on Genesis 50 :26
Joseph died, being a hundred and ten years old - בן מאה ועשר שנים ben meah vaeser shanim; literally, the son of a hundred and ten years. Here the period of time he lived is personified, all the years of which it was composed being represented as a nurse or father, feeding, nourishing, and supporting him to the end. This figure, which is termed by rhetoricians prosopopaeia, is very frequent in Scripture; and by this virtues, vices, forms, attributes, and qualities, with every part of inanimate nature, are represented as endued with reason and speech, and performing all the actions of intelligent beings.
They embalmed him - See Clarke on Genesis 50:2 (note). The same precautions were taken to preserve his body as to preserve that of his father Jacob; and this was particularly necessary in his case, 'because his body was to be carried to Canaan a hundred and forty-four years after; which was the duration of the Israelites' bondage after the death of Joseph.
And he was put in a coffin in Egypt - On this subject I shall subjoin some useful remarks from Harmer's Observations, which several have borrowed without acknowledgment. I quoted my own edition of this Work, vol. iii., p. 69, etc. Lond. 1808.
"There were some methods of honoring the dead which demand our attention; the being put into a coffin has been in particular considered as a mark of distinction.
"With us the poorest people have their coffins; if the relations cannot afford them, the parish is at the expense. In the east, on the contrary, they are not always used, even in our times. The ancient Jews probably buried their dead in the same manner: neither was the body of our Lord put in a coffin, nor that of Elisha, whose bones were touched by the corpse that was let down a little after into his sepulcher, 2 Kings 13:21. That coffins were anciently used in Egypt, all agree; and antique coffins of stone and of sycamore wood are still to be seen in that country, not to mention those said to be made of a sort of pasteboard, formed by folding and gluing cloth together a great number of times, curiously plastered, and then painted with hieroglyphics.
"As it was an ancient Egyptian custom, and was not used in the neighboring countries, on these accounts the sacred historian was doubtless led to observe of Joseph that he was not only embalmed, but was also put in a coffin, both being practices almost peculiar to the Egyptians.
"Mr. Maillet conjectures that all were not enclosed in coffins which were laid in the Egyptian repositories of the dead, but that it was an honor appropriated to persons of distinction; for after having given an account of several niches which are found in those chambers of death, he adds: 'But it must not be imagined that the bodies deposited in these gloomy apartments were all enclosed in chests, and placed in niches. The greater part were simply embalmed and swathed, after which they laid them one by the side of the other, without any ceremony. Some were even put into these tombs without any embalming at all, or with such a slight one that there remains nothing of them in the linen in which they were wrapped but the bones, and these half rotten. It is probable that each considerable family had one of these burial-places to themselves; that the niches were designed for the bodies of the heads of the family; and that those of their domestics and slaves had no other care taken of them than merely laying them in the ground after being slightly embalmed, and sometimes even without that; which was probably all that was done to heads of families of less distinction.'-Lett. 7, p. 281. The same author gives an account of a mode of burial anciently practiced in that country, which has been but recently discovered: it consisted in placing the bodies, after they were swathed up, on a layer of charcoal, and covering them with a mat, under a bed of sand seven or eight feet deep.
"Hence it seems evident that coffins were not universally used in Egypt, and were only used for persons of eminence and distinction. It is also reasonable to believe that in times so remote as those of Joseph they might have been much less common than afterwards, and that consequently Joseph's being put in a coffin in Egypt might be mentioned with a design to express the great honors the Egyptians did him in death, as well as in life; being treated after the most sumptuous manner, embalmed, and put into a coffin."
It is no objection to this account that the widow of Nain's son is represented as carried forth to be buried in a σορος or bier; for the present inhabitants of the Levant, who are well known to lay their dead in the earth unenclosed, carry them frequently out to burial in a kind of coffin, which is not deposited in the grave, the body being taken out of it, and placed in the grave in a reclining posture. It is probable that the coffins used at Nain were of the same kind, being intended for no other purpose but to carry the body to the place of interment, the body itself being buried without them.
It is very probable that the chief difference was not in being with or without a coffin, but in the expensiveness of the coffin itself; some of the Egyptian coffins being made of granite, and covered all over with hieroglyphics, the cutting of which must have been done at a prodigious expense, both of time and money; the stone being so hard that we have no tools by which we can make any impression on it. Two of these are now in the British Museum, that appear to have belonged to some of the nobles of Egypt. They are dug out of the solid stone, and adorned with almost innumerable hieroglyphics. One of these, vulgarly called Alexander's tomb, is ten feet three inches and a quarter long, ten inches thick in the sides, in breadth at top five feet three inches and a half, in breadth at bottom four feet two inches and a half, and three feet ten in depth, and weighs about ten tons. In such a coffin I suppose the body of Joseph was deposited; and such a one could not have been made and transported to Canaan at an expense that any private individual could bear. It was with incredible labor and at an extraordinary expense that the coffin in question was removed the distance of but a few miles, from the ship that brought it from Egypt, to its present residence in the British Museum. Judge, then, at what an expense such a coffin must have been dug, engraved, and transported over the desert from Egypt to Canaan, a distance of three hundred miles! We need not be surprised to hear of carriages and horsemen, a very great company, when such a coffin was to be carried so far, with a suitable company to attend it.
