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Joseph and his Coat of Many Colours
This tale from the Bible has all the ingredients of a really good plot, and has even been made into a musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber.
Joseph was his father’s favourite son, and when his father gave him a magnificent coat for a present, his brothers became jealous. One day they hatched a plot to sell him into slavery for 20 pieces of silver. Joseph found himself in Egypt, but his gift for telling the future helped him turn his fortunes.
Read by Natasha. Duration 20 minutes. Proofread by Claire Deakin.
Joseph and His Coat of Many Colours.
Many years ago there were twelve brothers. They lived in a hot and sunny land called Canaan, and they were farmers. Their father was called Jacob, and his two last sons were born when he was already extremely old; their names were Joseph and Benjamin, and the two youngest were by far the favourites of the old man – so much so, that their older brothers became quite envious of them.
Joseph was a dreamy boy, and his brothers were always teasing him for having his ‘head in the clouds’ and not paying attention to what was going on around him. In fact, Joseph noticed everything, and when his brothers neglected their work or did something wrong, he told their father all about it. The brothers were furious with him for getting them into trouble.
On Joseph’s seventeenth birthday, Jacob gave him a magnificent present. It was a coat woven with a beautiful pattern that contained many different colours. Joseph loved the coat, but when his older brothers saw it they became even more jealous, and their dislike for him grew even stronger!
One day they were out in the fields, and Joseph started to tell his brothers about the dream he had the previous night.
In the dream, the brothers had been gathering the wheat in the fields and tying them up into bundles called sheaves. Joseph’s sheaf stood up as if it were alive, and all his brothers’ sheaves bowed down before it.
When Joseph had finished telling the dream his brothers were deeply offended and insulted!
“What is the meaning of this dream?” they said. “That you shall rule over us, and we shall bow down before you? How dare you dream such a dream? You should shut up and do as you’re told.”
A few nights later, Joseph had another dream. This time he told it to his entire family while they were eating their meal. He dreamed that he had stood on a mountain top, and the sun, the moon and all the stars had bowed down before him.
This dream was too much, even for his old father.
“This is a very unbelievable, crazy dream, young man,” he said. “Do you mean that your father, mother, and all your brothers should bow down before you? You’d better not dream such a dream again, or you may regret it.”
When the older brothers saw how angry their father was with Joseph, they were pleased, but soon their dad went back to favouring Joseph above all the others, so they went back to hating Joseph.
One day, the brothers went to tend to their flocks in some far away pastures. Benjamin was still too young to go out and work, but Jacob sent Joseph to join the older brothers. He put on his coat of many colours and went out to look for them. The brothers spotted him from far off, and while he was still approaching they planned a plot against him.
“Oh no, here comes the dreamer boy,” said one. “Let’s kill him, and throw him in a pit. We will tell father that a wild beast ate him up.”
Reuben, who was the oldest, decided to save Joseph. He said, “No, let’s not be so mean that we kill him. He’s an annoying little pest, but he is still our brother. Let’s drop him in a pit and leave him as food for the animals. That way we can truthfully tell father that it was not we who killed him, but the wild beasts.”
Secretly, Reuben planned to come back later and rescue Joseph from the pit before any great harm came to him.
So when Joseph arrived and said, “Here I am. Would you like to hear what I dreamed last night?”
The brothers said, “Did you dream this little brother?” They seized him, stripped him of his coat of many colours and slung him into a hole in the ground. It was a deep pit with no water in it, and if the wild beasts did not eat him, he would surely die of thirst before too long, for it was a baking hot country, on the edge of the desert.
Pleased with their plan, the brothers sat down to eat their lunch. While they were eating, some traveling merchants came by. Their camels were loaded with spices, balms, and myrrh for perfumes, which they were carrying to Egypt.
Now the brothers planned a second plot. Judah said, “Come, what’s in it for us if we just leave our brother to die? Let us at least make some profit out of him – it will be the first and last time that he brings any good to us. We’ll sell him to these merchants, and they can take him as a slave to Egypt.”
