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Antiquities of the Jews, Vol 1, The

CHAPTER 4. Concerning The Signal Chastity Of Joseph.

1. Now Potiphar, an Egyptian, who was chief cook to king Pharaoh, bought Joseph of the merchants, who sold him to him. He had him in the greatest honor, and taught him the learning that became a free man, and gave him leave to make use of a diet better than was allotted to slaves. He intrusted also the care of his house to him. So he enjoyed these advantages, yet did not he leave that virtue which he had before, upon such a change of his condition; but he demonstrated that wisdom was able to govern the uneasy passions of life, in such as have it in reality, and do not only put it on for a show, under a present state of prosperity.

2. For when his master's wife was fallen in love with him, both on account of his beauty of body, and his dexterous management of affairs; and supposed, that if she should make it known to him, she could easily persuade him to come and lie with her, and that he would look upon it as a piece of happy fortune that his mistress should entreat him, as regarding that state of slavery he was in, and not his moral character, which continued after his condition was changed. So she made known her naughty inclinations, and spake to him about lying with her. However, he rejected her entreaties, not thinking it agreeable to religion to yield so far to her, as to do what would tend to the affront and injury of him that purchased him, and had vouchsafed him so great honors. He, on the contrary, exhorted her to govern that passion; and laid before her the impossibility of her obtaining her desires, which he thought might be conquered, if she had no hope of succeeding; and he said, that as to himself, he would endure any thing whatever before he would be persuaded to it; for although it was fit for a slave, as he was, to do nothing contrary to his mistress, he might well be excused in a case where the contradiction was to such sort of commands only. But this opposition of Joseph, when she did not expect it, made her still more violent in her love to him; and as she was sorely beset with this naughty passion, so she resolved to compass her design by a second attempt.

3. When, therefore, there was a public festival coming on, in which it was the custom for women to come to the public solemnity; she pretended to her husband that she was sick, as contriving an opportunity for solitude and leisure, that she might entreat Joseph again. Which opportunity being obtained, she used more kind words to him than before; and said that it had been good for him to have yielded to her first solicitation, and to have given her no repulse, both because of the reverence he ought to bear to her dignity who solicited him, and because of the vehemence of her passion, by which she was forced though she were his mistress to condescend beneath her dignity; but that he may now, by taking more prudent advice, wipe off the imputation of his former folly; for whether it were that he expected the repetition of her solicitations she had now made, and that with greater earnestness than before, for that she had pretended sickness on this very account, and had preferred his conversation before the festival and its solemnity; or whether he opposed her former discourses, as not believing she could be in earnest; she now gave him sufficient security, by thus repeating her application, that she meant not in the least by fraud to impose upon him; and assured him, that if he complied with her affections, he might expect the enjoyment of the advantages he already had; and if he were submissive to her, he should have still greater advantages; but that he must look for revenge and hatred from her, in case he rejected her desires, and preferred the reputation of chastity before his mistress; for that he would gain nothing by such procedure, because she would then become his accuser, and would falsely pretend to her husband, that he had attempted her chastity; and that Potiphar would hearken to her words rather than to his, let his be ever so agreeable to the truth.

4. When the woman had said thus, and even with tears in her eyes, neither did pity dissuade Joseph from his chastity, nor did fear compel him to a compliance with her; but he opposed her solicitations, and did not yield to her threatenings, and was afraid to do an ill thing, and chose to undergo the sharpest punishment rather than to enjoy his present advantages, by doing what his own conscience knew would justly deserve that he should die for it. He also put her in mind that she was a married woman, and that she ought to cohabit with her husband only; and desired her to suffer these considerations to have more weight with her than the short pleasure of lustful dalliance, which would bring her to repentance afterwards, would cause trouble to her, and yet would not amend what had been done amiss. He also suggested to her the fear she would be in lest they should be caught; and that the advantage of concealment was uncertain, and that only while the wickedness was not known [would there be any quiet for them]; but that she might have the enjoyment of her husband's company without any danger. And he told her, that in the company of her husband she might have great boldness from a good conscience, both before God and before men. Nay, that she would act better like his mistress, and make use of her authority over him better while she persisted in her chastity, than when they were both ashamed for what wickedness they had been guilty of; and that it is much better to a life, well and known to have been so, than upon the hopes of the concealment of evil practices.

