benjamin, and get their brother released.

So according to the Biblical version, Joseph arrested one of them, Simeon, and put him in prison while the others went back with their sacks full of grain. Back home, they discovered, to their surprise, that their money had been put back into their respective sacks.

They told their father that they had been treated roughly in Egypt and were even accused of spying. And Simeon had been detained by the governor until they went back and produced Benjamin before him. The father was naturally very disturbed by this development and had even rebuked them for disclosing the family details to that officer in Egypt (Gen. 42:9-34; 43:3-8).

The Quranic version of the first visit of Joseph’sas brothers

According to the Quranic version, when the brothers met Josephas on their first visit, he did not treat them roughly, nor did he accuse them of spying and put them in prison. He did not detain any of them, asking the others to go back home and bring Benjamin to him. Josephas had treated his brothers very well, and all of them had gone back satisfied with their sacks full of grain. Moreover, Josephas had their money put back into their sacks, which they had discovered, to their pleasant surprise, when they had opened their sacks at home.

However, while seeing his brothers off with their sacks full of grain, Josephas had told them, rather sternly, that when they come next time, they should also bring their youngest brother, Benjamin, along, otherwise they might not be allowed to buy grain or come near him. (Surah Yusuf, Ch.12: V.59-63)

The Biblical version of the second visit to Egypt

According to the Bible, when the brothers of Josephas came to Egypt to buy grain for the second time, they also brought Benjamin along, as Josephas had advised them. Josephas was happy and treated them well, and Simeon was released. However, then we are told that on the instruction of Josephas, the workers filling their sacks with grain, put the measuring ‘silver cup’ in the sack of Benjamin.

The next morning, when the brothers left for home, they were accused of stealing the “silver cup” and their sacks were searched. The cup was recovered from the sack of Benjamin and he was taken into custody. Shocked by this, the brothers went to see Josephas to have Benjamin released.

Judah, the spokesman for the brothers, explained to Josephas that Benjamin, being the youngest son of his old father, was very dear to him and that his father might not even survive the news of his arrest. He begged Josephas to let Benjamin go and take him into custody instead. At that point, the Bible says that Josephas could not control himself and made himself known to his brothers, saying, “I am Joseph; doth my father yet live?” (Gen. 45:3). He then embraced and kissed all his brothers. Then he invited them all to come to Egypt, and thus Joseph’sas family moved to Egypt and settled there. (Gen. Ch.43-46).

The biblical story ends with this second visit of Joseph’sas brothers to Egypt but the Quranic version continues with the story. It says that Josephas refused to release Benjamin as requested by the brothers. The brothers had gone back home without Benjamin. There, they told their father that Benjamin had been detained in Egypt for stealing the royal cup. The father was naturally very disturbed by this development. Then, after some time, they came back to Egypt for the third time. It was during this third meeting with Josephas that the story reached its climax when Josephas made himself known to them.

However, let us first see the Quranic version of the second visit of Joseph’sas brothers.

Quranic version of ‘brothers’ second visit

When the brothers of Josephas came to Egypt to buy grain for the second time, they also brought Benjamin with them, as Josephas had advised them. Josephas was happy to see his real brother. He treated them well and lodged his real brother with himself. He made himself known to Benjamin, telling him he was his real brother, Josephas. He ordered the servants to give the grain to all of them.

Having received the grain, when all the brothers were ready to depart for home, Josephas was there to see his younger brother off. As he helped his brother pack his things in his saddle bag, unintentionally he happened to the measuring ‘silver cup’ in his bag.

Later, when the servants did not find the cup, they accused the brothers of stealing the cup. The brothers rejected the allegation but when their bags were searched, the cup was found in, as stated, Benjamin’s bag; and he was detained as the culprit as was agreed upon by the brothers themselves. (Surah Yusuf, Ch.12: V.73-77; Tafsir-e-Kabeer, Vol. 3, ed. 1986, p.340)

All the brothers were shocked, particularly Judah, who had given a solemn pledge to his father that he would bring Benjamin safely back home. Then, they all went to see Josephas and pleaded with him to let Benjamin go and arrest one of them instead. However, Josephas refused to grant their request, saying: “He replied, ‘Allah forbid that we should take [any] save him with whom we found our property; for then we should certainly be unjust.’” (Surah Yusuf, Ch.12: V.80)

It was a divine plan

At this point, we may explain that Josephas had met his younger brother Benjamin after a very very long time, and he would have desired to “detain” him in Egypt. However, he could not do so under the law of the land.

