Old Testament - Lesson 11
Resources Notes

Note 1

The Coat of Many Colors
Matthew B. Brown

We know from the Bible that Jacob's son Joseph received the birthright among the twelve tribes of Israel (see 1 Chronicles 5:1-2). It was Joseph's investiture with the so-called "coat of many colors" that signaled that he was the birthright son (see Genesis 37:3, 23, 32). There are several things that the reader should notice in order to properly understand the nature of Joseph's "coat." First of all, the phrase "coat of many colors" actually comes from the Septuagint, which was the Greek translation of the Old Testament made between 284 and 246 B.C. This is not what the Hebrew text says, however. The word "many" is not present in the Hebrew text and that is why it has been italicized by the translators of the King James Bible. Hence the phrase should simply read "coat of colours."

The next thing to notice about this phrase is that "coat" is translated from the Hebrew word kuttonet, and it can mean either garment or robe. This is the very same word used to identify one of the vestments worn by the temple priests of Israel from the time of Moses onward (see Exodus 28:39). Indeed, it was understood among later Jewish authors that Joseph's vesture was nothing less than "the holy tunic of the priest."

The Hebrew word translated as "colours" also calls for our attention. In the Joseph narrative, this word is pas and refers to a long, sleeved tunic that reached to the wrists and the ankles. It was a type of garment that was worn by royalty in Old Testament times. Interestingly, it is the considered opinion of some biblical interpreters that Joseph's "coat" was not only a "royal garment" but it also signified "the claim of the Joseph tribes to a royal authority independent of the tribe of Judah."

The preceding information points to the conclusion that Joseph's distinctive vesture could be seen as both the clothing of a king and a priest. This comes as little surprise when one considers that in Jewish lore the gift that was given by Jacob to Joseph was exactly what he himself had received as part of the birthright blessing, "the garments made by God for Adam."

(Matthew B. Brown, The Gate of Heaven [American Fork, Utah: Covenant Communications, Inc., 1999], pp. 43-44)

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