The others agreed that it was a fine plan, and so they sold Joseph to the merchants for twenty pieces of silver. Then they killed a goat and dipped Joseph’s coat in the blood. They took the coat to their father, and explained that his favourite son, Joseph, had been killed by a wild animal. Their father Jacob wept and tore his hair out with great sadness, saying that he could never be happy again because of this news. The brothers were, however, happy that they were rid of him, and had made some money too.
The merchants took Joseph to the land of Egypt, which was ruled by a magnificent king, called a Pharaoh. There they sold him to Potiphar, who was captain of the Pharaoh’s bodyguard. Joseph served his new master well, and was well liked by him. Then one day, when Potiphar was gone from the palace, his wife tried to kiss Joseph. Joseph said, “No way!” …And ran away from her. When Potiphar came back, his wife lied and made up stories about Joseph attacking her. When Potiphar heard all this, he ordered Joseph to be arrested and thrown in jail.
Joseph lived in the dungeon jail with two other men. One of the men had been the Pharaoh’s chief servant, called a butler. The other had been his baker. Both men had done some small things to annoy the Pharaoh, and had been thrown into prison as a result.
One morning, the butler said, “I had such a strange dream last night. I only wish that there was somebody here who could tell me its meaning.”
Joseph replied that he understood dreams, and begged the butler to tell it to him, which he did. He said, “In my dream I was walking through a vineyard. I came to an especially wonderful vine, which had three branches loaded with bright juicy fruit. I picked the grapes off these three branches, and made them into wine. I poured the wine into a cup, took it to the Pharaoh, and he drank it.”
“Well,” said Joseph. I can tell you the meaning of your dream. The three branches are three days, and in three days’ time, you shall be restored to your former job and you will serve wine into the Pharaoh’s hand.”
The butler thanked Joseph, and promised to remember him when he was free.
The next night the baker had a dream. He dreamed that that he was carrying three white baskets in a pile on his head. They were filled with all sorts of delicious pastries and pies, and he meant to take them to the Pharaoh, but before he could arrive, a flock of birds flew down and ate all the bread.
“Indeed,” said Joseph, “I can tell you the meaning of your dream. The three baskets are three days, and in three days time the guard will come and chop off your head.”
It all happened just as Joseph had said. The baker was executed, and the butler was restored to his former position. But for two whole years the butler did not remember Joseph, until one day the Pharaoh said to his advisers:
“I had the strangest dream last night. I was standing by the river and seven fat, happy looking cows came out of the water and started to eat the grass by the bank. Then a little later, seven thin and awful looking cows came out from the water, and they ate up the fat cows. It was so weird. If only some wise man could tell me what it means.”
But none of the Pharaoh’s helpers could interpret the dream. The Butler, who was standing near by, heard this. He remembered Joseph in the prison cell. Then he said, “Sir, if you’ll permit me to speak. Some years ago, in your vast wisdom, your Magnificence saw fit to throw your butler and your baker into the dungeon. There we met a man who listened to our dreams and understood our fates, and all the dreams came true exactly as he had predicted.”
When he heard this, the Pharaoh sent for Joseph. The guards took Joseph from the dungeon, made sure that he was washed, shaved and dressed in fresh clothes, and brought him before the Pharaoh.
Joseph listened to the Pharaoh’s dream about the seven fat cows and the seven thin cows, and he told him exactly what it meant…
“Your majesty, the cows in your dream mean years, and the fat cows are years of plenty. The coming seven years will be full of food, and everyone will have enough to eat and more. But the thin cows are lean years, and the following seven years will be empty of food and the fields of crops will bring you nothing to eat. There is a great danger that everyone in the land of Egypt will starve.”
“You must find a wise man to work for you during the seven years of plenty. He will put the extra food into storage. When the seven lean years come, he will take the food out of the storage, and make sure that the people do not starve.”
