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Joseph's Coat of Many Colors -- Is It Really a Technicolor Dreamcoat? The Mistranslation of Genesis 37:3 and the Hidden Meaning for St. Joseph

Genesis 37:3 is just one of those verses. The translations for it are all over the place: 

According to the King James Version, Genesis 37:3 reads, "Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his children, because he was the son of his old age: and he made him a coat of many colours."

According to the New American translation, "Israel loved Joseph best of all his sons, for he was the child of his old age; and he had made him a long ornamented tunic." 

According to Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical, it's the "Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat"!

So which is it? Did Joseph have a "long ornamented tunic" or a "coat of many colors"? 

And what would be the meaning of a "coat of many colors"? Is the Patriarch Joseph bedecked in a rainbow? That's kind of weird, right? Especially these days. Maybe that's why Joseph's brothers tossed him into a well. 

No, there's is a deeper, much more important meaning, and better translation ...   

In this article, I will take you through all the hidden and forgotten meanings for Joseph's coat. The last meaning may be the most fascinating and shocking of all, so make sure you read until the end (or just skip down to the end, it's that good).

Joseph's Coat of Many Colors - Table of Contents

    All this talk about Joseph the Patriarch and his coat will ultimately point to St. Joseph, typologically.

    Have you done the Consecration to St. Joseph by Fr. Donald Calloway? It was so good that I wanted to consecrate my whole family to St. Joseph. 

    That's why Fr. Donald Calloway and I wrote the Consecration to St. Joseph for Children and Families:

    So St. Joseph can protect all families -- as he protected the Holy Family -- in this last great battle between Heaven and Hell over the family. 

    Here's a talk I recently gave about consecrating your families to St. Joseph:

    Did Joseph Really Have a "Technicolor Dreamcoat"?

    Short Answer: No.

    After the success of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's musicals, Jesus Christ Superstar and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat in the 1960s and multiple revivals to this day, the idea that Joseph had a "technicolor dreamcoat" is pretty well etched into our memories. Unfortunately. 

    But there's something much more important, much deeper at work here that's completely at odds with the "free love" spirit of these musicals. 

    What is the True Translation of the "Coat of Many Colors" in Genesis 37:3?

    Here, as usual, the RSV-CE translation of the Bible gives us a much closer translation of the original Hebrew:

    Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his children, because he was the son of his old age; and he made him a long robe with sleeves [Hb. כְּתֹ֥נֶת ketonet + פַּסִּֽים׃ passim].

    "A long robe with sleeves" or "a robe with long sleeves" is a much better translation of the Hebrew phrase ketonet passim than "coat of many colors".

    But what's the significance of a long robe? 

    Did Jacob/Israel give Joseph a cloak that was too big? Did the father give his own, over-sized robe to his son? Interesting image, but no -- Joseph was a grown man at this time. 

    There at least two very important meanings here, both of which point to St. Joseph. 

    What is the Meaning of Joseph's Ketonet Passim Cloak?

    Translating ketonet is a straightforward matter. Ketonet means coat, cloak, tunic, etc.

    Passim is a bit more mysterious while also seeming to be prosaic. Passim could come from the singular pas meaning the "palm" of the hand. 

    The singular “pas” appears in Aramaic, not Hebrew, in Daniel 5:5 (pas y’da) describing the hand that King Belshazzar saw writing on the wall. In that context, pas is understood to mean the palm of the hand. 

    Based on this, ketonet passim is interpreted to mean a long-sleeved garment. That is, a cloak so long that reaches all the way to the palm.[1] 

    And ... a long cloak reaching all the way to the ankle (Bereishit Rabbah 84:8;5 Da’at Zekeinim miBa’alei HaTosafot).[2]  

    Joseph's Cloak that Reaches to the Palms and Ankles >> St. Joseph, Terror of Demons

    Why would Joseph's cloak reference the palms and the ankles? What is this pointing to? 

    This tells us something about St. Joseph and his son. St. Joseph, too, had a cloak. St. Joseph's cloak was long enough to conceal Jesus and the Holy Family from the devil. Read more on how St. Joseph's cloak conceals and protects the Holy Family from Satan in this other article I've written, Why is St. Joseph Called the "Terror of Demons"

    St. Joseph, Terror of Demons

    But there's more ...

    Joseph's Cloak that Reaches to the Palms and Ankles >> Jesus' Palms and Ankles

    Not only was St. Joseph's cloak long enough to conceal the Holy Family from Satan, "palms and ankles" points to Jesus. Jesus inherited his father's cloak. What is significant about Jesus' palms and ankles? 

    What violence was committed against Jesus' most precious palms ...  

    and ankles?

