One of the most popular stories in the Bible involves a coat of many colors which Jacob was said to give to the son of his old age, Joseph. The best that can be said is that Biblical and Hebrew scholars are divided on the garment in question. Uncertainty reigns.

The English text of Genesis 37:3 refers to “a coat of many colors”. The word “many” is in italics which means it was inserted by the translators.

The Hebrew word for “coat” is kethoneth (keth-o’-neth), meaning to cover; a shirt. Translated in the KJV as coat, garment, robe.

The Hebrew word for “colours” in Genesis 37:3 is pac (pas); properly, the palm (of the hand) or sole (of the foot); by implication (plural) a long sleeved tunic (perhaps simply a wide one; from the original sense of the root, i.e., of many breadths). –Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance  Because of the uncertainty of the Hebrew words, various translations have emerged.

Tyndale Version “a coote of many coloures”

KJV “a coat of many colours.”

RSV “a long robe with sleeves”

NIV “a richly ornamented robe”

NAS “a varicolored tunic”

CJV “a long-sleeved robe” (Complete Jewish Bible)

ASV “a coat of many colors”

Young’s Literal Translation “a long coat”

Those who enjoy the traditional story will find support for a colored robe in the Tyndale Bible, KJV, NIV, NAS, ASV and like-minded translations. Those who are not so dogmatic will find support for a robe emphasizing maturity and status in the RSV, CJV, Young’s Literal Translation, and other like-minded translations.

Whichever position is taken regarding the special garment given to Joseph by Jacob, the interpretation of the passage is left unchanged. Joseph was a favored son and the favoritism of Jacob for Joseph was well known to the other children in the family and was deeply resented.

To encourage the hearts of those who want to believe in the story of a coat of many colors, additional talking points can be found in the following thoughts.

Ancient societies were familiar with colorful garments. Jacob appears on the Bible Time Line from 1836 BC to 1689 BC.

In 2 Samuel 13:18 we read that Tamar “had a garment of divers colours upon her”.  The Hebrew word is pac (pas) and so, in the AV, the translators were consistent.

To encourage the hearts of those who are not convinced the robe was made of many colors, additional talking points can be found.

The fact that ancient societies were familiar with colorful fabrics does not mean that a garment of color was given to Joseph. This would be a false assumption.

The fact that the term used in Genesis 37:3 is translated consistently in the AV does not necessitated an accurate translation of the Hebrew words, ketoneth passim.

Josephus, the respected Jewish historian, does not mention a coat of many colors though he does mention a coat in his narrative, Antiquities of the Jews, Book II, Chapter 2, Paragraph 1.

“When Jacob had his son Joseph born to him by Rachel, his father loved him above the rest of his sons, both because of the beauty of his body, and the virtues of his mind, for he excelled the rest in prudence. This affection of his father excited the envy and the hatred of his brethren; as did also his dreams which he saw, and related to his father, and to them, which foretold his future happiness, it being usual with mankind to envy their very nearest relations such their prosperity.”

So, the discussion continues. Enjoy your own research—and share what you find.

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