Antiquities of the Jews     by Flavius Josephus
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Book II, 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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Matt Curtin
Last modified: Fri Apr 17 12:40:28 EDT 1998