    This is a striking connection. But there's another, deeper level to this, as well. 

    The Hebrew phrase ketonet passim is found in only one other place in the Bible.   

    The Other Mention of Ketonet Passim in the Bible

    We see the phrase ketonet passim every time Joseph's cloak is described: Genesis 37:3, Genesis 37:23, Genesis 37:31, Genesis 37:32, and Genesis 37:33.

    Outside of the context of Joseph's cloak, the phrase ketonet passim is found in only one other place in the Old Testament -- in the entire Bible, for that matter. 

    That one other place is 2 Samuel 13:18:

    Now she was wearing a long robe with sleeves; for thus were the virgin daughters of the king clad of old.

    This is a description of Tamar, whose virginity was forcefully and hatefully stolen by her brother Amnon. This is one of the more tragic scenes in the Bible.  

    Despite the darkness and shadows of this scene, this verse nevertheless illuminates our understanding of ketonet passim. We are told "for thus were the virgin daughters of the king clad of old." 

    The long cloaks were marks of virginity. The ketonet passim cloak was long for modesty's sake. 

    Josephus in Antiquities of the Jews (vol. II, 2:1) and the Book of Jubilees (chap. 34) omitted mention of this special paternal gift to Joseph, but when describing the garment worn by Tamar, Josephus says (Antiquities of the Jews vol. VII, 8:1): “for the virgins of old time wore such loose coats tied at the hands, and let down to the ankles.”

    But that's not all. The long cloaks marked, not only virgins, but royal virgins.

    Again, how does this point to St. Joseph? 

    The Two Gifts of St. Joseph

    The ketonet passim robe of Joseph the Patriarch points to great cloak of St. Joseph. This is the cloak that concealed and protected the Holy Family. Now, we are being given an insight into why St. Joseph's cloak had such power to conceal and protect.[3]  

    First and foremost, St. Joseph had this power from God. St. Joseph was chosen by God to be head of the Holy Family. 

    But with what gifts did God equip St. Joseph? These were many. Ketonet passim points to two gifts in particular: 

    • Royalty: the Crown of Israel
    • Virginity: the Perpetual Virginity of Mary and Joseph

    More on these below ...

    St. Joseph was the Hidden, Rightful King of Israel

    King Herod was the false, puppet king of Israel. St. Joseph was the rightful bearer of the crown of Israel. 

    St. Joseph isn't just described as being of David's family and lineage, St. Joseph is of the royal "house of David":

    In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. (Luke 1:26-27)

    If you're described as being "of the house of Tudor" or "of the house of Windsor," it typically means you have a crown on your head.   

    More than that, it has been argued that St. Joseph had one of the greatest claims to the throne of Israel. St. Joseph Dr. Brant Pitre created an amazing Bible study on the St. Joseph, the Hidden King of Israel. I recommend you listening to it in full, but here's a teaser: 

    Also! The ketonet passim doesn't just point to Joseph and St. Joseph's royal lineage, but their lineage back to Adam, as well. 

    More on this below ... 

    St. Joseph, Most Chaste, and the Perpetual Virginity of Mary and Joseph

    The long cloak, the ketonet passim, points to St. Joseph being, not just royalty, but a member of the royal family set aside as a virgin -- consecrated as a virgin. 

    The Church has long taught that both Mary and Joseph had taken perpetual vows of virginity.

    This is why Mary is surprised and troubled when the angel tells her she is to conceive:

    And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.

    He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High;
    and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David,
    and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever;
    and of his kingdom there will be no end.

    And Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I know not man?" (Gk. andra ou ginosko, ἄνδρα οὐ γινώσκω) 
    ?” (Luke 1:30-34)   

    Why would a bride be startled to be told that she will soon conceive? To conceive -- that's the hope of every bride (or at least it used to be). It doesn't make sense unless Mary and Joseph had taken vows of virginity. It doesn't make sense unless the marriage of Mary and Joseph was a celibate marriage.  

    Why would Mary say "how can this be, since I know not man"? Are we to interpret this as Mary saying she doesn't understand the "birds and the bees"? No. Again, it doesn't make sense unless Mary took a vow of virginity. In fact, that specific phrase "I know not man" or andra ou ginosko (Gk. ἄνδρα οὐ γινώσκω) is understood as meaning a vow of virginity or consecrated virgin.[4]

    There is a lot more material supporting the virginity of Mary and Joseph. But, for now, we will leave it at ketonet passim pointing to St. Joseph being a virgin. 

    But there's still more ... 

    The Priestly Meaning of the Ketonet Passim

    There are at least two more meanings of the ketonet passim. This next one is amazing, but the last connection may be the most amazing of all. 