5. Joseph, by saying this, and more, tried to restrain the violent passion of the woman, and to reduce her affections within the rules of reason; but she grew more ungovernable and earnest in the matter; and since she despaired of persuading him, she laid her hands upon him, and had a mind to force him. But as soon as Joseph had got away from her anger, leaving also his garment with her, for he left that to her, and leaped out of her chamber, she was greatly afraid lest he should discover her lewdness to her husband, and greatly troubled at the affront he had offered her; so she resolved to be beforehand with him, and to accuse Joseph falsely to Potiphar, and by that means to revenge herself on him for his pride and contempt of her; and she thought it a wise thing in itself, and also becoming a woman, thus to prevent his accusation. Accordingly she sat sorrowful and in confusion, framing herself so hypocritically and angrily, that the sorrow, which was really for her being disappointed of her lust, might appear to be for the attempt upon her chastity; so that when her husband came home, and was disturbed at the sight of her and inquired what was the cause of the disorder she was in, she began to accuse Joseph: and, "O husband," said she, "mayst thou not live a day longer if thou dost not punish the wicked slave who has desired to defile thy bed; who has neither minded who he was when he came to our house, so as to behave himself with modesty; nor has he been mindful of what favors he had received from thy bounty [as he must be an ungrateful man indeed, unless he, in every respect, carry himself in a manner agreeable to us]: this man, I say, laid a private design to abuse thy wife, and this at the time of a festival, observing when thou wouldst be absent. So that it now is clear that his modesty, as it appeared to be formerly, was only because of the restraint he was in out of fear of thee, but that he was not really of a good disposition. This has been occasioned by his being advanced to honor beyond what he deserved, and what he hoped for; insomuch that he concluded, that he who was deemed fit to be trusted with thy estate and the government of thy family, and was preferred above thy eldest servants, might be allowed to touch thy wife also." Thus when she had ended her discourse, she showed him his garment, as if he then left it with her when he attempted to force her. But Potiphar not being able to disbelieve what his wife's tears showed, and what his wife said, and what he saw himself, and being seduced by his love to his wife, did not set himself about the examination of the truth; but taking it for granted that his wife was a modest woman, and condemning Joseph as a wicked man, he threw him into the malefactors' prison; and had a still higher opinion of his wife, and bare her witness that she was a woman of a becoming modesty and chastity.

CHAPTER 5. What Things Befell Joseph In Prison.

1. Now Joseph, commending all his affairs to God, did not betake himself to make his defense, nor to give an account of the exact circumstances of the fact, but silently underwent the bonds and the distress he was in, firmly believing that God, who knew the cause of his affliction, and the truth of the fact, would be more powerful than those that inflicted the punishments upon him:—a proof of whose providence he quickly received; for the keeper of the prison taking notice of his care and fidelity in the affairs he had set him about, and the dignity of his countenance, relaxed his bonds, and thereby made his heavy calamity lighter, and more supportable to him. He also permitted him to make use of a diet better than that of the rest of the prisoners. Now, as his fellow prisoners, when their hard labors were over, fell to discoursing one among another, as is usual in such as are equal sufferers, and to inquire one of another what were the occasions of their being condemned to a prison: among them the king's cupbearer, and one that had been respected by him, was put in bonds, upon the king's anger at him. This man was under the same bonds with Joseph, and grew more familiar with him; and upon his observing that Joseph had a better understanding than the rest had, he told him of a dream he had, and desired he would interpret its meaning, complaining that, besides the afflictions he underwent from the king, God did also add to him trouble from his dreams.

2. He therefore said, that in his sleep he saw three clusters of grapes hanging upon three branches of a vine, large already, and ripe for gathering; and that he squeezed them into a cup which the king held in his hand; and when he had strained the wine, he gave it to the king to drink, and that he received it from him with a pleasant countenance. This, he said, was what he saw; and he desired Joseph, that if he had any portion of understanding in such matters, he would tell him what this vision foretold. Who bid him be of good cheer, and expect to be loosed from his bonds in three days' time, because the king desired his service, and was about to restore him to it again; for he let him know that God bestows the fruit of the vine upon men for good; which wine is poured out to him, and is the pledge of fidelity and mutual confidence among men; and puts an end to their quarrels, takes away passion and grief out of the minds of them that use it, and makes them cheerful. "Thou sayest that thou didst squeeze this wine from three clusters of grapes with thine hands, and that the king received it: know, therefore, that this vision is for thy good, and foretells a release from thy present distress within the same number of days as the branches had whence thou gatheredst thy grapes in thy sleep. However, remember what prosperity I have foretold thee when thou hast found it true by experience; and when thou art in authority, do not overlook us in this prison, wherein thou wilt leave us when thou art gone to the place we have foretold; for we are not in prison for any crime; but for the sake of our virtue and sobriety are we condemned to suffer the penalty of malefactors, and because we are not willing to injure him that has thus distressed us, though it were for our own pleasure." The cupbearer, therefore, as was natural to do, rejoiced to hear such an interpretation of his dream, and waited the completion of what had been thus shown him beforehand.