Joseph's life was the shortest of all the patriarchs, for which Bishop Patrick gives a sound physical reason - he was the son of his father's old age. It appears from Archbishop Usher's Chronology that Joseph governed Egypt under four kings, Mephramuthosis, Thmosis, Amenophis, and Orus. His government, we know, lasted eighty years; for when he stood before Pharaoh he was thirty years of age, Genesis 41:46, and he died when he was one hundred and ten.
On the character and conduct of Joseph many remarks have already been made in the preceding notes. On the subject of his piety there can be but one opinion. It was truly exemplary, and certainly was tried in cases in which few instances occur of persevering fidelity. His high sense of the holiness of God, the strong claims of justice, and the rights of hospitality and gratitude, led him, in the instance of the solicitations of his master's wife, to act a part which, though absolutely just and proper, can never be sufficiently praised. Heathen authors boast of some persons of such singular constancy; but the intelligent reader will recollect that these relations stand in general in their fabulous histories, and are destitute of those characteristics which truth essentially requires; such, I mean, as the story of Hippolytus and Phaedra, Bellerophon and Antea or Sthenobaea, Peleus and Astydamia, and others of this complexion, which appear to be marred pictures, taken from this highly finished original which the inspired writer has fairly drawn from life.
His fidelity to his master is not less evident, and God's approbation of his conduct is strongly marked; for he caused whatsoever he did to prosper, whether a slave in the house of his master, a prisoner in the dungeon, or a prime minister by the throne, which is a full proof that his ways pleased him; and this is more clearly seen in the providential deliverances by which he was favored.
On the political conduct of Joseph there are conflicting opinions. On the one hand it is asserted that "he found the Egyptians a free people, and that he availed himself of a most afflicting providence of God to reduce them all to a state of slavery, destroyed their political consequence, and made their king despotic." In all these respects his political measures have been strongly vindicated, not only as being directed by God, but as being obviously the best, every thing considered, for the safety, honor, and welfare of his sovereign and the kingdom. It is true he bought the lands of the people for the king, but he farmed them to the original occupiers again, at the moderate and fixed crown rent of one-fifth part of the produce. "Thus did he provide for the liberty and independence of the people, while he strengthened the authority of the king by making him sole proprietor of the lands. And to secure the people from farther exaction, Joseph made it a law over all the land of Egypt, that Pharaoh (i. e. the king) should have only the fifth part; which law subsisted to the time of Moses, Genesis 47:21-26. By this wise regulation," continues Dr. Hales, "the people had four-fifths of the produce of the lands for their own use, and were exempted from any farther taxes, the king being bound to support his civil and military establishment out of the crown rents." By the original constitution of Egypt established by Menes, and Thoth or Hermes his prime minister, the lands were divided into three portions, between the king, the priests, and the military, each party being bound to support its respective establishment by the produce. See the quotations from Diodorus Siculus, in the note on Genesis 47:23 (note). It is certain, therefore, that the constitution of Egypt was considerably altered by Joseph, and there can be no doubt that much additional power was, by this alteration, vested in the hands of the king; but as we do not find that any improper use was made of this power, we may rest assured that it was so qualified and restricted by wholesome regulations, though they are not here particularized, as completely to prevent all abuse of the regal power, and all tyrannical usurpation of popular rights. That the people were nothing but slaves to the king, the military, and the priests before, appears from the account given by Diodorus; each of the three estates probably allowing them a certain portion of land for their own use, while cultivating the rest for the use and emolument of their masters. Matters, however, became more regular under the administration of Joseph; and it is perhaps not too much to say, that, previously to this, Egypt was without a fixed regular constitution, and that it was not the least of the blessings that it owed to the wisdom and prudence of Joseph, that he reduced it to a regular form of government, giving the people such an interest in the safety of the state as was well calculated to insure their exertions to defend the nation, and render the constitution fixed and permanent.
on Genesis 50 :26
on Genesis 50 :26
50:26 He was put in a coffin in Egypt - But not buried till his children had received their inheritance in Canaan, Jos 24:32. If the soul do but return to its rest with God, the matter is not great, though the deserted body find not at all, or not quickly, its rest in the grave. Yet care ought to be taken of the dead bodies of the saints, in the belief of their resurrection; for there is a covenant with the dust which shall be remembered, and a commandment given concerning the bones.