Publisher:  Varda Books
Original Publisher:  The Jewish Publication Society
Published:  2002
Language:  English
Pages:   477

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About the Book

The biblical (and qur'anic) story of Joseph was an important element of the cultural heritage shared by Jews, Muslims and Christians in medieval Spain. The great themes that legend embodies - sibling rivalry resulting in betrayal, revenge, and ultimate reconciliation; the triumph of honor and chastity over sexual temptation; and the Cinderella-like rise of a member of a despised minority to a position of almost unimaginable power and influence - led all three groups to cherish the story. The story of Joseph also offers us a unique opportunity to examine the interactions of Jews, Muslims, and Christians in medieval Renaissance Spain. Each of these ethnic and religious groups developed new interpretations of the story dictated by the historical circumstances of a particular time and place, yet each was influenced by the versions created by the others. McGaha's book presents seven works based on the biblical story. Only two have been previously translated into English. All of these works are unmistakably Spanish, though many of them are also undeniably Jewish or Muslim. They are not just antiquarian curiosities, but are truly admirable literary texts.




Translation and Commentary, Genesis 37-50 (1422-1433)

The Book of Heroes (c. 1150-1200)

The Story of Yusuf, Son of Ya'qub (c. 1450-1550)

Hadith of Yusuf (c. 1250-1400)

Poem of Yosef (c. 1350)

General History (begun 1272)

The Story of Joseph, Son of the Great Patriarch Jacob (before 1486)


An Excerpt from the Book

The seven years of abundance that the whole land of Egypt enjoyed came to an end, and after that the seven years of famine set in, just as Joseph had foretold. There was famine in all the land, and all Egyptians saw that the famine was going to spread throughout Egypt. The Egyptians opened all the granaries of wheat that they had, for the famine was already very serious; but they found that all the food they stored up themselves, without taking the precautions Joseph had taken, was infested with insects and was not fit to eat. The famine raged throughout the land, and all the inhabitants of Egypt complained to Pharaoh that the famine weighed heavily upon them. The told Pharaoh: “Give your servants food! Why should we die of hunger before your eyes, both we and our children?” Pharaoh replied: “Why are you crying to me? Didn't Joseph tell you to store up wheat during all those seven years of plenty for the years of famine? Why didn't do as he said?” The Egyptians answered the king: “By your life, my lord, your servants did everything that Joseph told us to do. Your servants also gathered up all the food from our fields during the years of plenty and stored up in granaries where it has remained until now. When the famine began to ravage your servants, we opened the granaries and all our food was spoiled and full of insects and not fit to eat.”

When the king heard what had befallen the inhabitants of Egypt, he was very fearful of the famine, and very shocked. The king answered the Egyptians: “Now that all this happened to you, go to Joseph; whatever he tells you, you shall do; and don't dare argue with what he says.” Then all the Egyptians went to Joseph and told him: “Give us food! Why should we die in front of you? For we gathered the produce during the seven years of plenty, as you have seen, and we put it in granaries, and this is what happened to us.” When Joseph heard all words of the Egyptians and what had befallen them, Joseph laid open all granaries of food that he had, and rationed out grain to the Egyptians. The famine spread over the face of all the earth, and there was famine in all lands, but in the land of Egypt there was food to distribute. All the inhabitants of Egypt came to Joseph to procure rations, for the famine was severe, and all their stores of food were spoiled. And Joseph fed all Egypt day by day.

The inhabitants of the land Canaan, and the Philistines, and those who dwelled on the other side of Jordan, heard the of the east, and all the cities of the land, both near and far, heard that there were rations in Egypt. So they came to Egypt to procure rations of wheat, for the famine had become severe to them. And Joseph opened the stores of food, and he appointed stewards over them to dispense rations to the people who came every day. Joseph knew that his brothers too would come to Egypt to buy food, for the famine had become severe throughout the world. Joseph had his men and slaves issue the following proclamation throughout Egypt: “By the authority of the king and his viceroy and his grandees, anyone who wants to buy wheat in Egypt must not send his servants to Egypt, but only his sons. Also any Egyptian or Canaanite who comes from any land to buy wheat in Egypt and then goes and sells it elsewhere will be put to death, for everyone may buy only for his own household. Furthermore, anyone who comes with two or three pack animals will also be put to death, for each man my bring only one beast.”

Joseph stationed guards at the gates of the city, and he instructed them as follows: “When anyone comes to buy food, don't sell it to him unless he writes down his name, and his father's name, and his grandfather's name. Every evening you will send me the list of names you have written down that day, so that I may know their names.” Likewise, Joseph appointed inspectors throughout the land of Egypt and ordered them to do the same thing. Joseph established those decrees and regulations so that he might know when his brothers came to Egypt to buy food. Every day Joseph's servants proclaimed those decrees and regulations that Joseph established in Egypt. All the inhabitants of the four corners of the earth cam to buy rations in Egypt day by day, and then they returned home. All the guards did as Joseph commanded; they wrote down the names of all who came to Egypt to buy food, as well as their fathers' names, and the lists were delivered to Joseph every evening.


As we have come to expect of Michael McGaha, this is indeed a splendid book… To have all these delightful narratives under one cover will be a boon for scholarship, but this will not only be a book for erudite specialists. It will be read with pleasure by informed lay readers as well… Anyone interested in Jewish culture owes him a debt of gratitude for this splendid work.”

- Samuel G. Armistead

Professor of Spanish, University of California at Davis

McGaha is like a good conductor who coaxes diverse instruments and themes and rhythms to come together into music… The introductions are particularly useful for their comments on the complex intercultural relationships that underlie each of the individual historical circumstances of the works McGaha discusses. …McGaha's translations are readable and … accurate. The verse translations, such as that of the Poem of Yosef, give the English reader the true flavor of the originals. …These translations are likely to stand as definite for a long time to come.

- David Gitlitz

Professor of Hispanic Studies, University of Rhode Island