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As the KJV has it (though others dispute the translation particularly of כְּתֹ֥נֶת פַּסִּֽים, "coat of many colors"; see this question),

Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his children, because he was the son of his old age: and he made him a coat of many colours. (Genesis 37:3)

Surely Jacob—"Israel" here—loved Joseph also for reasons in addition to the fact that he was the son of his old age, particularly considering that at that time Jacob probably had a son born when he was even older, a very young Benjamin.

What were the reasons for the preferment, and why did he give him the tunic?

3 Answers 3

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I believe it's because of his mother Rachel . Jacob loved Rachel more than Leah and Joseph was her first born from her own blood .

References:

Genesis 29:18 And Yaquuv loved Rakhyl and he said, “I shall work for you seven years for Rakhyl, your younger daughter.”

Genesis 29:20 And Yaquuv worked for Rakhyl seven years, and they were in his eyes as a few days, because he loved her.

Genesis 29:30 And he went in also unto Rakhyl and he loved Rakhyl also more than Leah, and he worked with him again seven more years.

Jacob also kind of hinted that birth of Joseph as good fortune

Genesis 30:25 And when Rakhyl gave birth to Yoseph, Yaquuv said to Laban, “Send me; I shall go to my place and to my land.

Yoseph means "(God)he will add", This shows Jacob saw the event as good luck

This is how Jacob hinted again when he was confronted by Esau whom he considered as a threat

Genesis 33:2 And he made the Maidservants and their children first and Leah and her children after them and Rakhyl and Yoseph last.

This verse hits as to why Benjamin was not considered as good fortune

Genesis 35:17-19 And it was that when she was in labor, the midwife said to her, “Do not fear, because this son also is yours.” 18 And it was that when her soul was going out and she was dying, she called his name Bar Kabi – (son of my sorrow), and his father called him Benyamin. 19 And Rakhyl died and she was buried in the way of Ephrath, this is Bayth Lekhem.

Benyamin means “son of the right hand, favored, darling”(son of Rachel). This shows how much he loved Rachel and how much sorrow he was in

One more verse that shows why Jacob favoured Joseph

Genesis 37:2-3 And these are the generations of Yaquuv: Yoseph, son of seventeen years, was shepherding a flock with his brothers, and he was Prince with the sons of Zelpha and with the sons of Balha, wives of his father, and Yoseph brought their evil report to their father. 3 And Israel had loved Yoseph more than all his sons because he was a son of old age to him, and he made for him a coat of long sleeves.

Note: I used The Peshitta Bible(Aramaic to Plain English Version) as it translates from Aramaic and its very fluid/natural ,names are original, cultural affinity and not as rigid as the KJV which has more of English cultural bias, as you can see here coat of long sleeves makes more sense than coat of many colors because In the Middle East a long-sleeved robe signified nobility

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    Feb 15, 2022 at 8:13
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We are told why Jacob (called “Israel” here, perhaps conferring a dignity to the sentiment expressed) “loved Joseph more than all his children” (Genesis 37:3). It is because “he was the son of his old age”; the suggestion seems to be that a father siring a child in his elder years will love that child all the more. That was certainly the case with Abraham and Isaac.

Now, it is quite possible that Benjamin had been born and so was all the more “the son of his old age,” but here the phrase might be a euphemistic way of indicating that he was the son of Rachel, his favorite wife and the one he intended to marry in the first place, who had her children last of all, when Jacob was oldest. (After all, Jacob was not that much older when Joseph was born: his next oldest brothers were probably only a few years older than he.)

There is a further reason for the father's preference: Joseph seems to have been selected as his primary heir. I say so for several reasons. First, the eldest, Reuben, is in disgrace for violating his father’s marriage bed with Bilhah, while the next two brothers, Simeon and Levi, are in disgrace for murdering the Shechemites. Thus no doubt Jacob feels it is acceptable to promote the eldest son of his favorite wife. This would perhaps even be a way to honor this beloved, departed wife. In any event, that is indeed what happened: the double portion due to a primary heir is given not to Reuben, the eldest, but to Joseph’s two sons (see Gen 48).

Finally, we must not neglect the facts that Joseph’s various older brothers murdered and despoiled the Shechemites, committed incest with Bilhah, committed some sins (if not crimes) that brought an ill report, proposed to murder Joseph, actually sold him into slavery, and finally lied to their father about it. Jacob's sons seemed to have been out of control, and Jacob would of course have noticed that. By contrast, Joseph was at worst a tattletale and boaster. He may have already been possessed of a faithful and forgiving character that would enable him to become the instrument of the salvation of both Egypt and the Israelites, unusually blessed by God and often called a "type of Christ."

Given all these circumstances, surely there need be no puzzlement about Joseph's preferment.

This makes it much easier to understand the significance of the "coat of many colors." Whether such a "coat" or a long-sleeved robe, or both, the garment was a mark of distinction among the brothers.

The garment might have been purposely inconvenient to work in, as for example Swindoll’s popular study Joseph: A Man of Integrity and Forgiveness claims. This seems difficult to reconcile with the facts that we have no other examples of idle patriarchs and that, in the previous verse (Gen 37:2), Joseph is “feeding the flock with his brethren”; he also wears his tunic on the decidedly laborious task of traveling dozens of miles along mountain roads to check on his brothers.

In any event, Joseph seems to have been selected as the primary heir of his father, and this would be a visible mark of that distinction. With so many reasons to be jealous, no wonder his elder brothers were so incensed at the young upstart.

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The coat is symbollic and relates to his cattle.

