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Coat of many colors

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This article is about the garment in the bible. For the Dolly Parton album, see Coat of Many Colors.

In the Hebrew Bible, the coat of many colors is the name for the (possibly) multicolored garment that Joseph owned. It may be a mistranslation, and the actual nature of the garment is subject to dispute.

The problem of translation

The Hebrew original of Kethoneth passim for coat of many colors may be translated in a wealth of ways [1], one of which is coat of many colors.

The Jewish Tanakh

The Septuagint translation of the Jewish Tanakh word indicates "many colors," but the Hebrew original may merely mean "long coat with stripes".

The Christian Bible

The "coat of many colours" in English is a question of translation made most famous by the still-in-print King James Bible of 1611, whose Genesis 37:3 reads

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.

The Revised Standard Bible (1952) translates the same passage as

Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his children, because he was the son of his old age; and he made him a long robe with sleeves.

One of the oldest translations of the Christian Bible into English, the Wyclif Bible (1380 to 1390), translates the passage as

Forsothe Israel louyde Joseph ouer alle hise sones, for he hadde gendrid hym in eelde; and he made to Joseph a cote of many colours.

Hence the "cote of many colours" is extremely old in English.

The story as related in Genesis

Joseph's father Jacob favored him and gave Joseph the coat as a gift; as a result, he was envied by his brothers, who saw the special coat as indicating that Joseph would assume family leadership. His brothers' suspicion grew when Joseph told them of his two dreams (Genesis 37:11) in which all the brothers bowed down to him. The narrative tells that his brothers plotted against him one day when he was 17, and would have killed him had not the eldest brother Reuben interposed. He persuaded them instead to throw Joseph into a pit and secretly planned to rescue him later. However, while Reuben was absent, the others planned to sell him to a company of Ishmaelite merchants. When the passing Midianites arrived, the brothers dragged Joseph up and sold him to the merchants for 20 pieces of silver. The brothers then dipped Joseph's coat in goat blood and showed it to their father, saying that Joseph had been torn apart by wild beasts.

The envy of his brothers may also have stemmed from the fact that Joseph was the son of Rachel, Jacob's first love. While they were the sons of Rachel's older sister Leah and the sons of the handmaidens, who were given to Jacob during a time when Rachel could not conceive. There was a battle between Leah and Rachel to compete for Jacob's attention. Jacob had told Joseph, when he was seventeen years old, to go check on his brothers. Joseph would report back to his father of their evil deeds. In addition to this he shares his dreams of them bowing down to him. Their anger towards him only increased.

The story in popular culture

  • John Aldi named his backing band the 'Technicolour Dreamcoats,' after another night of binge drinking Aldi found himself on the floor of a church where a group of children were performing the story of Joseph and his coat of many colours, the story inspired John so much that he ran back to the recording studio to tell the band of his new name change.

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