    The ketonet passim is clearly a bestowal of Jacob's (Israel's) favor on Joseph. Jacob-Israel will also later give Joseph a double portion of his inheritance. That's why Joseph is ironically not one of the twelve tribes of Israel, but Joseph's two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh are. 

    More than just Jacob-Israel's favor, more than just a double portion of his estate, the ketonet passim marked Joseph as Jacob-Israel's firstborn. But there's more than this, too! 

    The Bereshit Rabbah, a talmudic-era midrash on the Book of Genesis, states that Jacob told Joseph (48:22) that he assigned him as the firstborn (97:6). The Bereshit Rabbah further describes the ketonet passim as bestowing the status of a Kohen (or priest), whose role prior to the giving of the Torah was filled by the firstborn (also Shemot 28:2; Bereishit 37:3). The Bereishit Rabbah  

    The ketonet passim marked Joseph, not only as firstborn, but as a priest. It was like a priestly garment. See below for an example of priestly garments, post-Exodus. This context helps unite the various meanings of ketonet passim: long, colorful, priestly vestments.   

    But how does this priestly function point to St. Joseph?  

    Ketonet Passim Points to the Priesthood of St. Joseph, the Ark-Bearer & The Prototype of the Priesthood  

    St. Joseph wasn't a priest, was he? How does this priestly function of the ketonet passim point to St. Joseph?  

    First off, only the priests were permitted to carry, much less touch, the Ark of the Covenant (cf. Deuteronomy 31:9; Joshua 3:3-6). This is why Uzzah was smote by God for "putting forth his hand to the Ark" even though it was about to fall (2 Samuel 6).[5]  

    Transporting the Ark of the Covenant, gilded brass relief, Cathedral of Sainte-Marie, Auch, France

    What does the Ark of the Covenant have to do with St. Joseph? St. Joseph never carried the Ark, right? The Ark had been lost for hundreds of years by the time of Jesus. 

    Right, but who was the New Ark of the Covenant? The Virgin Mary! I have written about this many times. There are many, many proofs of this in the Bible: 
    Yes, but when did St. Joseph carry the Virgin Mary, the New Ark?

    In 2 Samuel 6, King David brings the Ark to Bethlehem, where the Ark dwelled not in a palace or even a house, but a tent. When does St. Joseph bring the Blessed Mother to Bethlehem? At Christmas! And likewise, there was no room at the inn. 

    There are a ton of parallels between these two stories, including the real meaning of the Star of Bethlehem -- all of which I have written about here:

    St. Joseph is also the prototype of the Catholic priesthood. Think about the virginity we discussed above, the consecrated, celibate marriage of Jesus and Mary, and the perpetual virginity of both Mary and Joseph.

    The Virgin Mary represents the Church. Priests marry the Church, just as St. Joseph did. Priests profess a vow of celibacy, just as St. Joseph did. Despite their celibacy, priests are spiritual "fathers" of their flock, just as St. Joseph was foster-father of Jesus. 

    Together, in their celibate union, Mary and Joseph are still fruitful, infinitely fruitful, despite being virgins. They are the parents of the virgin-born, Jesus, and the spiritual parents of all those adopted into Jesus' family through Baptism. Likewise, priests can be extremely fruitful, despite their celibacy.     

    As amazing as all this is, there is still one more shocking meaning connected to the ketonet passim.

    The Last Great Meaning of the Ketonet Passim: Adam's Robe & the New Adam 

    What if I told you that the ketonet passim was not made by Jacob-Israel? What if I told you that the robe had been passed down to Jacob-Israel through many, many generations? What if I told you that Joseph's Coat was one of the greatest relics of the God's people? 

    The Mishnah Bereishit Rabbah also states that Jacob told Joseph that, not only had he assigned Joseph as his firstborn, but Jacob gave Joseph the special garments that God, Himself, had made for Adam, which had been passed to Nimrod, Abraham, Isaac, Esau, and Jacob (48:22, 97:6).

    Take a moment for that to sink in. According to Jewish tradition, the ketonet passim was the robe of Adam, himself, made by God, Himself. These were the robes, not just of the firstborn of Israel, but of all mankind.   

    St. Joseph, the direct descendant of Adam and son of another Jacob, will bear a cloak to protect the New Adam, the new firstborn of all mankind, of all those who are reborn in Baptism.  

    Plenty more could be said about this connections between Adam's cloak, Joseph's cloak, and St. Joseph. This connection is simply mind-blowing.  

