The Bible, illustrated: Joseph thrown into a pit

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“Joseph in the Pit,” oil on canvas by Herb Mandel

About this series: A narrative exploring the stories behind the paintings of late artist Herbert Mandel as explained in the context of the Biblical texts they’re derived from, by his son-in-law, Jim Robidoux.


All of Joseph’s older brothers despised him for being his father’s favorite. They despised him to the point of murder after he shared his dreams of becoming the family’s ruler and king. His dreams came to him in his sleep and he believed they were from God. Ruben (Jacob’s first-born son) stopped the madness and convinced his brothers to throw Joseph into a pit until they could figure out what to do with him.

Jacob had fathered 12 sons through two wives and their maidservants. On Jacob’s wedding night he was tricked into marrying his bride’s older sister. And after consummating their vows, he awoke the next morning surprised  to find Leah by his side instead of his beloved Rachael.

Jacob loved Rachael so much he had agreed to work for her father for seven years as the “bride price” for his beloved. He had to agree with their father, Laban (who was also his uncle), to work seven more years as the bride price for both sisters and their two maidservants.

Leah got pregnant first and bore Jacob his first son Ruben. She also bore Jacob his next son and it was an embarrassment to Rachael. Thus it became a contest between the sisters to see who could bear children for Jacob.

Women at that time in history were valued for bearing children, especially sons. Rachael, being without any children, offered her maidservant to Jacob to bear for her. She bore Jacob another son, so Leah did the same. So Jacob became the father of 12 boys with four different mothers.   Jacob’s 11th son, Joseph, born finally by Rachael, would be his favorite.

When Joseph was 17 years old Jacob gave him a special ornate robe of many colors. It was a long robe with long sleeves and it upset his working-class brothers because it put Joseph above them as his father’s right-hand man. Once Joseph shared his dreams of rulership with his  family, his fate was sealed and his brothers would be rid of him one way or another.

“Joseph’s Brothers Bring the Coat,” Oil on Canvas by Herb Mandel

Joseph was pulled up out of the pit and sold to Midianite traders for 20 pieces of silver. He was then carried off to Egypt and sold again as a slave. The brothers soaked his special robe with goat’s blood and then presented it to Jacob and asked him if this was the robe he gave to Joseph. If so, Joseph must have been killed by a wild animal, so they said. After doing all this they said to themselves, “now we will see what becomes of his dreams.”

Potiphar became Joseph’s owner, a prominent man with access to Egypt’s Pharaoh. Soon after he recognized Joseph’s giftedness and put him in charge of everything in his household. Joseph in time was desired by Potiphar’s wife and she pursued Joseph relentlessly to have an affair. Righteous Joseph refused her day after day, until one day they were alone and she once again unrobed him and he ran off half-naked.

Potiphar’s wife felt so jilted she claimed Joseph tried to rape her, and with Joseph’s robe in her hand, her husband believed her. Joseph was then put in prison and once again rose to the top quickly and was put in charge as free labor, and administrated things in the prison. Pharaoh had put his cup bearer in the same prison and his chief baker, as well.

One morning Joseph noticed both of these men had long faces and they told him they each had a dream the night before. They were upset because no one there could interpret their dreams, and Joseph told them only God could. “Please tell me your dreams and maybe I can help,” he said. He interpreted both of their dreams and asked the cup bearer to remember him to Pharaoh after he was reinstated. He told the cup bearer how he was sold by his brothers into slavery, and how he was imprisoned falsely.

Two years passed when Pharaoh also had dreams that no one could interpret. Finally, his cup bearer told the Pharaoh about Joseph. Pharaoh brought Joseph to his throne and hoped he could interpret his terrifying dreams. Again, Joseph tells Pharaoh only God can do this, and he would try to satisfy Pharaoh’s request.

Joseph, as God’s agent, once again was able to tell the Pharaoh what his dreams meant:

Egypt would have seven years of bountiful harvests, and the following seven years would be utter famine because of severe drought. Pharaoh was so impressed with Joseph that he put him in charge of saving Egypt and any people from the region that traded with them.

Joseph got to work immediately as second in command of the greatest power on earth. In time, even Joseph’s brothers came to him and traded what they had for Egypt’s life-saving grain. Joseph and Pharaoh brought all of Israel to Egypt and saved them from starvation and certain death. All of Joseph’s dreams became reality and God worked miracles to bring His promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to fruition, through his agent, Joseph.

And so it was the most powerful man on earth forgave his murderous brothers and saved everyone that met him, while making his king riches beyond his wildest dreams. The boy from the pit, stripped of his dreams and coat of many colors, would preserve the 12 tribes of Israel – the direct line to our redeemer – and be compared to God’s only son, and save his entire world!

Paintings inspired by Biblical text, Genesis, 37-50


Jim Robidoux is father of four, lives and works in Manchester, and also writes about life in The Life Section – specifically, his own. He enjoys bicycling to work, urban gardening, exploring his Christian faith, and watching the Phillies at Billy’s. And he happens to be married to Manchester Ink Link editor Carol Robidoux. He can be reached at jrmetalman@comcast.net.