Coat of Many Colours

The Coat of Many Colours that was given to Joseph by his father has been a subject of much discussion without any real conclusion of its meaning other than pure favouritism on behalf of Jacob/Israel towards Joseph. Coat of Many Colours is cotonet passim in Hebrew and its literal translation is a robe woven in stripes similar to the stripes on a talit. The only other instance where the term cotonet passim appears in the Bible is in Samuel 13. It is where Amnon the son of King David lusts after Tamar his step-sister, the daughter Absalom. Amnon feigns sick and induces Tamar to his bedroom where he rapes her. In her distress of no longer being a virgin she takes her cotonet passim from off of her and mourns her virginity for the rest of her life.

And she had a long sleeved robe (cotonet passim) upon her; for with such robes were the king's daughters who were virgins dressed; Then his servant took her out, and bolted the door after her: And Tamar put ashes on her head, and tore her long sleeved robe, that was on her, and laid her hand on her head, crying aloud as she went: (Samuel II 13:18-19)

The cotonet passim would therefore appear to be symbol of purity and innocence for daughters of high standing and is therefore the attributes given to Joseph when his father Jacob gives it to him. Indeed through the story of Joseph – at least in his younger days – we are given the image of a young man that is innocent in every way. When he retells the dreams he has, he tells them to his brothers and father simple as a dream and without any embellishment of his own ego that might be associated with them. Similarly he accepts his fate handed down by his brothers with no apparent attempt of struggle to resist the sentence to be given to him, whatever it might be – whether he be killed, thrown into a pit or sold into slavery. Most significant is when he flees from Potiphar’s wife who attempts to seduce him. We do not see him in any way tempted to lie with his lord’s wife, rather he simply avoids a distasteful situation that is imposed upon him. Joseph elaborates this further in his allusion of Potiphar’s wife being similar to bread (see hyperlink Potiphar’s wife, the butler and the baker).

When the cotonet passim is torn from him and dipped in blood, it is the same as in the case of Tamar. The blood on the cotonet passim is a stain against his and her innocence and purity. In Tamar’s case, she had lost her virginity. In Joseph’s case we see his innocence is lost when he is sold into Egypt. He becomes a different person. In Egypt we see that his wisdom and God-fearing nature is retained, but the innocence and soft nature is lost. The manner in which he toys with his brothers’ and father’s emotions and fears is one of cunning, revenge and to prove his dream of the sun and moon and stars was correct.




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