My Namesakes: Josephs in the Bible

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 presetIn my family tree, I am named for a LOT of Josephs. My paternal grandfather was Joseph, as was his father, and his. Regretfully, we have no records of my great-great-grandfather’s name, but for all I know it was Joseph, too. (My father somehow missed out; only his middle name is Joseph.) It was not that Joseph was always the name of the first child, but each generation had a Joseph and I am directly descended from that line. It is pretty neat.

When I was younger, I would joke that I did not want to be named Joseph in honor of St. Joseph, the father of Jesus, but rather for Joseph of the Old Testament. He was a snazzy dresser! He saved Israel from famine! Sure, he contributed to the Exile of the Jews in Egypt, but no one was perfect. St. Joseph, on the other hand, was “just” the guy who famously never slept with his wife. Even though my opinion matured, when I created this blog years later, I chose to honor the Old Testament Joseph. This was a tribute, but also a way of making clear that I primarily focus on Hebrew Bible stories.

As I inch closer to Joseph of “Technicolor Dream Coat” fame, I am starting a brief new series: a look at all of the Josephs in the bible. So far, I have found eight: four in the Hebrew Bible and four more in the New Testament. Each post starts off about a different Joseph, but they lead into some very interesting discussions. It will be a lot of fun and touch on a few less well-known bible stories.

Want an advanced preview? Read on for more.

Joseph in the Hebrew Bible

Jacob Blesses Joseph and Gives Him His Coat (Source: Wikimedia Commons)
Jacob Blesses Joseph and Gives Him His Coat (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

In Hebrew, Joseph is “יוֹסֵף”, or “Yosef”. By far, the most important of these is the son of Jacob, the patriarch of the Tribes of Manasseh and Ephraim, together called the Tribe of Joseph. He is the lead figure in twenty chapters of Genesis that I will be getting to shortly, but he is not the only one. 

There are three additional Josephs that I found in the Hebrew bible:

  • Joseph, son of Asaph – A Levite musician in the Temple, perhaps even a minor prophet in the time of King David. He is named in 1 Chronicles 25.
  • Joseph, descendant of Binnui – A priest who lived in the time of Ezra, after the Jews returned to Jerusalem following the Babylonian Captivity. He was found guilty of marrying a foreign woman and polluting the line of Israel. He was mentioned in Ezra 10.
  • Joseph, descendant of Shekaniah – A head of a priestly family also in the time of Ezra. He was mentioned in Nehemiah 12. He may have been the same Joseph as the descendant of Binnui.

None of these figures are mentioned in more than one chapter or play more than a minor role in our narrative, but I do not believe that anything in the bible is “unimportant”. I look forward to digging into their stories more.

Joseph in the New Testament

Status of Joseph and Jesus by Fondazione Cariplo (Source: Wikimedia Commons)
Status of Joseph and Jesus by Fondazione Cariplo (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

In the Greek New Testament, Joseph is “Ἰωσήφ”, “Ioseph”. There are four Josephs found there, two prominent ones and two which have smaller parts to play.

  •  Joseph, the husband of Mary – The most famous Joseph of the New Testament, though he appears only in Jesus’s infancy and is absent from the later story. Did he die? Did something else happen? The text is silent. He appears in all four gospels, though John provides only a passing mention.
  • Joseph, brother of Jesus – A so-called “brother” of Jesus mentioned by Matthew and Mark. Was he only metaphorically a brother? Was he the son of Mary or of Joseph? It is certainly worth a closer look!
  • Joseph of Arimathea  – A prominent Jew mentioned in Matthew, Mark, and John who donates a tomb for Jesus.
  • Joseph called Barsabbas and Justus – A confusingly named leader of the Christian community in Acts. This is possibly the same Joseph as the “brother” of Jesus. He may be the same as a man named Judas in Acts, and possibly even Jesus Justus. (Yes, there was a second Jesus in the New Testament!)

Over the next few weeks, I will be assembling and publishing posts about each of these biblical Josephs. It will be a lot of fun! But up next: More Esther.

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