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Genesis 42:14-17, The Brothers in Prison

Joseph has skillfully gotten his brothers to admit that they have a father back in Canaan, as well as a younger brother.  Ironically they also confess, while looking directly at Joseph, that one of their brothers “doesn’t exist”—and we, the readers, know that brother is standing right there talking to them—Joseph. 


Having gotten the information he wanted, Joseph can now move the process along:


14 εἶπε δὲ αὐτοῖς ᾿Ιωσήφ· τοῦτό ἐστιν ὃ εἴρηκα ὑμῖν λέγων, ὅτι κατάσκοποί ἐστε· 15 ἐν τούτῳ φανεῖσθε· νὴ τὴν ὑγίειαν Φαραώ, οὐ μὴ ἐξέλθητε ἐντεῦθεν, ἐὰν μὴ ὁ ἀδελφὸς ὑμῶν ὁ νεώτερος ἔλθῃ ὧδε. 16 ἀποστείλατε ἐξ ὑμῶν ἕνα καὶ λάβετε τὸν ἀδελφὸν ὑμῶν, ὑμεῖς δὲ ἀπάχθητε ἕως τοῦ φανερὰ γενέσθαι τὰ ρήματα ὑμῶν, εἰ ἀληθεύετε ἢ οὔ· εἰ δὲ μή, νὴ τὴν ὑγίειαν Φαραώ, ἦ μὴν κατάσκοποί ἐστε. 17 καὶ ἔθετο αὐτοὺς ἐν φυλακῇ ἡμέρας τρεῖς. 


"Joseph said to them, “So this the very thing I said to you; you are spies.  By this (test) you (i.e., your intentions) will become manifest.  I swear by Pharaoh’s health that you will never get out of here unless your younger brother comes down here.  Send one of you and go get your brother, but you (remaining ones) will be put away until these matters are cleared up—that is, if you were truthful or not.  And if you are not being truthful, I swear by the health of Pharaoh, you certainly are spies.  And he placed them in confinement for three days.”


Once Joseph has the information he wants—that there is a younger brother back at home, he can take his time and devise a scheme to fill them with greatest uncertainty and fear.  So, he repeats his gratuitous statement, already said and denied twice, that they are spies.  The word for spy is κατάσκοπος, appearing only once in the NT (Heb 11:31) but plentiful in the LXX.  Taking the word apart yields σκόπος, or one who is a guard or watcher, and the preposition κατά that acts as an intensifier.  Thus, a spy is one who keeps his eyes open to “scope” things out really well. 


An interesting word that appears twice in these lines comes from the φαν root, which means to “come to light.” It is interesting because the narrative thus far has been concerned with concealment and subterfuge. For Joseph, the concealed one, to use it twice adds to the growing ironies in the story. The two references are:  in v 15 (“In this you will be manifest/come to light”) and v 16 (“until these things become cleared up”).


His decision here is that one brother must return to Canaan to fetch the youngest brother while the other brothers are “put away.”  I translated ἀπάχθητε as “put away” to try to render it literally (απάγω means “to lead away from”), but also to hint at its use in Genesis to describe incarceration. Another example of this usage in the Joseph story is in Gen 39:22 where Joseph, along with πάντας τοὺς ἀπηγμένους, or “all those who have been led away,” is thrown in prison.  In 39:22 the perfect middle participle of απάγω describes Joseph’s fellow prisoners.


Twice we have Joseph swearing by the “health” (ὑγίειαν) of Pharaoh. The repetition of the oath is meant to lend an ominous note to the declaration that “you are spies.”  Joseph has now completely turned the tables on his brothers.  He has gone from a vulnerable chattel, sold to passing tradesmen, to a powerful member of Pharaoh’s bureaucracy, able to terrorize others.  He is getting his practice at it with his brothers.

Genesis 42:18-22
Back to Septuagint Page

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