To Joseph our Puns …

One of my favorite parts of reading Hebrew is noticing many of the puns that are usually not translated well into English.

In Genesis 37:1-11, the main conflict of the Joseph story begins to develop in earnest (even though the discord in this family can be seen much earlier – e.g., Gen 29:31-30:24, Gen 33:1-3, etc.).  Joseph’s brothers hate (שנא) him because he is favored by their father Jacob and because he recounts dreams to them which indicate that he will be their superior.

Two verses in Genesis 37 contain a fun pun!

Gen 37:5 (ESV) “Now Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers they hated him even more.”

Gen 37:8 (ESV) “His brothers said to him, ‘Are you indeed to reign over us?  Or are you indeed to rule over us?’  So they hated him even more for his dreams and for his words.”

Unfortunately there isn’t much one can do to bring this out in English, but there is a pun on the name “Joseph” and hating him “even more.”

Both verses read: ויוספו עוד שנא אתו

Woodenly we could translate, “They increased still, hatred for him.”  “To increase” is from the verb יסף which contains the same consonants as the name Joseph, יוסף.

Thus the brothers “Josephed” their hatred of “Joseph”!

(See Gen 30:24 for the popular etymology of Joseph’s name.  Rachel, his mother named him Joseph saying, “May the Lord add [lit: “Joseph” / יסף] to me another son.”)

I’ll try to “Joseph” more posts about puns in the Joseph story as I come across them!

Rev. Andrew Compton
Christ Reformed Church (URCNA)
Anaheim, CA

1 thought on “To Joseph our Puns …”

  1. Another good one is with Isaac when they see him “laughing” (Isaac-ing) with his wife. Best way I’ve heard to bring this is out is they saw Isaac “making sport” with his wife.


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