Louis Ginzberg.

The legends of the Jews / translated from the German manuscript by Henrietta Szold (Volume 2) online

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BM 530 .G513 1909 v. 2
Ginzberg, Louis, 1873-1953
The legends of the Jews






[* SEP 23 1911

•imki %V^


Translated from the German Manuscript by


Bible Times and Characters
From Joseph to the Exodus


The Jewish Publication Society of America


Copyright, 1910,


The Jewish Publication Society of America


The arrangement and presentation of the material in this
vokime are the same as in Volume I. In both my efforts
have been directed to bringing together as full as possible
a collection of Jewish legends that deal with Biblical per-
sonages and events. The sources of those legends and ex-
planations of some of them will be given in the last volume
of the entire work, and the numbers throughout the work
refer to the notes in the concluding volume.

My original intention was to continue Volume II up to the
death of Moses, but the legendary material clustering around
the life and death of Moses is so abundant that practical con-
siderations demanded the division of this material, in order
not to make the second volume too bulky. The division
chosen is a natural one. This volume closes with the Exodus,
and contains the deeds of Moses in Egypt, while the follow-
ing volume will deal with Moses in the desert.

The fact that Job is placed between Jacob's sons and
Moses may appear strange to some readers, since in the
Bible Job is one of the last books ; but " legend is above time
and space," and I have, therefore, given Job the place which
legend has ascribed to him.

Louis Ginzberg.

New York, March 28, 1910.



Preface v

I. Joseph i

The Favorite Son — Joseph Hated by His Brethren —
Joseph Cast into the Pit— The Sale — Joseph's Three
Masters — Joseph's Coat Brought to His Father — Judah
and His Sons — The Wives of the Sons of Jacob —
Joseph the Slave of Potiphar — Joseph and Zuleika —
Joseph Resists Temptation — Joseph in Prison — Pha-
raoh's Dreams — Joseph before Pharaoh — The Ruler of
Egypt— Joseph's Brethren in Egypt— Joseph Meets His
Brethren— The Second Journey to Egypt — Joseph and
Benjamin— The Thief Caught— Judah Pleads and
Threatens — Joseph Makes Himself Known— Jacob Re-
ceives the Glad Tidings — Jacob Arrives in Egypt —
Joseph's Kindness and Generosity — Jacob's Last Wish —
The Blessing of Ephraim and Manasseh — The Blessing
of the Twelve Tribes— The Death of Jacob— The Sons
of Jacob at War with the Sons of Esau — Zepho King
of Kittim — The Nations at War — Joseph's Magnanimity
— Asenath — The Marriage of Joseph — Kind and Unkind
Brethren — Treachery Punished — The Death and Burial
of Joseph.

II. The Sons of Jacob 185

Significant Names — Reuben's Testament — Simon's Ad-
monition against Envy — The Ascension of Levi — Judah
Warns against Greed and Unchastity — Issachar's Single-
ness of Heart — Zebulon Exhorts unto Compassion —
Dan's Confession — Naphtali's Dreams of the Division
of the Tribes— Gad's Hatred— Asher's La^t Words-
Benjamin Extols Joseph.

III. Job 223

Job and the Patriarchs — Job's Wealth and Bene-
factions — Satan and Job — Job's Suffering— The Four
Friends — Job Restored.

VIII Contents

IV. Moses in Egypt 243

The Beginning of the Egyptian Bondage — Pharaoh's
Cunning — The Pious Midwives — The Three Counsel-
lors — The Slaughter of the Innocents — The Parents of
Moses — The Birth of Moses — Moses Rescued from the
Water — The Infancy of Moses — Moses Rescued by
Gabriel — The Youth of Moses — The Flight — The King
of Ethiopia — ^Jethro — Moses Marries Zipporah — A
Bloody Remedy — The Faithful Shepherd — The Burning
Thorn-bush — The Ascension of Moses — Moses Visits
Paradise and Hell — Moses Declines the Mission — Moses
Punished for His Stubbornness — The Return to Egypt —
Moses and Aaron before Pharaoh — The Suffering In-
creases — Measure for Measure — The Plagues Brought
through Aaron — The Plagues Brought through Moses —
The First Passover — The Smiting of the First-born —
The Redemption of Israel from Egyptian Bondage —
The Exodus.