Let's see this through Jacob's perspective.

Genesis 29
18 And Jacob loved Rachel; and said, I will serve thee seven years for Rachel thy younger daughter.
19 And Laban said, It is better that I give her to thee, than that I should give her to another man: abide with me.
20 And Jacob served seven years for Rachel; and they seemed unto him but a few days, for the love he had to her.

Having worked seven years to marry his daugther, he is tricked into marrying Leah instead!

Genesis 29
25 And it came to pass, that in the morning, behold, it was Leah: and he said to Laban, What is this thou hast done unto me? did not I serve with thee for Rachel? wherefore then hast thou beguiled me?
26 And Laban said, It must not be so done in our country, to give the younger before the firstborn.
27 Fulfil her week, and we will give thee this also for the service which thou shalt serve with me yet seven other years.

So he's agreed to work another seven years.

He works another seven years on top of that and eventually Rachel, the wife he loved, has a child.

Genesis 30
22 And God remembered Rachel, and God hearkened to her, and opened her womb.
23 And she conceived, and bare a son; and said, God hath taken away my reproach:
24 And she called his name Joseph; and said, The LORD shall add to me another son.
25 And it came to pass, when Rachel had born Joseph, that Jacob said unto Laban, Send me away, that I may go unto mine own place, and to my country.
26 Give me my wives and my children, for whom I have served thee, and let me go: for thou knowest my service which I have done thee.

Jacob had a birthright that he wanted to pass on to his offspring. And I guess passing it on to the children of someone he had been tricked into marrying didn't really float his boat. (And you can see where some of the rivalry between his brethren had been brewing.) And having been with Laban twenty years he is ready to leave at this point.

(Obviously these are my interpretation but it is how I make sense of this story.)

Now, having been tricked, Jacob is really ready to trick again. (This is something we see recur in his children for example in the slaughter of the Hamorites.)

And this is where the cattle that the coat come from enter the story.

Genesis 30
27 And Laban said unto him, I pray thee, if I have found favour in thine eyes, tarry: for I have learned by experience that the LORD hath blessed me for thy sake.
28 And he said, Appoint me thy wages, and I will give it.
29 And he said unto him, Thou knowest how I have served thee, and how thy cattle was with me.
30 For it was little which thou hadst before I came, and it is now increased unto a multitude; and the LORD hath blessed thee since my coming: and now when shall I provide for mine own house also?
31 And he said, What shall I give thee? And Jacob said, Thou shalt not give me any thing: if thou wilt do this thing for me, I will again feed and keep thy flock.
32 I will pass through all thy flock to day, removing from thence all the speckled and spotted cattle, and all the brown cattle among the sheep, and the spotted and speckled among the goats: and of such shall be my hire.
33 So shall my righteousness answer for me in time to come, when it shall come for my hire before thy face: every one that is not speckled and spotted among the goats, and brown among the sheep, that shall be counted stolen with me.
34 And Laban said, Behold, I would it might be according to thy word.

But focusing on v35, we see his older sons are old enough to working in the field. It's these spotted, speckled and ringstraked goats and brown sheep that are going to become his hire that he later leaves with.

Genesis 30:35 And he removed that day the he goats that were ringstraked and spotted, and all the she goats that were speckled and spotted, and every one that had some white in it, and all the brown among the sheep, and gave them into the hand of his sons.

My straightforward claim is that the coat many colours is made out of the skins of these animals. It has many פַּסִּֽים. But they are פַּסִּֽים of skins, which affects the translation.

But to understand the "many colours", one may to first observe the repeated "all" from this verse.

And secondly link back to:

Genesis 3:21 Unto Adam also and to his wife did the LORD God make coats of skins, and clothed them.

coats of skins coming from Hebrew, כָּתְנוֹת עוֹר, which I will loosely transliterate: katenot our.

And then colour, may be understood as a Hebrew pun col-our. Col meaning all, our meaning skin. It's an all-skins coat.

The route by which the word "colour" found its way into English is possibly via French, coming from a word that meant something like complexion. And actually that still exists as a use today, "you look a bit off-colour", talking about health through the appearance of the skin.

The next part of the story took me ages to appreciate properly. And in the end I think is simply a combination of Pavlovian conditioning and selective breeding. He seems to be deliberately undermining the strength of Laban's flocks and bolstering his own through selective breeding.

So in the end I take the coat to be a symbol of Jacob's labour, susbstance, inheritance originating out of his struggle with Laban. And occuring in the story after his wrestling with God, a partial reconciliation with Esau, and the death of Isaac and Rachel.

But there's a further clue in the Hebrew. כְּתֹ֥נֶת is gramatically a plural. It's straight up translated "coats" in Genesis 3:21

When I see a plural translated with a singular, I see this as a unifying aspect of God.

The coat represents many works of diverse natures, stitched together into a single garment. Later on, it would be the skins of cattle on which the words of God were written.

And so more deeply it represents scriptures that combine different works unified into a coherent book, which is actually the nature of Genesis, being composed of multiple toledot. Thus also representing at a deeper level the spiritual inheritance of Jacob.

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  • This is interesting, and I learned some things from reading it, but it does not answer the question. It answers a different question, namely, "Why is the coat 'of many colors' or of many פַּסִּֽים?" That does not explain why Jacob preferred Jacob, why his preference led him to give the coat (or robe), or what the social significance of the coat was. Apr 20 at 18:11
  • If you don't know the answer to that from reading my answer then you haven't understood it.
    – David
    Apr 29 at 11:02

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