Chapter 44

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Joseph instructed his steward to fill the bags of his brothers with grain and to return the silver they had given in payment. In the case of the youngest among them, he directed that his silver cup be included along with the silver. At sunrise, the brothers were on their way back to the land of Canaan. Josephus wrote that they had a twofold reason to be joyful, for they had received Simeon back again and they were able to return with Benjamin just as they had promised to their father. Soon everything changed for the sons of Jacob. They had not gone far away from the city when Joseph’s steward arrived and, as Joseph had directed him, accused them of having taken his master’s cup from which he drank and which he used for divination. Josephus indicated that the steward did not come alone but was in the company of a “troop of horsemen.” Explaining the reason for Joseph’s action, Josephus wrote that he wanted to determine whether his brothers “would stand by Benjamin when he would be accused of having stolen the cup and should appear to be in danger; or whether they would leave him and, relying on their own innocence, return to their father without him.” (Antiquities, II, vi, 7) As a worshiper of the true God, Joseph would not have been a practicer of divination but apparently represented himself as an Egyptian official who had no relationship to his brothers. Josephus made no mention regarding the use of the cup for divination. (44:1-6)

Faced with the false accusations of the steward, the brothers insisted on being guiltless, maintaining that they could not possibly have stolen the cup. In addition to payment for the grain, they had brought back the silver that had previously been returned in their bags. So certain were they of their innocence that they declared that the one in whose bag the cup would be found should die and that they themselves should become slaves to the steward’s master. The steward responded that only the one in whose bag the cup should be found would become a slave and the rest would go free. (44:7-10)

The brothers quickly lowered their bags to the ground and opened them. After the steward searched the bags, starting with the oldest and ending with the youngest, he located the cup in Benjamin’s bag. At that, according to Josephus, “all was changed into mourning and lamentation.” (Antiquities, II, vi, 7) They tore their garments in expression of their grief, reloaded their donkeys, and returned to the city. Upon entering Joseph’s house, they cast themselves down before him. When he questioned them why they had taken the cup and whether they did not know that a man in his position used it for divination, they, apparently out of regard for his great authority, offered no words in their defense. Judah replied, “What shall we say to my lord? What shall we plead? And how can we prove our innocence? God has found out the guilt of your servants. Look, we are slaves to my lord, both we and also the one in whose hand the cup has been found.” (44:11-16) It appears that the guilt to which Judah referred related to the way they had treated their brother Joseph. This also seems to be how Josephus understood what had happened to them. They “called to mind what a wicked enterprise they had been guilty of against Joseph. They also pronounced him happier than themselves.” If dead, he was “freed from the miseries of this life”; and, if alive, he would have the satisfaction “of seeing God’s vengeance upon them.” (Antiquities, II, vi, 8)

Joseph said to his brothers that only the one in whose hand the cup was found would be a slave to him and that all of the rest could return in peace to their father. Judah then pleaded for Benjamin, reminding Joseph why he and his brothers had been obligated to bring their youngest brother with them and telling him about what their father had said if his youngest son did not return from Egypt. To assure their father that the youngest son would return, Judah had pledged himself for him. He explained that, if his youngest brother remained in Egypt, he would be guilty before his father as long as he lived, and his father would die. Therefore, Judah petitioned Joseph that he be the one to remain in Egypt as a slave and that his youngest brother be able to return to his father. (44:17-34; see the Note section.)


In verse 28, the Hebrew text represents Jacob as indicating that Joseph was “torn to pieces” by a beast of prey. The Septuagint, however, quotes Jacob as saying to his sons, “You said that wild beasts had devoured him.”