The Favorite Son 3

Joseph Hated by His Brethren 6

Joseph Cast into the Pit 9

The Sale 15

Joseph's Three Masters iQ

Joseph's Coat Brought to His Father. 23

JuDAH AND His Sons 31

The Wives of the Sons of Jacob 37

Joseph the Slave of Potiphar 39

Joseph and Zuleika 44

Joseph Resists Temptation 52

Joseph in Prison - 58

Pharaoh's Dreams 6^

Joseph before Pharaoh 67

The Ruler of Egypt 73

Joseph's Brethren in Egypt 79

Joseph Meets His Brethren 82

The Second Journey to Egypt 89

Joseph and Benjamin 94

The Thief Caught 99

JuDAH Pleads and Threatens 103

Joseph Makes Himself Known no

Jacob Receives the Glad Tidings 115

Jacob Arrives in Egypt 120

Joseph's Kindness and Generosity. . . . 124

Jacob's Last Wish 128

Tlie Blessing of Ephraim and Ma-



The Blessing of the Twelve Tribes. . 140

The Death of Jacob 147

The Sons of Jacob at War with the

Sons of Esau 155

Zepho King of Kittim 159

The Nations at War 164

Joseph's Magnanimity 167

Asenath 170

The Marriage of Joseph 172

Kind and Unkind Brethren 175

Treachery Punished 177

The Death and Burial of Joseph 179


The Favorite Son

Jacob was not exempt from the lot that falls to the share
of all the pious. Whenever they expect to enjoy Hfe in
tranquillity, Satan hinders them. He appears before God,
and says : " Is it not enough that the future world is set
apart for the pious? What right have they to enjoy this
world, besides ? " After the many hardships and conflicts
that had beset the path of Jacob, he thought he would be at
rest at last, and then came the loss of Joseph and inflicted the
keenest suffering. Verily, few and evil had been the days
of the years of Jacob's pilgrimage, for the time spent out-
side of the Holy Land had seemed joyless to him. Only the
portion of his life passed in the land of his fathers, during
which he was occupied with making proselytes, in accord-
ance with the example set him by Abraham and Isaac, did
he consider worth while having lived," and this happy time
was of short duration. When Joseph was snatched away,
but eight years had elapsed since his return to his father's

And yet it was only for the sake of Joseph that Jacob had
been willing to undergo all the troubles and the adversity
connected with his sojourn in the house of Laban. Indeed,
Jacob's blessing in having his quiver full of children was due
to the merits of Joseph, and likewise the dividing of the
Red Sea and of the Jordan for the Israelites was the re-

4 The Legends of the Jews

ward for his son's piety. For among the sons of Jacob
Joseph was the one that resembled his father most closely in
appearance, and, also, he was the one to whom Jacob trans-
mitted the instruction and knowledge he had received from
his teachers Sheni and Eber.' The whole course of the son's
life is but a repetition of the father's. As the mother of
Jacob remained childless for a long time after her marriage,
so also the mother of Joseph. As Rebekah had undergone
severe suffering in giving birth to Jacob, so Rachel in giving
birth to Joseph. As Jacob's mother bore two sons, so also
Joseph's mother. Like Jacob, Joseph was born circumcised.
As the father was a shepherd, so the son. As the father
served for the sake of a woman, so the son served under a
woman. Like the father, the son appropriated his older
brother's birthright. The father was hated by his brother,
and the son was hated by his brethren. The father was the
favorite son as compared with his brother, so was the son
as compared with his brethren. Both the father and the son
lived in the land of the stranger. The father became a ser-
vant to a master, also the son. The master whom the father
served was blessed by God, so was the master whom the son
served. The father and the son were both accompanied by
angels, and both married their wives outside of the Holy
Land. The father and the son were both blessed with
wealth. Great things were announced to the father in a
dream, so also to the son. As the father went to Egypt and
put an end to famine, so the son. As the father exacted the
promise from his sons to bury him in the Holy Land, so
also the son. The father died in Egypt, there died also the
son. The body of the father was embalmed, also the body

Joseph 5

of the son. As the father's remains were carried to the
Holy Land for interment, so also the remains of the son.
Jacob the father provided for the sustenance of his son
Joseph during a period of seventeen years, so Joseph the
son provided for his father Jacob during a period of seven-
teen years.*

Until he was seventeen years old, Joseph frequented the
Bet ha-Midrash,^ and he became so learned that he could
impart to his brethren the Halakot he had heard from his
father, and in this way he may be regarded as their teacher.^
He did not stop at formal instruction, he also tried to give
them good counsel, and he became the favorite of the sons
of the handmaids, who would kiss and embrace him."