This incident of the cup in his bag provided Josephas with a legal opportunity to detain his brother, which he availed. Josephas had not deliberately planted the cup in his brother’s bag as the Bible says. It was, indeed, God’s plan: “Thus did We plan for Joseph. He could not have taken his brother under the King’s law unless Allah had [so] willed.” (Surah Yusuf, Ch.12: V.77)

When Josephas refused to release Benjamin, the brothers conferred among themselves on how to proceed. Their leader, Judah – who had given a solemn pledge to their father, about the safe return of Benjamin – found himself too ashamed to go back and face his father. Thus, he decided to stay in Egypt and told his brothers to go back home with the grain and tell their father of the situation they were in and how Benjamin was captured as a consequence. The brothers went back home, leaving Judah behind, and told their father that Benjamin had been detained by the authorities in Egypt because he had stolen the silver cup.

The already worried father was, naturally, deeply grieved to hear the sad news about another son whom he loved most. However, with his heart sorrowful and eyes tearful, Jacobas bore the shock with goodly patience. He had always hoped that, by the grace of God, he would see, one day, his dearest son, Josephas. He knew from God what the others did not know. (Surah Yusuf, Ch.12: V.81-87)

Quranic version of the brothers’ third visit to Egypt

Some time after the second trip of his sons to Egypt, Jacobas asked them to “‘go ye and search for Joseph and his brother and despair not of the mercy of Allah; for none despairs of Allah’s mercy save the unbelieving people.’” (Surah Yusuf, Ch.12: V.88) So, once again, the brothers went to Egypt and met Josephas. They told him in a most humble way that the famine and poverty had badly hit them; and that they did not even have money enough to buy grain. They begged him to be charitable and give them “full measure” of the grain. (Surah Yusuf, Ch.12: V.89)

Buyers turned beggars

On their first two visits, the brothers of Josephas had met him as buyers of grain; however, on that day, they stood before him as those seeking charity. For Josephas, it was a very moving moment, and he could no longer bear that his brothers should degrade themselves so low before him. He told them, to their great surprise and dismay, that he was no other person than their very own brother, Josephas.

The brothers felt themselves badly humbled and confessed the sins that they had committed against him. Josephas, however, did not keep them in suspense concerning the treatment that could be extended to them, and he pardoned them immediately by declaring:

“‘No blame [shall lie] on you this day; may Allah forgive you! And He is the Most Merciful of those who show mercy.” (Surah Yusuf, Ch.12: V.93)

Josephas was fully aware, due to the love he was shown during his youthful age, of the fact that his father must have been suffering very badly on account of his sudden disappearance as a small boy. So, while seeing his brothers off with their sacks full of grain, Josephas gave them his shirt and told them to present it to his father as a token to assure him that he, Josephas, was well and alive. Josephas also invited all of them to come here and settle in Egypt.

Back home, when the brothers told their father all about Josephas and presented him with his shirt, the old and distressed father was greatly relieved to know that all his prayers and hopes about Josephas eventually came true. The brothers, too, expressed their sorrow to their father for what they had done to Josephas and, confessing their faults, begged him for forgiveness.

Following this, all of them migrated to Egypt, where they were received honourably by Josephas as well as by the King. All of them felt indebted to Josephas for this loving moment, bringing the family together once again. To thank God for His grace and mercy, they all fell into prostration before God. “And Joseph said, ‘O my father, this is the fulfilment of my dream of old. My Lord has made it come true.” (Surah Yusuf, Ch.12: V.101)


By comparing the Biblical and Quranic versions of Joseph’sas story, we have seen that there are many important differences between the two. The Quranic version is far more elaborate, coherent, realistic and moving than the Biblical one. It presents Josephas as a model of patience, piety, modesty, compassion, honesty and righteousness, without any blemish whatsoever.

I advise readers to go through the Quranic version in order to apprise themselves of the true features of this most inspiring, moving and moral story ever to be recorded in the Holy Scriptures. All praise belongs to Allah, the Gracious and Merciful.

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