The Pharaoh listened to the words of Joseph, and wondered whom he could appoint to oversee such an important task. After thinking very long and hard, he decided that he knew of no wiser man than Joseph himself.
And so Joseph became chief minister, and was the most important person in all of Egypt, except for the Pharaoh of course. Everything happened as he had predicted. There were seven good years followed by seven bad years, but nobody starved in the land because he had saved up enough food during the good times.
However, back in the land of Canaan, Josephs family had not stored up any food, and they did not have enough to eat. Joseph’s dad, Jacob, sent his ten eldest sons to Egypt to buy some food before they starved to death. He ordered that Benjamin, the youngest, stay at home, because he could not risk losing another son like Joseph.
The brothers came to the Egyptian court, and stood before Joseph. They did not recognise their brother whom they had not seen since he was a young boy of seventeen, and whom they had sold into slavery. The man they were looking at was a magnificent important official, and they bowed down before him, just as Joseph had predicted they would do, many, many years before.
Joseph knew his brothers, however, and decided to play a trick on them.
“You are spies!” He shouted at them. They became very afraid, and begged that he do them no harm.
When he saw his brothers trembling with fear, he softened his voice and asked about their family and where they came from. Simeon, who was the second oldest, replied that they were twelve brothers, but one was dead, and the youngest was at home with his father.
When he heard this, Joseph longed to see his little brother, Benjamin, and he said, “Bring the youngest to me, and then I shall give you what you ask.”
He permitted the brothers to take only a little food, and sent nine of them home to fetch Benjamin, but he kept Simeon prisoner to ensure that the others returned.
When they came home, their father wept and said, “My children are taken from me. First I lost Joseph, then Simeon, and now Benjamin shall be lost too.”
Soon they had eaten all the food they had brought with them, and still there was famine in the land, and they had no choice but to return to Egypt with Benjamin, just as Joseph had ordered.
This time Joseph received the brothers kindly, and gave them dinner in his own house. Still he did not reveal his true identity. He was so overjoyed to see his brother Benjamin that he wanted to weep, but he held back his tears. Instead, he made sure that Benjamin had the most and the best of all the food on the table.
Joseph instructed his steward to fill sacks full of grain for his brothers to take home. Secretly, he placed the money they had paid for the grain back into the sacks, and into the one belonging to Benjamin, he placed a golden cup from his house.
The brothers left for home, and Joseph let them get a head start. Then he sent soldiers to gallop after them, arrest them, and bring them back him in chains.
“You see,” he said, opening the sack belonging to Benjamin, “this little thief has stolen my golden cup from my house. Is this how you repay my kindness, by thievery?”
The brothers were shaken and very, very scared, because now they were certain they would be punished by death. Joseph said they could all go home unpunished, except for Benjamin who must stay behind in prison.
The brothers spoke amongst themselves in their own language, and did not know that Joseph could understand them. They believed that all the problems that were happening to them now was God’s punishment to them, for selling their younger brother into slavery for 20 pieces of silver.
Joseph heard them, and believed that perhaps they were sorry for what they had done.
Then the brother who was called Judah spoke and said, “Your majesty. Keep us here in Egypt as your slaves, but let Benjamin go back to his father, for he has already lost one favourite son, and if he loses the next dearest to him, it will break his old heart. If you keep Benjamin here in Egypt, our father will surely die of sorrow. Let us remain here in your prison, but send Benjamin home to his father.”
Now Joseph knew for certain that his brothers loved their father and were sorry for their wicked action against his favorite son. He could not hold back his secret anymore. Joseph stood up from his throne and came down to hug his brothers. All of a sudden, they recognised him.
They all cried so loudly that even the Pharaoh heard them. Eventually Joseph told his brothers to go home to their father and let him know that he was alive, and was the second most important man in all Egypt. They must all return and live close by him. He would protect them, and make sure that they had enough to eat during the years of famine.