3. But another servant there was of the king, who had been chief baker, and was now bound in prison with the cupbearer; he also was in good hope, upon Joseph's interpretation of the other's vision, for he had seen a dream also; so he desired that Joseph would tell him what the visions he had seen the night before might mean. They were these that follow:—"Methought," says he, "I carried three baskets upon my head; two were full of loaves, and the third full of sweetmeats and other eatables, such as are prepared for kings; but that the fowls came flying, and eat them all up, and had no regard to my attempt to drive them away." And he expected a prediction like to that of the cupbearer. But Joseph, considering and reasoning about the dream, said to him, that he would willingly be an interpreter of good events to him, and not of such as his dream denounced to him; but he told him that he had only three days in all to live, for that the [three] baskets signify, that on the third day he should be crucified, and devoured by fowls, while he was not able to help himself. Now both these dreams had the same several events that Joseph foretold they should have, and this to both the parties; for on the third day before mentioned, when the king solemnized his birth-day, he crucified the chief baker, but set the butler free from his bonds, and restored him to his former ministration.

4. But God freed Joseph from his confinement, after he had endured his bonds two years, and had received no assistance from the cupbearer, who did not remember what he had said to him formerly; and God contrived this method of deliverance for him. Pharaoh the king had seen in his sleep the same evening two visions; and after them had the interpretations of them both given him. He had forgotten the latter, but retained the dreams themselves. Being therefore troubled at what he had seen, for it seemed to him to be all of a melancholy nature, the next day he called together the wisest men among the Egyptians, desiring to learn from them the interpretation of his dreams. But when they hesitated about them, the king was so much the more disturbed. And now it was that the memory of Joseph, and his skill in dreams, came into the mind of the king's cupbearer, when he saw the confusion that Pharaoh was in; so he came and mentioned Joseph to him, as also the vision he had seen in prison, and how the event proved as he had said; as also that the chief baker was crucified on the very same day; and that this also happened to him according to the interpretation of Joseph. That Joseph himself was laid in bonds by Potiphar, who was his head cook, as a slave; but, he said, he was one of the noblest of the stock of the Hebrews; and said further, his father lived in great splendor. "If, therefore, thou wilt send for him, and not despise him on the score of his misfortunes, thou wilt learn what thy dreams signify." So the king commanded that they should bring Joseph into his presence; and those who received the command came and brought him with them, having taken care of his habit, that it might be decent, as the king had enjoined them to do.

5. But the king took him by the hand; and, "O young man," says he, "for my servant bears witness that thou art at present the best and most skillful person I can consult with; vouchsafe me the same favors which thou bestowedst on this servant of mine, and tell me what events they are which the visions of my dreams foreshow; and I desire thee to suppress nothing out of fear, nor to flatter me with lying words, or with what may please me, although the truth should be of a melancholy nature. For it seemed to me that, as I walked by the river, I saw kine fat and very large, seven in number, going from the river to the marshes; and other kine of the same number like them, met them out of the marshes, exceeding lean and ill-favored, which ate up the fat and the large kine, and yet were no better than before, and not less miserably pinched with famine. After I had seen this vision, I awaked out of my sleep; and being in disorder, and considering with myself what this appearance should be, I fell asleep again, and saw another dream, much more wonderful than the foregoing, which still did more affright and disturb me:—I saw seven ears of corn growing out of one root, having their heads borne down by the weight of the grains, and bending down with the fruit, which was now ripe and fit for reaping; and near these I saw seven other ears of corn, meager and weak, for want of rain, which fell to eating and consuming those that were fit for reaping, and put me into great astonishment."

6. To which Joseph replied:—"This dream," said he, "O king, although seen under two forms, signifies one and the same event of things; for when thou sawest the fat kine, which is an animal made for the plough and for labor, devoured by the worser kine, and the ears of corn eaten up by the smaller ears, they foretell a famine, and want of the fruits of the earth for the same number of years, and equal with those when Egypt was in a happy state; and this so far, that the plenty of these years will be spent in the same number of years of scarcity, and that scarcity of necessary provisions will be very difficult to be corrected; as a sign whereof, the ill-favored kine, when they had devoured the better sort, could not be satisfied. But still God foreshows what is to come upon men, not to grieve them, but that, when they know it beforehand, they may by prudence make the actual experience of what is foretold the more tolerable. If thou, therefore, carefully dispose of the plentiful crops which will come in the former years, thou wilt procure that the future calamity will not be felt by the Egyptians."

7. Hereupon the king wondered at the discretion and wisdom of Joseph; and asked him by what means he might so dispense the foregoing plentiful crops in the happy years, as to make the miserable crops more tolerable. Joseph then added this his advice: To spare the good crops, and not permit the Egyptians to spend them luxuriously, but to reserve what they would have spent in luxury beyond their necessity against the time of want. He also exhorted him to take the corn of the husbandmen, and give them only so much as will be sufficient for their food. Accordingly Pharaoh being surprised at Joseph, not only for his interpretation of the dream, but for the counsel he had given him, intrusted him with dispensing the corn; with power to do what he thought would be for the benefit of the people of Egypt, and for the benefit of the king, as believing that he who first discovered this method of acting, would prove the best overseer of it. But Joseph having this power given him by the king, with leave to make use of his seal, and to wear purple, drove in his chariot through all the land of Egypt, and took the corn of the husbandmen, 3 allotting as much to every one as would be sufficient for seed, and for food, but without discovering to any one the reason why he did so.


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