    Interestingly, according to Jewish tradition, this is not the only relic of Adam that survived the passage of vast sums of years. Adam's skull also survived through Noah. This connects to Mary being also the New Ark of Noah and Golgotha, the place of the skull. Also, just as the Jews made sure the patriarch Joseph was buried in the Promised Land, so, likewise, they honored Adam's bones. Read all about this in the articles below:



    Much More than a Rainbow, Technicolor Dreamcoat?

    Did I make good on my promise that there is a great deal of meaning hidden beneath the odd translation of "coat of many colors"? 

    What do you think? Let me know in the comments below. I would love to hear and respond to your questions on this subject.  

    Footnotes for Joseph's Long-Sleeved Coat of Many Colors 

    [1] Following this, the Koren Tanakh (Jerusalem, 1986) translates ketonet passim as a “coat with long sleeves.” 

    [2] Rabbi David Zvi Hoffmann supports this translation of ketonet passim to mean “reaching the palms” or “reaching the ankles.” Rabbi Hoffmann notes that in the Mishnah (Challah 1:8) “pisat hayad” means the palm and “pisat haregel” means the bottom of the foot. Ketonet passim, therefore, refers to a garment that reached the pas hayad and the pas haregel. This has support in the use of “pisat” in Tehillim 72:16 to mean “a measure.” LINK

    [3] Very similar to the original command given to Adam with respect to the Garden and the First Family, to guard and to keep (Hb. shamarabodah). 

    [4] The original Greek text reads andra ou ginosko (ἄνδρα οὐ γινώσκω) which literally translates as “man not I know” or in English “I know not man.” The Greek verb ginosko (Present Indicative Active) is in the continuous present which shows a permanent disposition to not know man. The original Greek translates what Mary says to the angel in her native tongue of Hebrew-Aramaic: 'ki enneni yodaat ish.' The Greek present tense used for Mary’s words in Luke 1:34 corresponds to the Hebrew Aramaic active participle (yodaat) indicating a permanent condition (cf. Manuel Miguens, The Virgin Birth: An Evaluation of Scriptural Evidence). LINK

    [5] Uzzah was also a descendant of Kohath, who were strictly forbidden from touching the Ark, see Numbers 4:15: And when Aaron and his sons have finished covering the sanctuary and all the furnishings of the sanctuary, as the camp sets out, after that the sons of Kohath shall come to carry these, but they must not touch the holy things, lest they die. These are the things of the tent of meeting that the sons of Kohath are to carry.

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    1. Ok, but the Patriarch Joseph didn't remain a virgin. He fathered one of the Twelve Tribes of Israel.

      1. Good question! Joseph actually fathered 2 tribes of Israel: Ephraim and Manasseh. He received a double portion, because he was his father's favorite. I'm not sure what the significance of this mark of virginity was for Joseph. It may have just been a mark of favor from Jacob. The action of Joseph's brothers may have frustrated Jacob's original intentions for his son. The robe's virgin meaning may only make sense in light of St. Joseph, and that's fine, as well. Hope this helps! I'll do some more research.

      2. Wow, I found some cool new research. The virginal meaning of Joseph's robe could have connected to its priestly meaning. The Bereshit Rabbah, a talmudic-era midrash on the Book of Genesis, describes the ketonet passim as bestowing the status of a Kohen (or priest), whose role prior to the giving of the Torah was filled by the firstborn (also Shemot 28:2; Bereishit 37:3). The Bereishit Rabbah (97:6) also states that Jacob told Joseph (48:22) that he assigned him as the firstborn and gave him the special garments that God made for Adam, which had been passed to Nimrod, Avraham, Yitzchak, Eisav and Yaakov. If the ketonet passim was truly the clothes made by God for First Adam, this could definitely point to the Second Adam! That's an amazing connection -- that's for getting me to dig deeper!!

    2. How can so many translations of certain passages, in respected versions of the Bible, be SO BAD? Was the translators' knowledge of Hebrew (or Greek) so bad ? Or did they only have access to faulty or incomplete copies in the original languages? Dud thry just take a wild guess when they were uncertain?

      1. Maybe I shouldn't be so harsh about the other translations - the point is that all these varied translations point to how mysterious Joseph's cloak was, which is often associated with rich typology.

    3. Is Joseph, son of Jacob, really a patriarch? He never claims the God of his father as his own, he performs Egyptian burials rituals as he travels with the body of his father and was buried in Egypt, not with the patriarchs. He seems to have become fully Egyptian. Can you help me understand this?

      1. Sure! The Israelites carried the body of Joseph out of Egypt and, according to his request, buried him in the Promised Land with the other Patriarchs.

    4. The Vulgate and its faithful English Douay-Rheims is « many-colours » so is the Septuagint which Pope Benedict XVI called the received version of the Old Testament.