In spite of his scholarship there was something boyish
about Joseph. He painted his eyes, dressed his hair care-
fully, and walked with a mincing step. These foibles of
youth were not so deplorable as his habit of bringing evil
reports of his brethren to his father. He accused them of
treating the beasts under their care with cruelty — he said
that they ate flesh torn from a living animal — and he charged
them with casting their eyes upon the daughters of the
Canaanites, and giving contemptuous treatment to the sons
of the handmaids Bilhah and Zilpah, whom they called

For these groundless accusations Joseph had to pay
dearly. He was himself sold as a slave, because he had
charged his brethren with having called the sons of the
handmaids slaves, and Potiphar's wife cast her eyes upon
Joseph, because he threw the suspicion upon his brethren
that they had cast their eyes upon the Canaanitish women.

6 The Legends of the Jews

And how little it was true that they were guilty of cruelty
to animals, appears from the fact that at the very time when
they were contemplating their crime against Joseph, they
yet observed all the rules and prescriptions of the ritual in
slaughtering the kid of the goats with the blood of which
they besmeared his coat of many colors.^

Joseph Hated by His Brethren

Joseph's talebearing against his brethren made them hate
him. Among all of them Gad was particularly wrathful,
and for good reason. Gad was a very brave man, and when
a beast of prey attacked the herd, over which he kept guard
at night, he would seize it by one of its legs, and whirl it
around until it was stunned, and then he would fling it away
to a distance of two stadia, and kill it thus. Once Jacob
sent Joseph to tend the flock, but he remained away only
thirty days, for he was a delicate lad and fell sick with the
heat, and he hastened back to his father. On his return he
told Jacob that the sons of the handmaids were in the habit
of slaughtering the choice cattle of the herd and eating it,
without obtaining permission from Judah and Reuben. But
his report was not accurate. What he had seen was Gad
slaughtering one lamb, which he had snatched from the very
jaws of a bear, and he killed it because it could not be kept
alive after its fright. Joseph's account sounded as though
the sons of the handmaids were habitually inconsiderate and
careless in wasting their father's substance.*

To the resentment of the brethren was added their envy
of Joseph, because their father loved him more than all of
them. Joseph's beauty of person was equal to that of his

Joseph 7

mother Rachel, and Jacob had but to look at him to be con-
soled for the death of his beloved wife. Reason enough for
distinguishing him among his children." As a token of his
great love for him, Jacob gave Joseph a coat of many colors,
so light and delicate that it could be crushed and concealed
in the closed palm of one hand. The Hebrew name of the
garment, Psisshn, conveys the story of the sale of Joseph.
The first letter, Pe, stands for Potiphar, his Egyptian mas-
ter; Samek stands for Soharim, the merchantmen that
bought Joseph from the company of Ishmaelites to whom his
brethren had sold him ; Yod stands for these same Ishmael-
ites ; and Mem, for the Midianites that obtained him from
the merchantmen, and then disposed of him to Potiphar.
But Passim has yet another meaning, " clefts." His brethren
knew that the Red Sea would be cleft in twain in days to
come for Joseph's sake, and they were jealous of the glory
to be conferred upon him. Although they were filled with
hatred of him, it must be said in their favor that they were
not of a sullen, spiteful nature. They did not hide their feel-
ings, they proclaimed their enmity openly.

Once Joseph dreamed a dream, and he could not refrain
from telling it to his brethren. He spoke, and said : " Hear,
I pray you, this dream which I have dreamed. Behold, you
gathered fruit, and so did I. Your fruit rotted, but mine
remained sound. Your seed will set up dumb images of
idols, but they will vanish at the appearance of my descend-
ant, the Messiah of Joseph. You will keep the truth as to
my fate from the knowledge of my father, but I will stand
fast as a reward for the self-denial of my mother, and you
will prostrate yourselves five times before me." "

8 The Legends of the Jews

The brethren refused at first to Hsten to the dream, but
when Joseph urged them again and again, they gave heed
to him, and they said, " Shalt thou indeed reign over us ? or
shalt thou indeed have dominion over us ? " "^ God put an
interpretation into their mouths that was to be verified in
the posterity of Joseph. Jeroboam and Jehu, two kings,
and Joshua and Gideon, two judges, have been among his
descendants, corresponding to the double and emphatic ex-
pressions used by his brethren in interpreting the dream."

