The Antiquities of the Jews, 2.20–2.38

Flavius Josephus  translated by William Whiston

« J. AJ 2.7–2.19 | J. AJ 2.20–2.38 | J. AJ 2.39–2.59 | About This Work »

201. Now these brethren rejoiced as soon as they saw their brother coming to them, not indeed as at the presence of a near relation, or as at the presence of one sent by their father, but as at the presence of an enemy, and one that by Divine Providence was delivered into their hands; and they already resolved to kill him, and not let slip the opportunity that lay before them. 21But when Reubel, the eldest of them, saw them thus disposed, and that they had agreed together to execute their purpose, he tried to restrain them, showing them the heinous enterprise they were going about, and the horrid nature of it; 22that this action would appear wicked in the sight of God, and impious before men, even though they should kill one not related to them; but much more flagitious and detestable to appear to have slain their own brother, by which act the father must be treated unjustly in the son’s slaughter, and the mother also be in perplexity while she laments that her son is taken away from her, and this not in a natural way neither. 23So he entreated them to have a regard to their own consciences, and wisely to consider what mischief would betide them upon the death of so good a child, and their youngest brother; that they would also fear God, who was already both a spectator and a witness of the designs they had against their brother; that he would love them if they abstained from this act, and yielded to repentance and amendment; 24but in case they proceeded to do the fact, all sorts of punishments would overtake them from God for this murder of their brother, since they polluted his providence, which was every where present, and which did not overlook what was done, either in deserts or in cities; for wheresoever a man is, there ought he to suppose that God is also. 25He told them further, that their consciences would be their enemies, if they attempted to go through so wicked an enterprise, which they can never avoid, whether it be a good conscience; or whether it be such a one as they will have within them when once they have killed their brother. 26He also added this besides to what he had before said, that it was not a righteous thing to kill a brother, though he had injured them; that it is a good thing to forget the actions of such near friends, even in things wherein they might seem to have offended; but that they were going to kill Joseph, who had been guilty of nothing that was ill towards them, in whose case the infirmity of his small age should rather procure him mercy, and move them to unite together in the care of his preservation. 27That the cause of killing him made the act itself much worse, while they determined to take him off out of envy at his future prosperity, an equal share of which they would naturally partake while he enjoyed it, since they were to him not strangers, but the nearest relations, 28for they might reckon upon what God bestowed upon Joseph as their own; and that it was fit for them to believe, that the anger of God would for this cause be more severe upon them, if they slew him who was judged by God to be worthy of that prosperity which was to be hoped for; and while, by murdering him, they made it impossible for God to bestow it upon him.

292. Reubel said these and many other things, and used entreaties to them, and thereby endeavored to divert them from the murder of their brother. But when he saw that his discourse had not mollified them at all, and that they made haste to do the fact, he advised them to alleviate the wickedness they were going about, in the manner of taking Joseph off; 30for as he had exhorted them first, when they were going to revenge themselves, to be dissuaded from doing it; so, since the sentence for killing their brother had prevailed, he said that they would not, however, be so grossly guilty, if they would be persuaded to follow his present advice, which would include what they were so eager about, but was not so very bad, but, in the distress they were in, of a lighter nature. 31He begged of them, therefore, not to kill their brother with their own hands, but to cast him into the pit that was hard by, and so to let him die; by which they would gain so much, that they would not defile their own hands with his blood. To this the young men readily agreed; so Reubel took the lad and tied him to a cord, and let him down gently into the pit, for it had no water at all in it; who, when he had done this, went his way to seek for such pasturage as was fit for feeding his flocks.

323. But Judas, being one of Jacob’s sons also, seeing some Arabians, of the posterity of Ismael, carrying spices and Syrian wares out of the land of Gilead to the Egyptians, after Rubel was gone, advised his brethren to draw Joseph out of the pit, and sell him to the Arabians; 33for if he should die among strangers a great way off, they should be freed from this barbarous action. This, therefore, was resolved on; so they drew Joseph up out of the pit, and sold him to the merchants for twenty pounds He was now seventeen years old. 34But Reubel, coming in the night-time to the pit, resolved to save Joseph, without the privity of his brethren; and when, upon his calling to him, he made no answer, he was afraid that they had destroyed him after he was gone; of which he complained to his brethren; but when they had told him what they had done, Reubel left off his mourning.

354. When Joseph’s brethren had done thus to him, they considered what they should do to escape the suspicions of their father. Now they had taken away from Joseph the coat which he had on when he came to them at the time they let him down into the pit; so they thought proper to tear that coat to pieces, and to dip it into goats’ blood, and then to carry it and show it to their father, that he might believe he was destroyed by wild beasts. 36And when they had so done, they came to the old man, but this not till what had happened to his son had already come to his knowledge. Then they said that they had not seen Joseph, nor knew what mishap had befallen him; but that they had found his coat bloody and torn to pieces, whence they had a suspicion that he had fallen among wild beasts, and so perished, if that was the coat he had on when he came from home. 37Now Jacob had before some better hopes that his son was only made a captive; but now he laid aside that notion, and supposed that this coat was an evident argument that he was dead, for he well remembered that this was the coat he had on when he sent him to his brethren; so he hereafter lamented the lad as now dead, 38and as if he had been the father of no more than one, without taking any comfort in the rest; and so he was also affected with his misfortune before he met with Joseph’s brethren, when he also conjectured that Joseph was destroyed by wild beasts. He sat down also clothed in sackcloth and in heavy affliction, insomuch that he found no ease when his sons comforted him, neither did his pains remit by length of time.

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