Musee National Message Biblique

“Jacob weeping over Joseph’s coat,” an oil and gouache painting by Marc Chagall (1887–1985). Driven by intense jealousy, Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery. To explain his disappearance, the brothers dipped Joseph’s garment—a sign of their father Jacob’s favor—in blood and told Jacob that Joseph had been killed by a beast. So distraught was Jacob at the loss of his beloved son that he lamented, “I shall go down to Sheol to my son, mourning” (Genesis 37–35).

Jacob’s reaction is of course natural; even the actions of the brothers, though reprehensible, are explainable given their antipathy to Joseph. But, as Arnold Ages points out in the accompanying article, it is Joseph’s actions, once he had risen to prominence in Egypt, that remain puzzling: Why did Joseph fail to inform his father Jacob that he was alive and well, especially after he had risen to a position of power in the Egyptian court?