Then Joseph dreamed another dream, how the sun, the
moon, and eleven stars bowed down before him, and Jacob,
to whom he told it first, was rejoiced over it, for he under-
stood its meaning properly." He knew that he himself was
designated by the sun, the name by which God had called
him when he lodged overnight on the holy site of the
Temple. He had heard God say to the angels at that time,
" The sun has come." '' The moon stood for Joseph's
mother, and the stars for his brethren, for the righteous are
as the stars.'" Jacob was so convinced of the truth of
the dream that he was encouraged to believe that he
would live to see the resurrection of the dead, for Rachel
was dead, and her return to earth was clearly indicated by
the dream. He went astray there, for not Joseph's own
mother was referred to, but his foster-mother Bilhah, who
had raised him.

Jacob wrote the dream in a book, recording all the circum-
stances, the day, the hour, and the place, for the holy spirit
cautioned him, " Take heed, these things will surely come
to pass."" But when Joseph repeated his dream to his
brethren, in the presence of his father, Jacob rebuked him,

Joseph 9

saying, " I and thy brethren, that has some sense, but I and
thy mother, that is inconceivable, for thy mother is dead." '"^
These words of Jacob called forth a reproof from God. He
said, " Thus thy descendants will in time to come seek to
hinder Jeremiah in delivering his prophecies." '" Jacob may
be excused, he had spoken in this way only in order to avert
the envy and hate of his brethren from Joseph, but they
envied and hated him because they knew that the interpreta-
tion put upon the dream by Jacob would be realized.^"

Joseph Cast into the Pit

Once the brethren of Joseph led their father's flocks to
the pastures of Shechem, and they intended to take their
ease and pleasure there.""^ They stayed away a long time, and
no tidings of them were heard. Jacob began to be anxious
about the fate of his sons. He feared that a war had broken
out between them and the people of Shechem, and he re-
solved to send Joseph to them and have him bring word
again, whether it was well with his brethren."^^ Jacob de-
sired to know also about the flocks, for it is a duty to concern
oneself about the welfare of anything from which one de-
rives profit. Though he knew that the hatred of his breth-
ren might bring on unpleasant adventures, yet Joseph, in
filial reverence, declared himself ready to go on his father's
errand. Later, whenever Jacob remembered his dear son's
willing spirit, the recollection stabbed him to the heart. He
would say to himself, " Thou didst know the hatred of thy
brethren, and yet thou didst say. Here am I." '^

Jacob dismissed Joseph, with the injunction that he jour-
ney only by daylight,'* saying furthermore, '' Go now, see

10 The Legends of the Jews

whether it be well with thy brethren, and well with the flock ;
and send me word " — an unconscious prophecy. He did not
say that he expected to see Joseph again, but only to have
word from him." Since the covenant of the pieces, God
had resolved, on account of Abraham's doubting question,
that Jacob and his family should go down into Egypt to
dwell there. The preference shown to Joseph by his father,
and the envy it aroused, leading finally to the sale of Joseph
and his establishment in Egypt, were but disguised means
created by God, instead of executing His counsel directly
by carrying Jacob down into Egypt as a captive.^^

Joseph reached Shechem, where he expected to find his
brethren. Shechem was always a place of ill omen for
Jacob and his seed — there Dinah was dishonored, there the
Ten Tribes of Israel rebelled against the house of David
while Rehoboam ruled in Jerusalem, and there Jeroboam
was installed as king." Not finding his brethren and the
herd in Shechem, Joseph continued his journey in the direc-
tion of the next pasturing place, not far from Shechem, but
he lost his way in the wilderness.^^ Gabriel in human shape
appeared before him, and asked him, saying, " What seekest
thou?"^ And he ansv/ered, ** I seek my brethren.'*
Whereto the angel replied, '' Thy brethren have given up
the Divine qualities of love and mercy .^° Through a pro-
phetic revelation they learned that the Hivites were pre-
paring to make war upon them, and therefore they departed
hence to go to Dothan. And they had to leave this place for
other reasons, too. I heard, while I was still standing be-
hind the curtain that veils the Divine throne, that this day
the Egyptian bondage would begin, and thou wouldst be



the first to be subjected to it." '' Then Gabriel led Joseph to

When his brethren saw him afar off, they conspired
against him, to slay him. Their first plan was to set dogs
on him. Simon then spoke to Levi, " Behold, the master of
dreams cometh with a new dream, he whose descendant
Jeroboam will introduce the worship of Baal. Come now,
therefore, and let us slay him, that we may see what will
become of his dreams." But God spoke : " Ye say, We shall
see what will become of his dreams, and I say likewise, We
shall see, and the future shall show whose word will stand,
yours or Mine." ^

Simon and Gad set about slaying Joseph, and he fell upon
his face, and entreated them : " Have mercy with me, my
brethren, have pity on the heart of my father Jacob. Lay
not your hands upon me, to spill innocent blood, for I have
done no evil unto you. But if I have done evil unto you,
then chastise me with a chastisement, but your hands lay
not upon me, for the sake of our father Jacob." These
words touched Zebulon, and he began to lament and weep,
and the wailing of Joseph rose up together with his broth-
er's, and when Simon and Gad raised their hands against
him to execute their evil design, Joseph took refuge behind
Zebulon, and supplicated his other brethren to have mercy
upon him. Then Reuben arose, and he said, " Brethren, let
us not slay him, but let us cast him into one of the dry pits,
which our fathers dug without finding water." That was
due to the providence of God ; He had hindered the water
from rising in them in order that Joseph's rescue might be
accomplished, and the pits remained dry until Joseph was
safe in the hands of the Ishmaelites."

12 The Legends of the Jews

Reuben had several reasons for interceding in behalf of
Joseph. He knew that he as the oldest of the brethren would
be held responsible by their father, if any evil befell him.
Besides, Reuben was grateful to Joseph for having reck-
oned him among the eleven sons of Jacob in narrating his
dream of the sun, moon, and stars. Since his disrespectful
bearing toward Jacob, he had not thought himself worthy
of being considered one of his sons.'' First Reuben tried
to restrain his brethren from their purpose, and he addressed
them in words full of love and compassion. But when he
saw that neither words nor entreaties would change their
intention, he begged them, saying : " My brethren, at least
hearken unto me in respect of this, that ye be not so wicked
and cruel as to slay him. Lay no hand upon your brother,
'shed no blood, cast him into this pit that is in the wilderness,
and let him perish thus." '^

Then Reuben went away from his brethren, and he hid
in the mountains, so that he might be able to hasten back
in a favorable moment and draw Joseph forth from the pit
and restore him to his father. He hoped his reward would
be pardon for the transgression he had committed against
Jacob." His good intention was frustrated, yet Reuben was
rewarded by God, for God gives a recompense not only for
good deeds, but for good intentions as well.'^ As he was
the first of the brethren of Joseph to make an attempt to
save him, so the city of Bezer in the tribe of Reuben was
the first of the cities of refuge appointed to safeguard the
life of the innocent that seek help."* Furthermore God
spake to Reuben, saying : '' As thou wast the first to en-
deavor to restore a child unto his father, so Hosea, one of

Joseph 13

thy descendants, shall be the first to endeavor to lead Israel
back to his heavenly Father." *"

The brethren accepted Reuben's proposition, and Simon
seized Joseph, and cast him into a pit swarming with snakes
and scorpions, beside which was another unused pit, filled
with offal." As though this were not enough torture, Simon
bade his brethren fling great stones at Joseph. In his later
dealings with this brother Simon, Joseph showed all the
forgiving charitableness of his nature. When Simon was
held in durance in Egypt as a hostage, Joseph, so far from
bearing him a grudge, ordered crammed poultry to be set
before him at all his meals."*^

Not satisfied with exposing Joseph to the snakes and
scorpions, his brethren had stripped him bare before they
flung him into the pit. They took off his coat of many
colors, his upper garment, his breeches, and his shirt.*'
However, the reptiles could do him no harm. God heard
his cry of distress, and kept them in hiding in the clefts
and the holes, and they could not come near him. From the
depths of the pit Joseph appealed to his brethren, saying:
" O my brethren, what have I done unto you, and what is
my transgression? Why are you not afraid before God on
account of your treatment of me? Am I not flesh of your
flesh, and bone of your bone? Jacob your father, is he not
also my father? Why do you act thus toward me? And
how will you be able to lift up your countenance before
Jacob? O Judah, Reuben, Simon, Levi, my brethren, de-
liver me, I pray you, from the dark place into which you
have cast me. Though I committed a trespass against you,
yet are ye children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who were

14 The Legends of the Jews

compassionate with the orphan, gave food to the hungry,
and clothed the naked. How, then, can ye withhold your
pity from your own brother, your own flesh and bone ? And
though I sinned against you, yet you will hearken unto my
petition for the sake of my father. O that my father knew
what my brethren are doing unto me, and what they spake
unto me ! "

To avoid hearing Joseph's weeping and cries of distress,
his brethren passed on from the pit, and stood at a bow-
shot's distance.*" The only one among them that manifested
pity was Zebulon. For two days and two nights no food
passed his lips on account of his grief over the fate of

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